I recently got the opportunity to travel to Sydney, Australia with my team at work in early August. This was completely out of my element but honestly a wonderful, unexpected treat of the summer and I’m really glad to have gone.
Flight & Day 1
One of the perks of international work travel is getting to fly Business class. I haven’t ever been on a 15-hour long flight, even on long family trips from NY to India, so I was definitely a bit nervous about how it would go. I met my team at the United Polaris lounge in SFO, where we had some refreshments and boarded. A flight attendant soon served us some champagne once we got seated, and we had a smooth takeoff. Luckily I was able to knock out and sleep for most of the flight (thanks to lie-flat seating!), so I remember waking up about an hour before landing. After pulling into the gate, gathering checked-in luggage, and completing various airport chores (like currency exchange and purchasing SIM cards), our team ordered some Ubers to Sheraton Hyde Park hotel. We dropped off our luggage, freshened up, and reconvened to head out and start exploring together.
A large group of us walked to the Botanical gardens all the way to the waterfront, which leads right to the Opera House. There were so many interesting plants and trees on the walk over, and thankfully no visible spiders. :)
We had an outdoor pizza lunch seated outside the Opera Bar. After this, half the group split and the rest of us walked to Circular Quay ferry station and took a short ferry to get on the water, and walked all the way up and around several harbors for a couple of hours, before heading back to the hotel.
I was wiped by this point, got drunken noodles takeout at Chat Thai at the Westfield mall nearby, and decided to go to sleep to prepare for the week ahead.
The purpose of our trip was to host a testing conference in partnership with a handful of other teams in our organization, and also to work face-to-face with one of the teams in Sydney. My job specifically was to organize and plan the conference.
We walked to the office as a team, ate breakfast, and started the day off by getting an office tour from a senior engineer. This was a really nice way to get acquainted with the office spaces and building layout. From here we had a couple of “walkabouts” with local Sydney engineering teams, where people informally chatted with our teams and talked openly about what they work on and showed us around their desks. It was a genuine and personalized way of getting to know each other.
The afternoon sessions were more formalized and went well, and it felt like we knew most of each other and had introduced ourselves to all the visitors and locals in the office by this point. My team later got dinner at Ippudo Ramen and turned in for the night.
Started the day with a bright 8 am walk to the office with a handful of teammates. Walking to the office together felt so nice, since the new environment and surroundings provided nice grounds for us to get to know each other more personally and become more comfortable with each other.
This day was much more packed with sessions of the conference and was pretty much back-to-back meetings from 9 to 5. I tagged along to another visiting team’s casual dinner, where we went to Harry’s Cafe de Wheels in Woolloomooloo, known for their meat pies. Tried their vegetarian pie which was really hearty and filling. We then made our way to Shady Pines Saloon (an American-themed whiskey bar) and later the Rover in Surry Hills.
Another really long and busy day at work! It felt like we were grinding through the day and shuffling from meeting room to meeting room.
One of my teammates and I organized a big prix fixe dinner for 25+ folks later that evening, at Macchiato Wood Fired Pizza Grille. We sat at a long table at the back of the restaurant and shared garlic bread, salads, mains, Nutella pizza, and drinks throughout the night. It was cozy, and a group of 6 of us stayed until 10:30 or 11 pm exchanging stories and talking about everyone’s lives. I found it interesting to hear about how folks in different parts of the country and world live, and the kinds of things that are important to them.
After dinner, I joined my TL on a fun (but unsuccessful) grocery expedition to Woolworth to find a very niche Australian (?) item known as Bovril, an unofficial request by another colleague back in the U.S. After 30 minutes of roaming each and every aisle, we gave up and headed back to the hotel.
The next day was a bit gloomy in the morning and I was already running late, so I Ubered to the office. All my conversations with Uber drivers in Sydney were so pleasant.. during this one we were discussing the Australian work culture and how it is so focused but also relaxed and laid back. After many meetings and another team lunch, we ended the day by attending the Chrome Branch party (a Sydney tradition), where we got to feast on a delicious Sir Jason James cake from Saga Enmore bakery.
My team met up for dinner afterward and walked along the Darling Harbor area. We ended the night on another sweet note by stopping at Zini for gelato.
Our work agenda had mostly wrapped up by Friday. One of the local Sydney T/PgM teams was kind enough to invite me to join their social Bridgeclimb offsite, where we would meet as a group and climb the Harbor Bridge. We got some pizza and beers afterward to celebrate the climb. This was a really cool way to get to know a bunch of really nice folks and also to see the city from new angles. Climbing the bridge was a 3-hour guided process, and there were times you could feel every movement on or around the bridge — whether it was cars, trains, buses, pedestrians, birds flying, helicopters above, or the aura of the ocean beneath it all. Overall a super surreal experience, and I’m glad to have done it.
My team met up later, got takeout again, and a couple of us decided to watch the new Jordan Peele movie titled Nope in the evening. The three of us got chocolates and boba before walking through the depths of Chinatown to reach the theatre. This was a really fun movie to watch abroad and left all of us scratching our heads as we were walking out of the theatre. We Ubered back to the hotel and promptly passed out. Admittedly I face-timed a couple of friends and only fell asleep around 2 or 3 am.
This was such a socially packed day. My team met at 9 am to take the ferry over to Taronga Zoo. We took the cable car to the top of the zoo and slowly walked around to see all the animals. Over the next few hours, we saw so many cute animals: koalas, kangaroos, binturongs, giraffes, an elephant, penguins, seals, tigers, zoos, chimpanzees, lemurs, and so many more.
We wrapped up and hopped on the ferry back just in time for a tour of the Opera House at 3 pm. It was really cool to learn all about the architectural history behind the construction of the Opera House. Apparently, only a mere 3 out of the million+ tiles covering the surface of the Opera House need to be replaced every year, a process for which they measure and track each tile’s tap response on an iPad.
Some of us then headed to Bondi Beach for a really tasty South American dinner at El Indio. We headed back to the hotel afterward and made it back to the Opera House just in time for a Strings performance showcasing Beethoven’s compositions.
The day was finally over after this, and we turned in for the night to get ready to pack up and leave the following morning.
This was a major travel day, our priority was to get to the airport at a reasonable time and fly back to SFO. The flight back was about an hour shorter, although felt longer since I had a bit of trouble falling asleep. We made it back to SFO after many hours and parted ways shortly.
This was my first time traveling with a group of people who weren’t family or pre-established friends. Things went really well, and I learned a lot about myself and about Sydney during our time there. Overall, the city feels similar to other metropolitan city atmospheres and has its fair share of bars, restaurants, museums, and general things to do. The work culture in Australia is admirable, since people are extremely well-educated, focused, respectful, and also able to kick back and relax. I often got comments from Uber drivers and folks at work who teased us “Americans” for being too hardcore about work and always being on the grind.
I found that with many people over the week, when we asked them questions, they really take the time to give honest, thoughtful responses and share meaningful details or stories about their lives. This in turn inspires you to be present and do the same. It was a really nice surprise since in the U.S. it’s rare to come across folks who are so open and willing to share their life experiences with you. It made me feel quite zen and appreciative of their vulnerability.
Thanks for reading, and please visit Australia if the opportunity presents itself.