Australia is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. It’s known as a major backpacking, camping, and driving destination, but no matter what your travel style is, there is something to draw you here. The country is filled with incredible natural beauty from Uluru to the outback, rainforests to pristine white sand beaches, and of course, the Great Barrier Reef. Sydney’s Harbor Bridge and Opera House are iconic man made wonders, and Melbourne’s café culture will make you feel like you are in Europe. Coupled with world class surfing, and it is no wonder people never leave. I’ve been three times, and every trip, I find something new to love. Use my extensive travel guide to help plan your next trip. I know you will love the country as much as I do!
Destination Guides for Australia
Accommodation – Hostels start at $20 AUD per night for a dorm room, though they get get as high as $40 in the big coastal cities. Private rooms with a double bed and a shared bathroom in hostels range between 80-100 AUD per night. For budget hotels, you are looking to spend at least around $75-95 AUD for a double room, private bathroom, TV, and breakfast. Larger, chain hotels cost closer to $200 AUD. Camping costs between $15-30 AUD per night for a spot that can either be for an RV or tent. Read more: My favorite hostels in Australia.
Food – Food isn’t cheap in Australia! Most decent restaurant entrees cost 20 AUD or more. Originally, I thought I was doing something wrong spending so much, but as many of my Aussie friends told me, “we just get screwed here.” If you cook your meals, expect to pay 100 AUD per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic food stuffs. Grab and go places cost around 8-10 AUD for sandwiches. Fast food is around 15 AUD for a meal. The best value food are the ethnic restaurants where you can get a really filling meal for 10!
Transportation – Local city trains and buses cost 3-4 AUD. The easiest way to get around the country is via Greyhound. Passes begin at 145 AUD and go all the way to 3,000 AUD. There are also backpacker buses like the Oz Experience that have multi-city passes starting at 535 AUD (though I don’t like the Oz Experience and wouldn’t recommend it). The most popular and cheapest way to travel is to drive yourself. Camper-van rentals start at 60 AUD per day and can also double as places to sleep. Flying can be very expensive due to limited competition, especially when going from coast to coast. I generally avoid flying in Australia unless I am pressed for time or there is a sale.
Activities – Multi-day activities and tours are expensive, generally costing 400-540 AUD. Day trips will cost about 135-230 AUD. For example, a one day trip to the Great Barrier Reef can cost 230 AUD while a 2 nights sailing the Whitsunday Islands can cost upwards of 540 AUD. A 3 day trip to Uluru from Alice Springs is around 480 AUD. Walking tours are around 50 AUD and day trips to wine regions are between 150-200 AUD.
Money Saving Tips
Get a plan – The telephone company Telstra has really improved their service and offers great phone packages that have great coverage throughout the country. Their call/text rates aren’t that high either, so the credit will last you awhile. Vodafone has amazing deals (sometimes better) too but they have more limited coverage around the country.
Drink goon (box wine) – Goon is infamous on the Australian backpacker hostel trail. This cheap box of wine is a the best way to drink, get a buzz, and save a lot of money at the same time. 4 liters typically costs 13 AUD (compared to a six pack of beer for the same price). Drink this before you go out and save on spending money at the bar (where it is about 10 AUD per drink). Also, blow up the bag when you’re done and have a little pillow to rest your head on!!!
Cook often – Again, eating out is not cheap. The best way to reduce your costs is to cook as many meals as possible. ALDI is the cheapest supermarket in the country, followed by Coles and then Woolworths (though sometimes you don’t get a choice at which place you can shop it! Some small towns only have one!).
Car share – Australia is a big country that can be expensive to get around. If you are traveling with friends, it’s smart to buy a used car or camper-van (or rent a new one from one of the many rental companies in the country) and split the costs of gas. You can also hitch a ride with other travelers using sites like Gumtree, Jayride, or a hostel message board.
Book tours as a package – This country has a lot of exciting activities and tours that eat into any budget. Booking activities together through a hostel or tour agency will get you a discount and save you hundreds of dollars as a repeat customer.
Get free internet – The internet in Australia is painfully slow and expensive (just ask any Australian how they feel about this), but libraries and McDonalds have free wi-fi that you can use.
Work for your room – Many hostels offer travelers the chance to work for their accommodation. In exchange for a few hours a day of cleaning, you get a free bed. Commitments vary but most hostels ask you stay at least a week.
WWOOF it! – WWOOFing is a program that allows you to work at farms in exchange for free room and board. Everyone I’ve met who stays in the country long term does it for at least one month. You don’t even need to know anything about farming – you’re mostly picking fruit the whole time!
(For more city specific money saving tips, see specific city destination guides.)
Top Things to See and Do in Australia
Visit Uluru — Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) is one of the hottest attractions in the country. Make sure you are there for both sunset and sunrise because both are equally as spectacular. It’s a pretty breathtaking sight considering it’s just a big rock! Also make sure to visit the Aboriginal center nearby where you can learn about the local population. I hated waking up early to see the sunrise but I loved watching the red hues change as the sun rose in the sky (see the photo above!).
Dive the Great Barrier Reef — Find your very own Nemo in the Great Barrier Reef. There’s a ton of marine life and beautiful coral here to explore—this is a must do activity. Even if you don’t dive, you can still take a boat out to the reef and go snorkeling. Try to get on a boat that has a permit to go to dive sites a couple of hours from show so you can avoid the onslaught of other tourist boats and divers that inundate the shallower dive sites closer to shore. Here is a video of my trip to the reef (minus the fish pooping in front of my face):
Explore Fraser Island — The world’s largest sand island is a popular place to do some camping, swim, hike, and avoid dingoes. It’s also extremely popular with the locals because of its rustic beauty is easily accessible from mainland. They camp a lot on the island. You can hire your own 4WD car or take an overnight tour through the island that’s famous for it’s fresh water lake (and dingoes). Sadly, you can’t go in the water nearby as it’s rough and full of sharks!
Sail the Whitsundays — 3 day, 2 night sailing trips are a popular way to see some of the most beautiful sand islands in the world. Whitehaven beach on a clear day is mesmerizing—I even ran into a couple of turtles and dolphins while in the are! A few of the islands have resorts if you want to go on your own and stay longer in paradise but I prefer taking a boat around the islands. It remains one of my favorite activities in the country.
Hike the Daintree — The world’s oldest rainforest (yes, older than the Amazon) offers hikes that range from easy to challenging, dense jungles, beautiful mountains, waterfalls, wildlife, and cliffs. Make sure you spend a few days hiking around and getting out of touristy Cairns. If you really want to get off the beaten path, head all the way up to Cape Tribulation, and enjoy some real peace and quiet (just watch out for jellyfish when you go swimming. There are few folks to help if something goes wrong). There a lot of tour companies in the area but I like Uncle Brian’s tours the best (though he goes more into Atherton Tablelands and not up into the forest up north).
Explore Sydney — Australia’s largest city has a range of activities to keep you busy. Climb the Sydney Harbor bridge, surf in Bondi Beach, party in King’s Cross, sail across the harbor, visit the Opera House, and take in world class innovation in Darling Harbor. Sydney is a bustling big city that still has a laid back, beach vibe too it. It’s amazing (though very expensive). Be sure to head up to the laid backed suburb of Manly and get out of the Bondi beach tourist scene! Another favorite activity of mine is to spend the day in Domain with food and a good book!
Chill out in Melbourne — Melbourne is much more relaxed than Sydney (and, personally, I like it a lot more). There are more cafes and restaurants with fewer clubs, crowds, and better music. This is the place to relax by the river, walk through the gigantic city gardens (all day and every day), eat amazing food (Melbourne is the food capital of Australia), jam out at amazing rock concerts, and party in St. Kilda—my favorite nightlife spot. Melbourne has a well deserved reputation as the country’s hip city.
Have a Sunday Session in Perth — Perth is Australia’s west coast capital and is often overlooked by most travelers. It’s expensive to get out there from the east coast so most travelers avoid it but I love it! In fact, it’s probably my favorite city in all of Australia. Perth feels like a large town than a city and is the best place to have a “Sunday Session” (an Aussie tradition of drinking on Sunday afternoons). From the beaches, food and beer (be sure to take a day trip to Freemantle), Perth is just awesome.
Explore the outback — No trip to Australia is complete without a trip to the outback to see crocodiles, valleys, lakes, and the red desert. Find your own Crocodile Dundee as you explore the Red Center and Western Australia. Must visit places I love: Karijini National Park, the Kimberlys, Kakadu, and Litchfield National Park.
Surf in the Gold Coast — Australia is famous for its surfing, and one of the best places to learn is on the Gold Coast right outside of Brisbane. You’ll find world class waves, a wide beach, and lots of available lessons. If you don’t like the Gold Cost, there is always Noosa, Byron Bay, Bondi Beach, Perth, and—well, you get the idea. There’s a lot of surfing in Australia!
Take a wine tour — Whether you go down to Margret River, Hunter Valley, or the Barossa Valley, you will have many chances to taste Aussie wine right from the source. Visiting the wine country should be on your list of things to do. If you rent a car, you can stay longer or you can do guided tours from major cities. I think it’s best to base yourself in the area and spend about 3-5 days in each area tasting as much wine as possible!
The Ningaloo Reef — The Great Barrier Reef gets all the hype, but the Ningaloo Reef on the west coast is a far better reef system. Because it’s less developed and attracts fewer tourists, there are actually more fish and wildlife—you can even swim with whale sharks! Plus, at some points, the reef comes so close to the shore that you can swim right to it on your own. More fish, less crowds = a better time.
Western Australia — The most overlooked area in the country is the west coast where the country really shines. Here you can escape the crowds of the east coast, explore the outback, the Ningaloo Reef, Coral Bay (one of my favorite spots in the world), Broome, Perth, and the Margaret River. It’s much less developed than the east coast, more distance between each place, and not as much of a tourist infrastructure to get you around (the bus is also a nightmare) but if you take one piece of advice away from this guide, it should be to visit this part of Australia. It’s the version of the country you picture in your head!
See Tasmania — This is a very “off the beaten track” destination. Despite everyone knowing its name, hardly anyone ever makes it down here. Tasmania has amazing hikes, beautiful bays (Wineglass bay being the most famous), small towns, and excellent people, just a ferry away from Melbourne. If you have the time, go down under.
The Blue Mountains – Right outside of Sydney, the Blue Mountains are an awesome place to explore—particularly in 4WD. As you adventure into the rainforest of the outback, you will see kangaroos, parrots, kookaburras, and more.