Australia Travel Tips
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 now, and every trip, I find something new to love.
Destination Guides for Australia
Food: Food isn’t cheap–most decent restaurant meals cost $20 USD 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 $70-80 USD per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic food stuffs. An average restaurant meal will run you about $15-20 USD for no frills eating. If you are staying in hostels, most offer family style meals each night for around $6 USD. Grab and go places cost around $10 USD for sandwiches.
Transportation: Local city trains and buses cost $2-3 USD. The easiest way to see the country is via Greyhound. Passes begin at $107 USD and go all the way to $2,500 USD. There are also backpacker buses like the Oz Experience that have passes starting at $300 USD. The most popular and cheapest way to travel is to drive yourself. Camper-van rentals start at $45 USD 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 $300-400 USD. Day trips will cost about $100-170 USD. For example, a one day trip to the Great Barrier Reef can cost $170 USD, while a 2 nights sailing the Whitsunday Islands can cost upwards of $400 USD. A 3 day trip to Uluru from Alice Springs is around $355 USD.
Money Saving Tips
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 $14 USD (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 $7 USD per drink).
Cook often – Again, eating out is not cheap. The best way to reduce your costs is to cook as many meals as possible.
Car share – Australia is a big country that can be expensive to get around. If you are traveling with friends, it’s smart to rent a car or camper-van 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 company like Tribal Tours 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, but libraries and McDonalds have free wi-fi to take advantage of.
Clean 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.
Buy a rail pass – Train travel is really expensive here with most single journey passes starting at $700 USD per trip. However, rail passes range from $450-800 USD and cover the whole network (saving you between 50-70%). They are one of the best transportation deals in the country.
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, and immersing yourself into the local scene is an added bonus.
Top Things to See and Do
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 away from shore so you can avoid the onslaught of other tourist boats and divers. Here is a video of my trip to the reef:
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.
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! A few of the islands have resorts if you want to go on your own and stay longer in paradise.
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.
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.
Chill out in Melbourne - Melbourne is much more relaxed than Sydney. There are more cafes and restaurants with fewer clubs. This is the place to relax by the river, walk through the gigantic city gardens, 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, and I actually prefer it over Sydney.
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, however, Perth is a city that feels like a large town and is the best place to have a “Sunday Session” (an Aussie tradition of drinking on Sunday afternoons). Perth is my favorite city in Australia—don’t miss out.
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.
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.
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—check out a guided tour, or make an adventure of your own.
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, Broome, Perth, and the Margaret River—truly get a much better feel of that “Aussie” outback experience. If you take one piece of advice away from this guide, it should be to hit the west.
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, 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.
Cuddle a koala – Get close and personal with a Koala, Australia’s most unique native animal, at the Featherdale Wildlife Park. You can even have your picture taken with one for a fee. The park also features a rainforest aviary, reptile house, and nocturnal houses.
Rockingham Bay – Just outside of Perth, Rockingham Bay offers dolphin cruises and swims where you can actually get in the beautiful turquoise water with over 100 wild bottle-nose dolphins. You are provided with a wetsuit, snorkel, and mask.