Last Update: March 2016
With Australia being over seven million square kilometers, it takes a long time to get around the country. Considering the large distances, it’s no wonder few people end up traveling the whole country—there’s just too much ground to cover on a short trip. These large distances can lead to high transportation costs, and it can often be hard to travel around the country cheaply. Here’s a look at how to travel around Australia cheaply:
This is the most expensive but easiest way to get around Australia. Limited competition among airlines means that flights here stay very expensive. While there are some minor airlines that serve out-of-the-way destinations, Qantas (and its subsidiary Jetstar) and Virgin are the two big majorairlines that service most of the country’s destinations. Budget carrier, Tiger Airways, often has a lot of fare sales and budget deals (like Sydney to Perth for $99 AUD each way). When I fly, I look at them more than any other airlines.
However, with so few carriers serving the country, unless there is a big sale, tickets will often be expensive (Sydney to Perth for $300+ each way). The hour flight to Melbourne can cost over $100 AUD!!
If you book early you can save on fares but otherwise, I would try to avoid flying in Australia. When Australians joke about it being cheaper to fly to Bali than around their own country, they aren’t joking – they are being completely serious.
There is one backpacker bus company in Australia: the Oz Experience. Oz Experience mostly operates along the east coast and the center of the country. However, unlike the Kiwi Experience, I didn’t really like them, despite both companies trying to do the same thing. While the Kiwi Experience took a lot of time to introduce people to each other and offer free activities, the Oz experience didn’t. Granted, Australia is a lot bigger than New Zealand, but if the Oz Experience is just a more expensive Greyhound (and a few drivers told me this too!), then what’s the point of taking them? Not once on my journey did any driver make an attempt to get people to talk to each other. We didn’t have any free stops or walks. I didn’t like the Oz experience. Just as many, if not more, travelers take the Greyhound bus. I say take the Greyhound, save some money, and learn to say “hi” to strangers on buses.
On the east coast, this will be your cheapest option. On the west coast, buses are surprisingly expensive. There’s not many people moving up and down that coast, and there’s limited competition. It’s often easier and cheaper to fly out in Western Australia. However, on the east coast, you can find really cheap bus tickets, especially if you book in advance. Greyhound Australia is the biggest company in Australia, though there’s also Premier and McCafferty. All three companies sometimes offer $1 fares but, for the most part, the buses ticket prices are around $30 (night buses are usually around $60–70 dollars). From Melbourne to Cairns, a Greyhound pass will cost you $500 AUD.
This is my favorite transportation option in Australia.
Trains cover much of Australia, but their use isn’t that widespread. In fact, most trains are very expensive, even with the backpacker fare (one way from Sydney to Perth is $600 AUD!). It’s not really a cheap option so, unless you’re looking to splash out on a scenic route with your significant other (or just love trains), I’d skip this.
If you really want to save money and travel cheap, find some other friends, rent a car or campervan, and drive around the country. This will allow you to share the costs with others (and if you rent a campervan, give you a place to sleep). It will be much, much cheaper than any other travel option. You can look on hostel bulletin boards to see who’s looking for people to join their roadtrip. You’ll always find someone, and it’s a great way to make new friends.
It’s really easy to rideshare in Australia. Every hostel has a bulletin board where travelers post rides and the websites Jayride and Gumtree have active ridesharing sections where people look for cars or riders. It’s really robust. I HIGHLY recommend this way of traveling when in the country!
(Alternatively, you can also purchase a car from backpackers leaving the country or locals selling used cars. Rental services like Jucy are fairly expensive and would only be good as a last resort. You can usually find a used care for $1-2,000 AUD. Though that sounds expensive, you can share those costs with other travelers making to the second most affordable way to travel!)
When you plan to travel Australia, make sure you budget for transportation wisely. Outside the busy eastern corridor between Melbourne and Brisbane, travel is expensive. You’ll pay a lot more than you think. If you want to save a lot of money, car share or get the Greyhound pass.
For more information on Australia, visit my guide to Australia travel.
Disclaimer: OzExperience gave me 50% off my Brisbane to Cairns bus pass.