Updated: 1/23/2020 | January 23rd, 2020
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. Most people fly around the country or stick to a small area to explore. These large distances lead to high transportation costs that can make it hard to travel around Australia cheaply, especially if you have a limited amount of time.
It takes a good 14 Days to drive the 15,823km circumference of Australia on main Highway 1 (the road that rings the continent/country). That would be with minimal stops and breaks. However, if you want to see things along the way, you should plan at least a month (at the quickest). More realistically is 3 to 6 months. Many “grey nomads” (i.e. retirees in campervans) and backpackers do. To drive straight across the middle from Sydney to Perth, it takes about 3 to 4 days.
It’s really only the long-term travelers backpackers who spend months traveling the country and doing this.
But what if you don’t have months? What if you only have weeks? What do you do? What do you do if you have years but still want to save money?
It’s not impossible to get around Australia on a budget. In fact, it’s very possible if you come prepared and informed.
Here’s how you can how to travel around Australia cheaply – no matter how long you are going for:
Getting Around Cheap By Flying
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 major airlines that service most of the country’s destinations. The budget carrier, Tiger Airways, often has a lot of fare sales and budget deals that offer cheap flights (like Sydney to Perth for $169 AUD return). 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!!
Here are some sample fares on popular routes with two of Australia’s biggest airlines:
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.
Getting Around Cheap By Backpacker Bus
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 (in New Zealand), 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.
Getting Around Cheap By Public Bus
This is my favorite transportation option in Australia. On the east coast, this will be your cheapest option. On the west coast, buses are surprisingly expensive. There are 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. There’s also Premier (but it doesn’t have as many stops). All three companies sometimes offer $1 fares but, for the most part, the buses ticket prices are around $35 (night buses are usually around $60–70 dollars). From Melbourne to Cairns, a Greyhound pass will cost you $549 AUD.
Here are some sample fares for popular bus routes in Australia:
If you aren’t renting a car, take the bus! It’s the best way to get around.
Getting Around Cheap By Trains
Are there trains in Australia? Yes. Is the train system extensive? No. Is it cheap? Definitely not! Granted, Australia’s train system is a wonderful way to see the country. Between city trams, commuter trains, and long-distance and trans-continental trains, Australia can be seen extensively by rail. However, their use isn’t that widespread. Train lines exist mostly on the east coast with only two other major lines in the country: one goes north/south from Melbourne to Darwin and another east/east from Sydney to Perth.
Trains in Australia are very expensive, even with the backpacker fare (one way from Sydney to Perth is $692 AUD!). It’s not really a cheap option so, unless you’re looking to splash out on a scenic route like the Ghan with your significant other (or just love trains), I’d skip traveling Australia by train.
There are very few ways to get cheap train tickets these days so avoid this transportation option. If you do take a train, keep in mind tickets for the scenic trains book out months in advance so book early!
Getting Around Cheap By Car Share
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 road trip. 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 websites like 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!
- CoSeats – coseats.com
- Share Ur Ride – shareurride.com.au
- Life Social – lifesocial.com.au
- Catch a Lift – catchalift.com
(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 car 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!)
Getting Around Cheap By Public Transportation
All of Australia’s cities have reliable, affordable public bus systems. In the bigger, cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth, you’ll even find subways and tram systems. This is the cheapest way to travel the cities. Fares cost between 3-4 AUD. Skip the taxis. They are too expensive.
How long does it take to get around Australia?
Here are distance and time charts so you know how long it takes to get places from the major cities when you travel around the country!
Traveling from Sydney
Traveling from Canberra
Traveling from Melbourne
Traveling from Adelaide
Traveling from Perth
Traveling from Darwin
Traveling from Alice Springs
Traveling from Cairns
Traveling from Brisbane
Book Your Trip to Australia: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines, because they search websites and airlines around the globe, so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. My favorite hostels in Australia are:
- Base St. Kilda (Melbourne) – They have a lively bar for hanging out and mingling, organize lots of events and activities, and it’s a great place for meeting people!
- Wake Up! Sydney (Sydney) – Wake Up has a great bar for socializing and meeting peopleand it’s conveniently located near the central station. They offer discounts for booking direct and have female-only dorms too.
- Surf n Sun Hostel (Gold Coast) – With an awesome location right near the beach, this lively hostel is a fun place to hang out and peet people. It’s super social and they have a free shuttle service from the bus station as well.
If you’re looking for more places to stay, here are my favorite hostels in Australia!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it, as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use — and I think they will help you too!
Looking for more information on visiting Australia?
Check out my robust destination guide to Australia with more tips on what to see and do, costs, ways to save, and much, much more!