Updated: 12/20/2018 | December 20th, 2018
Everyone has sticker shock when they get to Australia. They see how much things cost, and their jaws drop. Heck, even Australians get sticker shock, and they live there. Travelers go through their budget quickly because no one ever expects the country to cost as much as it does.
When I first traveled to Australia a few years ago, I grossly underestimated how much I needed. It cost me double what I thought because of a strong Australian dollar and poor planning. This time around I was better prepared, but I still overspent because I wasn’t prepared for such dramatic inflation.
Moreover, Australia’s strong dollar means you don’t even get any advantage when exchanging money. It’s virtually on par with the American dollar, and the weak euro and pound have even given Europeans less value for their money.
While I was in Australia this year, I spent $3,400 USD in 33 days. That total includes all my day-to-day expenses, flights, transport, tours, and anything I bought. Averaging roughly $100 USD a day, it would have been a lot more had I not been able to stay with friends and get discounted tours. I ate a lot at expensive restaurants, flew a few places, and spent a lot of money using the Internet on my phone. If it wasn’t for my friends and the discounts I got, I would have spent about $150 USD per day.
Typical Costs in Australia
When you travel Australia, your typical costs tend to look like this:
- Hostels: In northern Queensland, you can find hostel prices for about $20 AUD per night. On the west coast, it’s about $15-20 AUD, but from Noosa down to Melbourne (the densely populated east coast), expect to pay $25–35 AUD per night. The smaller the dorm, the higher the cost. Private rooms are $55–110 AUD per night.
- Food: Your average meal in Australia will run you about $15–20 AUD. A good meal at a nice restaurant will run you about $40 AUD. Even McDonald’s is expensive—a value meal is about $8 AUD.
- Drinking: For a country of drinkers, they make it very difficult to do. Beers cost around $9 AUD. Happy hours and backpacker bars tend to have cheap drinks, and you can usually find a pint of something for $4–5 AUD.
- Tours: Tours in Australia are a lot cheaper than tours in New Zealand, and there’s also a lot less of them to spend your money on. A typical multi-day tour will cost around $400-540 AUD. Most day trips can be found for $50-300 AUD.
- Transportation: You can find cheap transportation in Australia if you look hard enough. But outside of the heavily populated and highly competitive east coast, it’s not always that easy. Because of limited competition, flying is very expensive except on the west coast. It’s often cheaper to fly than get a bus out there. If you can get a deal on a tourist bus, that can be cheaper than either Greyhound or flying. On the east coast, Greyhound offers many good-value passes. I’d take them over any other transportation. The Cairns to Melbourne pass is $558 AUD.
How Much is a Vacation to Australia?
A trip to Australia can cost a lot or a little. If you’re a backpacker, expect to spend $60-80 AUD per day. This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. If you are staying in private rooms, cheap hotels, drinking a lot, and eating out often, expect to spend closer to $100-120 AUD per day. If you’re taking a lot of group tours and flying, expect to spend around $150 per day.
On the absolute minimum budget, I think a traveler could get by on $77 AUD per day. Most people travel Australia for about a month. If you did the Melbourne to Cairns route, your costs would be $810 AUD for hostels (average price of $27 AUD per night), $500 AUD for food (mixing cooking and eating out), $500 AUD for tours, and $558 AUD for your bus ticket.
That budget doesn’t cover any drinking or additional expenses that might occur. If you Couchsurfed for five nights and bought all your own food, you could (in theory) lower your budget to $64 AUD per day. (Excluding drinking or other random expenses.)
How to Save Money in Australia
There’s no doubt that Australia is an expensive country to visit. So what’s a traveler to do? Here are eight ways to save a lot of money in Australia:
- Cook – Cooking your meals can save you a lot of money. I cooked for a week with pasta, a few types of meat (locally raised meat is always the cheapest), and ready meals, and I only spent $60 AUD. That can be the cost of a day’s food in Australia. Cook your meals as often as possible. Hostels, Airbnbs, and even some guesthouses have kitchens where you can cook.
- Drink Less. Alcohol causes all good budgets to die. A six-pack of beer is $14 AUD. If you want to save money, drink less. Or drink goon (boxed wine). Goon is the perennial favorite of travelers. It’s as little as 10 AUD for four liters of wine. Actually, it’s not wine. It’s fish, dairy, and milk products—no grapes here. It gives you a killer hangover but also the most bang for your buck.
- Couchsurf – Couchsurf with locals, stay at their place, and save on accommodation. Every night out of the hostel is more money for activities. This is also a great way to meet locals and get involved with the local culture.
- Get a phone 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 a while. Vodafone has amazing deals (sometimes better) too but they have more limited coverage around the country.
- Work for your room – Many hostels offer travelers the opportunity to work for their accommodation. In exchange for a few hours a day of cleaning, you get a free bed to sleep in. Commitments vary but most hostels ask that you stay for at least a week.
- 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 campervan (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.
- WWOOF it – WWOOFing is a program that allows you to work on organic 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! It’s a great way to reduce your expenses and make an impact on the local environment.
- Seek out free Internet – The internet in Australia is painfully slow and expensive (just ask any Australian how they feel about this), but libraries and McDonald’s have free WiFi that you can use.
The best way to save money in Australia is to mix and match how you spend money. You need to counter the high costs of one activity with the lost costs of another. That’s why I always say it’s very important to research costs beforehand and know what you want to spend money on. Once you do that, you can create a budget that is better tailored to your needs. The general numbers above are just that – general. Your mileage will vary (and can be better) once you know what you want to do in the country!
However, we all know budgets, no matter how well we plan, get broken. So to cover all your costs and have a little extra, I’d budget $100 AUD per day. You never know what might happen. Maybe you’ll have a big night out or maybe you’ll break your camera. It’s always better to leave a country with extra money than overspend.
Australia may not be a cheap country to visit but, with the right planning, it doesn’t have to break your bank either.
For more information about Australia or to plan your visit, read these other articles:
- Things to See and Do in Australia
- How to Travel Around Australia Cheaply
- The Cost of Traveling Oz
- My Favorite Hostels in Australia
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. I use it all the time. My favorite places to stay in Australia are:
- Base St. Kilda (Melbourne) – This is my favorite hostel in Australia. The bar is lively every night, there are BBQs and events during the week, and the rooms and bathrooms look nice and are clean.
- Wake Up! (Sydney) – This is more like a backpacker hotel. It’s clean and they have a big bar downstairs where you can meet other travelers and share a drink.
- Surf N Sun Hostel (Surfer’s Paradise, Gold Coast) – This is a fun party hostel with really friendly staff, a pool, and a central location right across from the beach. Plus they offer a free pick up from the bus station!
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!