Updated: 4/8/2018 | April 8th, 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 to Save Money in Australia
- Cook – Cooking your meals can save you a lot of money. I cooked for a week with pasta, a few meats, and ready meals, and I only spent $60 AUD.
- 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 awhile. 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 McDonalds have free WiFi that you can use.
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.)
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.
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