Australia is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. It’s known as a major backpacking, camping, road trip, and diving destination, but no matter your travel style, there is something to draw you here.
Backpacking Australia is like the “must do” for backpackers around the world. I feel like every backpacker stops there.
I was one of those travelers.
I started coming to Australia in 2008.
I’ve been over five times and have criss crossed it three time but, every trip, I find something new about this country to love.
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.
It’s no wonder why so many people want to travel around Australia.
However, the country is large with not a lot of transportation options outside the costs and can also be very expensive.
Use my extensive Australia travel guide (based on years of visits) to help plan your next trip so you can see more, spend less, and have the best time ever!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Australia
2. Visit Uluru
3. Dive the Great Barrier Reef
5. Sail the Whitsundays
Other Things to See and Do in Australia
1. 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 the mainland. They camp a lot on the island. You can hire your own 4WD car or take an overnight tour through the island that’s famous for its fresh water lake (and dingoes). Sadly, you can’t go in the water nearby as it’s rough and full of sharks!
2. Go to Cairns
Cairns is Australia’s gateway to northern Queensland. From here you can visit the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree rainforest, the Atherton tablelands, Cape Tribulation, and much more. Cairns is a pretty typical tropical city, and life here focuses on taking the time to smell the roses. With so much to see, the city deserves a very long stay. Plan to visit for a week which will give you enough time to explore the area, plus spend some time lounging by the pool. This town may be small, but it will leave you wanting more.
3. Hang out in Brisbane on the South Bank
Brisbane is a “business city”, so unlike Sydney or Melbourne, there isn’t a lot of “culture” here. South Bank has some nice restaurants, and there are some decent pubs, but overall, the city isn’t one of the most exciting places to visit in Australia. However, it’s worth a stop to hang out on South Bank (which I loved) and meet travelers heading north.
4. 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 (just watch out for jellyfish when you go swimming. There are few folks to help if something goes wrong). There a lot of tour companies in the area but I like Uncle Brian’s tours the best (though he goes more into Atherton Tablelands and not up super far north).
5. 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 so most travelers avoid it, but I love it! In fact, it’s probably my favorite city in all of Australia. Perth feels more like a large town than a city and is the best place to have a “Sunday Session” (an Aussie tradition of drinking on Sunday afternoons). From the beaches, food, and beer (be sure to take a day trip to Freemantle), Perth is just awesome.
6. 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. Must visit places I love: Karijini National Park, the Kimberlys, Kakadu, and Litchfield National Park.
7. Surf on 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 Coast, there is always Noosa, Byron Bay, Bondi Beach, Perth, and—well, you get the idea. There’s a lot of surfing in Australia!
8. Take the 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. If you rent a car, you can stay longer or you can do guided tours from major cities. I think it’s best to base yourself in the area and spend about 3-5 days in each area tasting as much wine as possible!
9. 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 up to it on your own. More fish + less crowds = a better time.
10. Visit 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 (one of my favorite spots in the world), Broome, Perth, and the Margaret River. It’s much less developed than the east coast, more distance between each place, and not as much of a tourist infrastructure to get you around (the bus is also a nightmare) but if you take one piece of advice away from this guide, it should be to visit this part of Australia. It’s the version of the country you picture in your head!
11. See 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 (Wineglass Bay being the most famous), small towns, and excellent people, just a ferry away from Melbourne. If you have the time, go down under.
12. The Blue Mountains
Right outside of Sydney, the Blue Mountains are an awesome place to explore —particularly in 4WD vehicle. As you adventure into the rainforest of the outback, you will see kangaroos, parrots, kookaburras, and more.
13. See the Karri Trees
One of the most under visited sights in Australia are the Karri forests in Southwestern Australia. These dense woods and tower trees are a beautiful testament to the diverse nature of the country. They are only a few hours south of Perth.
14. Visit Kimberley
This area is known for its wilderness, so if you love the outdoors and don’t mind things getting rugged, add this to your itinerary. The mostly-unpaved Gibb River Road runs 660km through the region’s heart, which has towering limestone cliffs, gorges, a desert landscape, and freshwater pools.
15. Visit Kakadu
The enormous Kakadu National Park is a biodiverse nature reserve in Australia’s Northern Territory. It encompasses wetlands and rivers. It’s home to saltwater crocodiles and flatback turtles, as well as many different bird species. Aboriginal rock paintings (dating back to prehistory) can be viewed at Nourlangie, Nanguluwur and Ubirr. You can find a lot of tours from Darwin. Be sure to spend at least a night in the park.
For more information on specific cities, check out these guides!
Australia Travel Costs
Accommodation – Hostels start at 20 AUD/15 USD per night for a dorm room, though they get as high as 40 AUD/30 USD in the big coastal cities. Private rooms with a double bed and a shared bathroom in hostels range between 80-100 AUD/60-75 USD per night. For budget hotels, you are looking to spend at least around 75-95 AUD/55-70 USD for a double room, private bathroom, TV, and breakfast. Larger, chain hotels cost closer to 200 AUD/150 USD. Camping costs between 15-30 AUD/10-20 USD per night (cheaper if you bring your own tent, more expensive if you’re parking an RV).
Food – Food isn’t cheap in Australia! Most decent restaurant entrees cost at least 20 AUD/15 USD. 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 100 AUD/75 USD per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foodstuffs. Grab and go places cost around 8-10 AUD/6-7 USD for sandwiches. Fast food is around 15 AUD/10 USD for a meal (burger, fries, soda). The best value food are the Asian and Indian restaurants where you can get a really filling meal for under 10 AUD/7 USD.
Activities – Multi-day activities and tours are expensive, generally costing 400-540 AUD/295-400 USD. Day trips will cost about 135-230 AUD/100-170 USD. For example, a one-day trip to the Great Barrier Reef can cost 230 AUD/170 USD while a two-night sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands can cost upwards of 540 AUD/400 USD. A three-day trip to Uluru from Alice Springs is around 480 AUD/355 USD. Walking tours are around 50 AUD/35 USD and day trips to wine regions are between 150-200 AUD/110-150 USD.
Backpacking Australia Suggested Budgets
How much does it cost to visit Australia?
On a backpacker budget, you can do it for 60-80 AUD/45-60 USD per day. This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a cheap hostel or camping, cooking most of your meals (sometimes eating fast food), and using local transportation. On this budget you could stick to mostly free activities, or admission fees for museums/sites.
On a mid-range budget of about 135 AUD/100 USD, you’ll be able to stay in a nicer hostel, have an occasional meal at a restaurant, enjoy some intercity travel, and see a few more sights (or enjoy basic tours, like walking tours).
On a “luxury” budget of 270 AUD/200+ USD, you can spring for a private room in a budget hotel, enjoy eating out at least once a day, and fly between some cities.
Australia Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Australia can be a very, very expensive country to visit. If you aren’t careful, you’ll blow through your entire budget in no time flat! Here are a lot of ways to save money when you visit Australia:
- 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.
- Drink goon (box wine) – Goon is infamous on the Australian backpacker hostel trail. This cheap box of wine is the best way to drink, get a buzz, and save a lot of money at the same time. 4 liters typically costs 13 AUD/10 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 10 AUD/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. ALDI is the cheapest supermarket in the country, followed by Coles and then Woolworths (though sometimes you don’t get a choice at which place you can shop it! Some small towns only have one!).
- 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.
- 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 tour agency will get you a discount and save you hundreds of dollars as a repeat customer.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Couchsurf – Accommodation in Australia can be quite pricey. If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing hosts all throughout the country. This way, you not only have a place to stay but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
- Fill up your water bottle – The tap water is clean and safe to drink in Australia. Cutting the 2-3 AUD for each bottle of water will reduce your daily spending. Not buying bottles of water also good environmental impact too!
Where To Stay in Australia
I’ve been a backpacker here for ages and have accumulated a long list of places to stay. Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Australia:
- Base St. Kilda (Melbourne)
- Space Hotel (Melbourne)
- Blue Parrot Backpackers (Sydney)
- Wake Up! (Sydney)
- Bunk Brisbane (Brisbane, Queensland)
- City Backpackers HQ (Brisbane, Queensland)
- Kimberley Travellers Lodge (Broome)
- Witch’s Hat (Perth)
- The Shiralee Hostel (Perth)
- Aquarius Backpackers (Byron Bay)
- Byron Bay YHA (Byron Bay)
- Gilligan’s Backpacker Hostel and Resort (Cairns)
- Globetrotters International (Cairns)
- Nomads Noosa (Noosa)
How to Get Around Australia
City Transit – 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/2-3 USD. Taxis are expensive – skip them.
Air Travel – With Australia being over seven million square kilometers, it takes a long time to get around the country. Flying is one of the most efficient ways to city hop, but it’s not the cheapest. Australia’s major airlines include:
Tiger Airways is Australia’s budget airline. There are often a lot of fare sales and budget deals (like Sydney to Perth for 170 AUD/125 USD return). I look at them more than any other airline. Otherwise, Sydney to Melbourne will cost you between 155-180 AUD/115-130 USD, while a longer flight like Cairns to Perth is around 700 AUD/515 USD!
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. The two major bus companies in Australia are:
Both companies sometimes offer 1 AUD/0.75 USD fares but, for the most part, the buses ticket prices are around 35 AUD/25 USD (night buses are usually around 60–70 AUD/45-50 USD). From Melbourne to Cairns, a Greyhound pass will cost you 550 AUD/405 USD.
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. A Sydney to Cairns package starts from 770 AUD/565 USD for 9 days, but that’s with only one night’s accommodation.
Train – The train system in Australia is not cheap, but it’s 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 690 AUD/510 USD!). If you really want to travel by train, use the Rail Australia website to plan.
Rideshare – If you really want to save money and travel cheap, find some other friends, rent a car or campervan, and drive around the country. 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. 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. You can usually find a used car for 1,000-2,000 AUD/735-1,470 USD. It might seem a lot, but there are always backpackers looking to share the ride!
When to Go to Australia
Considering Australia is such an enormous country, the climate and temperatures change from place to place. Overall, the most popular time to visit Australia is from April to September. The weather is lovely and mild, and most of the country is dry and warm. All the popular attractions will be open too. In Southern Australia, March to May (autumn) is a great time to visit. On the other hand, the crowds of tourists can be intense, and prices will be much higher than in the off-season/shoulder season. You’ll have to book many things in advance!
If you’ve come to Australia to take advantage of hiking, winter (June to August) is a nice time to visit.
The low season is from October to March, when temperatures are too hot and humid, and unbearable to most people – especially in the Red Center and around most of Western Australia. The plus side: discounted travel rates! Especially at hotels and hostels.
From October to April is also “jellyfish season,” making waters unsafe for swimming or any other water sport. If you’re planning on enjoying Australia’s coast, this probably isn’t the best time to come. The season lasts from October to April in Northern Australia, and then November to March elsewhere.
How to Stay Safe in Australia
Australia is an incredibly safe place to backpack and travel – even if you’re traveling solo, and even as a solo female traveler. Violent attacks are rare. People are nice and helpful and you’re unlikely to get into trouble. If you’re in a big city, take normal precautions like you would anywhere else.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. You have every right to remove yourself from the situation. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Australia. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
Most incidents in Australia tend to occur because visitors are not used to the country’s unique climate and wilderness. Be sure you have plenty of sunscreen, and stay as hydrated as possible. This is especially true if you’re driving through the outback. There are long, long distances without any towns in sight, so if you break down, you’ll want to be prepared. If you’re hiking, make sure you know what to expect ahead of time. Be on the lookout for snakes and spiders, and if you’re bitten, seek immediate care. (Don’t worry though – all those horror stories about giant spiders and vicious animals are pretty rare!) Furthermore, if you’re swimming, heed the red and yellow flags. Yellow flags indicate swimming conditions may be dangerous; red flags mean the beach is closed.
Mother nature in Australia is NOT a force to reckoned with.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good 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. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Australia Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Australia. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are always my starting point when I need to book a flight, hotel, tour, train, or meeting people!
- Momondo – This is my favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings! (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Australia, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- STA Travel – A good company for those under 30 or for students, STA Travel offers discounted airfare as well as travel passes that help you save on attractions.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. Just enter your departure and arrival destinations and it will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost. One of the best transportation website out there!
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Australia Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading to Australia, here are my suggestions for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack.
The Best Backpack for Australia
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for other suggestions and tips on how to pick the best one.
What to Pack for Australia
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 6 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 8 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 7 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Australia Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
In A Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson
It’s hard to pick just one book by Bill Bryson that’s good, because they all are. He’s one of the most prolific and recognized names in travel writing. This book chronicles a journey through Australia and takes you from east to west, through tiny little mining towns, forgotten coastal cities, and off-the-beaten-path forests. Bryson includes lots of trivia in his tale as he travels around in awe — and sometimes in fear (thanks to box jellyfish, riptides, crocs, spiders, and snakes) — of this enormous country. This is the book that inspired me to go to Australia.
The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough
This is an Australian classic, originally published in the 70s, which follows the epic saga of a family living in sheep country in the Australian Outback. The story focuses on two main characters: Meggie Cleary with her forbidden love, and Ralph de Bricassart – a parish priest whose passion for Meggie haunts him. Even if this isn’t your type of book, it’s a really awesome insight into life in the Australian Outback (especially during the 70s).
A Long Way From Home, by Peter Carey
Irene Bob loves to drive fast, and her husband is the best car salesman in southeastern Australia. Together they decide to enter the 1954 Redex Trial – an endurance drive that circumnavigates the entire country. Willie Bachhuber, a failed schoolteacher, joins them. If they win their lives will be forever changed – but first they’re led out of the comfortable Australia they know so well and into an unexpected adventure full of twists and turns. Peter Carey is a two-time Booker Prize winner, and one of Australia’s most well known writers. Read this book!
Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback, by Robyn Davidson
This is Robyn Davidson’s memoir of her incredible journey 1,700 miles through the Australian desert to the sea, accompanied only by four camels and a dog. Davidson fends off sweltering heat, poisonous snakes, and dangerous men – all while wrangling her temperamental camels. It’s definitely one of those transformative stories that allows you to get super invested in the author as well as the severe Australian desert landscape. It has also been made into a great documentary!
The Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin
You can’t come to Australia without learning a little bit about the country’s Indigenous Australians. This is part travelogue and part autobiography, and one of Chatwin’s most famous books. Here, Chatwin searches the Australian Outback for the source of the Aboriginal “dreaming tracks,” the invisible pathways from which the Aboriginals’ ancestors sang the world into existence. The Songlines was an instant best-seller when it was published, and nowadays it’s a classic.
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Australia
This book shows you how to easily collect and redeem travel points so you can get free airfare and accommodation.
Kristin Addis writes our solo female travel column and her detailed guide gives specific advice and tips for women travelers.
This book features interviews with dozens of teachers and detailed information on how to land your dream job and make money overseas.
My best-selling book will teach how to master the art of travel so that you’ll save money and have a more local, richer travel experience.
Australia Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Australia travel and continue planning your trip: