Australia is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. It’s known as a major backpacking, camping, road tripping, and diving destination.
Backpacking Australia is considered a “must do” for backpackers. It’s a central highlight on the round-the-world trail. I started coming to Australia in 2008 as a backpacker. It hooked me and, since then, I’ve visited over five times and have crisscrossed the country three times. Every single trip I discover something new about this country to love.
But this isn’t just a country for backpackers. Its huge diversity means every traveler can find something they love here.
Australia is filled with incredible natural beauty: Uluru and the Outback, rainforests and 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’re relaxing in Europe. You have surfing, hiking, camping, boating, and a ton of other activities available to you. It makes some of the best wine in the world. Australia has it all.
However, the country’s size and limited transportation options, makes it hard to get around. And it’s not the cheapest place to visit, even if the currency is a tad weak right now.
Fortunately, this extensive Australia travel guide will show you how to save money, plan your trip, and make the most of your time Down Under. Because this country is worth taking the time to explore – and doesn’t need to cost a fortune!
Table of Contents
Click Here for City Guides
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Australia
1. See Sydney
Australia’s largest city has a range of activities to keep you busy. Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, surf at Bondi Beach, party in King’s Cross, sail across the harbor, visit the Opera House, and take in world-class innovation in Darling Harbor. There’s a ton to see and do here and it’s worth spending a few days here to soak it all in. Other popular beaches nearby include Manly (wide and beautiful), Bronte (small and quiet), Coogee (fun), Palm (chill), and Dee Why (surfing). And, if you’re feeling adventurous, tours that climb the iconic (and massive) harbor bridge cost 250 AUD.
2. Visit Uluru
This beautiful red rock formed over 550 million years ago. Tourists have been visiting the rock since the 1930s and it’s of great spiritual importance to the local Aboriginal peoples. Formerly known as Ayers Rock, the best way to visit is by going as part of a multi-day tour of the area or driving on your own. You’ll be able to walk around the rock, learn about its cultural importance, and watch the rising/setting sun splash against it. Admission is 38 AUD per person and is valid for three days. Note: Climbing on the rock is prohibited.
3. Dive the Great Barrier Reef
Don’t miss diving or snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. It’s the largest living organism on Earth, spanning some 344,000 square kilometers (133,000 square miles). The reef is brimming with wildlife, including giant clams, manta rays, sharks, turtles, clown fish, and more! Cairns is the most popular jumping-off point for dive trips to the reef. I was blown away by the abundant wildlife and coral. It did not disappoint! Dive trips start around 230 AUD.
4. Explore Melbourne
Melbourne is much more relaxed than Sydney (and, personally, I like it more). This is the place to relax by the river, walk through the city gardens, eat amazing food, enjoy the art, and party in St. Kilda. It’s a fun, chill city with a youthful vibe and a ton of backpackers.
5. Sail the Whitsundays
The Whitsunday Islands are a collection of 74 islands off the central coast of Queensland. They’re one of the most popular destinations in the country. It’s a popular region for sailing trips and since the vast majority of these islands are designated national parks, you’ll find numerous pristine beaches and dive sites here. It’s a postcard-perfect region. Expect to pay between 399-499 AUD per person for a three-day/two-night sailing trip. While expensive, it’s worth doing (I loved my trip).
Other Things to See and Do in Australia
1. Explore Fraser Island
The world’s largest sand island is a popular spot for camping, swim, hike, and seeing dingoes. You can hire your own 4WD car or take an overnight tour through the island that’s famous for its freshwater lake (and dingoes). The island is beautiful and filled with lakes, hiking paths, and sweeping vistas. Sadly, you can’t go in the water nearby as it’s rough and full of sharks, but there’s plenty of fishing, cool sand dunes, the stunning 75 Mile Beach, and a cool shipwreck for snapping photos. Camping on the island is super cheap too (less than 10 AUD per night!).
2. Visit 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 should give you enough time to explore the area and allows some downtime by the city’s awesome pool.
3. Wander Brisbane’s South Bank
Brisbane is a “business city.” Unlike Sydney or Melbourne, there isn’t a lot of “culture” here. But it’s a popular stop on the backpacker trail due to its location. Be sure to explore South Bank, which has some nice restaurants and decent pubs. There’s also an educational koala sanctuary here as well as a relaxing botanical gardens.
4. Hike the Daintree
The world’s oldest rainforest (yes, it’s older than the Amazon) offers hikes that range from easy to challenging, with dense jungles, beautiful mountains, waterfalls, and lots of wildlife. Spend a few days hiking around and getting out of touristy Cairns. If you really want to get off the beaten path, head up to Cape Tribulation and enjoy some real peace and quiet (just watch out for jellyfish when you go swimming). There are all kinds of day and multi-day trips available here with two-day guided trips costing around 350 AUD per person.
5. See 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 (it’s a 5-hour flight from Sydney) 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. And be sure to visit some of the places I love: Karijini National Park, the Kimberleys, Kakadu, and Litchfield National Park. The landscapes are stunning and there are all kinds of epic hikes to enjoy.
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 near 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! A two-hour group lesson costs around 75 AUD. If you don’t need lessons and just want to surf, you can rent a board for around 60 AUD per day.
8. Take a 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. Day tours with Colorful Trips that visit three wineries in the Hunter Valley cost 199 AUD.
9. Admire 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 here — you can even swim with whale sharks. Plus, at some points (like at Coral Bay), the reef comes so close to the shore that you can swim right up to it on your own. Half-day trips start around 120-225 AUD per person.
10. Visit Western Australia
The most overlooked area in the country is the west coast. Here you can escape the crowds of the east coast, explore the Outback, see 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 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 and is an amazing region for road trips, camping, hiking, and enjoying nature.
11. Tour Tasmania
Despite everyone knowing its name, hardly anyone ever makes it down here. (It’s far from the main tourist trail.) Tasmania has amazing hikes, beautiful bays (Wineglass Bay being the most famous), small towns, and excellent people. It’s just a ferry away from Melbourne too. The island is about the size of Ireland (or West Virginia in the USA) yet it’s home to just under 545,000 people. If you have the time, explore this terribly under-visited part of the country. It’s amazing. The ferry from the mainland costs around 100 AUD each way and takes 9-11 hours.
12. Hike the Blue Mountains
Right outside of Sydney, the Blue Mountains are an awesome place to explore. Over millennia, the ancient sandstone of this national park has been weathered into gorges lined by steep cliffs and separated by narrow ridges. The area is free to visit and you can get there by train, which takes around two hours. Spend the day admiring the magnificent rock formation of the Three Sisters (particularly stunning at sunset and under evening floodlights) and hiking along the paths that offer excellent views of the valley, sheer rock walls, tumbling waterfalls, and magnificent forests. For a guided tour, Get Your Guide offers full-day wildlife-spotting tours for 155 AUD.
13. Learn about pearling in Broome
Broome used to be the largest pearling port in the world. Founded around 1880, pearls were an important commodity used for making cutlery, buttons, and jewelry. By 1900, there were 300 ships here, though the industry fell into decline during World War II (and then, after the war, plastic was invented, which diminished the need for pearls). You can learn all about the region’s rich history at the Pearl Lugger Museum (tours for 30 AUD). If you want a more hands-on experience, Willie Creek Pearls also offers a two-hour boat tour for 129 AUD. You’ll learn about the risks and challenges of the industry while also getting to hold and touch all kinds of valuable pearls.
14. Visit the 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. Located near Broome, this outback region is three times bigger than England that’s filled with stunning gorges, beautiful waterfalls, and a vast desert landscape. It was one of the first areas settled in Australia some 65,000 years ago (Europeans didn’t arrive here in the 1830s). There are all kinds of day trips and hikes here that you can do solo, as well as multi-day guided tours. Expect to pay around 1,200 AUD for a three-day guided excursion. If you’re going solo, popular overnight hikes include Piccaninny Gorge and Lurujarri Dreaming Trail.
15. Explore Kakadu National Park
The enormous Kakadu National Park is a biodiverse nature reserve in Australia’s Northern Territory. It encompasses wetlands and rivers and is home to saltwater crocodiles and flatback turtles, as well as many different bird species. Rock paintings (dating back to prehistory) can be viewed at Nourlangie, Nanguluwur, and Ubirr. You can find a lot of tours departing from Darwin. Be sure to spend at least a night in the park! Three-day tours cost around 735 AUD.
For more information on specific cities in Australia, check out these guides:
Australia Travel Costs
Accommodation – Hostels dorms start around 25-30 AUD per night, though they get as high as 40 AUD in the big coastal cities. Private rooms with a double bed and a shared bathroom in hostels range between 65-100 AUD per night, though in larger cities they can be as high as 150 AUD. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi and self-catering facilities. Only some hostels include breakfast.
For those traveling with a tent, a basic tent plot without electricity starts around 7 AUD, though most are 10-25 AUD per night.
For budget hotels, expect to spend 100-120 AUD per night for a two-star hotel. Amenities usually include TV, Wi-Fi, and AC. Some hotels have a pool.
Airbnb is available around the country with private rooms starting around 40 AUD (though they average closer to 90 AUD). Entire homes/apartments cost at least 140 (though they are usually double or even triple that price so be sure to book early). Expect to pay about 10-20% more in the coastal cities.
Food – Food in Australia is diverse, with each region having its own specialties. While you can find cuisine of all types here, popular traditional choices include BBQ meat (especially sausages), meat pies, fish and chips, seafood, chicken parmigiana (chicken schnitzel topped with tomato sauce, ham, and melted cheese), and, of course, the infamous vegemite on toast.
Food prices vary per region, but generally, you can expect to pay 20-25 AUD for a meal at a casual restaurant. A fast-food combo from somewhere like McDonald’s costs 13-14 AUD while a pizza costs around 16-20 AUD. Chinese, Thai, and Indian food cost 12-20 AUD for a main dish.
If you want to splash out for something more upscale, a expect to pay around 55-70 AUD, including a drink, per person.
A beer is around 8 AUD, latte or cappuccino costs around 5 AUD, and bottled water between 2-3 AUD.
If you cook your own meals, expect to pay around 75-95 AUD per week for groceries. This gets you basic staples like pasta, rice, seasonal produce, and some meat.
Backpacking Australia Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget, you can visit Australia for 70 AUD per day. This assumes you’re staying in a cheap hostel, cooking all of your meals, using public transportation to get around, and doing mostly cheap or free activities like hiking and enjoying the beaches. If you camp, you can lower this budget by around 20 AUD per day. If you plan on drinking, add 10-20 AUD to your daily budget.
On a mid-range budget of 200 AUD per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb or hostel room, eat out for a couple of meals, enjoy a few drinks, take the occasional taxi to get around, bus between cities, and do more paid activities like taking surf lessons or going diving.
On a “luxury” budget of 385 AUD or more, you can stay in a hotel, eat out for all your meals, drink more, rent a car or camper van to explore, and do whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
Australia Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Australia can be a very expensive country to visit. If you aren’t careful, you’ll blow through your entire budget in no time as activities, food, and transportation all adds up fast here. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to save too. Here are some ways to save money when you visit Australia:
- 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. Drink this before you go out and save on spending money at the bar.
- Cook your own meals – The best way to reduce your costs is to cook as many meals as possible. Hostels and Airbnbs usually have kitchens and, while it’s not glamorous, it will save you a ton of money!
- 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 hostel message boards.
- 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 can get you a discount and save you hundreds of dollars.
- 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. Check with the staff when you arrive to see if there are any opportunities available.
- WWOOF – 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. It’s a great way to reduce your expenses and can a deeper look into local life.
- Stay with a local – Accommodation in Australia is pricey. If you plan ahead, you can usually find a Couchsurfing host that will host you for free. It’s the best way to connect with a local and get insider tips and advice.
- Camp – Camping is very affordable here, with basic tent plots costing as little as 7 AUD per night!
- Bring a reusable water bottle – The tap water in Australia is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle with you to save money and lower your plastic use. LifeStraw makes a bottle with a built-in filter to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
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 my suggested places to stay in Australia if you’re looking for a hostel:
- Base St. Kilda (Melbourne)
- Space Hotel (Melbourne)
- Wake Up! (Sydney)
- YHA Rocks (Sydney)
- Mad Monkey (Sydney)
- Bunk Brisbane (Brisbane)
- City Backpackers HQ (Brisbane)
- Kimberley Travellers Lodge (Broome)
- The Shiralee Hostel (Perth)
- Aquarius Backpackers (Byron Bay)
- Gilligan’s Backpacker Hotel & Resort Cairns (Cairns)
- Nomads Noosa (Noosa)
- Alice Lodge Backpackers (Alice Springs)
How to Get Around Australia
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 2.75-4 AUD.
Many cities offer day passes that include unlimited public transportation for under 10 AUD.
Bus – After driving, this is my favorite transportation option in Australia. On the east coast, this will be your cheapest option too. On the west coast, buses are surprisingly expensive as there are not many people moving up and down that coast and there’s limited competition. However, on the east coast, you can find really cheap bus tickets, especially if you book in advance.
The two main bus companies in Australia are:
Greyhound also offers several bus passes. Their Whimit Passes range from 15-120 days of unlimited travel and are perfect for traveling around on a whim (hence the name). They come in 15, 30, 60, 90, and 120-day passes costing 349-729 AUD.
To find bus routes and prices, use BusBud.
Backpacker Bus – If you want to party with other backpackers as you travel, book a seat on the Magic Bus. This backpacker bus departs with 25 backpackers aged 18-35 for 3-4 weeks of exploring the country’s national parks, camping, bonfires, and non-stop parties and shenanigans.
Trips go from Perth north to Broome or east to Melbourne each month, so you have to time your trip accordingly to line up with the set departure. The itineraries are always flexible so every trip is unique. They try to keep a balance of 50% men and 50% women, as well as a balance of different nationalities, so there is always a diverse group. Prices vary so contact them for departure dates and ticket prices.
Train – Between city trams, commuter trains, and long-distance and trans-continental trains, Australia can be seen extensively by rail. 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.
For reference, Sydney to Canberra takes 5 hours and is 40-50 AUD while the 11-hour trip from Sydney to Melbourne costs over 200 AUD. Sydney to Brisbane takes 14 hours and costs 100-140 AUD.
Beyond the east coast, trains aren’t as plentiful and long-distance trains can be very expensive.
Flying – With Australia spanning over 7,000,000 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:
When booked in advance, flights can be very affordable here. Sydney to Melbourne is just 55 AUD and takes 90 minutes while Sydney to Cairns takes 3 hours and costs around 100 AUD each way. To cross the country, flights last around 5 hours. Sydney to Perth, when booked in advance, can cost as little as 150 AUD each way.
When not booked early, however, flights can easily double or triple these prices.
Rideshares – 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. CoSeats is another good resource for finding rides.
Car rental – Car rentals start around 40 AUD per day. You don’t need one to explore any of the cities but if you want to travel the country then a car is best. Just remember that they drive on the left here.
For the best rental car deals, use Discover Cars
Additionally, you can also purchase a car from backpackers leaving the country or locals selling used cars. You can usually find a used car for under 3,000 AUD. It might seem a lot, but there are always backpackers looking to share rides, which can cut down on our expenses.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking is safe and common in Australia. Just make sure you have a flexible schedule and dress respectably (and for the weather) as rides are infrequent. Hitchwiki is the best resource for additional tips and information.
When to Go to Australia
Temperatures vary across the country (it’s a huge landmass after all), but generally speaking, average summer temperatures range from 20-37°C (68-99°F). Remember that summer is from December-February here in the southern hemisphere. This is the most popular time to visit so expect big crowds and higher prices.
June-August (winter) is the low season. Prices are lower and there are fewer crowds. The temperature dips as well, hovering around 1°C (52°F) in the south while going as high as 30°C (86°F) in the north.
Spring and fall (March-May and September-October) are the shoulder season and the best time to visit. Crowds aren’t as big and prices aren’t as high and the weather is still enjoyable too, rarely dipping below 17°C (63°F).
Note that 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 from November to March elsewhere.
How to Stay Safe in Australia
Australia is an incredibly safe place to backpack and travel around. Violent attacks and petty theft are rare here so you’re unlikely to get into trouble.
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. Always make sure you have enough gas in your vehicle for long drives.
If you’re hiking, make sure you know what to expect ahead of time. Be on the lookout for snakes and spiders. If you’re bitten, seek immediate care.
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 be reckoned with in this country. Don’t be a hero.
Solo female travelers are generally safe here, however, the standard precautions apply (never leave your drink unattended at the bar, never walk home alone at night intoxicated, etc.). Consult other solo female travel blogs for specific advice.
If you’re worried about travel scams, you can read about common travel scams to avoid here. There aren’t many in Australia though so I wouldn’t worry too much here.
If you experience an emergency, dial 000 for assistance.
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
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- Rome2Rio – 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. It’s one of the best transportation websites out there!
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
- LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
- Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.
- Top Travel Credit Cards – Points are the best way to cut down travel expenses. Here’s my favorite point earning credit cards so you can get free travel!
Australia Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more information? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Australia travel and continue planning your trip: