Many people that travel to Australia underestimate the costs associated with this journey. I wouldn’t like to shatter your dreams about scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef or seeing the iconic Uluru sunset but you should be aware that Australia is one of the costliest countries to explore. It is a huge but yet sparsely populated country which means a lack of competition. And don’t get me started about its hefty taxes and fines. Anyway, my point wasn’t to scare you, I just want to make sure you know this before you come to Australia. With that being said, traveling Australia on a budget sure isn’t easy but it’s 100% possible if you plan it properly.
How much does it cost to travel around Australia?
As far as accommodation goes, even hostels in the big cities will cost you between $20-$30 AUD. A private room will cost at least $60-$70. An average meal in a restaurant will cost around $40 AUD and even a value meal in McDonald’s will cost around $10. You can get some cheap eateries in some of the food courts in the big malls but even that will cost $15-$25. If you like to go partying or have a few drinks, keep in mind that alcohol is shockingly expensive in Australia and will likely leave a big hole in your budget. Let’s add a few tours and transportation into the mix and if you’re a backpacker/budget traveler, you would need at least $90-$100 per day. And that’s just the bare minimum.
After seeing these numbers, you must be wondering is it even possible to…
Travel in Australia on a Budget?
I know the numbers I mentioned above sound scary but yes, it is. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this article. Before I start with some of the tips on how to do this, I would like to address a couple of important things.
Firstly, many travelers disregard the sheer size of Australia and they come here thinking they can explore the country in 2-3 weeks. Australia is the sixth biggest country in the world and it’s almost the same size as the United States minus Alaska. You might even know this but I just wanted to lay it out as a reminder because many travelers plan their schedule thinking that traveling around Australia won’t take as much time as it actually does.
With that being said, let’s start planning your journey. The first thing you need to decide is which city will be your starting point. Usually, the cheapest options are to fly to Sydney or Melbourne but also don’t forget to check Brisbane and Perth. I would suggest to book your flight to either Melbourne or Perth and work your way through the other side of the country, from where you could get your return flight.
Once that’s sorted and you reach the land down under, you need to figure out how to…
Get around Australia
Obviously, the quickest way of getting around the country is domestic flights. However, these aren’t very cheap either. There are some decent low-cost carriers like Tiger, Virgin, and Jetstar. The last one has a Friday Frenzy deal with which you can get ridiculously cheap flights but you need to react fast because a lot of people are waiting for this deal to book their flight.
If you don’t like paying too much for domestic flights, you can consider…
Driving your own vehicle in Australia
This is a reasonable thing to do if you’re traveling with a group of friends that can share the costs with you. The first thing you should have in mind here are the fuel prices. The fuel prices are generally cheaper in the cities on the coast and most expensive around the Northern Territory. Make a schedule and try to fill up your tank on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as these are (historically proven) days in which the fuel prices are slightly cheaper (up to 20 cents per liter). Also, if you spend a certain amount of money at Coles and Woolworths supermarket, you can get discount coupons that will save you between 5-8 cents per liter. If you’re driving across the country, this can be a lifesaver.
Traveling around Australia by bus
Buses are a relatively cheap way of exploring the country, especially if you’re traveling solo. Some cities even have free inner city tramps (ex. Melbourne to Adelaide) while others have free shuttles (ex. Sydney on the route 555). For longer journeys, the most reliable carrier is probably Greyhound that has buses traveling around the country. Another popular choice is the Oz Experience which works on a hop-on-hop-off basis and provides different passes, depending on the length of your trip and the areas you want to go to.
Traveling around Australia by train
The railway in Australia is centered around the east coast with only two other major lines: Melbourne-Darwin and Sydney-Perth. Trains are a bit more comfortable than buses but they are also a lot more expensive. A train journey from Sydney to Perth, for example, is oftentimes more costly than a flight! Sure, there are some scenic rides but I wouldn’t recommend you train travel if you’re planning to visit Australia on a budget.
Ridesharing in Australia
Finally, another money-saving transportation option is ride sharing that’s becoming increasingly popular in Australia. Some of the most famous ride-sharing providers are CoSeats, Share Ur Ride, Life Social, and Catch a Lift.
Where to find cheap accommodation in Australia?
The first thing that comes on my mind are the many National Parks of Australia where you can camp for free or for a small fee. It’s not a luxurious choice but most camping sites have basic amenities, like power, water, and toilets. However, if you decide to go for a free camping spot keep in mind that these places don’t have the facilities paid parks have but can still provide an amazing experience. Another good choice is…
Most caravan parks are clean and have some more-than-decent amenities on the beach- which is the best location in many cities. The two major players are Top Tourist Parks and Big4 but they can get too pricey during the peak season. A powered tent site in these caravan parks costs between $30 and $60, depending on the number of people and the season. One great app for this purpose is WikiCamps that has a database of all caravan parks and campsites with user reviews. If you’re thinking about the idea of traveling around Australia with a campervan but don’t have one, check out Gumtree for some good deals.
Staying in Hostels
Hostels are always a cheap option, even though in Australia even they are most expensive from what you might be used to. A bed in a dorm costs between $20 and $30 and a private room will cost you at least $70. If you’re traveling with a family, take a look at YHA hostels, who are a bit more expensive but still cheaper than a hotel.
House Sitting or Couchsurfing
Couchsurfing is always a great choice to stay with a local for free and oftentimes have your own personal guide free of cost. However, house sitting is also a great choice you should have in mind. If you’re interested in the latter option, you can check out some of the most popular house sitting websites, such as Trusted Housesitters, Aussie Housesitters, Mind a Home or House Carers
Finally, my personal favorite budget accommodation option is WWOOF. It’s a program that allows travelers to work and stay on the farm in exchange for free meals, accommodation, and a chance to experience Aussie rural life for free! You don’t even need to know anything about farming. Probably, you’ll be picking fruits most of the time. It’s a great way to save some money and leave a positive impact on the local environment.
What about phone & internet costs in Australia?
Do you need some cheap and reliable internet? In the land down under, you can only wish for it. Not only is internet more expensive here but it’s also relatively unreliable when away from the big cities. Good news is that you can find a stable and free Wi-Fi connection in all McDonald’s restaurants and in most libraries.
The best deal you can currently get is Yomojo’s Kid’s Phone Plan that includes 1 GB of data and 200 minutes per month for $10. Another good choice is Vodafone’s Combo Plus Starter Pack which includes 17 GB of internet and unlimited national calls for $15. The most reliable operator in Australia is Telstra but you would have to pay a bit more for their packages.
As for electronics, since most of the brands are imported from Asia, Europe, or the US, expect everything to be even more expensive here. I really wouldn’t recommend you to buy any electronics in Australia unless you really, really need it.
With that being said, I will end this article by giving you a list of…
Tips for traveling in Australia on a budget
Eat at the food courts in shopping malls- it’s almost as cheap as preparing your own meal.
Download Menu Log– it’s a great app for finding cheap restaurants for takeaway or food delivery
Go to the bottle shops – if you want to save money on beer, wine or spirits. Bottle shops are the cheapest places where you can find alcohol in Australia. Once you do that…
Find BYO restaurants- because alcohol is ridiculously expensive in Australia, a lot of restaurants allow you to bring your own beer or wine for a corkage of $1 or $2. This will help you reduce your dining costs.
Find RSLs- every town in Australia has a local RSL club. It’s a place where you can get cheap meals and drinks and it’s the locals’ favorite.
Refill at the bubbler- a bubbler is a public fountain and refilling water from one is much better than spending $2.50 for a bottle of water. Plus, you’re also helping Australia reduce its plastic waste.
Consider visiting during the offseason- March to May and September to November are the two best periods to visit Australia if you ask me. These months are in the offseason and this means there are fewer tourists around and even the prices are a bit lower, including the airfare.
Finally, the last piece of advice I’ll give you is…
Minimize your time in the big cities and find freebies
Spend more time in nature away from the big cities- because obviously, cities are a lot more expensive. Visit national parks or rural hidden gems like Yamba, Dunsborough or Port Elliot and have a typical Aussie experience for fraction of the price.
Some of the best things you will see in Australia don’t come with a $50 entry fee. Most Australian museums have at least one day of the week in which you can visit them for free. Additionally, take a free walking tour and use the chance to mingle with locals and get some useful tips from them.
Have you ever visited Australia? Do you think budget travel in the land-down-under is possible? Share your experience in the comments below