Australia is an exciting, diverse and gorgeous place to visit, but, boy, it can be expensive. Even though getting to the Land Down Under may eat-up a portion of your travel budget, you can still have an incredible experience without breaking the bank. The key is coming up with a realistic itinerary— which is code for “spend more time in fewer places.” Because of the sheer size of this beautiful continent, you will need to plan wisely. Here’s how to have that once-in-a-lifetime trip on a budget.
Getting Around on a Dime
If you want to save money and get around Australia, you have to keep your options open. Gas is pretty expensive, so driving a rental car will put a dent in your wallet. Here are some great, money-saving ways to get around Australia.
Air Travel – Major carriers like Virgin and Qantas are pricey if you plan to hop around the country. The good news? There are some value airlines that have recently hit the market and are trying hard to win over the budget traveler. If you are going to be in Australia for a few weeks, Rex Airlines has a Backpacker Pass that offers unlimited travel to destinations across Australia for one to two months. Instead of spending days on the road, you can get to your destination in an afternoon.
Hop-on Hop-off Bus – This style of travel is great, especially if you plan to explore the East Coast. A flexible pass is a fantastic way to have total control over your itinerary and to meet amazing people along the way. Stray offers a guided network of stops that hug the coast from Sydney to Cairns. Best of all, passes give you the freedom to hop off anywhere along the way, as often as you like. This way you can tailor your trip and spend more time in the places you want.
Camping – Another way to get around Australia inexpensively is to rent a campervan. The most beneficial and cost-saving part about renting a campervan is that it combines your transportation and accommodations costs. You can get a campervan for as little as $15 per day. Forget the stress and expense of having to stop and look for a new hotel every night, there are loads of campsites all over Australia. You will also save a ton of money by not having to eat out, as they come equipped with kitchens and fridges. Findacamp is an awesome website with which you can find and book bush camps, caravan parks and all types of lodging with just a click of the mouse.
How to Sleep on the Cheap
Lodging is one of your big-ticket expenses and you have to be willing to be both imaginative and adventurous if you want to stick to your budget. Backpacker lodges (aka hostels) are a great alternative to cheap hotels. They are not just for the young. Even though I am in my mid-50s, I stay primarily in hostels when I travel abroad. I always have a blast and make many new friends from all over the planet. Many lodges are dorm-style rooms, but there are also private and family rooms available. Hostels also have common kitchen areas, which are great for saving on meal costs. Many are also on the Stray route, which makes getting around a snap. Check out how to book a room at YHA Australia.
Airbnb – If you’re someone who likes to have their own space and privacy but still needs the local experience, Airbnb might be the perfect fit for you. It can be much cheaper than a hotel and you get the chance to get the inside scoop on the best places to go from your host.
Dining on a Budget
Even though the food at many restaurants throughout Australia is on the expensive side, there are plenty of ways to eat cheap. First, try asking the locals where they eat, they will not steer you wrong in your quest for a bargain meal. Supermarket receipts often include deals for nearby restaurants, so don't toss yours after you shop. If you are looking for excellent takeaway, try Menu Log. The app hooks you up with nearby eateries that deliver food right to your door.
Old-fashioned picnics are still one of the best ways to enjoy an inexpensive meal. Visit one of the local markets to pick up some food and a bottle of great Australian wine and head to one of the many parks or beaches for a meal in the great outdoors.
If you are staying in a hostel or an Airbnb, try eating in. They have full kitchens and you can supply yourself from the local markets. Every major city and regional area has a local market where you can get food, clothes and mementos from your trip to Australia. If you are in Melbourne, check out Queen Victoria Market. Sydney has its iconic beachfront Bondi Farmers Market, where you can get great food, cheap groceries and enjoy live music.
Exploring Australia on a Shoestring
Visit City Parks, Museums and Galleries – Almost all major towns and cities have free public parks. After your visit to the Sydney Opera House, head to the Royal Botanic Gardens where you can stroll through serene gardens and take in amazing harbor views. If museums and galleries are your thing, many are free to the public. It is best to visit their website to find out if they have particular days or times when entry is free.
Head to the Shore – Australia is famous for its beaches. In fact, there are thousands of beaches situated on more than 30,000 miles of coastline. Join the friendly locals at the beach for a fun and free good time (just check if you need a few coins for parking). Bells Beach in Queensland and Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach are sure bets.
If you are in a caravan, or 4x4, you can camp on the beach for free in many designated sites (again, just check out where by going to findacamp). A favorite spot is Fraser Island Beach, just north of Brisbane. This 75-mile long beach is great for four-wheel drive camping. It’s so big you can still feel like you’re the only one on the beach.
Where the Wild Things Are – You will find that it can a bit pricey to get into major zoos and wildlife parks. The good news is that Australia is a wildlife paradise. If you do a bit of traveling, there is a good chance you will spot Aussie wildlife for free. Check out Kangaroo Island in South Australia, Down Under’s answer to the Galápagos Islands. Here you can spot kangaroos, bandicoots, sea lions and koalas. You can’t leave Australia without a visit to the Great Barrier Reef. If you are staying in one of the lodges near Cairns, you can easily join one of the many boat tours on which you can snorkel or, if you don’t want to get wet, view the action from an underwater observatory.