If you are intending to visit Australia on a budget you’ll need this post.
I hate to shatter your dreams of endless Great Barrier Reef scuba dives and watching an Uluru sunset with a glass of champagne, but Australia is expensive.
We’re a huge country with a small population, which means a lack of competition. Our government doesn’t mind slapping on high taxes, especially when it comes to those finer things in life we enjoy, like a cold beer at a nice pub.
They don’t mind a few rules and fines too!
Recently we wrote about the high cost of travel in Australia which caused a little bit of a stir. One reader even suggested we leave HIS country. Hmm, it’s no secret Oz is expensive, but when you say it out loud some people take it personally.
So today we hope to help you lower your costs on your trip downunder.
Travel to Australia on a budget is still possible and today that is our focus.
If you follow our tips, you will close up that hole that travel to Australia can create in your wallet AND have an awesome time.
Planning a Trip – Australia on a Budget
Firstly, lets put Australia into perspective and why you need to think about what you hope to see and do when you visit.
Many travelers disregard the actual size of Australia and it’s landscape until they arrive, and end up regretting the choices they made in the planning stage.
Australia is the sixth biggest country in the world and about the same size as mainland USA. So, considering the country is so vast, the problem becomes how to visit Australia and where to visit?
Think about how much time you have and then make a list of your must-see places and plan accordingly.
If you only have a few weeks and you’re on a budget, it would be best to focus on one or two regions. You don’t want to be travelling from NSW to Western Australia then back to Queensland. You and your bank balance will be wiped out.
But if you have an extended period of time you’ll have more flexibility and strategies you can use. Let’s dive in.
Getting around Australia
Flying around Australia
Once you get here, Australia is the land of long distances and for so long we really only had two airlines, Qantas and Virgin, so there was a lack of competition and prices were high.
Thankfully, air travel is getting a little more competitive and cheaper.
Jetstar has a Friday Frenzy deal where you can snap up a flight sometimes for as low as $19. The flight route changes each week and the competition is fierce though.
Rex Airline has a backpacker pass available only to international travellers, which gives you one or two months of unlimited Rex air travel. Rex flies to regional areas such as Broken Hill, Kangaroo Island, King Island and Coober Pedy.
Tiger Airways also has cheap domestic flights within Australia, but they have had cancellation, financial and maintenance issues in the past and personally I’d probably pay a little extra to go with the others.
When searching for flight deals in Australia we always start with these sites:
- Being flexible on your dates is the key to cheap flights. If you are locked into fixed travel dates, or can only fly on weekends or during popular school holiday periods it’s going to be more costly. Peak season and holiday weekends will have the most demand, so expect higher prices.
- Start searching for prices once you know you are taking a trip and continue to check them once per week. Have a price you are comfortable paying and jump on it.
- Cheaper deals can be found depending on the day you choose to fly. The consensus is that it’s best to FLY OUT on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. These are typical off-peak days meaning lower fares and less passengers. Fridays and Sundays are usually the most expensive days to fly.
- Flying at unpopular hours, such as the red-eye or early in the AM instead of late morning through afternoon, increases your chance of getting cheaper tickets.
- For domestic flights it’s often cheaper for us to use different airlines and book two separate one way flights. For example, we have flown Jetstar Airways in one direction and Virgin for the return (or vice versa).
Do your research and factor in online booking costs.
- Join a frequent flyer program. Many programs are created for airline partnerships where they’ll honor each others’ miles – such as the Qantas / Emirates partnership. I recently used my points for a free flight from Townsville to Brisbane.
- Read up on the discussions or join in on discussions on frequent flyer programs. One extensive forum is the Australian Frequent Flyer forum.
- Sign up for an airline affiliated credit card. We use a Commonwealth Bank AMEX Card which gives us 2 Qantas points for every dollar spent. We use this card to pay all our travel expenses, business costs, plus everyday expenses and bills. For Australian residents check out the list of cards here.
- Sign up for Email Notifications. The best airfare sales can go largely unannounced. Sign up for your favourite airline eNewsletters. Subscribe via these links: Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar Airways.
- Try booking via a foreign website. In Australia our friend Chantelle discovered a sneaky way to search flight deals by using the Expedia Japan site. What to do:
- Go to Expedia.co.jp (the Japanese Expedia site).
- Yes, it’s all in Japanese. So go up to the top right corner and click English (next to the Twitter icon). Much better, right?
- Choose your flights and dates.
- Eeek. The prices are in Yen. That’s cool. Use a currency conversion tool to convert it into Australian dollars (or wherever you’re from). This isn’t exact, but it was almost spot on for me.
- Choose your flights and purchase them. Some credit cards won’t work. My Visa did. I incurred a $1 fee PLUS the flight costs. Signed up to Expedia Japan to get your itinerary although you will receive an email confirmation from Jetstar Airlines and Expedia.
- If there are three or more of you travelling to an airport, it will probably be cheaper to share a taxi than the train link.
Driving around Australia
Fuel is expensive and the price will vary from state to state and region to region. Currently in the Northern Territory we’re paying up to $2 per litre for diesel.
If you’re driving around Australia long-term fill your car with friends instead and split the costs.
According to MotorMouth Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days to top up on fuel. Avoid buying it on the weekends, especially if a public holiday!
Check Coles and Woolworths supermarket receipts (dockets). If you spend a certain amount, you’ll get fuel discount coupons, which will save you from 4 – 8 cents a litre. This can add up especially when driving often and long distances.
FUEL SAVING TIPS:
- Remove excess weight from your vehicle to increase your fuel economy.
- Stay in central locations where you can walk to places and don’t have to rely on your car constantly.
- Plan your routes – don’t back track on long drives and avoid congested areas in big cities.
- Use air conditioning sparingly in the summer.
- Maintain your vehicle – get it serviced and check that your tyres are at the right pressure.
- Drive at a steady pace and use the right gears.
Car Rental in Australia
Vroom Vroom Vroom is our favourite car rental site. Use this website to compare all the major car rental sites at once to find your best deal. Remember one-way drop offs usually incur a fee! Try and plan your flights and trip so that your driving loops back to your original pick-up destination.
Want a campervan? Check out Relocation rentals where you can rent a campervan for as little as $1 a day. You’re given the vehicle, the route, a time frame and sometimes fuel allowance. Basically you are getting a vehicle really cheap to be the delivery guy.
Juicy are popular campervans to rent. We’ve been seeing these bright green vehicles all over Australia. If the backpackers are using them in droves they must be good value.
Driving Your Own Vehicle
Consider buying a car if you intend on being in Australia for a long time. You could sell it at the end of your trip and reclaim some of your initial outlay.
Consider a camper trailer like ours below or a caravan, especially for long-term family travel in Australia. It’s a big country, so having a home on wheels is a more economical option.
If you buy a camper trailer or caravan try and resell it in the north or west of the country as you’ll get a higher re-sale price.
Sites for buying cars include:
Getting around by Bus
Research each Australian city for any free public transportation routes.
For example, Melbourne and Adelaide have free inner city trams and Sydney has a free CBD shuttle (route 555) which runs every 10 minutes on a loop from Central Station to Circular Quay via Elizabeth and George Streets.
Greyhound Australia is a national bus service. We recently experienced them travelling from Airlie Beach to Townsville. I found it comfortable and was an easy ride. The girls enjoyed it and were pretty well behaved, although the aircon was crap.
Oz Experience operate like Greyhound with the hop-on-hop-off system and have different passes depending on length of trip and areas covered
Premier also has been highly recommended for bus travel in Australia.
We highly recommend against getting the bus from Sydney to Perth. It’s a long journey with nothing much in between. We met someone who did it and then tried to tell us Australia was really boring. Go figure!
Getting around by Train
If you’re a family and in Sydney on a Sunday, take advantage of Family Funday Sunday – for $2.50 per person, your family can enjoy a great value day out anywhere in Greater Sydney with unlimited travel on all trains, buses, ferries and light rail.
Whilst we’re on the subject of Sydney, check out our post: 18 free things to do in Sydney
Long distance train travel can be expensive but you can find rail passes covering the train network across Australia that give you great savings. Rail Passes start at $298.
Where to Stay in Australia
If you can time your visit right by staying mid-week, you can really save some cash. Especially avoid the big cities over a weekend if possible.
We’re stunned by how much the prices for a bed can rise on the weekend – some places triple.
One of our favourite ways to save on anything is to negotiate. There’s nothing wrong with a little conversation to help you get a better deal.
Here are a few ways to ask for a cheaper or better deal:
- Is that the best price you have at the moment?
- What if we stay longer?
- Are you able to waive the fee for children? (Many of the campsites in Australia charge per child. We’ve negotiated it off several times)
- Does breakfast come with that? Are you able to include it?
- Is there any chance for an upgrade?
- I did notice XYZ property down the road is advertising $X can you match that? I’d much prefer to stay here, but I have to keep to my budget.
Camping in Australia
Australia has so many National Parks and many of them you can camp in for free or a small cost. This will involve bush camping. A night here and there is perfect to help reduce costs. The most popular campsites will have basic amenities – power, toilets, and water.
They are usually clean with fantastic amenities on the beach – the best location in town.
Cost of powered tent sites in caravan parks depend on number of persons and for families they will charge you per child. Prices start from $35 up to $60 depending on time of season and location. Same goes with powered sites for caravans and camper trailers.
Free Camping is possible at designated camping sites in many locations. They just don’t have the facilities that paid parks have.
Last week we stayed at an awesome free campsite by the river at Gregory Downs in Outback Queensland. Check out ExploreAustralia.net.au for listings.
WikiCamps is a great app we’ve just discovered which has a user generated database of caravan parks and campsites with user reviews on the features.
Camping is a great way to meet Australians and for families the best and cheapest way to travel around Australia on a budget.
In Sydney a great option is to camp on Cockatoo Island on the Harbour. Wake up to views of Sydney Harbour Bridge for about $45 a night. Bargain!
Staying in Hostels
Hostels are another cheaper option. A dorm room on average will be $20 to $30 and a private room around $80- $110.
If you are considering a private room then it might make more sense to see if you can get a cheap hotel for around the same price. There are some hostels that are great for families.
Hostel Zoo is a great search and comparison site that pulls data from all the main hostel websites to help you find the cheapest price.
We prefer to stay at the YHA hostels as they are usually of a higher standard and are better for families. Many have family rooms, if not you can book out an entire 4-6 bed dorm to yourself. We liked the spacious 6 bed dorm we just had to ourselves at Bungalow Bay YHA on Magnetic Island – it came with its own bathroom. Yay!
You can also get YHA memberships which give you a 10% discount on accommodation and any tours they offer. Every little bit helps when you travel to Australia.
For great views of Sydney Harbour at a third of the price you would pay anywhere else, the Sydney Harbour YHA- The Rocks is definitely the place to stay. Have breakfast on the rooftop with views of the Opera House.
Hostels also have common kitchen areas which is great for saving on meal costs!
We love apartments or home rentals when we travel as a family. It gives us a lovely break from our camper trailer or hostels.
It’s a great opportunity for us to all have our own space, catch up on work, do the laundry and cook our own meals in a full kitchen. We need to have that bit of home every now and then.
This is the best option for families or two families sharing. It can also work out to be cheaper than hostels if a group of travellers get together and share.
Again, depending on the location and time of year prices will vary. And mid-week will be your best bet in the major cities.
Some websites for searching in Australia include:
- Stayz – great for for finding short or long-term deals in apartments, peoples homes, units, cabins and more.
- Tripping.com – this site compares all the other rental sites at once to get you the best deal.
- Last Minute
We recently tried AirBnB for the first time and were blown away. We found an awesome 3 bed apartment in the city of Townsville for $105 per night. Every other apartment we found was at least $250.
We’ll be regularly checking the AirBnB listings in all the major cities from now on!
We don’t stay in hotels nearly as much as we used to pre-kids, but below are our favourite search sites we use to find a deal:
House Sitting or House Swapping
The house sitting strategy has not worked for us as our schedules are never planned more than a week in advance so we have little flexibility to book things in advance.
And because we have a set route we’re following there is little flexibility in that regard to just change direction and go where the house sit is.
Competition is also fierce. But if you are super flexible and can travel where the house sits are rather than find a house sit to suit your plans, then it can work very well for you.
For house sitting sites check out:
There is a strategy behind finding the right house sit and beater others to the job. Check out this comprehensive guide on Housesitting to be ahead of the game.
Eating Cheap in Australia
It be tough to get cheap food in Australia. The majority of your meals will have to come from your own culinary skills.
Be sure to leave room in your budget for the odd meal out as we do have beautiful produce and amazing meals can be found. Don’t miss out on our fresh seafood all around the country.
Below are a few tips for getting cheap eats in Australia.
Coles and Woolworths are our competing supermarkets whose love for price wars can really benefit you. Cook your own meals and grab supplies for a picnic rather than eating out.
In smaller regional areas, you’ll find IGA or Foodworks. I prefer IGA. I find their prices are cheaper and often have great specials. They also support local produce suppliers.
If you’re going to eat out often, go for breakfast or lunch instead of dinner – prices will be cheaper.
RSL’s, Memorial Clubs, Bowling Clubs and Surf Clubs – Almost every town in Australia will have at least one of these clubs that have relative cheap food and drink.
Shopping Malls – Hit the food courts in any of the shopping malls for lunch. They typically have cheaper meals.
Research restaurants in the area carefully, you might be lucky to find a “children eat free” deal. Some of your accommodation may have coupons. Ask the locals for their picks for eating out.
Check the back of your supermarket receipt. You will often find deals for nearby restaurants such as two for one.
Australia has lots of takeaway places (take out). You’ll find them in every town and are mostly Asian, Italian, Greek, fish and chips, bakeries or chicken shops. You will find meals much cheaper here than if you were to eat in.
Menu Log is a great app for finding takeaway deals. This app tells you what restaurants are nearby and who home delivers. It’s on iPhone and Android. Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Malaysian food is often still the best value.
And you cannot go wrong with Chinatown in Sydney and Melbourne. It’s where you’ll find cheaper prices and large servings.
Picnics – still one of the best ways to have an economical meal. Take advantage of the beautiful city parks, beaches and foreshores. Lay out a blanket or towel and source your supplies from the supermarket or farmers market and pick up a cheap bottle of wine from the bottle shop!
Eating in – of course cooking your own meals with supplies sourced from the supermarket or farmers markets will save you money. We make self-contained accommodation with a full-kitchen a priority on our travels.
Pubs and Clubs
Alcohol will KILL your budget in Australia, especially if you get comfortable at a pub or bar. Don’t be surprised to get charged up to $12 for a pint of beer in Sydney, Melbourne or Perth. A glass of wine can go for $6-$8.
You should definitely visit some of our iconic pubs, and we have some of the best beer gardens in the world, but if you do look for drink specials and happy hours. Australia doesn’t’ have much of them, mostly due to our binge drinking laws.
Bottle Shops (Liquor shops)
You can get a decent bottle of wine for $12- $20 from the bottle shop, or if you are game, the old Aussie favourite, the goon, which is basically cask wine. You can get 4L for about $14. The goon becomes the best friend of many backpackers to Australia.
Check out the back of your supermarket receipts, they often have a buy two bottles of wine for the price of one coupon.
When buying beer from a bottle shop it’s better value to buy a carton of 24 bottles ($48) than a 6 pack for $15. Often they’ll have specials on beer.
My favourite range of beers in Australia is the James Squire range, not sold everywhere. Carlton Dry is also a good local beer at decent prices!
BYO (Bring Your Own)
A lot of restaurants in Australia are BYO. That means you can bring in your own beer or wine, usually for a corkage of $1-2. This will greatly reduce your eating out costs.
Refill a water bottle at a public bubbler (water fountain) instead of spending $2.50 per bottle of water. Do not drink from any taps marked as ‘bore water’ as it‟s not safe for consumption.
And get yourself a decent bottle you can fill up each morning before leaving your accommodation.
Soft drink (soda)
Now is the time for you to give up the coke addiction. Again, your best bet is to buy by the box at a supermarket.
Bottom line – drinking is an expense that isn’t very friendly to your Australia on a budget plans. Budget wisely.
Activities and Entertainment
Lucky for you Australia is an outdoorsy culture with stunning nature, parks and wildlife.
Visit the City Parks
In the major cities we have some beautiful and free public parks in amazing locations to go for a walk or have a picnic.
In Sydney don’t miss the Royal Botanic Gardens, The Domain and Hyde Park.
In Melbourne don’t miss the Botanical Gardens, Carlton Gardens and Fitzroy Gardens.
Perth’s Kings Park is lovely with stunning views over the river to the city.
All the major cities will have a nice enough park for you to getaway and enjoy some solitude at no cost.
Visit the Beaches
Australia is famous for its beaches. Our coastline stretches almost 50,000 kilometres and is linked by over 10,000 beaches. Spending the day at the beach is what us locals love best and a cheap way to spend your day.
Take a day pack with water, food, sunscreen and your towel. Or make use of the free BBQ facilities. Just make sure you have some gold coins or a credit card for the parking meters!
For tips on some of our favourite beaches check out these posts:
- 11 of the best beaches in NSW
- 6 beaches in Melbourne to visit
- 6 beaches in Tasmania you must set foot on
- 14 beaches in Australia not to miss
With so many beaches and being an island continent Australia has many stunning coastal walks that won’t cost you a cent.
You can stretch your legs for an hour or half a day. All you need again or some snacks, plenty of water and your camera.
We have plenty of walks left to do but some of our faves so far have been:
Australia literally has thousands of National Parks.
Whether you just visit for a day or stay over and go camping our National Parksour a highlight. Some national parks charge a vehicle entry fee and it may be worth getting a multi-park pass or an annual pass if you’re here long enough.
- NSW National Parks – for pass options click here.
- Queensland National Parks
- South Australia
- Western Australia
- Northern Territory
Visit the markets
Every major city and regional area has a market. You won’t get the food and souvenir prices you’ll get in Asia but a trip to the markets is still a cost effective way to eat, shop for clothes, and buy some nick knacks.
We recently left Cairns and Rusty’s Market is an icon up there and was a great place to get our fruit and vegetables.
Seek out the markets wherever you go to stock up on your food supplies and they’re generally a great pace to visit in their own right.
Free Entry to Museums & Galleries
If museums and galleries are your thing, visit the particular website and find out which day or time of day they have free entry. Most museums and galleries have certain periods where entry price is free.
For example in Sydney the Art Gallery of NSW is free to enter and is one of Australia’s leading art museums with collections of Australian, Aboriginal, European, Asian and contemporary art.
Although we do recommend paying $20 to see the M.O.N.A museum in Hobart – amazeballs.
See the Wildlife
Entry prices to zoos and wildlife parks can be a bit pricey in Australia. Fortunately if you’re on a road trip there’s a good chance of seeing the Aussie wildlife for free in the wild, and naturally it’s the best place to see them!
Head down to places like Pebbly Beach on the NSW South Coast where you’ll have kangaroos running wild on the beach.
Koalas can be spotted on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria and on Magnetic Island in Queensland.
If you don’t have the time or the means to get out of the city and want to see some Aussie wildlife, Sydney’s Taronga Zoo is world class with probably the best views of any zoo.
Free Walking Tours
The guys from I’m Free Walking Tours offer free guided walks in Sydney and Melbourne twice daily. The 3 hour easy walking tours will show you the sights and give you your bearings so you can then go it alone. These walks are a great introduction and the knowledgeable guides work for tips only.
Festivals & Events
If you can, time your visit to coincide with one of the fantastic festivals or events around the country, many of them for free. It’s a great way to experience some Aussie culture.
One of the best free festivals in Sydney is Vivid Sydney.
For other suggestions check out – 14 Australian Festivals and Events
The cost of tours in Australia can be super expensive, so you have to prioritize what tours and attractions you really want to experience.
This could be your once in a lifetime trip and you don’t want to miss out on your ultimate experiences so put aside some money in your budget for those and sacrifice in other areas of your budget.
Here are some of our favourite tours we recommend putting money aside for (so far!):
- Great Barrier Reef experiences. We did the Marine World day trip for $485
- Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb – Although you can walk across for free. And make sure you walk around to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair in the Royal Botanic Gardens for one of the best free views of the bridge and Opera House.
- Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania
- Gordon River Cruise, Tasmania
More Australia Travel Tips
Tourist Information Centres
We always visit the tourist information centres in each city and town we go to.
We like to drop in and get our free maps and chat with the folks behind the counter who can be a great source of local knowledge on how to spend your dollars and time!
Make it a Working Holiday
Consider working in Australia. Although the cost of travel (and living) is high, you can offset that by working in the country on a working holiday visa and saving some dollars for travel.
Agricultural, fruit picking and wine harvesting provides excellent opportunities for you to work in exchange for food an accommodation and often times extra cash.
We’ve seen plenty of signs advertising free accommodation in exchange for a couple of hours work a day in hostels.
To live and work in the country can be a cost effective way to experience Australia over the long-term.
Phone & Internet in Australia
What I hear you ask? Cheap and reliable internet? We wish!
Not only is internet in Australia stupidly expensive, it is also hugely unreliable and away from the capital cities can be very slow.
It’s a constant struggle for us as we road trip around the country, particularly in the country regions and the Outback. Our phones are with the Optus network and since we left the east coast weeks ago we’ve barely had service.
Try libraries, cafes, hostels and McDonald’s for free wifi hot spots to check your email from your smart phone or laptop. If it is free, don’t expect it to work that well. And rarely will it be fast especially in congested areas.
Also, Urban Spoon is a good resource to search cafes and restaurants offering free wireless.
You can buy mobile wifi devices for your own laptop to connect to the internet. You can pay-as-you-go which could be a cheaper alternative then buying internet connection at hotels or hostels.
We currently have the Pre-Paid 4G Wi-Fi device.
You can buy a cheap SIM card for your phone from the supermarket or phone store. You can then pay as you go.
Telstra is the fastest with the best network (which they abuse with high prices). Optus is the next best – they have better customer service than Telstra but Telstra has the better coverage.
How to Visit Australia
Because Australia is fairly isolated from most of the world requiring a long flight, for many people it becomes a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Our number one tip is always “spend more time in fewer places”.
We highly recommend instead of racing from one end of the country to another, which leads to burnout and a bigger required budget, focus on one region or type of vacation.
Ask yourself these important questions:
- Do I want more cities or country areas?
- Coastal or the outback?
- Adventure travel or relaxation?
- Food and wine?
- Wildlife and Nature or do you want to party?
If you plan carefully, research thoroughly, and make smart spending choices, you can have that dream trip and experience Australia on a budget.
It’s a country that is really worth planting your feet on for a while.
Need More Advice on Australia?
Check out these posts:
And for extensive travel tips check out our travel ebook.