The (Painful) Cost of Travel in Australia (how to make it work!)

The cost of travel in Australia seems to be getting higher by the second.

It’s crazy!

Sure it’s unique and beautiful and a dream destination for many people, but it’s no secret Australia is also a premium destination that comes with a price tag of being one of the most expensive places to visit.

But you probably already know that because you tell us all the time.

Constantly we hear from you guys, other Australians and foreigners we meet traveling on the road, or friends complaining about the cost of travel in Australia.

Whether it’s the cost of accommodation, food, tours, car rental, fuel, parking fees or our shitty internet that is expensive with crap coverage, I’m sick of hearing myself complain.

I’ve understood for years why many Australian families head to the pacific islands like Fiji, or to Bali and Thailand in Asia for their annual holidays.

We had several conversations with families in Perth who THINK about visiting Broome, or the wonders of Exmouth or Coral Bay – three of our favourite places in Australia to visit – but when they price it out it’s just cheaper and easier for them to fly to Bali.

It’s a shame because Australia travel is amazing, but you can only do what you can do financially.

Even with the cost of flights in Australia, you can get better value overseas!

They say why pay $75 for a one-hour massage in Australia when you can pay $8?

Why pay $12 for a beer when you can pay $3? Why pay $120 to eat out as a family when you can pay $40? And why pay $400 per night for your resort accommodation when you can pay $150?

When you go away on holidays the last thing you want is to be counting every dollar. And you certainly don’t want to return home with a hefty credit card bill.

You’ve saved up for a year to enjoy your dream trip, you don’t want to be paying for it for another year once you return home!

As we continued our road trip around Australia, we saw on a daily basis the cost of travel in Australia and often go into a state of shock. And I grew up in this country.

If you’re coming from Southeast Asia, or even the States, then you might just faint.

What happened to our best accommodation option in Australia?

Caravan Parks used to offer the best value in town, now I’m not so sure.

We’ve been charged $60 per night to pitch our tent on a patch of grass. Part of that fee was $12 per night for our 2 year old. We were in Narooma on the NSW south coast. No offense Narooma, but you’re not the Gold Coast, or Byron Bay!

Here it is:

Norooma, NSW, Australia
Our $60 per night tent site in Narooma.

As for cabins in caravan parks, 2-bed cabins can go for $350 per night, and 3-4 bed villas up to $600 – it’s insane!

High accommodation prices in Australia are just the start

Accommodation in Australia will be one of your biggest expenses, but it doesn’t end there.

When we first went out to a pub in Melbourne, I coughed my beer straight back up into my pint glass when I realized I’d been stung $12.

The other day, I nearly fell over when I saw a paddle pop (a popsicle) for sale for $6 in the Daintree National Park. One paddle pop for 6 bucks. I don’t care if it was homemade, it’s a PADDLE POP.

I nearly choked on my food when I found out a club sandwich cost $26 at a cafe we were at in Sorrento, Victoria. I get that it was in Sorrento, but I was sitting on a plastic chair on the footpath in the main street (no water view or breeze blowing through my hair) and it’s a CLUB SANDWICH.

When I mentioned this horror on our Facebook page someone said “If you think that’s bad, what till you get to Perth”. Oh, and I’ve since heard it costs $13 for one Corona at the Cottesloe Hotel, really??!

Enough of my Ranting about the cost of travel in Australia!

Ok, I’ve got that off my chest now and this post is not intended for me to just rant.

But after promoting all the good points about Australia over the past 10 months on the road, make that the past four years since our travel blog has been up and running, I need to keep it real and bring some reality to the table and talk about one of the cons of Australia travel – the cost.

Now if you keep reading below I hope you’ll get real some value out of this post and learn something, and maybe even save a few bucks on your next trip to Australia.

The Cost of Travel in Australia content guide:

Click to jump ahead to any relevant topics for you, or just keep reading and scrolling to find out more about the cost of travel in Australia:

The Cost of Travel in Australia

So is it really that bad? Maybe you can tell me?

The rest of this post I’m going to role play a little with you. I’m going to act like your travel agent and show you how I book travel in Australia, the websites we use, and current examples of prices.

I’ve gone through almost every facet of travel and priced things out like I was planning a trip.

I hope you find this useful and it helps you to get your head around thinking on Australian terms now, and not Asian, American or Eastern European prices.

Please Note:

I did the research for all of these flight deals two years ago so prices and availability will vary, use them as a guide only.

Cost of Flights in Australia

Depending on the time of year and day of the week the cost of flights to Australia will vary greatly just as they do in any country.

The Criteria:

For my first example, I researched one of the most popular flights on the network, the Sydney –> Melbourne route.

  • 1hr 30min flight
  • Return ticket
  • Booked 5 weeks in advance
  • Depart Sat Aug 2nd, return Wed Aug 6th (3 days in Melbourne)

I ran this scenario through my favourite flight search engines. Best price I got at the time was:

How does this price compare with a 90 minute return flight in your country?

2014-07-16_2239

The second example I used was another popular flight from Sydney –> Cairns, you’ve gotta visit the Great Barrier Reef right?

  • 3 hour flight
  • One way ticket
  • Booked 5 weeks in advance
  • Depart Aug 2nd

Best price I found was:

Note: I’ve never flown with Tiger Air and given their past history of maintenance and financial issues I’m not sure I ever will. Personally I would go with the Virgin Australia or Jetstar price.

How does this price compare with a 3 hour one-way flight in your country?

2014-07-10_1442

When searching flights in Australia I always start with these sites:

My strategy is to check the above search engines first, then I cross-check the prices with the actual airline with who I found the best price. Sometimes the best deals can be from the airlines themselves.

The major carriers flying domestic in Australia are:

Cost of Accommodation in Australia

Your other major travel cost in Australia will be accommodation. This will also vary greatly depending on whether you need 1 or 5 stars, your date of travel, the city, and number of persons your travelling with.

Cost of Hotels in Australia

We don’t stay in hotels nearly as much as we used to pre-kids unless it’s a short city stay and we can get a great deal in a good location, with breakfast and free wifi included.

For my research on a hotel stay I used the following criteria:

  • Sydney
  • 3 night stay
  • Check in Monday Aug 4th
  • 4 guests (2 adults / 2 kids)

With so many things to do in Sydney it deserves at least 3 nights and in the City Centre would be your best bet.

I started by using one of my favourite sites for hotel deals, Hotwire. This site doesn’t tell you the name of the hotel until you book, instead, it gives you a zone to choose from based on how many stars.

For a 3-star hotel in the City Centre it quoted: 2 hotels at $257 total for 3 night stay.

For a 4-star hotel it quoted: 6 hotels at $407 total for 3 night stay.

How does that compare to your city?

2014-07-11_1503

My other hotel booking site is Hotels.com. For a 3-star hotel in the City Centre prices ranged from $197 – $307.

And for a 4-star from $334 – $444.

2014-07-10_1537
2014-07-10_1538

Cost of Apartments in Australia

As a family of four we seek out apartment stays. Most hotel rooms were not built for families with young kids. We enjoy having more space, a kitchen, a washing machine, and separate bedrooms.

Using the same criteria as for the hotel stay I used these sites:

Stayz.com.au – this is a good holiday rental site in Australia for finding short or long-term deals in apartments, peoples homes, units, cabins and more.

2014-07-11_1439-639x710

Tripping.com – this is a site that compares all the other rental sites at once to get you the best deal. For the 3 night stay in Sydney I got 333 results. Here’s an example:

2014-07-11_1453

AirBnB  – they have a growing list of inventory in Australia whether you need an apartment for a night, or a home for a month.

For the 3 night stay in Sydney I focused on the inner city neighbourhoods of Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Woolloomooloo area and got these examples:

2014-07-29_2332

And for Bondi Beach I got 33 rentals and this is a selection of those results:

2014-07-29_2334

Cost of Hostels in Australia

Hostels are a great budget option with various standards and facilities from hostel to hostel around the country.

For my Sydney search on the various hostel search sites I got 71 results for those same dates in August, and in an 8-bed dorm beds starting from $20.

We had a partnership with YHA Australia as are our exclusive hostel provider as we travelled around Australia. We’ve stayed in YHA properties for many years because as a family of 4 we’re DONE with dorm rooms and YHA is a brand we like and trust and 99% of the time they are not party hostels.

For those dates in Sydney I got $35 for an 8 bed dorm to $136 for a family room.

2014-07-10_1506

The Cost of Caravanning & Camping in Australia

For many people who live in Australia or travel Australia long-term, the Australia road trip involving caravanning and camping is their preferred option.

There’s a great network of facilities in most places, and they either buy or rent their equipment.

Again, depending on the time of year, location and number of persons camping prices will vary wildly.

As we are currently traveling around Australia towing a camper trailer, prices for a powered site in a caravan park have ranged from $50 – $70 per night. For an unpowered site from $25 – $40.

Before we had our camper trailer we did some camping and prices within caravan parks for us as a family of 4 ranged greatly from $30 – $60.

  • Big4 Caravan Parks is the major player. They can be the most expensive caravan parks in Australia, but typically have the best facilities, especially for our kids with things like playgrounds, pools, movie nights, kids clubs etc.
  • Top Tourist Caravan Parks is the other major player with a similar concept to Big4 but not quite as many parks in their network.
  • Free Camping in Australia is possible at designated camping sites in many locations. They just don’t have the facilities that paid parks have. Check out ExploreAustralia.net.au
  • WikiCamps is a great app we’ve just discovered which has a user-generated database of caravan parks and campsites  in Australia with user reviews on the features.

The Cost of Getting around Australia

Local transport varies from city to city but Melbourne probably has the best with an extensive network of rail, bus, tram and ferries.

A 10 minute taxi ride from the airport in any city to your hotel is will cost you about $40.

Unless you’re just flying into Sydney or Melbourne for a few days and using public transport you’ll need your own wheels to get out and see the country.

The cost of Car Rental in Australia

RentalCars.com is where we start our rental search.

This site compares all the major car rental sites at once and displays your best options for the dates and locations you desire then sends you to the particular car company to make the booking (much like Kayak for flights).

Buying a Car in Australia

If your planning on spending a long period of time in Australia and want to buy a car you can spend as much as you want. Check out the websites below.

Hot Tip: if you buy a camper trailer like us or a campervan try and resell it in the north or west of the country as you’ll get a higher sales price.

The cost of fuel in Australia:

The cost of unleaded fuel is about $1.55 per litre on a national average. We’re currently paying $1.60 per litre for diesel here in North Queensland.

The Cost of Campervan Rental in Australia

Another option is to rent a campervan (motorhome) which becomes your wheels and your bed all in one. This is another popular option that we see a lot on the road and people staying in caravan parks.

For my example I used this criteria:

  • 3 week rental
  • Pick up Sydney, drop off Cairns
  • 4 people (2 adults, 2 kids)
  • From Nov 3rd

The best prices and the biggest inventory seemed to be from ApolloCamper.com.au which started at $2,542 ($115 per day) for a 4 birth.

Other sites to check out include:

2014-07-30_2122

For the backpackers or couples, I used the following sites:

Jucy seemed to have the better daily rate starting from $60.

2014-07-30_2152

The Cost of Bus Travel in Australia

Of course, there are the public bus systems within each major city and regional areas, but the two main national carriers are Greyhound and OzExperience.

They both operate around the hop-on-hop-off system and have different passes depending on length of trip and areas covered.

For this example, I used the popular Melbourne –> Cairns route.

  • Greyhound have a mini traveller pass for $555. you can travel between Melbourne and Cairns, hop on and off as many times as you want between these two destinations.
  • OzExperience has a Skippy Pass for $859 with 4 additional tour inclusions.

The Cost of Train Travel in Australia

There are a couple of famous train routes throughout the country.

One is the Ghan which travels from Adelaide via Alice Springs to Darwin (2,979 km’s) and takes 2 nights. Prices in November for one adult siting in a seat started from $499.

The other train journey is the Indian Pacific from Sydney via Adelaide to Perth (4,352km’s) and takes 3 nights. Prices in November for one adult in a single cabin started from $2,239.

These rail journeys are more scenic routes and won’t save you money, or get you to your destination in a hurry!

Check out RailAustralia.com.au

The Cost of Food and Drink in Australia

Cafes & Restaurants

Eating out too often on your travels in Australia can really take a BITE out of your budget (pardon the pun).

For us to eat out as a family of four at breakfast in a cafe would normally cost us $50+. A mug of coffee is from $4 – $4.50. Drink soy milk and they’ll sting you an extra 50 cents.

Our order typically reads:

  • Eggs benedict ($15-$18)
  • Smashed avocado on toast ($15-$18)
  • One serve kids pancakes to share ($12)
  • 2 x coffees ($4.50 each)

Lunch in a cafe in Australia would be a similar price. Meal prices on average would be:

  • Hamburger $12 – $18
  • Fish & Chips $15
  • Lasagne $18
  • Greek salad $18
  • Kids meals $8 – $12
  • Glass of wine/beer $6 – $8

A restaurant would be more!

As for dinner, I’m not even going there. Too many different types of restaurants and options. But typically dinner is the most expensive meal of the day and in a mid-range restaurant you’re looking at $25+ per main meal.

Supermarkets in Australia

The two major supermarket chains on a national level are Woolworths and Coles, with IGA the next biggest.

Prices will differ from region to region and season to season, but below are examples of some staple food costs:

  • Loaf of bread: $2.50
  • Litre of milk: $1.50
  • Dozen eggs: $5.00
  • BBQ chicken: $10
  • Box of cereal: $4.50
  • Can of Baked Beans: $1.20
  • Rump steak $8+
  • Atlantic salmon fillets $29 per kg
  • Prawns: $25+ per kilo
  • Litre bottle of water: $2.25
  • Coke bottle 2 litres: $3

The cost of Alcohol in Australia

If you think eating out is expensive, start consuming too many alcoholic drinks and you’ll wake up the next morning with a much lighter wallet than the night before.

Example prices from a bottle shop (liquor store):

  • Box of 24 domestic beers (375 ml): $45+
  • Box of 24 Corona $60
  • 6 pack of beers: $15 – $20
  • Mid range bottle of wine $15 – $20

At the pub or a bar in one of the major cities you’ll be looking at:

  • Pint: $10-$12
  • Schooner (425 ml): $6-$8
  • Glass of house wine: $6-$8

The Cost of Tours & Activities in Australia

I’m not going to go too deep into this area as there are a million variables, and not everything costs money.

We do have some awesome FREE things to do in Sydney and we’ve got over 10,000 of some of the best beaches in the world which are free (besides the parking fees).

If you are visiting multiple cities and attractions, then it may be best to purchase an Australian Multi city Flexible Attractions PAss. It can save you up to 40% off admission to Australia’s famous attractions, tours, cruises and things to do all on one easy to use card [ybox]

You can find some cool free stuff to do in any location, but here are a few examples of some of the most famous activities and the costs involved:

Get Your Guide

Should You Visit Australia?

Of course, you should if it’s your dream destination.

Australia is expensive, yes, and you might have to save up more money than for other destinations, but if it’s the destination that appeals to you the most and you find value in what it has to offer regardless of the cost, come on down.

If you want to explore Australia, and there’s certainly a lot to see and do, then find a way to make it happen. It’s an amazing country to road trip and at the end of the day it’s all about accumulating lifelong memories!

Heads Up!

Next week we’ll be sharing with you a post on How to Travel Australia on a Budget with some great tips for getting the most bang for your buck.

Need More Tips for travel in Australia?

Check out these posts on Australia:

Plan your trip to Australia

 Accommodation in Australia

Flights to Australia

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, you book directly through the airline or agent (no extra fees).

Car Rental in Australia

Is Australia on your bucket list? Would you still visit knowing the high cost of travel in Australia?