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3 Secrets To How I Traveled Australia on The Cheap

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For secrets on how I traveled Western Europe on the cheap, click here.

How was I able to visit Australia with very little planning and for relatively cheap?

I recently spent almost two months backpacking around Australia. I began in Brisbane on the East coast and ended in Perth on the West coast. In addition to those two cities, I visited areas surrounding Sydney, the Sunshine Coast, the Gold Coast, Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road, Rottnest Island, and even Tasmania.

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I visited the landmark Sydney Opera House, swam in tons of beaches, played with (and ate) kangaroos, visited the Blue Mountains, road-tripped along the Great Ocean Road, took selfies with smiling quokkas and so much more. Everything was on the whim and I didn’t spend nearly as much as one would think…

I had a tried and true formula for visiting an expensive country/continent like Australia.

The first secret to this strategy was to make a ton of Australian friends beforehand.

I’ll explain.

Like Western Europe, Australia was never on my radar of places to visit quite yet during my past ventures around the world. As I was backpacking much cheaper parts of the world like Southeast Asia and Central America, I naturally met other Australian backpackers in hostels or Australian volunteers in my placements. Fortunately for me (an American), Australians love to travel outside of their country. You can find them just about anywhere in the world.

These guys were great fun! I kept in touch with many of them over the years via social media, specifically Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. I began to realize how many Aussie buddies I had and planned on a future trip to travel around Australia, visiting many of them in the process. When I announced to them that I was visiting their country, they were psyched for me to come and even offered me to come stay with them for awhile.

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I think it’s a thing where you are much more excited about people you met while traveling to come and visit because of the unique experience you shared in whatever random country you both were in.

I naturally made so many Aussie friends and luckily for me they were scattered all throughout the country and in the big major cities: Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, and everywhere in between. I even had a couple friends who invited me down to Tasmania, which was a quick and easy return flight from Melbourne.

Basically, I just had to figure out who lived where and when they were free. I gave them all a little heads up as to when I’d be near their home turf and many of them accommodated or met up with me perfectly and happily.

On this trip to Australia, I stayed with nine of my Aussie buddies, a free Airbnb, and three hostels.

I explain how I scored the free Airbnb here.

I could have gone through all of Australia without staying in a single hostel if I chose to, but there were times I wanted to explore on my own and meet new people while I was there. The first hostel was in Sydney. I wanted to meet up with other backpackers I met from Fiji who were staying in hostels. The second was an over-night hostel on the Gold Coast before I met up with two other friends the next day. The third hostel was in Melbourne and that was to see the city more. I had a friend who lived about 30-minutes outside of the city who said I could stay with him for as long as I wanted, but I have an unwritten rule for myself that I won’t stay with anyone for longer than a week. However, I broke that rule a few times on other trips much to their persistence. 🙂

How did I get around these places?

Flights, trains, public buses, boats, and rental cars. Flights between the major cities were relatively cheap and there were lots of deals going on. The most expensive flight was from Melbourne to Perth, flying from the East coast to the West coast. Australia is super easy to get around in.

I made a slight hiccup when reloading my public transportation card in Melbourne which I highlighted here. Learn from my mistakes!

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The second secret to this strategy was having plenty of disposable time.

How much time you have is essential for every trip. Even with all the time in the world, I knew I wouldn’t be able to see all of Australia in one go.

This is important. Try not to see too much in one trip. It’s impossible.

This is the one major mistake many newbie travelers make. Australia is huge as heck. You’ll be tempted to try and do everything, which equates to more traveling and more money spent. Try to be realistic.

Knowing that my friends were taking me in and showing me around, I planned to have plenty of time as to give them the freedom to plan for me accordingly. They were doing me a favor by hosting me; the least I could do was adjust my trip to their schedules. Most of them took off from work for my visit, which was awesome.

I never felt like I was rushing while traveling through the continent. I took my time and did whatever I wanted because of all the time I had to spare.

Time is key for any trip!

However. While I was in Australia, I discovered another key strategy that other backpackers, specifically from Europe, used–backpacking Australia while on a working holiday.

The third secret to this strategy was to apply for a working holiday visa.

I didn’t use this secret, as I discovered it while I was backpacking in Australia.

At the three hostels I stayed in, I met backpackers from Europe who were all in Australia on a working holiday.

What is a working holiday?

A working holiday is where a foreign citizen is granted a temporary visa for up to two years to work and live in Australia. Countries part of the Commonwealth are granted a two-year working holiday visa while others such as the USA are only granted a one-year working holiday visa. Although, to extend into that second year you must have proof that you’ve done some inland farm/regional work while in Australia for a minimum of about three months.

Also, you must be between the ages of 18 and 31 to apply for one of these bad boys.

(There is a legislation that has been passed that may increase the capped age at 35, but it’s been repealed. Who knows if things will change. Hopefully, it will!)

A proof of funds (I believe around $5,000 AUD or equivalent) is also required but this on a case by case basis.

Find out how to apply online here.

Many backpackers I met had a job and found them quite easily. One guy even got an easy interview at the Sydney Opera House as a dishwasher! Many became bartenders and others became construction workers or worked in hostels. They worked and saved up money for a few months while living in hostels or in a shared apartment and then traveled around Australia with the money they saved up.

If you are within the age limit and wanna try something new for a while, I highly recommend this strategy if you don’t have the time to go around the world making Aussie friends.

Other secrets and strategies to travel around Australia on the cheap?

Yes, I have the answers.

You can also try volunteering in Australia which can usually be free or for a minimal cost. The best way to go about this is by using Workaway or WOOFing (Working Weekends on Organic Farms). I highly recommend you try out Workaway as there is a variety of different jobs (teaching, gardening, babysitting, construction, hostel, etc) in exchange for housing and meals. This is a great way to meet locals as well.

I didn’t use Workaway while in Australia, but I did use it in Mozambique and I had a fantastic experience. I spent a month there and didn’t spend a dime. Just some money for a sim card and data.

If you don’t want to work and just travel cheaply, you could always try Couchsurfing, a friendly online community where gracious locals offer their living space to travelers for free. No strings attached.

Like I mentioned earlier, I used my points from my Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card to rent a car and to use on some domestic flights. I also used this card for purchases, as there are no foreign transaction fees with this specific card. If you don’t already have a credit card with travel perks and is foreign transaction-free, then I would suggest applying for one.

For ATM’s I use my Fidelity debit card which only takes 1% of the fee and rebates you all the transaction fees back into your account at the end of every month. There is also Charles Schwabb Online banking that rebates all of your transaction fees.

How much did I spend in Australia?

Know that Sydney is one of the most expensive countries in the world and most of Australia has prices similar to other Western countries such as the USA. I spent most of my money on flights. I used my travel credit card points to rent a car for the weekend and for some of the domestic flights.

Nights out were the second biggest expense. Booze is truly a wallet drainer during travel and it ain’t cheap in the land down under.

I spent a total of approximately $1,700 USD in two months.

Sydney got me the most when I stayed in the hostel and ate out. But I also did everything I wanted to do with no worries of breaking the budget.

To sum it all up!

Get your feet wet and travel around much cheaper places first like Southeast Asia and Central America (they are stupid cheap), gain some useful travel experience, make some awesome friends (I guarantee you’ll meet a ton of Aussie travelers), create the time, don’t try to see the whole country at once and bada bing bada boom, your Australian adventure has suddenly become that much more of a reality, as opposed to some unreachable dream! Also, consider a holiday working visa to make some quick travel cash or volunteer for free if you really want to save some dough. 🙂

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-Any questions or comments? I encourage you to ask this koala or more conveniently, me.- 🙂

-Daniel “Adventure” Born-


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Come to Melbourne and Experience Four Seasons in One Day!

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The Brisbanites and the Sydneysiders from the north warned me that Melbourne has shitty weather this time of year (November).

“Get ready to experience four different seasons in one day!” they would say.

Then I would think to myself. Pssshh, please. I’m from Michigan. If you really want to experience four seasons in a day for the rest of your life, just go and live there. I’ve suffered through snow, hail, rain, and sunshine all in just a few hours before. Fact!

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Besides the weather, just like the rest of Australia, my expectations for Melbourne were calculated to be nonexistent. So far I haven’t been disappointed, but this time I was doing things differently.

  • Spend about a week in Melbourne with my friend Ben.
  •  Take a four-day trip to Tasmania.
  • Spend another week in Melbourne on my own, exploring the surrounding area.

I have a lot on my plate, but first, here’s how my time with my friend Ben played out. I arrived in Melbourne via flight early in the morning where my fellow traveling buddy Ben picked me up. It was a taxing process, as I had to sleep for a couple hours in a parking lot restroom before the Sydney airport opened up. Anyways, I met him in Antigua, Guatemala (January 2015). He taught English alongside me and later we hit up the beaches of El Tunco in El Salvador after our teaching stint there was complete. My fondest memory of Ben is when we climbed up a volcano called Acatenango over the course of two days, which still has been one of coolest hikes I’ve ever done.

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He scooped me up in his little yellow jeep. Nothings changed much in his appearance except now his hair has grown longer and he was sportin’ a man bun. We got some groceries on the way, stocking up on essentials including kangaroo meat that I’ve been wanting to try and a few boxes of Weet-Bix cereal, (Weetabix in the UK)  my new obsession in life. The American cereal aisles absolutely DESTROY Australia’s cereal selection, but thank God for Weet-Bix. It’s extremelely rare to find over in the States.

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I can’t decide which one I like the best.

Ben lives just outside of the Melbourne city center and shares a home with his friend and roommate Glady. I also another friend of his and also neighbor by the name of Nick. I found myself constantly laughing whenever they spoke to me, whether they were cracking a joke or not. It was at this point I realized I have been laughing all over Australia. I think the Aussie accents make everything sound funny to me. The three of us played his N64, with all of the classics I played as a kid with Mario Party, Smash Bros, and Pokemon Stadium included in that mix.

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Ben’s a swim coach and gym instructor so I had plenty of downtime when he was busy working. I took some time to investigate the city central of Melbourne on one of its nicer days.

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From the looks of it, Melbourne appeared to be a touch more diverse as far as the people around and the placement of the different architecture and surroundings. Loads of cafe’s and cozy restaurants lined up the river that ran through the city.

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Somehow I lost the key he gave me to his place. That sucker must have jumped right out of my pocket on the train between cities.

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Also nearby was a large outdoor Noodle Market that served up lots of Asian inspired cuisine with an emphasis on noodles. Ben and his buddies took me here to get my taste buds flarin’. If you’re a fan of noodles, specifically Asian culture inspired noodles, then this is the place for you! I personally found it to be overpriced and over crowded. There was a line about 50 people deep full of patrons waiting to buy a tiny baby scoop of ice cream! Psshh.

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It didn’t look anywhere close to this amazing. Photo courtesy of Chris Phutully.

Ben is basically a party animal. Back in our Guatemalan days, he was the one known to tear up the dance floor at the bars and clubs in Antigua. I am the total opposite (unless I’m boozed up) but knowing him, I was fully prepared for at least one night in a club of sorts. Besides a button up shirt that I brought but haven’t wore once since this Quest to the Seven Continents began, I didn’t have the proper attire on hand. Luckily, Ben had some extra pants and some black shoes that weren’t anything I would ever wear, but they actually fit perfectly. We met up with his totally down-to-earth friend Alyscha at her house and pregamed a bit before going out.

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We had a great time and grubbed on McDonalds at the end.

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Speaking of grub, the kangaroo meat tasted great. Just like beef. However the thin layer of vegemite spread on toast was something I don’t ever need to try again. I tried it on two separate occasions just to make sure of what I was tasting. The verdict is: ehh, I can live without it. The fairy bread though…that was pretty scrumptious! What is fairy  bread? It’s pretty simple. All it is, is bread with butter spread and lots of sprinkles (hundreds and thousands as they call it here in Australia) on top. It’s mainly served at children’s parties but since I am a giant kid, it fit my tastes nicely.

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My first week in Melbourne was pretty low-key which was what I wanted. It was a warm sunshine and then cold sudden rain most of the days, just like the northerners predicted, but still I was able to get some work done and lounge, explore, and play the N64 at my leisure. I had another full week in Melbourne later where I knew I would constantly be on foot, so I was completely fine with relaxing all week.

But before that week, I was invited down to the island state of Tasmania for a few days. I didn’t have any intentions on going to Tassie initially, but then I thought “Why not?” Return flights are cheap and I have two friends who live there that are ready to welcome me with open arms.

Ben thanks for having me! Hopefully you get closer to my neck of the woods over in Canada. Off to Tasmania!

Go to Australia, Visit Friends, Then Get the Heck Out of Australia!

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“Why would you want to go to Australia when everything there wants to kill you?”

I know better than that, but that is the general consensus of my American friends and what social viral websites like Buzzfeed have been portraying Australia in with lists such as “Why Australia is the Land of the NOPE!”. However accurate or inaccurate those lists are, they’re still pretty amusing.

My plan for Australia is simple:

  1. Go to Australia.
  2. Visit friends.
  3. Get the heck out of Australia. 

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Continent number two of my Quest to the Seven Continents. I’ve heard that the country is one of the most expensive in the world, so one mustn’t mess around. I’ve acquired a hefty number of Aussie mates over my previous travels that I felt that now is the perfect time to visit as many as I could. It will also help save me loads on accommodation. All the “for real” Australian stuff like the Outback, Darwin, The Great Barrier Reef, etc, I will use as an excuse to return one day.

With that being said, I decided to begin my trip to the largest island in the world in one of its brightest cities: Brisbane.

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I’ll start relatively in the north in Brisbane on the east coast and work my way down and around to Perth on the west coast. Then I’ll peace out.

I am excited to see friends I haven’t seen in a long time, but Australia was never high on my list of places to see because I knew how similar to the States it is. I shall find out!

I endured a flight from Nadi, Fiji to Melbourne, Australia where I had a ten-hour layover before the next flight to Brisbane. Once I landed in Brisbane, I had some time to kill before I would go see Australian friend #1, so I decided…

“You know what? I’m gonna rent a car for the day and explore the city!”

That was my first mistake in Australia.

Renting a car wasn’t terribly expensive so that wasn’t the issue. Driving on the wrong left side of the road wasn’t too bad either (I got loads of experience in New Zealand a couple of months ago). But driving on the left side of the road while navigating through Google Maps in a busy city was nerve wrecking! I almost hit a guy on a bicycle!

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Google Maps directed me to the center of Brisbane, near the Queen Street Mall, where I parked into the first parking lot I could find. I parked there for a few hours to explore the city on foot and upon return a few hours later, that parking space cost me $55 Australian Dollars! At the time of this post, $1 USD equals roughly $1.32 AUS. Not a huge significance but still costly.

 

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Later on, I drove about 15 minutes outside of the epicenter to my friend Zara.  I met Zara in Nepal in November 2014. She was notable because she helped me organize the big party for a few of my classes I taught there. She is the first of many Aussie friends I planned on seeing. I also got rid of my rental. I couldn’t be bothered trying to drive in the city.

Zara showed me to my room in her apartment and as I settled in, a giant dangly insect that I’ve never seen before flew right onto my bed.

“Zaraaaaa!” I shouted.

I wasn’t afraid of it, I just needed to know what it was. She came into the room.

“What the heck is that?” I asked, bewildered to what I just saw.

“It’s just a flying spider,” she said.

A FLYING spider? That’s a real thing??

This was only my first night in Australia. What other crazy shit creatures was I gonna encounter?

For old times sake, we had dinner in a Nepalese style restaurant along with a few of her friends including her pal Dorelle from the Sunshine Coast. She was also in Nepal but at a different time than I was.

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While Zara went to work the following day, I made a plan to meet Pip, another Aussie friend of mine. I met Pip in Tanzania in July 2012 and since then she has become the director of Many Shades, a program in Arusha designed to help less fortunate children get the love and care they deserve.

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We spent the day playing indoor putt-putt, visiting her home, and going to one of the most amazing food festivals I have ever been to called the Eat Street Market. I stuffed myself to the max there. Props to Pip for remembering that I am in love with food.

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 Later in the week, Zara mentioned a festival called the Jacaranda Jazz festival in a nearby park. I invited Pip along with another friend of mine who lived there. His name is Clint. He is from the USA, but has been studying here in Brisbane for awhile now. I met him while backpacking through Thailand in August 2013 and he’s notable because we, along with a few other backpackers spent a crazy night in Bangkok together which involved boozing out of buckets, eating scorpions, fondling wax statues, and witnessing ping pong balls shoot out of places they weren’t meant to shoot out of. The jazz festival was chill and it was good to catch up with everyone.

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While in Fiji, Sydney native Hamish constantly raved about something he called an HSP (Halal Snack Pack). It’s shaved lamb meat over french fries (they call them chips here) topped with a specialty sauce or two and other small ingredients. You can find it mainly on the east coast of Australia. Zara, a few of her friends, and I ordered some and dang was it delicious! Australia needs to introduce this to the States right now! The perfect snack for when you have the munchies.

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I spent a little under a week in Brissy in Zara’s place. It worked out perfectly that her roommate was in Argentina when I was there, so I had a whole room to myself. I found out she is a fan of red wine so I left a present on her bed upon her return.

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Dorelle invited me up to stay in the Sunshine Coast for a few days. I had no prior intention on going up there but figured I may as well see it since I’m already so close to it. That’s one of the perks about travelling without an itinerary…you can take on opportunities to unexpected places with unexpected people.

My Thoughts About Brisbane

Coming into Australia with low expectations was probably a smart idea. I’m not really all that into city scenes, but I can’t deny how impressed I was with what I saw so far. Brisbane was busy, but chill. Not too overcrowded. The outdoorsy Queen Street Mall had a variety of different shops, cafes, restaurants, you name it. Just a short walk across the winding harbor took me into Southbank, where I strolled through Griffith University and into a couple of museums.

I noticed how clean Brisbane was compared to many other cities I’ve been to. Zara lived near a hipster area with lots of unique eateries and hang out spots. The Eat Street Market was perhaps my favorite part of Brisbane. There were food stalls from all around the world for days. The Iranian Film Festival Zara took me to was also pretty cool and out of the ordinary.

The weather was pleasant for my entire stay and the public transportation was easy enough to figure out. The purple bloomed jacaranda trees filled the streets to create a unique offering all to its own. I don’t have anything negative to say about the city. Brisbane…I like you! So far so good Australia.

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Next up: The Sunshine Coast Vs The Gold Coast