It should come as no surprise that Australia is not the cheapest of countries on our itinerary. That said, the country is well equipped for backpackers on a budget. Like New Zealand, if you watch your $ in the cities and self-cater (camp and cook yourself), you can stretch your dollars pretty far.
Here are a few things we learned:
- Renting a car, even with the cost of gas, was cheaper than buying train and/or bus tickets for two people to various sites throughout the country. It also meant we had more freedom to see and do what we want. Though we didn’t have the bargain rental we had in NZ, we did pretty well. Between the rental and gas, which is cheaper than in NZ but still much more than the US, we spent about $800 and drove just under 5000 km. Without a car, it would have been impossible to really enjoy the Great Ocean Road as well as the quirky towns of the New South Wales Outback. That said, Australia is a HUGE place. We had to give up our hopes of making it to the middle (i.e. Uluru and Alice Springs). There was also the small detail about our car not being allowed to venture into that territory. Apparently it is not a good place to break down!
- Like NZ, hostels in cities (mostly Sydney) were one of our largest expenses. Both times we visited Sydney, we stayed in newer hostels near the Central Train Station. The location was great and the hostels, particularly the Railway YHA, were new and quite nice. The first time we came through Sydney, we stuck it out in an 8 bed dorm room to save some cash. Yes, that’s 8 people and all their crap in a room about the size of my office at CCHD. The savings wasn’t worth it. We’re just too old for that crap! (I’ll spare you the details of what “crap” entailed.) Our hostel in Darwin was the only bargain, but that might have had something to do with the run down bathrooms, the 5:00am carpet cleaning outside our room and the monsoonal rains of the wet season.
- In most cases, campgrounds were less costly than NZ. The down side of some were that the kitchens had limited equipment. Usually a fridge, a sink, a coin operated grill and some type of hot water maker (electric kettle or hot water tap). Since camp kitchens in NZ were so well equipped, we opted not to buy gas for our stove. This hurt a few times when there was no hot plate or stove, but we managed to be creative with couscous and grilled veggies. An up side of the campgrounds in Oz were that they were mostly inhabited by Australians rather than tourists like ourselves. We met some nice and interesting folks along the way. Like Fred & Shirley – who reminded me of one of those couples being interviewed in When Harry Met Sally – or the Vietnam Vet biker dude from Townsville who will be traveling to DC for Rolling Thunder in May with his local bike club and their sister club in Detroit.
- Unlike NZ, we never had the sense that we were being gouged because it’s summer here and there are loads of tourists, though I suspect there are always tourists. One exception was Darwin, but that actually worked in our favor. Our room was just a little over half the price of a double room in Sydney – though as previously mentioned it was not as nice. I imagine in the Dry (our summer months) this city crawls with tourists and steeper prices. In general, we didn’t feel like everything was a tourist trap with a price tag down under. The Great Ocean Road and our tour of the wineries – two highlights – cost us only gas money!
- If you’re looking for the extended holiday but are low on cash, Oz is another good place to look for work. Bulletin boards at hostels are full of postings and most major backpacker centers offer some sort of job placement service. One of our dorm mates in Sydney was working as a server at a restaurant on Darling Harbor making $15/hr plus tips. It seemed to adequately subsidize his drinking habit. Dave and I were briefly entertained by the demand for office/computer work in Alice Springs. How random! Every other place seemed to be agricultural work, but poor little Alice Springs way out in the middle of the country just need someone to sit in an office and do admin work.
- Obviously getting robbed cost us, but we won’t hold that against Oz.