I’ve heard it over and over again. “Australia is so beautiful! I’d love to travel there, but it’s just so expensive, there is no way I could afford it”. And I get it. The cost of living in Australia is exorbitant. Last year a study by the World Bank showed that based on the costs of goods and services in Australia, it is now the most expensive G20 economy in the world. Yikes!
But despite all of that, it is still possible to travel Australia on a budget, you just have to know how.
How to Find Cheap Flights to Australia
If you are traveling to Australia from Europe or North America, your flight will make up a good chunk of your total travel costs. And unfortunately, there is just no way around. No matter what tips or tricks you use, a return flights to Australia will cost you no less than AUD $1,400 and upwards of AUD $2,000+.
To get the best possible rates:
- Plan Ahead: Book your flights to Australia as far in advance as possible, no less than 6-8 months prior to your trip. Airlines often release early-bird prices as early as 12 months in advance, so keeping an eye out for specials may help you score a great deal on a flight.
- Fly Into Main Cities: Sydney and Melbourne will have the most flight options and thus the best deals for flying into Australia from North America or Europe. But don’t discount Brisbane and Perth as the entry points, especially if you plan on staying in Australia for a while and can start/finish you trip in one of those cities.
- Do Your Own Research: Don’t rely on a travel agent to give you an amazing deal on a flight. Doing your own research and booking online might take time and effort but it could easily save you a couple of hundred dollars. My advice is to use trusted booking engines to help you find the best and cheapest flight combinations. My go-to’s are Skyscanner, Kayak and Momondo.
If you are flying into Australia from Asia, use low-cost airlines like Air Asia or Scoot to grab dirt cheap direct flights (as little as AUD$119-199) into Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, and Gold Coast.
For more tips on how to find cheap flights read my detailed guide: How To Find Cheap Flights
How to Get Around Australia on a Budget
Once in Australia, your options for cheap ways to get around the country are plentiful. The biggest mistake travelers make when planning their trip around Australia is booking their domestic travel with Qantas and Virgin. Don’t get me wrong, they are great airlines, and due to their world-wide recognition are often the ones recommended by travel agents and major booking sites. But they are not the best options for budget travelers.
Use Low-Cost Airlines
Australia is a massive country, so if you only have a few weeks to spend here, traveling by air might be your best bet. Its quick, easy, and doesn’t have to be expensive. Tiger Airways and Jetstar are 2 good low-cost carriers, offering affordable flights with dozens of routes across Australia. However, they are often not listed on major flight search engines like Skyscanner and Kayak. You can use individual airlines’ sites to search for flights or use WebJet, the only flight aggregator that picks up low-cost carrier flights in Australia. To help you save on domestic flights even further, consider the following tips:
- Fly without checked baggage – low cost carriers will always charge you extra for checked luggage (as well as for meals and entertainment), so if you have an option of traveling light, do it!
- Book red-eye or early morning flights – since not many people one wants to fly those routes, they are often $20-40 cheaper than domestic flights throughout the day.
- Sign up for airline email notifications – both Jetstar and Tiger Airways are known for their amazing flight specials, like 2 for 1 deals, pay one-way get free return, 50% off discounts and more.
Share a Car or Travel by Campervan
If you have a bit more time in the country, getting around by car might be an even cheaper alternative. The best part about renting a car is, of course, the flexibility that comes with it. You can come and go whenever you please, stop along the way and experience some amazing off the beaten track destinations en route from one major city to the other. If you are planning to visit only the major cities in Australia, flying is probably still the cheapest method of transportation for you. But if you want to see more than just the capital cities, consider the following “car” options.
- Rent a car – but only if you are traveling with more than 2 people. Car rental is Australia is not cheap ($50 a day and more) plus fuel here is pricey. So unless you are traveling in a group and are able to split the costs, car rental often isn’t the cheapest option. The best website to find cheap car rental is Vroom Vroom Vroom.
- Share a car – backpackers are always looking for people to share a ride with. Check opportunity boards in hostels or websites like Gumtree for other people traveling to your next destination. If you are flexible enough and have time to spare you might find not only a cheap ride, but also a new travel buddy.
- Campervan Relocations – this is by far the best and the cheapest way to get around Australia on a budget! Due to the popularity of campervan rentals in Australia, campervan companies are always looking for someone to relocate their cars from one destination to another and are willing to offer incredible deals for someone to do it! With a bit of flexibility on your end, you can score a 4-6 berth campervan for $1 a day! Check out my favourite relocation website Imoova to learn about routes and available relocation options.
Read more about the ins and outs of campervan relocations in my post: Getting Around Australia on $1/day
Get Around by Bus
The other affordable way to get around Australia is by bus. There are two major bus companies offering routes all across Australia: Greyhound Australia and Oz Experience. Both offer a variety of hop-on/hop-off bus pass packages starting from just $100. Their buses are air conditioned, clean, and comfortable enough for overnight travel. To sweeten the deal Greyhound Australia‘s brand new coaches also offer free WiFi, usb charges, leather reclining seats, and panoramic windows – talk about getting around in comfort!
Busses are also a perfect place to meet other backpackers and make friends along the way. But again, these are only worth the money if you want to take advantage of hopping off and on the bus to make stops in towns along the way.
Use Public Transportation
The best way to get around the major cities is to use public transport. Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, and Brisbane have a well-developed train/bus/tram transportation system that will allow you to get to practically anywhere you need to go for as little as just $5 each way.
If you are trying to get somewhere outside of public transport hours, use Uber. Uber has gained a lot of popularity in Australia over the last year and is a great budget friendly alternative to taxis. It’s safe, reliable, and widely available in most major cities. If you haven’t heard of Uber yet, read more about it here and sign up for an account here and get your first ride free.
How to Find Accommodation in Australia on a Budget
Standard hotel accommodation in Australia is not cheap. You will struggle to find a basic hotel for less than $100 a night even in smaller cities and large well known hotel chains, like Radisson, Intercontinental, and Marriott, will often charge you upwards of $300-$400 per night. So if you want to find accommodation in Australia that doesn’t break the bank, you have to look for alternative options.
Stay in Hostels
There is an abundance of hostel options in Australia and even though staying in a hostel is significantly cheaper than staying in a hotel, it’s still pricey. A basic dorm room will run you anywhere between $20-$30 per night, with prices in main cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane) getting up to $40-50 per night.
Stay in an Airbnb Apartment
If the idea of sharing a hostel room with 20 other 20-something backpackers makes you cringe, look for options on Airbnb. Airbnb accommodation often costs the same a hostel or cheap hotel, but in my opinion, is a much better experience, especially if you are traveling as a couple or a group of friends. (You can sign up for Airbnb here and get a AUD $32 credit towards your first stay, courtesy of me 🙂 )
CouchSurfing is an online community site that allows you to find people willing to offer up their spare bed/couch to travelers. And the best part about it is that it’s completely free! You get the benefit of meeting a local host, who’s well versed in activities in the area and a budget accommodation option that can’t be beat!
Stay in a Campervan
Campervans are a great option for not just transportation but also accommodation in Australia. More on that in my post: Getting Around Australia on $1/day
Stay at a Campsite
Camping is not a glamorous option, but it is definitely a cheap one. You can buy cheap camping gear when you arrive in Australia and use it for the duration of your stay. It might make your backpack heavier, but it will certainly save you lots in accommodation. There are numerous camp grounds all over Australia and camping is often permitted in many National Parks for as little as $5 a night. Most campsites are well maintained and have great facilities: BBQs, hot water showers, fire pits, etc. Campsites can be found through the official government National Park websites and pre-booked online.
How to Save on Food/Drinks in Australia:
Eating out in Australia is expensive and unsustainable for someone traveling on a budget. However, there are a few money saving options to help your budget go further.
Cook Your own Meals
Utilize cooking facilities in hostels, the kitchen in your Airbnb apartment, or the portable stove that comes with your campervan to cook your own meals where possible. Coles, Woolworths, and Aldi are the 3 main supermarkets in Australia with locations all over the country. Aldi may not have the best selection, but offers good quality products at prices that are often 20-30% cheaper than Woolworths and Coles.
Have a Picnic
Having a picnic is just as cheap as eating in, but better! Buy your groceries and head to the nearest park/beach for a picnic. You’ll notice heaps of free public BBQs in almost every town, so you are never too far away from free cooking facilities. Plus it’s such a local thing to do that you’ll feel like a real Aussie having a sausage sizzle in a park. Cheap eats and culture all in one – score!
I’m a strong believer that trying local produce and cuisine are a huge part of any travel experience and even though Australia isn’t the be all and end all of amazing food, it’s still worth combining cooking your own meals with eating out. So here are a few ways you can eat out for less.
Visit Local Markets
Australians love pop-up farmers and produce markets! They are not just a great place to stock up on cheap fresh veggies and other produce but are also a great place to grab ready to eat food. Here you’ll find food stalls offering everything from fish and chips, to international street food, and desserts. Markets like the Wednesday night Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, the Adelaide Central Market, Eat Street Markets in Brisbane, or Salamanca Markets in Hobart are especially well known for their variety of amazing street food. Most dishes will cost between $7-10 – a bargain compared to the $20 restaurant bill.
Eat in Chinatown
Check out Chinatowns in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane for cheap $10-15 Vietnamese, Chinese, Malaysian and other Asian restaurants.
Use UrbanSpoon, Yelp and Trusty Google
Go online to find other cheap eats and meal deals in each city. Many restaurants in Australia offer weekly specials, like 2 for1 Wednesday meals, or $10 Tuesday, and so on to attract customers to their restaurants on quiet days. You won’t find these deals on weekends, but they are a great cheap option for lunch/dinner during the week. Here are a few links to get your started:
- 51 of Brisbane’s Best Cheap Eats 2014
- 50 Cheap Eats In Sydney Under $10
- 51 of Melbourne’s Best Cheap Eats
- Top 12 Tasty Cheap Eats in Adelaide
Save on Drinks
Drink less or be smart about not letting drinking kill your budget. If you are going out on the town, pre-drink! Booze at bars and clubs in Australia are ridiculously expensive. Beers start at $7 a pint, a glass of wine is often $8-9, and a cocktail will often cost more than $15. Buying alcohol from the liquor store is of course a much cheaper option. You can find a bottle of wine for under $12 and a carton of beer (24 bottles) for about $30-40.
If you want the cheapest stuff, cask wine (goon) is your best option. It’s incredibly cheap 4 litres for under $10 and gives you really bad hangovers, but it’s the most popular choice with backpackers on a budget. Pop into Dan Murphy’s, BWS, or LiquorLand to have a few drinks at home before the bar, or find a restaurant that allows you to bring your own (BYO) alcohol to enjoy with their meals. These are quite popular in Australia and are easy to find in any town.
How to Save on Activities in Australia
Activities in Australia are pricey, so it’s easy to find yourself spending hundreds of dollars a day on tours and experiences. Pick and chose the ones that are really worth it for you and choose to entertain yourself for free for the rest of your time in Australia. After all, the best things to see in Australia ARE FREE!
Visit National Parks
There are hundreds of National Parks to explore in every state, with each one offerings hiking trails, beautiful lookouts and unique experiences. You can visits a national park for a day, or stay and explore for a few days, all for absolutely free. (Unless you want to camp there, which in most cases will cost you about $5-10/night). Here are a few of my favourites:
- Daintree National Park, Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef
- Exploring Noosa National Park (and its sneaky little secret)
- Day Trip to the Springbrook National Park
Hang out on the Beach
Australia is renowned for its beaches and with over 11,000 of them along the coastline, there are plenty to explore. Here is a list of the best of the best (in my opinion anyway): Best Beaches in Australia
Check out Museums
There are heaps of free museums to get lost in every city. Check out Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney, National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, the Queensland Museum in Brisbane and many others that offer free admission
Take Advantage of Free Walking Tours
I’m Free is a company that runs free daily walking tours in Sydney and Melbourne. They vary in duration from 1.5 to 2.5 hour and offer a great alternative to paid tours in those cities. You’ll get a chance to explore the cities main sights, learn about their history, and maybe even meet a few new travel buddies along the way.
One Last Important Money Saving Tips: Get a local SIM
Do not use your home mobile phone when in Australia if you do not want to pay the exorbitant roaming charges when you get home. Instead, unlock your phone before you go, and upon arrival in Australia buy a local SIM card. There are plenty of pay-as-you-go options available to travelers. You can top up a certain amount or buy a monthly plan that will give you a local phone number, a few GB of data and unlimited local texts/calls. While you may not have the need to call while you are in Australia, the benefits of having data on your phone are enormous.
If you don’t mind spending a bit more, get a Telstra SIM card to guarantee the best coverage and good reception even in remote areas in Australia.
The Bottom Line
If you add up flights, hotels, meals out, and a heap of activities, your trip to Australia is definitely going to be a pricey one. But follow my tips, be smart with your spending, and you can easily stay and play in Australia for AUD $50-75 a day. It’s not quiet as cheap as Asia or South America, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than you once thought, right?
So what are you waiting for? Discover 10 Reasons That Will Make You Want to Travel to Australia