australia · travel tips

My Ultimate Budgeting Guide For Your Backpacking Trip To Australia

[updated 24/09/16]

Australia is notoriously expensive for travelling; another reason amongst many to work and travel in this vast country. We therefore arrived bracing ourselves for the costs, particularly after our cheap as chips travel in Asia.

In fact, the first thing I did was go to buy a bottle of water at the airport – a meagre 500ml bottle of spring water would set me back over $4 (£2). But this was an airport, I reasoned. Australia would be much cheaper than that.

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Or not. (this was, of course, a clever marketing ploy whereby it was “half price” the following day!)

For the first few days, pricing took a little getting used to. We had a pint in a pub for $10 (£5), yet a coffee or an ice slush drink from Hungry Jack’s (Burger King) is $1. Our hostel in Surfers Paradise worked out at $30 a night and didn’t include wifi, and a bottle of Rekorderlig cider in the adjacent “bottle shop” was $8. But we had a good meal out for $10 each, and I could get a box of 100 Yorkshire teabags (obviously a necessity) for $5.

And Domino’s? Forget extortionate £15 mediums, Domino’s here does $5 pizzas. £2.50! For Domino’s! Who cares if it’s not sliced evenly?

Here’s the thing: Australia is actually cheap if you know where to look. Generally I’ve found it’s the same price as the UK (some things are more, some are less), yet we’re earning double.

So you have your flight booked and you’re counting down the days until you land down under on the adventure of a lifetime. Here’s what to expect on the costs of living and travelling Australia.

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GROCERIES

During our first job, our closest supermarket was Aldi, and now we are missing it dearly. Our options are Woolworths which is good for some things (“cheap cheap special” offers, anyone?), and Coles which is better for others.

Here’s a breakdown of just some of the essentials at our local supermarkets (correct at July 2016):
Milk – $2 for 2 pints or $3 for 4 pints
Bread – can be up to $4, but we stick to the value brand for 85c a loaf!
Beans – 90c in Coles (or 65c for super value brand if you want to live even more like a student!)
Sausages – $8.50 for about 24 in Woolworths (Coles sausages are cheaper but not as good)
Kangaroo burgers/sausages – 2 for $10 on packs of 4 burgers and 8 sausages! Give it a try. :)
Chicken – $9-15 per kilo
Potatoes – if you can find a bulk warehouse store, you can pick these up for $2.99 for 5kg! Otherwise it’s about $4+ for 2kg
Cheese – $6 for 1kg value brand in Woolworths
Eggs – $3-4 for 12
Penne pasta / spaghetti 500g – 65c (or $3.49 for big brands!!! Big difference here)
Soup – Heinz is $3.49 but we only get it on offer at $2 or less, which it usually is
Cereal – usually $5-6 upwards
Tim Tam biscuits – $3.49 unless it’s on offer at $2.50 – or a double pack for $4.40
Cadbury’s chocolate 100g bars – $3.49 but we only get it when it’s on offer at $2.49
Frozen pizzas – $3 or $3.50
Pack of 6 beers – $13 for Hollandia (Ash’s budget “European lager” of choice), up to $20 for others
Goon – $10.90 for 5 litres in Dan Murphy’s

Other provisions:
Laundry powder – $3 for a 1kg box at the Reject Shop
Washing up liquid – 99c for a big bottle
Shampoo – upwards of $6, but always check out places like Chemist Warehouse for toiletries. I’ve got a Palmolive 400ml shampoo that cost $3 (£1.50!) from The Reject Shop
Clothes – places like Factorie, Cotton On and JayJays will become your favourite places to shop. I picked up 2 pairs of leggings for $15 in JayJays, and they regularly have jeans and hoodies under $30. Target and Kmart can be great too, especially for underwear.
Tent – $20 from Target/Kmart (super cheap!)
Sleeping bag – $15 from Target/Kmart/BigW

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NIGHTS OUT

This is where you will blow a lot of money. I like a few drinks but I’m thankful to not be a heavy drinker! A pint will be anywhere between $7 and $10 (maybe $5 during happy hour), but sometimes the best way to buy them is in a jug, which equates to about two and a half pints. One place we went had jugs of Heineken for $12, but they can be upwards of $20.

Don’t like beer? Me neither. Cider is usually around $8 a bottle, although Rekorderlig cider can easily be $12, and a rum & coke will usually be around $8 – but some backpacker slash student bars will do specials on house spirits! Our backpacker haunt in Brisbane, Down Under bar, does them for $6, but beware on other spirits. I got two Jagerbombs and it set me back $14.70!!! But I’ve seen them in other places for $12 EACH!!

Can you see why us backpackers put up with goon?

As for meals, there are absolutely tons of Wetherspoon-style backpacker deals. Using Down Under as an example again, Wednesday is burrito night and you can get a burrito and a Corona for $7!! They do $10 burger & drink deals a few nights a week too. For “real” restaurants, however, expect to pay $10-15 for burgers (Grill’d is brilliant, by the way), a 1/4 chicken at Nando’s is just $6.45 and a chicken parmagiana from Schnitz (mmmm, Schnitz) is $13.

Fast food-wise, Hungry Jack’s (Burger King) does $3 burgers and KFC has the best deal on Tuesdays – 9 pieces of chicken for $9.95!! Let’s not forget Pie Face, who provide drunk people with pies instead of kebabs for under $5. (seriously, why has the UK not cottoned onto this one?!)

And, as you can imagine, Domino’s is hugely popular amongst backpackers. Seriously. $5!!!

MOBILE / CELL PHONE

For mobile costs, I “recharge” (top up) $30 a month (£15) with Telstra and get unlimited texts and calls in Australia, 1.5gb of data and $220 of “freedom credit” which I’m still unsure of how it works but I can use it to call international numbers! Plus, if I recharge before the 28 day expiry date, my credit rolls over – which means after 5 recharges I still have $136 of credit, which is insane.

Not only that, but at the moment I’m opted into their “freedom plus” package which gives me an additional 4gb of data and $400 of international calling credit!

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ACCOMMODATION

Most hostels will offer weekly rates on your stay so do ask if you’re staying long-term. In Brisbane, hostels are $20 and up (we paid $140 a week), while in Sydney, hostels range from $25 to $35 a night, and in Melbourne anything from $20 to $30 (Nomads was $98 for a week!). The cheapest place I stayed was in Cairns where we paid $18 a night.

Free wifi is very hard to come across, but many hostels offer it at a cost – usually $4 a day or $12 for a week.

If you’re planning to live somewhere long-term, try to find somewhere that includes wifi (usually these are smaller hostels). There are only so many trips you can take to McDonald’s!!

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TRAVEL

Petrol is MUCH cheaper than the UK, but remember if you’re road tripping, the distances are a lot longer than you expect. At the moment, the local servos offer anything between $1 and $1.30 a litre, which is basically 70p or less (in the UK, it’s upwards of £1.10 so this difference is crazy). On an 1800km trip we spent $300 on gas between four of us.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a second hand car under $1000, or even a good one under $2000, and backpacker campers seem to go for anything between $3000 and $6000. There are plenty of backpacker groups on Facebook where people sell their cars, and always check Gumtree too.

Remember that buying your own car is ALWAYS a risk – I’ve met people who bought campers for $2000 with loads of problems but they still (somehow!) got adventures out of it, and people who have bought cars for more than that and had it break down on its first long journey.

You can hire cars for as little as $20 a day, and I took a huge risk by paying the same for our camper. It was a risk because I could pay double for a low excess, or pay a $3000 deposit and have a huge excess. Thankfully, we had no problems whatsoever and I had the $3000 refunded with no qualms. There are many hire companies in Australia and it’s one of the most popular ways to get around. Check out Jucy, Wicked, Spaceships and Hippie Campers.

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By FAR the cheapest way to travel without a car is by plane. You can fly from Brisbane to Sydney in an hour and a half for under $70; by contrast the bus would be $110 and take upwards of 15 hours. I know which one I’d choose! You can also get a Greyhound hop on hop off bus pass for $400 for the east coast (Sydney to Cairns), or the OzExperience offers a hop on hop off tour for under $600 including some accommodation and tours.

For flights, always check Skyscanner and Kayak. The cheapest domestic airline fares are usually Tigerair and Jetstarbut remember that Virgin Australia includes baggage whereas they don’t, so take this into consideration. I’ve also found Tigerair to be stricter on hand luggage limits and I once had to pack my laptop into my big bag!! Not cool.

TOURS & ACTIVITIES

My number one recommendation for booking tours is bookme.com.au!

The two biggies that most backpackers tend to do are: Fraser Island and the Whitsundays. I got a 2d/1n Fraser tour and a 2d/1n Whitsundays tour for $434 total, which saved me a crazy amount of money!

There is an overwhelming amount of tour operators for both places. Dropbear is one of the most popular for Fraser and has consistent rave reviews, and they are priced accordingly ($400 for a 2d/1n tour and $500 for a 3d/2n tour).

We went with Fraser Dingo who actually have really bad reviews on TripAdvisor, but they were who bookme used. However, we had a great time – and we literally paid half of what a Dropbear tour costs!

The Whitsundays tours are hugely varied in price, length and style. You can do day tours to Whitehaven beach, or you can do a 2d/1n tour on the boat, or even a 2d/2n tour. My tip: the 2d/1n tours actually give you more time because they leave early and finish late, whereas the 2 night one starts late on the first day and finishes on the third morning, so you only actually get one day. The most popular tours include Wings (catamaran boat) and Ride To Paradise (stay on a resort) but there really are so many options. Our tour was on a sailing yacht and again, we really enjoyed the tour. Prices range from about $250 to $550 for the overnight tours.

Other popular tours and activities include:

Uluru (Ayers Rock): Mulgas and Groovy Grape offer rock tours from $390 in Alice Springs or $800 departing Adelaide, and Peterpans has loads of options, including a 3 day tour for just $350!
Great Barrier Reef snorkelling: lots of day tours for $150+, but we went with Falla for just $99 on bookme ($130 full price which is still a bargain!)
Atherton tablelands tour: from $85 on bookme, lots available from Cairns travel agents
Sky diving: Around $300 over Mission Beach. I actually think the Airlie Beach skydive looks better, but everyone seems to do the Mission Beach one
Great Ocean Road: absolutely tons of day trips from Melbourne for $99

There are countless tours and activities all over Australia, but these are among the most popular with backpackers and hopefully give you an idea of what to expect.

Want to know anything else? Something specific, or tours? Let me know below!

All $ prices are in AUD. For an up-to-date exchange rate from your currency, check xe.com.

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5 thoughts on “My Ultimate Budgeting Guide For Your Backpacking Trip To Australia

  1. Hi, great article with so much detail. I think you’re right about there not being a lot of difference between Australia and UK except for drinking out. If you shop smart it can be pretty much the same. We’re currently in Sydney as part of our little JWalking trip (https://jwalkingin.wordpress.com/) and loving it, spending a few days over in Manly at the moment and thoroughly recommend a visit. Nice post.

    Like

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