Tips for Backpacking Australia on a Budget
Backpacking Australia must be one of the best experiences I’ve had. Australia is a dream destination with so much to offer but unfortunately for backpackers and budget travelers Australia one of the most expensive places in the world and it’s not hard to burn through $100 a day here. But don’t worry, there are still many ways that you can still enjoy backpacking Australia, even on a shoestring budget.
To allow you to budget and save for your dream trip backpacking Australia here’s a rundown of some typical costs to expect in Australia and how you can save money.
All prices are shown in Australian Dollars (AUD) and, as always, the cost of a trip depends on the activities you plan to be doing and the level of comfort you expect. Also, bear in mind that prices and exchange rates are always subject to change.
How to Enjoy Backpacking Australia even if you are on a Budget
Accommodation in Australia on a Budget
Accommodation is likely to be one of your biggest expensive when traveling in Australia, expect to pay at least $100 a night at least for a private room in a budget hotel, depending on the location and season. A nice 4 star hotel in a good location in Sydney could easily run up to $300 a night.
If you’re backpacking Australia on a tight budget then hostels are usually your best accommodation option. Hostels in Oz are a cheap, popular, sociable and often stylish backpacker option. Many even have swimming pools, kitchens, bars and a whole host of facilities and can even help you find a job. A bed in a shared dormitory in a hostel will cost between $20 and $45, expect prices to be higher in popular spots in Sydney and lower in smaller towns.
As well as saving money hostels can also be great places to meet fellow travellers and backpackers. There are hostels all over Australia for every type of traveller and budget including party hostels, family friendly ones or uber stylish hostels for flashpackers.
Find the best price on backpacker hostels in Australia use Hostelz.com they compare prices from all the hostel booking sites at once with detailed information and reviews you can trust. You can also search, book and check out reviews at Hostelworld.
Camping is very popular and the cheapest way to backpack Oz. However, be aware that you can’t just camp up anywhere when traveling in Australia as overnight camping is not permitted everywhere.
To find free places to camp use the Wiki Camps App or Camps Australia Wide books (and now an app too) which include maps and a directory of free and low cost camp sites. Pitching a tent or an aussie swag, or sleeping in the back of a campervan or car and enjoying a barbie under a million stars is one of the highlights of backpacking Australia and it’s free!
If you can’t find a free place to camp or you want more facilities then there are many, many campsites all around Australia. An un-powered pitch at a camp site goes from about $20 a night up (which is still cheaper than a hostel) to $40 for an all singing, all dancing holiday park with swimming pools and heaps of amenities and more for powered sites.
Camping or Campervanning is an awesome way to immerse yourself in Australia’s beautiful nature and a great way to save money on accommodation when backpacking Australia
Renting or Sharing a Flat
If you’re on a working holiday in Australia, have found a job and are planning to stay in one place for a while then renting a room in a shared house or finding a flat mate is the cheapest way to live.
You could start your search for finding a flat, apartment or house to rent on Gumtree and try Flatmate Finder to find a spare room or to advertise that you are looking to share a flat. Rental prices for a room in a shared house in Sydney start at $120 a week but most are around the $200 – $250 a week mark. Rent would be usually be cheaper in smaller towns.
You could also try Air BnB but as the site is based towards vacation rentals it would be cheaper to flat share if you plan to stay for a while. But its often nice to just feel more at home and Air BnB is great if you don’t want to commit to renting a place but still want all the comforts of home. If you want to give Air BnB a go here’s $25 off your first Air BnB!
If you can find a housesit that fits in with your work and travel plans you could even stay in someone else’s house for free usually in return for looking after their houses and pets. Try Trusted House Sitters or Mind My House. It costs to sign up to these websites (Mind my House is only $20 though) and assignments can be competitive so invest time in building a good profile and be flexible about location to get the best results.
Eating and Drinking in Australia on a Budget
If you’re eating out a lot while backpacking Australia then expect an average meal in a pub or cafe to cost at least $15–$20. While in Australia you must try a meat pie and a parma. Just having a coffee will set you back $5 and just one dish at a nice, stylish, city restaurant could cost at least $25 each. Look out for vouchers on apps like Groupon or special offers to save money.
There are many fast food joints in Australia, including many you would recognise from home which are great for a cheap, quick meal on the go but even a McDonald’s meal in Oz won’t give you much change from $10.
Cooking for yourself is the cheapest way to save money on food while backpacking Australia. If you stay at backpacker hostels many have kitchens so that you can cook for yourself and if your camping or traveling in a campervan you can pick up groceries and make cheap simple meals for yourself too.
The big supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths offer the best choice and value and it’s possible to pick up some basic supplies for a couple of dollars and it’s possible to eat simply for a week for $60. Stock up in the big towns as food in small, outback shops can be ridiculously expensive.
How Australians love their BBQs! It simply wouldn’t be an Australia trip without throwing a couple of snags on the barbie now would it! Most Australian towns have free outdoor BBQ facilities, what could be a better way to save money while traveling in Australia than buying your own food from the supermarket, enjoying the great outdoors and having an aussie BBQ.
Drinking on a Budget in Australia
Pubs and Bars
Considering that drinking is a popular pastime in Australia and it’s a country well known for its excellent wines, drinking is a very expensive past time in Australia here and a couple of nights will quickly drain your budget.
A beer or a glass of wine in a bar can cost about $8 – $10 and upwards and most nightclubs charge an entry fee. You can find happy hours and backpacker bars that have cheap offers for about $4– $5. Cutting down on drinking will save a lot of money or stock up on drinks from the bottleshops but be careful getting too tanked up before hitting the bars and clubs, especially in Sydney, as they likely won’t let you in if you are already intoxicated.
Australia has huge bottle shops (some are even drive ins) with a huge variety of alcohol, this is the cheapest place to buy your booze, Dan Murphy’s is often the cheapest. Expect to pay $5 + for a bottle of wine, $40 for a bottle of Bundaberg rum, $15 for a 6 pack or beer or $45 for a 24 pack.
A legendary backpacker pastime while backpacking Australia is drinking Goon, a boxed wine that costs about $15 for 4 litres. The catch is that it’s not actually wine, but a fish, dairy, and milk product that tastes pretty gross and gives you a horrible hangover but every backpacker in Australia has a night out on the goon sooner or later.
Traveling Around Australia on a Budget
Australia is huge! Many people just don’t realise how huge Australia is until they get there. Time and money can really add up when travelling around this huge country so it’s worth planning in advance how you are going to get around when backpacking Australia.
Flights to Australia
It’s a long way Down Under! So get your trip off to a good start by spending time searching for the best deal and being flexible enough to take advantage of good offers.
Round the World Flights are a good option if you are planning on traveling in Australia as part of a longer trip or gap year around the world. Round the World tickets can end up being cheaper than point to point tickets but most are only valid for one year and changing your flight dates can end up being a frustrating and expensive exercise.
If you plan to spend a whole year backpacking Australia, for example on a working holiday visa, then a one way multi stop ticket to Australia via Southeast Asia would be a better option. For the ultimate flexibility you can buy one way flights but unless you plan it really well this is often the most expensive option. When traveling on one way tickets be aware that some countries do require you to have an onward or return ticket before entering so check the requirements for the countries you plan to visit on the way.
If you have a working holiday visa for Australia you should be fine without a return ticket (because most are only valid for 1 year) as long as you have the proof of funds to support yourself while in Australia and to buy a ticket home at the end of your working holiday.
If you plan on covering a lot of distance in a short time then taking internal flights when traveling in Australia may be your best option, Flying will get you from A to B the quickest but unfortunately it can be expensive and you miss out on a lot of the stunning scenery that is one of the joys of backpacking Australia.
However, if you are really in a hurry it might be your only way to see everything that you came to see in Australia because driving between Melbourne and Cairns would probably take you 5 days of driving and cost you $500 in fuel. Flying could cost $100 but will only take 3 and a half hours so flying saves you time and money if you need to get somewhere in a hurry.
The train network in Australia is expensive and has limited reach. Backpacking Australia by train is not really a cost or time efficient way of getting around Australia and only really an option if you really love travelling by rail but there are some pretty epic journeys to be had. Tickets for the famous Ghan railway journey, which travels the almost 3,000 kms through Australia’s red center from Adelaide via Alice Springs to Darwin and takes 2 nights, start at $499 for a seat ticket only! You can find out more and book tickets at Rail Australia
The backpacker favourite, the Greyhound bus, is probably your best bet for affordable transport and if you plan on doing a lot of backpacking in Australia then it is better value to get a pass than point to point tickets. For example, Greyhound have a mini traveller pass for $509 travelling between Melbourne and Cairns and hopping on and off as many times as you want between these two destinations.
You can often find someone heading the same way to share a ride with on hostel noticeboards or Gumtree or check out new ride sharing websites and apps. Some travellers choose to hitchhike, and safely do so all around Australia, but you should carefully assess the risks and safety implications of doing this.
Driving in Australia
With so much to discover and the thrill and freedom of the open road calling, Australia could have been made for road trips. Driving around Australia on a road trip is an awesome way to see the land Down Under and a really popular option is exploring by campervan as your transport and accommodation are all together!
Depending on how long you will be in Oz you can rent, relocate or buy a campervan. Renting would cost at least $50 a day with gas being around $1.50 a litre, more in the Outback. You can find and compare the best campervan rental deals from all the major providers at Drive Now.com.au. You can also find relocation deals where you can rent a campervan for only $1 a day – great for backpacking Australia on a budget!
Buying a Campervan in Australia
If you plan to be backpacking Australia for a while then you could be better off buying your own car or campervan. As well as having the ultimate freedom and flexibility to explore Oz, a bonus is that a campervan is your accommodation and transport in one, allowing you to save considerable money on hostels, bus tickets and eating out.
Thinking about buying and owning a car or campervan in Australia can seem confusing and costly at first but, after the initial upfront cost, should save you money in the long run and is not too difficult to arrange.
You can buy a second hand campervan from about $4000 and if you can sell your camper at the end of your trip for the price you bought it for then you’ve just got yourself free transport and accommodation for the duration of your trip only paying out for fuel (and maybe factor in some repairs too if it’s an older vehicle!)
A good place to look to buy a second hand campervan is Gumtree and for everything you need to know check out my Ultimate Backpacker Guide to Buying a Campervan in Australia
How to Save Money on Attractions, Sightseeing and Tours in Australia
There is so much to see and do when backpacking Australia and many epic and unique experiences to be had. Some can really damage your budget but luckily many things to do in Australia are free to enjoy.
Check out my 30 of the best things to do in Australia and then read my tips on how you can save money on sightseeing and things to do while traveling in Australia.
Traveling independently is the best way to save money when backpacking Australia. Tours in Australia are expensive, you would be lucky to get a day tour sightseeing for under $100, but for many of these day trips, especially to outdoor activities and nature spots where the admission is free or very small, then if you have your own transport then you don’t really need to take the expensive tour. (Another way that having your own car or campervan can save you money.)
Some of the popular experiences do cost a lot, the iconic Sydney Bridge Climb costs between $250 – $350, Dreamworld theme park and Steve Irwin’s famous Australia Zoo are $60 to enter. Expect to pay about $60 to join a group surfing lesson, over $350 to join a 2 day/1 night backpacker’s tour around Fraser Island. A day trip snorkelling and scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef would set you back at least $200, visit spectacular Whitehaven beach in the Whitsundays on a day tour for $135 or skydive for $300.
Book a Package to Save Money
When backpacking Australia, buying a package will usually save you money than booking on your own. Look for special offers on sight seeing and activities packages at a hostel tour desk or a backpacker travel agent and save money by booking your activities all together.
For example, my friends at Backpacker Banter Travel Blog have done the hard work for you and put together some great deals for accommodation, transport and top experiences not to miss on the East Coast of Australia – check them out here.
Also try, Backpacker’s World Travel offer packages like 29 days Melbourne to Cairns adventure for only $1719 including accommodation and tours and experiences up the East coast – you would probably be able to get cheaper last minute deals in person but this saves you money compared to buying each separately. Also try Peterpans Travel and Wicked Travel.
Many hostels also do this, for example Nomads Backpacker Hostels offer a bed hopper pass and activity packages at their Mad Travel Shop. Base Backpacker Hostels also offer accommodation and activity packages, for example, their Airlie Beach package includes 2 nights accommodation, 2 meal and a drink deal and a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, this package saves you $60. The Greyhound buses also do packages combining a hop on hop off bus ticket and a pass for hostel accommodation.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors and find the free things to do
Luckily the saying that some of the best things in life are free is certainly true when backpacking Australia. From the world’s oldest rainforest to the fascinating rock formations on the Great Ocean Road, the Blue Mountains and tropical Kakadu National Parks, to the majestic Ayers Rock or Uluru in Australia’s red center to the many gorgeous beaches up and down the coast, the seemingly never ending outback and luscious waterfalls you could never get bored of Australia’s stunning, unique and diverse natural beauty.
This natural beauty is probably Australia’s best asset and most of it is usually free to go out, explore and enjoy in Oz’s enviable climate. (Sometimes the national parks charge a small fee of about $7 – $15 or car parking fees).
Often your hostel will be able to tell you about awesome cheap and free things to do like free walking tours in Sydney and Melbourne, free museums, free buses and ferries and the best parks, walks, beaches and gigs.
Shopping in Australia
If your on a tight budget then you probably wont want to do too much shopping while backpacking Australia, but incase you need something head to K Mart or Big W for cheap clothes and much more for bargain basement prices. I also liked picking up some bargains in The Reject Shop and found that the big supermarkets and liquor stores were always the cheapest for food shopping.
Ways to Travel for Free in Australia
There are also many ways to travel for free that can also be applied when backpacking Australia. To save even more money many backpacker hostels can do a ‘work for accommodation’ deal. You could also try CouchSurfing to get a free place to stay and make new friends and don’t forget about housesitting or wild camping to stay for free.
Even if you don’t have a working visa you could find voluntary placements where you volunteer in return for free food and accommodation. You also get to learn new skills, make new friends and get a deeper insight into the local culture thorough these kinds of projects. You can find these opportunities on websites like Workaway or Helpx.
For more ideas have a look at 11 Ways to Travel for Free
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I hope you found these tips useful and enjoy backpacking Australia! Let me know if you have any other useful money saving tips I can add!
How much to budget for a month in Australia – Backpacker Banter
Australia on a shoestring bumper guide – Lonely Planet
How to travel Australia on a budget – Y Travel Blog