Backpacking Australia Essentials: A Complete Guide To Traveling Australia On A Budget
Published by GAFFL
Last updated - 12:59 PM
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When planned right, Australia is a backpackers' paradise. From its sprawling national parks and endless coastlines to its ancient rock formations and dense rainforests, determining where to start your trip and how to budget for Australia can become challenging. 

For us at GAFFL, however, Australia is a destination that we have a lot of experience writing about. Travelers are meeting up every day in Australia and asking us for advice, so we naturally have a lot of knowledge that can be helpful for backpackers in the country. This guide is a culmination of our best travel tips and hacks for backpacking Australia

After reading this, you should have a much deeper understanding of how to best plan and budget for your backpacking trip to Australia.

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    Best Time To Visit

    Australia is beautiful all year long! Truly, if you go in the summer you miss out on some great winter activities, and vice versa if you visit in the winter.

    Winters in Australia don't get very cold. They are mostly mild and dry, which is perfect if you’re planning on adventuring the outback. Winter is also a great time to go whale watching along the east coast. 

    If you go during the summer, make sure you go during the Christmas and New Years festivities, the east coast is lit up during this time!

    How To Book Cheap Flights

    Generally, if there are no sales happening or discounts available, flights landing in Sydney or Melbourne from western countries like the UK, US, and Canada will likely be the cheapest. If you’re booking from countries in the eastern hemisphere, like India, flying into Perth would likely be the most affordable option. 

    This is an important consideration because it can inform the start/endpoints of your trip. For example, if you live in Vancouver, Canada, while your initial plans may have been to fly into Perth from Vancouver and explore the West Coast before heading over to the East, you may actually save a few hundred dollars by flying to Sydney first instead, exploring the east coast, and then traveling to Perth domestically.

    Below is an example, these are round trips from Vancouver departing on March 3rd and returning on March 17th, 2019:

    Flights from Vancouver to Sydney lowest price $1229 AUD

    Flights from Vancouver to Perth lowest price $1360 AUD

    In the above example, you would save $131 AUD by flying to Sydney instead of Perth. This is why it's important to do some homework before booking your flight.

    The Best Visa For Backpackers

    If you’re from the US, UK, or Canada, you can easily apply for an EVisitor Visa online for free. The drawback is that this visa will only let you stay in Australia for a maximum length of three months, which frankly isn’t enough time for most backpackers.

    That’s why the best visa in Australia for backpackers is the Working Holiday Visa. A Working Holiday Visa is a residence permit that allows you to work (and also sometimes study) in the issuing country as a way of funding your travel. This type of visa is targeted towards younger travelers between the ages of 18-30, however, some specific countries allow for visitors who are 35 and younger. In most cases, a working holiday visa permits the visitor to stay in the country for 12 months.

    We have written multiple guides for Australian working holiday visa holders, including comprehensive guides on how you can apply for the visa, extend it, and find work in Australia with it. 

    The Complete Packing List

    Packing is a crucial part of any long term backpacking trip. There is an art in walking that fine line between being over and underprepared. Luckily for you, we’ve created a complete backpacking list for long term travel.

    Here are some essentials that you should be packing for your backpacking trip in Australia.

    Clothes for hiking, camping, and bad weather like trail-running shoes, protective sun hat, swimming gear, wooly socks, waterproof rain jacket, etc.

    Shelter items like a tent, rainfly, groundsheet, tent poles, stakes, and guylines. 

    Camp kitchen equipment like stove, fuel, lighter, utensils

    Sleeping items like a sleeping bag, pillow, blanket.

    Navigation equipment like a map, compass, and a GPS with maps downloaded is always helpful in case your phone stops working. 

    Tool & Accessories like headlamps, batteries, mosquito nets, bug repellent, bear spray are all optional. However things like sunscreen, sunglasses, a pocket knife, and food bags are all essential accessories.

    Emergency Kit items should include a whistle, duct tape, matches, backup water etc.

    Toiletries needs cannot be forgotten like hand sanitizer, wipes, menstrual products, digging trowel, toothbrush and paste. 

    First Aid Kit with a thermometer, bandages, antihistamines, otc medication, personal medication are definitely worth having. 

    Without your Personal Documents like flight tickets, passport, credit/debit cards, and ID, this trip can’t happen, so don’t forget to pack them.

    How To Keep Your Costs Low

    How much you spend in Australia will come down to four main things; transportation, accommodations, attractions, and food. 

    Getting Around On A Tight Budget

    The way you get around Australia as a backpacker can play a huge role in how much money you end up spending. 

    Your overall backpacking trip can be much cheaper if you use public transportation to get around like a coach bus or rideshare with other people. Some cities even offer free public transportation during the holiday season.

    If you are traveling for longer periods of time and are planning to go off the beaten path, the most cost-effective way for you to travel will be to buy or rent a car.

    Or, in some instances, flying domestically may be the most economical way for you to get from point A to point B.

    Whatever the case, it’s important that you carefully plan out your mode of transportation in Australia as it can be the difference in saving you hundreds of dollars. 

    We’ve written a comprehensive guide on how to get around Australia on the cheap, so make sure you check it out.

    Booking Cheap Accommodations

    If you plan on staying in hotels and Airbnb's, your trip will be super cozy but also super expensive.

    If you’re a budget backpacker in Australia, hostels and camping are going to become essential for you because of how affordable they are. Some hostels will also help you find work or will provide you with accommodation in exchange for work. 

    Make sure to check out our complete guide of the best working hostels in Australia.

    Also we’ve written about the 21 best free camping sites along the east coast and 10 best free camping sites along the west coast

    Finding Affordable Things To Do

    The best way to save on attractions is by skipping out on group tours, unless you absolutely have to. In most cases, organized group tours have steep administration fees and they don't show you anything special that you can’t go out and see on your own. 

    There are also many free things to do in Australia and so much natural beauty that you don’t need to spend a lot of money if you don’t want to.

    If you are looking for affordable day trips in Australia, be sure to explore our many guides with cost breakdowns.

    Eating On A Budget

    This one is pretty straight forward, if you want to keep your costs low you have to cook your own food. Eating out in Australia is expensive, you’ll be spending at least $10 AUD per meal, and that’s on the cheaper side. Sitting down for a proper meal will be around $20 AUD at minimum. 

    Doing groceries, cooking, and preparing every meal can cut your food expenses in half. $100 AUD in groceries can last you most than a week. Woolworths and/or Coles are good places for backpackers to shop.

    It’s unrealistic to expect to cook every single meal, after all, you came to Australia to go on adventures, not to become a chef. The key is to have a balance. Try to cook two meals for every time you eat out, and you will save a lot of money.

    Splitting

    Sharing costs with travel mates is most cost-effective way of traveling around Australia. Splitting costs for accommodations, transportation, fuel, food, and even sometimes attractions with a group will cut down your costs by 50% or more.

    If you’re a solo traveler, you can find other travelers to meet up and share costs with on GAFFL.

    Suggested Budget

    If you follow our suggestions for how to keep your costs low in Australia, meaning you are staying in mostly campsites or hostels, you're taking public transportation or splitting the costs for your vehicle/fuel, mostly cooking your meals, and finding free/cheap things to do, you will be able to travel around the country on a budget of around $55-$80 AUD per day.

    Things To See And Do

    The Best Road Trips

    Great Ocean Road

    One of the best Australian road trips you can take is on the Great Ocean Road. It makes you snake your way down the rugged coast in Victoria. Take in the stunning sea views as you drive, or stop to get a closer look at some of nature’s remarkable features such as the “Grotto” or the “12 Apostles”. 

    East Coast Road Trip (Sydney to Cairns)

    Doing an east coast road trip in Australia is unparalleled for its mix of unforgettable beaches, charming little towns, and beautiful national parks. Going on this journey, you’ll island-hop using sailboats, scuba dive through shipwrecks, explore the rainforest on rugged wheels, and catch a wave or two even if you’re a beginner.

    West Coast Road Trip (Broome to Perth)

    Embarking on a west coast road trip with this itinerary will take you across some of the country's most culturally rich cities/towns, several gorgeous national parks rich with wildlife, picturesque beaches with unbelievable views, and an unparalleled underground reef.

    Gibbs River Road

    The Kimberleys is Western Australia’s northern region known for its rugged terrain, deep gorges, and peaceful isolation. The Gibb River Road passes through the Kimberleys and by some of Western Australia’s most breathtaking attractions.

    Tasmanian Road Trip

    Whether it's surfing, swimming, and snorkeling at Binalong Bay Beach, posing for pictures at Bridestowe Lavender Estate, chasing waterfalls at the various National Parks here or traveling back in time at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery and Port Arthur, the Tasmanian road trip is definitely an experience! 

    The Outback

    One of the most epic road trips in Australia takes you right through the country’s red center, where life is harsh and inhospitable, and you can drive for days without seeing anything except a couple of kangaroos. Despite the harshness of the environment, communities do thrive, such as the underground city of Coober Pedy, or around the stunningly beautiful Uluru (formerly Ayers’ Rock). 

    The Best Places To Visit

    Blue Mountains National Park

    This World Heritage site has a lot of hidden wonders that you can explore. With over 140 kms of walking trails and countless waterfalls, caves, valleys, cliffs, and rock formations to admire, Blue Mountains is the perfect getaway from Sydney. 

    Canberra

    Canberra, Australia’s capital city is packed with tons of cultural attractions like museums, art galleries, gardens, memorials, and modern architecture for you to explore.

    Byron Bay

    Byron Bay is a coastal town and a popular holiday destination. One of the best things to do in Byron Bay is just to chill out and relax. Literally, the motto of the town is “Cheer up. Slow Down. Chill out.” The beaches here are renowned and you’ll be surrounded by great places to shop, eat, enjoy music, and meet other travelers. 

    Sunshine Coast

    While passing through the Sunshine Coast, it’s likely that you’ll spend most of your time in Noosa. There’s a lot here for you to do whether you want to be adventurous and explore Noosa National Park or you can chill out and go Cafe/Boutique hopping.

    Fraser Island

    Also known as the largest sand island in the world! While here you’ll be able to experience the perfect mix of beaches, rainforests, beautiful lakes, and shipwrecks.

    Airlie Beach

    Popular among backpackers, while in Airlie Beach you can take a dip in the Airlie Beach Lagoon, visit Conway National Park for a hike, and experience the nightlife of the town. Sailing The Whitsunday Islands is a quintessential, must-do activity, no east coast road trip is complete without sailing these islands.

    Mission Beach

    While hanging out on Mission Beach you can do activities like skydiving or white water rafting in the nearby town of Tully. A lot of Mission Beach’s activities center around Belmont Park, there’s an amusement park here, you can rent a bike and ride around, or grab a bite to eat. 

    Cairns

    Cairns is home to the Great Barrier Reef. Snorkeling or diving the reef to interact with the plethora of aquatic life is a can't miss opportunity while in Australia. Daintree Rainforest is a world heritage site and the oldest surviving tropical rainforest in the world. Daintree can be done in a day trip from Cairns and offers some spectacular beaches, waterfalls, and wildlife.

    Great Otway National Park

    When you adventure around Great Otway National Park, you’ll be exploring an array of different terrains, from beaches to the mountains of the Otway Ranges. You’ll be seeing several different waterfalls, doing a loop through an ancient rainforest, and taking part in exciting treetop adventures. 

    Yarra Valley

    The Yarra Valley is home to over 80 vineyards and you can visit it any time of the year. Get close to Australian wildlife and stroll through fruit farms, markets, and the different walking trails amongst all the other attractions it has to offer. 

    Grampians National Park

    Grampians National Park is a blessing for those chasing adventure and tranquility. There is so much to do, see, drink and eat here, that you'll need to spend a whole weekend here.

    Mornington Peninsula

    Spanning over 700 square kilometers, it is home to various beaches, villages, wineries, parks, gardens, and spas.

    Wilsons Promontory National Park

    Wilsons Promontory, also known as “The Prom” is one of Victoria’s most beloved national parks, and why wouldn’t it be? Covering 50,000 hectares of land, the park is home to beautiful beaches and forests, and provides multiple accommodation options.

    Broome

    Nestled in Western Australia’s Kimberley Region, Broome is a beautiful beach resort town along the Indian Ocean that’s perfect for rest and relaxation. 

    Eighty Mile Beach

    Nearly 220 kilometers in length, Eighty Mile Beach forms a coastline where the Great Sandy Desert approaches the Indian Ocean.

    Karijini National Park

    With it being over 20 billion years in the making, this epic landscape has so much to offer for adventurers.

    Exmouth

    Wildlife is abundant in this area and it’s possible that you could cross paths with kangaroos, emus, eagles, monitors, turtles, manta rays, and rock wallabies.

    Kalbarri National Park

    While exploring the park you’ll want to visit the Z Bend where you have options to do two different walks, the Z-Bend Lookout is a 1.2 km return walk and the Z-Bend River Trail is a 2.6 km return walk. Either walk will provide you with beautiful scenery with the highlight being viewed over the Murchison River Gorge.

    The Pinnacles (Nambung National Park)

    Here you will be able to see thousands of ancient limestone spires. The best time for an excursion through The Pinnacles is during sunrise or sunset when the colors of the sand change and become otherworldly.

    Windjana Gorge

    Carved out of the Napier Range, Windjana Gorge is a 3.5km gorge by the Lennard River which is home to many freshwater crocodiles.

    Kununurra

    Kununurra is a vibrant town on the eastern edge of the Kimberleys. There’s a lot of water to be explored in Kununurra, make sure to take in all the different gorges, waterfalls, rivers, streams, and creeks in the area.

    Kakadu National Park

    Kakadu National Park is 20,000 square kilometers of beautiful rock formations, lush vegetation, sprawling wildlife, and thunderous waterfalls nestled in Australia’s Northern Territory. 

    How To Find Work

    Even if you follow the money-saving tips that we shared with you above, If you’re backpacking in Australia for an extended period of time, you’ll probably run out of money. That’s why finding employment is important, and at times, essential for backpackers. Typical types of employment for backpackers include:

    Hospitality and Tourism

    Hotels and Hostels in Australia are always looking for additional staff and helpers. You can expect to do anything from housekeeping, concierge, guest services, food, and beverage handling, etc. 

    Retail

    Finding retail work should be relatively easy during seasonal rushes. Retailers in Australia hire more aggressively in the summer months and leading up to Christmas, so time your travels accordingly.

    Food Services

    This industry mimic’s retail with its demand for seasonal workers. Working as a server, bartender, or barista is a great way to meet locals and travelers alike.

    Au Pair

    If you aren’t familiar with what an Au Pair is, it’s essentially when you work for a host family as a domestic assistant. Your responsibilities could include childcare and household chores. Depending on the arrangement, usually in exchange for a job well done, au pairs get a place to stay and some spending cash.  In some cases, you may be able to find house sitting opportunities as well. Here you can learn more about the best tips for house sitting in Australia.

    Farm Work

    Working on a farm is another way to fund your travels, especially during a working holiday. Doing this type of work for a total of 88 days will make you eligible to extend your working holiday by an extra year. Because of this, regional farm work in Australia is very high in demand.

    If you are someone who’s interested in being in Australia for longer than a year then you will want to read our guide on how to calculate 88 days of work for your second-year visa in Australia.

    Also, our fruit picking guides can help you can find farms in Australia that offer backpackers work. We have comprehensive guides for how to find fruit picking work in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia. We’ve also written about the best working hostels in Australia, and most of the hostels included in the post help backpackers find fruit picking work for their second and third-year visa. 

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