This article previously appeared on The Journal.
If your only experience of Australia is an old Simpsons episode and Fosters beer commercials, here’s a couple of things you need to know.
For one thing, Australia is big. Extremely large, in fact. A lazy 7.6 million square kilometres, which isn’t too much smaller than the continental USA. Here’s another one: we’ve got one of the highest costs of living in the world, which we tend to measure by coffee inflation (AUD $4 a cup… and counting). Combine distance with dollars and you could be looking at a pretty expensive vacation, even factoring in some sweet currency conversion.
So how do you do Australia on the cheap? Here’s our ultimate guide.
1. Do a group tour
You may not think of yourself as the ‘group tour’ sort of person, but it’s a very cost-effective way to see certain parts of the country. For one thing, you get transport, accommodation, some meals and petrol included. And trust me, on long road trips (and all Australian road trips are long) petrol costs can balloon out of control. This country chews through petrol. So being able to sit back on an air-conditioned minibus and watch the road roll out ahead of you is certainly a nice perk.
More than that though, you’re getting a proper local guide who can show you the best pubs, the best swimming holes, and the local stories you won’t get on a solo trip.
2. Make use of camp sites
Our trips usually include a mix of farmstays, dorm accommodation and camping, with the latter obviously being the cheapest option. Australia has literally thousands of national parks and conservation reserves, and most of them (especially the larger, well-established ones) have dedicated camp grounds. Generally you can get an unpowered site for around AUD $20 a night (for power, allow around AUD $60). Most small towns around the country will also have a camp ground or caravan park as well, especially along well-travelled coastal routes like The Great Ocean Road, Margaret River or around Head Of Bight.
3. Don’t forget the swag
If you really want to rough it (and we’re talking sandpaper rough), consider getting a swag and trying a little spontaneous camping. A swag, if you weren’t aware, is like a tiny tent for one. Imagine a sleeping bag with architecture. They’re cheap, portable and can be chucked down almost anywhere. Facilities: zero. Adventure: maximum. You have to be a bit careful though: roadside camping is usually prohibited in national parks and conservation zones, and you can’t do it on private property. It’s best to check local council and government websites, because each State has different laws around where you can and cannot sleep. Here’s a good general guide.
4. Plan smart
If you’re determined to do Australia solo, you can certainly save a few dollarydoos by planning ahead and being smart. If you have to buy petrol, wait until it’s cheap, then fill a jerrycan (average prices vary from place to place, and you’ll generally pay a bit more outside the capital cities. Anything under AUD $1.20 a litre is pretty good). Itinerary also plays a big part. For example, if you want to visit Uluru, don’t bother driving: it’s a billion miles and will cost a fortune. Fly into Yulara instead (not Alice Springs) – Jetstar often has cheap flights, and there’s decent motel accommodation in town.
Consider shoulder or off-season travel too, when accommodation will be a little cheaper. For most of the country, that’ll be between April and October.
5. Get out of the cities
Most of Australia’s 25 million people live in big cities on the coast, where the heat is slightly less scorching. In between, there are large areas of nothingness, punctuated by pubs and sheep. You’ll want to hit up big ticket items like Sydney and Melbourne, sure, but you’ll save money by venturing out of town. If you’re visiting Melbourne, consider a few nights in Geelong, Torquay or Lorne. If you’re hitting up Adelaide, try the Fleurieu Peninsula. Instead of spending all your time at Sydney Harbour, consider Wollongong or Katoomba. There are plenty of great vacation spots surrounding the major cities, and they’re usually slightly cheaper. Win/win.
Want to do Down Under on the cheap? We may be biased, but we think the best way to see Oz is with us. Check out our unmissable deals here.