Begin this year, I made a trip around Australia. I knew Australia was expensive, but some expat people that live there told me that it was not so expensive as we think, that it is just ok. Once there, I realized that YES, IT IS EXPENSIVE and that keeping on budget was hard. Actually my feeling was that “AArrrgg, I have to pay a lot for everything… Do I have enough money in my bank account?”… But I found some ways along my trip to save money! So, here my tips and my experience
1) Flights can save you a lot of money
Moving from one spot to another sometimes take most of our money in trips. In Spain I usually check the buses for the cheapest fares, but that doesn’t work in Australia. For intercity traveling, not all the time buses are the cheapest options and flying is even cheaper than moving by road, particularly for distances longer than 500km. You can check the estimated prices for traveling in multiple options (plane, train, bus, car, ship) on the website Rome2Rio (http://www.rome2rio.com).
My experience: I learnt this from a “mistake” during my trip. I went from Brisbane to Sydney with a relocation car and then from Sydney to Melbourne by night bus. This was in the first week, so I booked and paid for everything from here in Spain. Once in Brisbane, I realized how stupid I was and how cheap the flights Brisbane-Melbourne were, which could have saved me some money and given me more time to spend in Melbourne.
2) Relocate is better than rent
If you are flexible you can rent a car or a campervan FOR FREE! Since moving around Australia with rental cars is so common, rental companies sometimes need to move cars between cities to satisfy their bookings. And they made up the “relocation”, when someone external from the company drives the car from a city to another. I used it when I had some days to go from a city to another and took advantage to visit some places on the way.
Where did I find such offers? On Transfercar (http://www.trasnfercar.com.au), a website that compiles all the relocation opportunities of different companies.
What to check? Advantages vary between companies: free car, some free fuel, free tolls or free insurance.
My experience(s): I had a free car from Brisbane to Sydney for 3 days, which was ok. The second time, I had an amazing campervan (with fridge, sink, a lot of space… really nice one!) from Cairns to Brisbane for 3 days. It was a relocation for the company Awesome Campervans (http://www.awesomecampers.com.au/) and the name is definitely TRUE. The company also offered free insurance, free tolls and 100AUD in fuel.
3) Night buses: accommodation in the way
Sometimes, I moved between cities by buses during night. Although in Australia they are not cheap, I always considered that I saved the costs of the accommodation for that night. Moreover, you must also consider that from airports to cities you have to pay a shuttle bus or similar, which commonly is around 15-20AUD.
My experience: Greyhound has more comfortable seats and offers Wi-Fi and charging devices for your electronics, which are always welcomed.
4) Looking for partners: funnier and cheaper
Splitting the costs of a roadtrip with other travelers is a smart way to save money. There are plenty of forums (like http://www.australianexplorer.com/forum/) or Facebook pages (Australia backpackers) to post your trip idea and try to find someone to share both the experience and costs.
My experience: I wanted to cross the desert and it is not recommended to do it alone. So, to avoid getting a tour or similar, I posted my idea and found 3 travel mates (all solo travelers) to do a 2-week road trip from Melbourne to Adelaide. The experience was awesome and sharing the costs reduced a lot my expenses those weeks.
5) Hostels: The importance of checking opinions!
Usually, the cheapest accommodation options are hostels. There are Australian towns with plenty of backpackers (like Byron Bay or Cairns) where hostels are full of young backpackers looking for adventures, work and fun. Those hostels are usually clean, well equipped and price-quality is ok (although Byron bay is quite expensive!). However, when you are traveling to bigger cities or to the Northern territory, you might consider choosing the cheapest option can lead to a hostel with another kind of atmosphere, poor cleaning and old buildings with a bad maintenance. For cities, checking opinions is highly recommended.
My experience: When booking hostels, I checked for the description and pictures from booking.com and their websites. But… marketing is cheaty and I did forget to check the opinions… ERROR
In Brisbane, I went to the Yellow Submarine, which was really famous some years ago and recommended in some guides. Now, it is a hostel in an old building that lacks of a proper maintenance. That would be ok, but the cleaning is really poor. The curtains of the shower are maybe from the 90’s and full of mold (extremely disgusting). And the percentage of young backpackers is lower than expected, leading to an atmosphere of 50 year old long-term workers a bit dodgy.
In Cairns, I went to the Frogshollow backpackers. It also resulted an old hostel but the current owners are restoring all the building and the rooms were really worthy, with good cabins, space and new air conditioning. However, the curious fact of this hostel was the atmosphere. As it is the cheapest accommodation in Cairns, aboriginal people also stay there. Sadly, aboriginal people in cities are usually drunk and cause noise and problems at night. One night even the police had to come to take a couple of them. Knowing that, the managers separate aboriginal rooms from tourist rooms. In my case, I was in a female room with other backpackers and that was really nice.
6) Camping for free during roadtrips
When doing a roadtrip, fuel is already a huge cost, so saving in accommodation was our goal to reduce the expenses. I met an Italian couple during my first days that recommended me to download an app: “Wikicamps Australia” where all the campsites (free and non-free), points of interest, etc. are compiled. It costs 5€ but saved us around 400AUD since we spent most of our nights in free camping spots, rather than in a paid camping.
If you prefer a camping with toilets and showers: don´t worry! Beyond bushcamp sites, most of the free camping spots have toilets. Regarding shower, you can take one in fuel stations for 3-5AUD, which is way cheaper than paying a night in a camping. In fact, you can also take free showers in official campings if you manage to (we did it a couple of times).
7) Some free stuff
Yes, sometimes you do not have to pay for everything and the word FREE exists even in Australia.
- Free WC. I was surprised that it is really common to have Free WC around cities and towns. In Europe, public WC’s are not really common and usually you have to pay something for using them. So, tourists usually go for a coffee or a drink to a bar for also visiting the toilette. In Australia, you do not need to spend money in a drink to do so, since towns and cities have plenty of public toilettes to go. That made me happy However, my friend living in Brisbane told me that this has a “bad” side too, because sometimes bars and restaurants near public toilettes do not have private ones.
- Free Wi-Fi. Finding free wi-fi spots in Australian cities is not a big challenge. Train stations, museums, tourist offices… plenty of Wi-Fi opportunities for checking google maps or tell your family you are still alive
- Free museums. Culture and history is partly for free in Australia, in terms of museums. Contemporary art museums have free permanent exhibitions. History museums are usually for free. I really enjoyed this openness to share their roots and culture, making it more accessible for all.
- Free BBQ equipment. There are plenty of BBQ facilities in towns and cities for free where you can hang out with your friends and cook meat for a nice BBQ evening. Bondi Beach in Sydney or South Bank in Brisbane are some examples.
- Free food. At markets (and sometimes at the entrance of supermarkets too) you can find some options to have free food as they sometimes give small pieces to try. In Brisbane, we had plenty of free fruit when having a walk around the Davies Park market. It makes no meal, but give you some extras.
- Free water. Beyond the outback, you can ask for free tap water when eating or having a drink in a bar or a restaurant, unlike in the UK (at least, here in Spain we are not used to it).
- Free pools or lagoons. Australia is really hot in some parts and being in the water is the only way to get cooler sometimes. Urban planning has usually integrated free pools or lagoons into the city. In Cairns and Darwin, lagoons were created for safety since beaches cannot be used due to crocodile and jellyfish presence. In Brisbane, there are several pools in the South Bank recreation area to spend the afternoon with your friends, what I called the triple-B (Bath-Beer-BBQ)