While Australia may seem laid back and easy to navigate, I’m here to set your expectations and give you some inside tips. The last thing you want is to look like an idiot because Australians will ‘take the piss’ out of you, if you screw up.
I’m here to give you the insider’s guide, as it were. I give you a realistic expectation of distances, costs, give you a language guide, guide you to the best places to find the wildlife, help you navigate our way of life and provide your with other links to help you plan your trip.
There’s a lot to take in, so settle in. To make it easier to digest, I’m sharing it accordian-style.
In fact, Australia is the same size as the United States. It’s just less populated (with around 24 million people) with around 85% of the population living within 2 hours of a coastline.
As a traveler, you could drive from Melbourne to Sydney in a day. It’s about 9 hours straight driving (not recommended) and that’s pure highway. If you’re going to make that drive, you’d definitely want to take the coastal route. I’d give it at least a week but we recommend more like two months to really immerse yourself and explore, as there is so much to see.
If travelling around Australia is your dream, it’s a trip that takes commitment. You need at least 6 months and that would be a highlight tour. You would not be really seeing Australia for all it is in that amount of time and you’re bound to be exhausted by the end. I would give it 10-12 months, depending on what route you take and how much you plan on seeing.
Even with our 10 month road trip, there is still so much we’re missing: Uluru, Katherine Gorge, Alice Springs, The Kimberley. We figure we best leave something to come back to and explore later. When planning, we found we ran out of time, especially since we’re along the way to keep our expenses down.
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You may have heard this already. Australia does have a bit of a reputation of being one of the most expensive countries to travel.
The cost of living in Australia is high, so wages are higher than average to compensate. Minimum wage in Australia is around $16-$18/hour (depending on age and job type), so it balances out a little for the locals.
That doesn’t help travellers though.
Depending on how you travel, you will want to budget at least $100/day and even then, I would consider that a very tight budget for Australia.
That would be a backpacker’s budget. One who plans on sleeping in hostel dorm bunks (not private rooms), plans to couch surf, or plans to buy a 20-year-old used campervan from Gumtree (similar to Craigslist) and free camp along the way. That’s right, that is a $100/day budget because food and petrol is expensive. Add in accommodation and you’re at $100. Add in alcohol and you’re easily over the budget.
For us, we have a $250/day budget for our Australian road trip.
Yes. You read that correctly: $250/day for the two of us.
Hear me out.
Within that budget, accommodation is anywhere from $70-$130/night. Don’t think that $70/night is a flea-infested motel either. We’ve found some bare bones, retro gems along the way that were far more comfortable than the $130/night offerings.
We’ve found some amazing finds on AirBnb. (We’re planning on publishing a “Top AirBnb stays” post at the end of 2017). If you follow us on Facebook and Instagram, you’ll see photos of some of the amazing stays we’ve had with AirBnb… all under budget. Click here if you want a credit if you haven’t tried AirBnb yet. This will get you started on your first stay.
Food is a budget buster. If you plan on eating out for breakfast, coffee is around $4.50 – $5.00 for a flat white or latte. For lunch, you’re looking at around $20/person. Even something as simple as a burger and coke would put you in the $20/person price range. For dinner, you may be anywhere from $20/person upwards, depending on dining choices and whether you have alcohol. A glass of house wine will be around $9 for a 4oz glass. Beer is around $8, depending on size of glass and on quality. Craft beers are more. You may be lucky to hit a happy hour.
Even if you are like us and buy at the supermarket to make food on the road, the basics add up. Cereal is around $5/box, milk at $3/2 litres. Spreadable butter is around $5/tub. Bread costs anywhere from $1.50 (cheap sliced white) to $3.80 (or more) for seeded wholemeal. If you’re gluten free it’s on a whole other stratosphere.
Then there is petrol. Hold on to your hat. Petrol is expensive.
At publication (Aug 2017) the price per litre (1L = 0.2 gallons):
in Sydney – $1.15/L
In Melbourne – $1.18/L
In Adelaide – $1.40/L
In Perth – $1.26/L
In Darwin – $1.35/L
In Brisbane – $1.26/L
The further inland or the more remote, the more expensive. Obviously.
- If you are coming from overseas, check if your bank has an affiliate bank in Australia. Most times you won’t pay extra fees when withdrawing money via their affiliated bank. For example, Barclays are affiliated with Westpac in Australia.
- Don’t purchase money orders or exchange money at the airport or at exchange centres. Go through the affiliated bank as much as possible. You’ll save tons on fees.
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It can be challenging at times to understand Australians. While we speak English, we do have our own colloquialisms. You will hear ‘G’Day’ here at there, especially in regional areas and most likely in tourist spots.
In every day conversations, Aussies speak in what seems to be their own language. Many mumble too, especially in regional areas.
To help you understand what the hell we’re saying, here are some common phrases we use:
How ya going? = How are you doing?
Arvo = afternoon
Mornos = morning tea
Tea = dinner
Barby/Barbie = Barbeque/Barbecue
Brekky/breaky/brekkie = Breakfast
Choccy Bikky = chocolate biscuit / cookie
Lollies = candies, lollies
Maccas = McDonalds (which is trademarked here, btw)
Avo = avocado (we eat them a lot here)
Sausage Sizzle = a fundraising event held at most community sporting events and outside of a home improvement store on a Saturday morning. It’s where you can buy a beef sausage cooked on the grill, wrapped in sliced white bread. BBQ or tomato sauce, as well as grilled onions are also an option.
Rocket (salad green) = Arugula
Coriander = Cilantro
Mince = hamburger meat.
Choc a block = full
Good onya = good work/ well done
I reckon = I think
Yeah, No = Actually means no.
Cracker = really great. E.g. “A cracker dish” would mean it’s a really great plate of food.
Too Easy = you’re welcome or no worries.
Exy = expensive
Root = having sex
Rubbish = garbage / trash
Sweet as = something really good. (This is more of a Kiwi term, but we Aussies have adopted it.)
Taking the Piss = making fun
The bush = either forest or a remote area.
Woop Woop = middle of nowhere. Usually refers to a town in the middle of a remote area.
Bonnet = front of a car / the hood
Boot = back of a car / the trunk
Ute = Utility truck or pickup truck.
Yewy = a U Turn when driving.
Hang a left/right = turn left/right
Torch = flashlight
Esky = cooler / ice chest
Air Con = Air Conditioning, usually cooling/heating
Lounge Room = Living Room
Thongs = flip flops
Bathers/Cossies/Swimmers – Swimsuit
Undies / knickers = women’s underwear
Jumper = sweater
On the Piss = drinking
Pissed = Drunk
Slab of beer = carton of beer
Shout = buy a drink. i.e. Buying a round of drinks.
Stubbie = a bottle of beer
Schooner = a glass of beer. The size depends on the location. It’s medium in Victoria, between a pot (a large) and a pint (a small). In N.S.W. it’s a large.
Bogan = someone of a lower class. Generally a derogatory comment.
Dag = someone without style or dresses haphazardly. Could be said in a joking manner or in a derogatory manner (we are also a sarcastic bunch)
Pash = a French kiss
BrisVegas = a nickname for Brisbane, Queensland.
EFTPOS = Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale / Direct Debit
Trolley = shopping cart
Woolies = Woolworths. A major supermarket chain in Australia.
Woolies = winter clothes.
These will get you started anyway.
Word of warning: Don’t try and start ‘speaking Australian’. We hate it when foreigners try and say ‘mate’ and ‘g’day’ because if you screw it up, we will take the piss out of you. It’s usually one way that you are guaranteed to look like an idiot.
That image of kangaroos bounding down middle of the city may have happened in the 1900s but it doesn’t in present day.
In fact, I would say that unless a child has travelled outside of the city and/or visits a zoo, they would never have seen a kangaroo, an emu, a wombat, an echidna or a koala in their life.
That’s not to say that they aren’t in populated areas. We saw wallabies and echidnas when we lived in Sydney. But lived about an hour from the city, and on the outskirts of the city at that, and we had a National Park across the road from our house.
If you have little time in Australia but are eager to see as much wildlife as you can, you have two choices:
- Taronga Zoo in Sydney is an amazing place to see Australian wildlife (and great Sydney views!), along with other animals, of course. They are a conservation effort, so your money is well spent.
- The other is Kangaroo Island. With all of the travelling I’ve done in Australia, I would have to say Kangaroo Island has the most wildlife I’ve ever seen in one area. Plus, the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful.
If you plan on taking a road trip through Australia, here’s where to go for prime viewing:
To see wallabies and emus while hanging at the beach – see our post here.
To see Australian sea lions, migrating southern right whales (in season), Tammar Wallabies, KI Kangaroos, New Zealand fur seals, echidnas, koalas, bandicoots, ad brushtail possums, head to Kangaroo Island.
To see koalas in the wild, head to the Great Ocean Road (Kennett’s River).
To see Little Penguins returning home at sunset, head to Phillip Island.
To see emus in the wild, head to Broken Hill, N.S.W. or the Sapphire Coast of N.S.W.
To see wild camels, head to Western Australia.
To see wild goats, head to Broken Hill, N.S.W.
To see platypus in the wild, head to Bombala, N.S.W.
To see wombats and a lot of them, head to Wilsons Promontory.
To see Kookaburras, hold out a sausage pretty much anywhere in suburban areas, or public picnic areas.
To see Cockatoos, just look up. You’ll hear them screeching as they fly around.
If you are doing any driving in Australia, outside of city areas, be very careful around dawn and dusk.
Most tourism sites will tell you not to drive during these times and I tend to agree. This is prime time for kangaroos, wallabies, and wombats to be out and if you hit them with a car, well, let’s just say you’ll cause a lot of damage. Not only to the animal, but also to your car. Maybe even to yourself. It’s like hitting a cement wall. You will most likely cause so much damage to the car, you’ll ‘write the car off’.
As I mentioned in #2, the cost of living is higher in Australia and restaurant staff are paid a minimum wage that negates tipping. You will notice that all wait staff manage the tables, versus the staff being assigned to one section. This will vary depending on the restaurant, of course, so unless you are exceptionally impressed with the service you received and would like to tip your waiter/waitress, it’s not expected.
There are places around the cities that have a line on their bill for tipping, or a less-than-subtle sign, but know that the tips are pooled and divided out amongst the staff.
We have a slogan in Australia: Slip. Slop. Slap.
Slip on a shirt. Slop on some sunscreen. Slap on a hat.
It’s a brilliant reminder to take the sun seriously. The sun is ferocious in Australia and it should be taken with great caution. While you may sunbake in Ibiza or Maui and get a tan over a period of time, you’ll get fried within minutes of being in the sun in Australia.
Why? It’s because Australia experiences very high ultraviolet (UV) levels, especially in summer. In fact, you can get sunburned in just 10 minutes. And don’t be fooled by the temperature either. UV levels don’t equate to high UV levels. It may be 25 degrees C (mid-70s F) and the UV level may still be extreme. Plus, when there’s no humidity, the UV levels are actually more intense. Tasmania is actually one of the places in the world where the UV levels are most intense. (N.Z. too.)
You will see more people in Australia wearing hats and using umbrellas to block the sun than anywhere in the world.
You’ll see kids and surfies alike wearing zinc across their faces at the beach, without worrying how daggy (see #3) it looks.
You will see kids and adults alike wearing ‘rashies’, which are cover-ups made specifically for the water, and think nothing of it.
If school is still in during your visit, you’ll see younger kids wearing a hat as part of their school uniforms. Many schools have a rule that states if a child forgets their hat, they don’t get to play outside during recesses and lunchtime. It’s good incentive for a kid I think. That’s like gaol (jail) for a kid to be inside while their friends go outside to play. You can bet they remember. Or Mum does.
Take the sun seriously people. Slip. Slop. Slap.
As mentioned in #1, Australia is a big country.
If you’re planning on only visiting the tropics, pack your swimmers, sunscreen, hat, rashie, and a change of clothes and feel free to skip this section, although you may need to pack a jumper for the chilly air/con. (Are you up with the lingo yet?)
If you go elsewhere in Australia, I say this: Layer.
Even if you are in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth or Hobart in summer, you may find yourself reaching for your winter woollies. The weather is unpredictable and you may have weather in the 40s (Celsius) one week and in the 20s (Celsius) the next, no matter what the season.
So, when you pack your bag, expect four seasons and layer. Bring long pants and shorts. Bring your summer dresses and a cardigan. Pack your umbrella too.
Having said that, Australia does experience four distinct seasons in certain places of the country:
On the east coast, it’s from Sydney and south, including Canberra and the A.C.T.
You’ll find four seasons in Victoria and Tasmania as well as the southern parts of South and Western Australia.
I’m not going to sugar coat this: Australia’s internet sucks.
Even with Australia’s highly-touted ‘NBN’, a nation-wide broadband service that is halfway through implementation, the speed sucks. You’ve hit the jackpot if you manage to reach 25mps. The reliability remains on the individual service provider so in one place you may find yourself zooming and the next at a snail’s pace.
Getting internet at all between cities can be a challenge.
To manage this (as best you can), get a Telstra SIM card. Don’t buy any other. Vodafone, Optus etc. are patchy at best and once outside of city limits, you’re lucky to get a signal at all. Telstra is the only semi-reliable carrier in Australia, particularly outside of metropolitan areas.
To find free internet, look to public libraries, shopping centres, hotels and cafés.
Libraries: In regional areas, you may have to ask for a password in libraries and there will be a limit to how much you can upload/download. It’s best to ask where to find the best signal in the library but it’s generally close to where the office is located. We’ve been in some libraries where I’ll be on one side of the library and Rich on the other, and one of us will get a signal.
Hotels: Not all accommodation will offer Wi-Fi, let alone free Wi-Fi. It’s best to ask ahead of booking.
Tip: If you’re a blogger, working your way around Australia, always ask what the limit is. We learned that the hard way. It’s not helpful to us to be limited to two devices with only 50mb per day.
Cafés: More and more cafés are offering free Wi-Fi. They will display a sign on their window or door. When I need to work, I will ask if they are okay if I settle in for a while. If they offer Wi-Fi, I ask if I can leverage it to get some work done. Most are great. Many don’t mind at all and encourage you in. They know you’ll at least buy coffee and if it’s in a slower time of the day, it’s no skin off their nose to have you there.
If you’re on a robust Australian road trip, buy a dongle at a Telstra retail store (found in most metropolitan shopping centres) to connect through. This has been a godsend for us on our roadtrip when we can’t get Wi-Fi any other way. Be sure to sign up for as much data as you can afford.
Many supermarkets in Australia no longer use plastic bags. Many markets don’t either.
You may find some states still offering plastic, but plastic is (finally!) being phased out and at a fast rate. The general public have gotten behind the #banthebag campaign in Australia. Now retailers are getting on board.
It’s best to bring your own ‘green bag’ or pick one up when you arrive and use it while you’re here. Best souvenir there is!
So, there you have it. By the time you’ve bought those tickets and packed your bags, you’ll be prepared for your Aussie adventure. And you won’t look like an idiot when you get here. (Said, in jest, of course!)
Just to whet your appetite, here are some of our favourite places in Australia.
When you’re ready to book, make sure you check out our Booking Travel page.
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