lot of people dream of one day making it to this far off continent, but they end up not doing it because it is such an expensive place to visit. Because of this Australia remains on many people’s bucket list indefinitely. However, we have some good news: it can be significantly cheaper than you think!
Below you will find our thrifty tips to travel on a budget in Australia. To give you a general idea, we have done it on a budget of 50 EUR a day for two. We have to admit it, it is not the easiest way to do it and it might not be for everyone. But for those who would like to give it a go, we believe these moneysaving tips will come in handy.
If you have the time, the best way of getting around Australia would probably be to rent your own campervan, RV or mobilhome. However, this was way too expensive for us. While you do have your own “hotel & restaurant on wheels” with you, they are usually not cheap to rent and tend not to be very fuel efficient. Granted, fuel is one of the only things that is cheaper here than in Europe, but considering the stunning distances you have to cover in this country this is little comfort. And if you do not have the time or gasmoney to make a full loop, you have to cough up extremely high one-way fees.
So what are our tips for moving around Australia on the cheap?
Tip 1 – TOPTIP – Relocations!
Since we still think travelling by campervan is a great way to travel the country, we found a cheaper way to do it. How? Through relocations!
What is it? Well a lot of people rent a car or campervan in Australia and drive it from point A to B and pay the often very expensive one-way fee. But the rental agency would like to have their vehicle back at point A to rent it out again. That is what they use relocations for. In exchange for bringing the vehicle back to point A within a certain timespan, you get to rent if for free (actually for a token amount such as 1 dollar).
How can you find a relocation opportunity? On the website www.imoova.com (which combines several rental agencies’ offers) or on the website of the rental agencies themselves (e.g. on the Appolo camper website here). There often is quite a bit of choice in destinations and departure points. But you have to puzzle with all the dates and destinations and be very flexible to make the most out of it.
Another thing to look out for, as soon as the rental agencies become really desperate they start to throw in fuel allowances and travel cost allowances. You can always try to contact the rental agencies directly if you want to discuss the terms. Do check your kilometer allowance, fuel cost, and insurance options before you agree, otherwise it might turn out to be more expensive than expected (cf. infra under tip 2).
Example: We wanted to drive from Darwin to Alice Springs and did this through a relocation. We got a free camper, our insurances were covered by the travel allowance and all our fuel was refunded. If you know that we have gone through 1800 km at around 14 liters per km, got a little chip in our windscreen after only 20 km on the road, and barely missed dozens of kangaroos, we felt like this was an awesome deal! Especially taking into account that the outback gasstations rampantly inflate their prices the further you get from civilisation. Read more about our road trip from Darwin to Alice Springs here.
TIP 2 – TOPTIP – Consider renting a car on the cheap.
Why a car? If you can’t find a campervan or mobilhome for free, renting a car is usually a cheaper option than renting a campervan. Not only are they cheaper to rent, they also use less fuel, are cheaper to insure and usually have lower one-way fees. You have the option of sleeping in your car (not so bad once you get used to it) or pitching a cheap supermarket tent next to it. Ok, you have to forgo on a few hot meals and comfy nights, but it is a hell of a lot cheaper!
How to find a cheap car? Find it through websites such as www.vroomvroomvroom.com and shop around based on:
• Date – It is also worth playing around with the dates as it is often cheaper to rent a car on certain dates or for certain lengths of time (e.g. renting for a week is often significantly cheaper than for five days and you can always return it early).
• Location – Car rental agencies often have inexplicable price differences between the different locations of their branch offices within a city (e.g. city, train station or airport). The price difference can easily mount up to 20 € a day.
◦ With vroomvroomvroom you sometimes have the option to zoom out from your preferred rental location to see nearby cheaper places you might not even have considered.
◦ For example, we rented a car in Melbourne to drive on the Great Ocean Road. One branch of the same agency in Melbourne was a lot cheaper than the others. Read more about this roadtrip here.
• Insurance – Always check the included level of insurance and the standard excess amounts (usually much higher than in the EU and the US) as this varies considerably in Australia. You might be making fake savings if your renting price is low, but you are very poorly insured.
◦ Also be aware that some companies physically take the full excess amount out of your account and even charge a percentage as “administrative costs” to charge and release it. Also be aware that this might also max out your card.
◦ Some places in Australia have a higher risk when it comes to damages, e.g. places with lots of gravel roads or wildlife. Given the often high excess, check whether extra insurance is worth it. If you decide on taking one of the extra insurance options, check what kind of damage is included. For instance windscreen damage is often excluded, though it is one of the damages you will most likely incur on outback roads. For example, on our way from Darwin to Alice Springs, we already had a chip in our windshield after only 20 km.
◦ Also an interesting idea is checking whether online rental car insurance policies (e.g. vroomvroomvroom usually has a suggestion) aren’t a better pick than those offered by the car rental agency.
• Fuel – If you are driving thousands of kilometers, check the type of fuel and fuel efficiency of the car you are about to rent. A cheaper car with terrible fuel efficiency might be more expensive in the end. Diesel is somewhat cheaper than petrol in Australia, but click this link for current fuel prices in Australia. Do realise however that in the end you may be allocated a “similar” car with a different fuel efficiency.
◦ Therefore, before you book you could call the branch office to get more information on which cars they actually have in a certain “class” and what your chances are of being “upgraded” which is not always a good thing when it comes to fuel cost.
• Kilometer allowance – Check whether the kilometers are unlimited or limited to a few hundred kilometers a day (the latter is often the case in small town Australia). If they are limited, check whether you will be able to make it and, if need be, how much it costs (tax included!) to pay for the extra kilometers.
No luck finding a good deal on the likes of vroomvroomvroom? Try the following:
- Contact local car rental agencies that might not be taken into account by these websites. For example, we once used the very cheap and local “Albury Super Cheap Car Rentals” (find them here) for our road trip in the Victoria High Country. Read more about that here.
- Contact the local tourist information center, they often have surprising deals. For example, we rented a car through them in Alice Springs to drive to Uluru, which saved us a bundle and it even came with unlimited kilometers. Read more about our trip to Uluru here.
TIP 3 If you decide on renting a campervan, check out the deals on smaller minivans e.g. at JUCY.
We rented a small minivan (JUCY El Cheapo) in Brisbane instead of a real van, which means better fuel efficiency and, to us at least, no significant loss in comfort. Also consider that the bigger vans can be pretty unwieldy to navigate trickier roads (where often the best free campsites are).
We decided on JUCY as it has the best reputation of the cheaper options (click here for their website). Wickedcampers is often pretty cheap (especially for the cars with a tent on top), but we have heard and read some bad things about them. Check for reviews online.
TIP 4 Be on the lookout for cheaper fuel.
In Australia fuel prices can be significantly different within the space of a mile. Also be aware that the further you go in the outback (the further away from a centre of population), prices rise till they reach extortionate heights.
A side note: if you are in the outback and see a fuel labeled OPAL, this is a non-sniffable type of petrol (Really!?) created “in an effort to reduce the epidemic of petrol sniffing in Indigenous communities”. If there is no specific policy in the rental agreement you shouldn’t be too worried using it, although many local car owners believe it is bad for your engine in the long run.
TIP 5 Don’t forget to check the train or bus options.
While it might not always be the cheapest option in Australia, it is definitely worth checking for deals. You might be lucky like us and find a great two-for-the-price-of-one promotion as we did from Melbourne to Albury and from Albury to Byron Bay. We just love trains, especially for long distances, so we took every chance we got. Also have a look at the different rail passes in Australia (for instance here). For our plans they were a bit limited, but maybe they might be a fit for you.
TIP 6 Flying is not necessarily the most expensive option.
Especially not if you take into account all the costs associated with overland travel. Check websites such as www.skyscanner.com and https://www.google.com/flights for some of the cheaper options. The cheapest airlines are usually Virgin, Jetstar and Tiger Air. We flew from Alice Springs to Melbourne with Virgin as the overland travel options were just too expensive.
TIP 7 You can also try to buy a car/van to resell it at the end of your trip.
This might be a good option if you are going to travel in Australia for a longer period of time. Buying a car is of course tricky and there are people preying on gullible backpackers. Of course you also have to insure the car and keep it running. Knowing something about cars and their maintenance is a big plus. If you are in Australia and do not know where to start looking, there always seem to be cars/vans on sale on the noticeboards of backpacker hostels. But we didn’t want to commit and are not especially car savvy, so we decided to pass.
TIP 1 – TOPTIP – Our all time favourite cheap travel tip: housesitting!
What does this mean? You get the opportunity to take care of the house (usually including pets) of people who go on a holiday. The homeowners get piece of mind knowing that somebody takes care of the house and pets while they are away. While the housesitters stay at the house rent-free and have the opportunity to get to know an area in a relaxed and local kind of way.
We are constantly on the road with only our backpacks, so we really enjoy having a more normal and quieter life once in a while. During this down time we can finally write some blogs and get them online. And a big plus: we get temporary pets to spoil. For us it is the ultimate slow travel experience! We did an awesome housesit on a farm in Albury (read more about it here) and a slightly less successful one in the Byron Bay area (read more here), but we would love to come back to Australia to do it again and again. (Housesitting is extremely popular in Australia and there seem to be a lot more housesitting opportunities than actual housesitters.)
How do you find such a housesit? There are quite a few websites, but for worldwide housesitting we very much prefer www.trustedhousesitters.com. However, for Australia specifically we also used www.aussiehousesitters.com as they just had more Australian housesitting opportunities. In the future we would probably use www.kiwihousesitters.com for New Zealand. You create a profile, pay the relatively modest fee and you can start looking for a house to sit! Seriously, some people have been doing this for years on end, check for example the adventures of Peter and Dalene Heck here.
TIP 2 Youth hostels are not necessarily the cheapest option!
Especially if you are not travelling alone, you can often find cheaper prices for better rooms through websites such as booking.com. If you use booking.com and make a few bookings through your profile, you unlock even better deals. It is also worth having a look on www.hotelscombined.com and tripadvisor.com for places that are not listed on booking.com. The drawback is that these hotel style properties rarely have kitchen facilities, but you can shop accordingly of course.
TIP 3 Sleep in your car or in a tent next to it.
Campervans are more comfortable, but they are often quiet expensive if you take into account all the costs (cf. supra). We slept in a tent next to our car on our trip to Uluru and slept in our car during our trip on the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne.
TIP 4 – TOPTIP – Find yourself a free place to camp at night.
Official free wild camping rights do not really exist in Australia (like e.g. in Norway, Sweden & Finland, but more about that later on the blog), but very few people seem to actually run into problems when doing so. If you want to find the best safe spot to free camp, you should use the awesome app “Wikicamps Australia”. A real top tip when travelling in Australia. This app gives you an overview of campsites, a user rating, their facilities, and nearby attractions. Many of these campsites are completely free. It also has a handy comments section, which gets quite regular comments on even the more remote locations (largely thanks to Australia’s many grey nomads). It is also pretty accurate in predicting wildlife viewing spots (such as koala spotting) and relatively unknown attractions along the road. The app sometimes even mentions where you can get a shower, but good bets are the public showers at the beach, truck stops, outback roadhouses or official camping sites (often for a small fee).
TIP 5 Buy cheap camping gear and be creative.
If you want to buy cheap camping gear that doesn’t have to last for years, check Target and KMart. You can always try to re-sell it in a hostel when you leave. Also, camping gear does not always have to come from the camping section. Their are lots of things that can serve as a mattress or a blanket, so be creative.
TIP 6 Couchsurfing or airbnb.
TIP 1 Don’t go out for dinner, but buy food in the supermarket and prepare it yourself.
Where can you cook? You can cook your food in your hostel kitchen or buy your own gas stove (most campervans already have a gas stove). You can also look for one of the many free communal gas BBQ facilities all around Australia. Or just buy stuff you do not need a kitchen for. Be careful with campfires though, as in Australia there often is a high risk for bushfires.
Which supermarkets? In general supermarkets are more expensive than in Europe and definitely more expensive than in the US, but it still beats the very expensive eating out options. Coles and Woolworths are by far the most common supermarket chains in Australia. Coles often looks the cheapest, but we found that Woolworths often has better deals and a (slightly) better price/quality ratio. Aldi is also making inroads in Australia beating the others on various prices, though don’t expect the super cheap Aldi brands you might be used to in Europe.
To save even more:
- Buy “reduced” products, this really saved us a lot of money! In supermarkets, look for the reduced sections. There you can find products that are closer to their expiration date/time or whose packaging has been damaged. Same products, better price and you do not have to buy cheap junk food. Our favourite at Woolworths was a hot whole roast chicken (around 10 dollars), that was usually reduced by closing time to 5 dollars. The perfect evening meal with leftovers to boot!
- Buy the odd bunch fruits and vegetables at Woolworths. Apparently the odd looking ones, but just as delicious as the regular stuff. And to be honest, we thought they looked pretty normal. Australians seem to have extremely high standards of what fruit and veg are supposed to look like. So even with Australia’s expensive prices for fresh produce, you can still have your health boost.
TIP 2 Buy local food at Farmers’ markets.
Our personal favourite. Local markets where farmers sell their own produce and meat straight to the consumer. Muuuuch tastier stuff and often cheaper. We have managed to shop for many a good cheap meal at these markets (especially at the end of the market). For instance, we absolutely loved the Albury-Wodonga Farmers’ market.
TIP 3 If you want to have a cheap glass of wine: buy cleanskins.
For some strange reason, Australian wines seem to actually be more expensive in Australia than in Europe. BUT don’t despair. You can always buy reasonably priced cleanskin wines e.g. at Dan Murphy’s. Considering the bargain prices, they are pretty decent wines without the flashy labels and marketing tricks and they are almost guaranteed to be better than any other similarly priced “labeled” wine.
We know that not all of the below are budget related, but they sure are good to know!
TIP 1 Adjust your expectations regarding internet connectivity and even old school cell phone reception and their cost.
Australia has by far the worst internet connectivity and cell phone reception we have encountered in a non-third world country and probably the most expensive to boot. Also be prepared to pay extra to acces the internet at hostels and hotels for a certain number of hours (very retro!). The local excuse is that they are a remote country…
Use free internet when you have it (e.g. at Mac Donalds) and prepare by making information you might use available offline. Download your maps.me maps, tripadvisor.com app guides, and definitely your Wikicamps information. If Skype doesn’t work due to poor internet connection, you sometimes have better luck by calling through Whatsapp (if the other party has Whatsapp, that is).
TIP 2 – TOPTIP – Buy a local sim-card if you stay for a while.
Due to internet connections being so poor, we had to make a surprising number of regular cellphone calls to organise things. So buying a local number is still pretty handy to stay somewhat connected and you do get quite some “free” minutes and “free” mobile data. Regular rates are daylight robbery so free anything comes in handy. The only nice thing we have to say about any of the local providers is that Telstra has the best nationwide coverage, but don’t expect too much.
TIP 3 Don’t expect customer service and consumer protection as you might be used to in Europe or North America.
The customer is hardly king here and customer service people seem terribly inconvenienced by anybody contacting them. Don’t expect them to solve anything either. Be prepared to be sent from one office to the next and to enjoy a lot of waiting tones. Nobody seems to be responsible for anything. You will probably end up at the first person you contacted who will be very pissed at you for troubling him again…
Anecdote 1: We rented a car that turned out to not have a licence plate. They needed 4 days to fix this. After a lot of calling, pushing responsibility to their absent colleagues, then to their main office and finally the booking agent, after having some really rude people on the line (“What is your problem? Why are you calling ME again?”). Basically nothing came out of it, except that they expected us to wait around for 4 days. Luckily they would be so kind as to refund our booking fee if we decided to cancel…. What a generous offer!!
Anecdote 2: Kate bought a new pair of sport shoes in Melbourne, but when we came back from the shop there were two right shoes in the box. We had a train to catch in the morning so we couldn’t go back to the same store. Luckily there was also a branch in Albury where we were heading to. After calling the first store and after some convincing, they agreed to send the missing left shoes to their branch office in Albury. But only if we swore she had never worn them outside (they were two right shoes mind you…). When the box finally arrived in the branch office in Albury they perplexingly contained two left shoes of completely different sizes, so we still didn’t have a pair. To be fair, after some further complaining we did manage to get another pair to replace the unfindable pair we bought.
TIP 4 Choose your questions wisely.
Australians are generally friendly and will gladly answer your first question. But there usually seems to be a one question only limit. If you ask more questions they get annoyed pretty quickly.
TIP 5 Train your tongue for those funny names.
There must be a ministry of funny place names in this country! Expect names such as Tangambalanga, Wagga Wagga, Yackandandah, Tumbarumba and the like. There are no clear guidelines on how you should pronounce these, but ask a local if you don’t want people snickering. Be aware, even pretty straightforward looking ones such as “Cairns” (pronounced “Cans”) might throw you off guard.
We even spent some time in a town called “1770”, drove on “Wait a While” road, etc.. . Also try to refrain from laughing when you meet somebody from near Mt Buggery in Wabonga, Chinaman’s Knob, Humpty Doo, Cockburn, Burrumbuttock or Tittybong,…
TIP 6 Listen very carefully and read up on Australian slang!
If you thought you had a decent grasp of English, you might not have fully experienced the Australian version of it.
The abbreviation hype is running rampant here, everything is shortened. “Brekkie with a chook avo sanga and a cuppa, afterwards we can have an arvo kanga banga barbie and cab sav in Melbs or are we going to maccas after the footy in Tassie or why don’t we have a spag bol?” (Breakfast with a chicken avocado sandwich and a cup of tea, and afterwards an afternoon kangaroo sausages/bangers barbecue and a cabernet sauvignon wine in Melbourne or are we going to Mac Donalds after the football match in Tasmania or why don’t we have a spaghetti bolognese.) Also good to know: kangaroos are usually referred to as “roos”, a pickup truck is always a UTE (utility vehicle), and OS is overseas (basically everywhere but Australia).
Australians also commonly use words and idioms you might have never heard before e.g. hard yacka, on ya mate, ace, jackaroo, snags, swagman, fair dinkum, esky, sheila, larrikin, dunny, stubby holder, tucker, etc… They will assume you know what they are talking about.
To top it all off they often talk in a weird circular manner which makes if very hard to decipher what they are actually trying to say! Not to mention the local “bogan” accents that often give the Scottish a run for their money. Also get used to the ubiquitous G’day and really everybody being a “mate”.
We stayed in Australië for about 50 days without spending too much money and staying on our budget (an average of 50 EUR a day for two). We had to be very flexible and have spent a lot of time searching for options and puzzling it all together. We did get somewhat stuck once in a while and budget travelling in Australia sure was no holiday, but then again that is the way we have chosen to travel to be able to stay on the road for longer. Luckily housesitting gave us the necessary time to recharge our batteries. We had to leave Australia earlier than expected due to family circumstances, but we are definitely looking forward to returning down under for more budget travelling around this great country!
Have a look at our Australia pictures here.