How to explore Australia independently - and on a budget

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
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Have you always wanted to travel around Australia, but are concerned about the high costs? You’re right to be worried - it is one of the most expensive places to travel, and tours are expensive. BUT! Never fear - we’ve got a slew of budget travel tips for you, so that you can explore Australia on your own terms, on your own schedule, on your own budget. YOU can pick the things you want to see, do, eat, and explore - and have the trip of a lifetime while doing so.
 

Here are our best tips on how to explore Australia independently - and on a budget:

 
How to explore Australia independently - and on a budget
 

Getting Around

Australia has several airlines, and it can be less expensive to just hit the big cities you want to see. However,  you’re missing out on a lot of Australia - and spending more money while doing so.
 

Drive, don't fly

Besides being able to road trip Australia, you'll see so much more than you will from flying point to point. Check out Gumtree to get a reliable car, which you can buy and sell when you leave Australia. Do your research on gas mileage, the terrain you'll be traveling (you may or may not need a 4WD), the number of people with you (and accompanying luggage), and the comfort you're used to and will prefer for your road trip. The car you choose will be a home away from home during your explorations - be sure it fits you and your family.
 

Save on Gas

Look into gas station discounts - available with free loyalty cards. Sign up before you hit the road, and you’ll consistently save money when you fill up. If you’re a costco member, you’re probably already doing this at home, but look for costco stations in Australia. Other fuel reward programs are available through 7-11, BP, and supermarket reward programs like Coles, Woolworths, IGA, etc. Use the GasBuddy app to check current gas prices.
 
Watch for kangaroos whilst driving! From How to explore Australia independently - and on a budget
 

Where to Stay

What is your personal preference? You might prefer B&Bs, camping, or using a hotel loyalty program to save money. 
 

Hostels

If you've never experienced a hostel, and just have the stereotype of dorm rooms in your head, welcome to a new world. Hostels nowadays have a wide range of options, from family rooms to shared accommodations. You can find converted train carriages in Sydney, a heritage-listed prison in Fremantle, and a beach house in Cape Trib, located in Daintree Rainforest on 7 acres of beachfront (with a saltwater pool!) over at YHA Australia. Note the guidelines for hostel stays - most just request you bring sheets (sleeping bags are barred).
 

Camping

If you don’t have a full camping kit to bring (which will save you a great deal of money), there are still plenty of options for camping, including glamping and safari tents. Australia Tourism's top camping spots includes camping on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour (you can even glamp there!), right on the waterfront; safari tent camping on Byron Bay; camping with wombats at Narawnapu National Park; or camp at El Questro Wilderness Park - where there are natural hot springs!
 

Rent a home or apartment

If you’ll be in one location for more than a few days, it makes sense to look into vacation rentals. It’s cheaper than staying at a hotel, and you’ll have a kitchen, laundry, and space to spread out! This is also a good idea for the ability to somewhat live like a local - find your favorite coffeeshop, talk with people, and learn more about a place than you can with one or two nights in residence.
Sydney skyline at night. From How to explore Australia independently - and on a budget
 

When to go

Do you prefer a hot summer or a chilly winter? When is the best time for you to explore Australia?
 
Summer sunset. From How to explore Australia independently - and on a budget
 
Snow at the train station. From How to explore Australia independently - and on a budget
 

Shoulder Season

I’m all about traveling in the shoulder season. It’s cheaper, and you will most likely have great weather. The extra bonus of this time period for traveling? LESS people! Most tourists travel during the high season. So not only are they paying more, but they are paying more to be there when it is most crowded. Double negative, in my book.
 

Check the Weather

Maybe you love the heat, or pass out from heat stroke, like I do. Whatever your body’s preferred climate, be sure to check the weather before making your travel plans - especially if you are planning on beach time. Lonely Planet has a great guide to help your planning.
 

Food

There’s nothing worse than traveling on a budget and feeling like you’re not fully experiencing the culture - or eating well. 
 

Shop

My favorite way to learn about a place is to head to the grocery store! You never know what treasures you’ll find - new flavors of yogurt, delicious breads, incredible cheeses. You’ll also save a great deal of money. Win/win!
 

Hydrate

You can fill your water bottle at public water fountains for free. Save the environment - and money.
 

Happy Hour

Sometimes places have happy hour specials - and in Australia, there’s a website for it! Check out The Happiest Hour for up to the minute discounts on COFFEE (!!), food, beer, wine, cocktails, cider, and more.
 

Grill

Did you know that Australia’s free bbq facilities are known as a national treasure? At Meat In a Park’s website, you can find your closest local free grilling facility. 
 

Inexpensive Dining

Look for ethnic restaurants (often cheaper), as well as food trucks (I absolutely LOVE food trucks) and takeaway options. Australia is a diverse country - you’ll find great eats from around the world. Eat out for lunch - it is much cheaper than dinner. If you can find a surf club, RSL, or memorial club (which are in almost every town!), you’ll find inexpensive meal options, as well. Find local markets (like Adelaide’s Central Market) for delicious eats. Tour a winery and explore their wine tastings, instead of ordering wine in restaurants. Look online - as always, Yelp is your friend.
 
Outside dining, Watson's Bay. From How to explore Australia independently - and on a budget
 

Discount Cards

I love discount cards! But some are not worth the money - be sure that if you are purchasing one, that you actually want to DO the things that are offered. If you are a student, look into the ISIC, International Student ID Card (or the teacher ID card, if that applies) for global discounts. Love coffee? Save money with the Coffee Club’s discount card - and with over 400 locations in Australia, you’re sure to find a location nearby. Other discount cards include the iventure card, 
 

Look for the Free

I am all about the free. You can find free events EVERYWHERE - from concerts to book and poetry readings to festivals. All national parks are free (45 of the 870+ parks have a vehicle entry fee). Most national museums are free, as are art galleries, parks (including Sydney’s Royal National Park, one of the oldest in the world), and beaches. Research local festivals. Look for greeters programs (like Brisbane Greeters or I’m Free in Sydney and Melbourne), which offer free local city tours, run by volunteers, or find local free scavenger hunts. Wander street markets, take city hikes, or people watch at Bondi Beach. Find free wifi at libraries (extra bonus: learn about new books in your location, and ask librarians for their best local travel tips). There is street art everywhere!
 
Street art. From How to explore Australia independently - and on a budget
 
Street Art, Melbourne. From How to explore Australia independently - and on a budget
 

Find Alternate Options

I never like being in crowded places. So if you’re looking for ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef, but maybe not in the epicenter of it all, look for smaller tours a bit away. For instance, Budget Travel notes that it is far cheaper - and less crowded (27 tour operators, vs 1) - to experience the Great Barrier Reef at Cape Tribulation, instead of in Cairns.
 
Giant Clam on the Great Barrier Reef. From How to explore Australia independently - and on a budget
 
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