8 things to know about travelling Oz on a budget
Australia's great big outdoors offers plenty of FREEdom to roam. These insider tips will help you stretch your dollars to make the most of an Australian holiday.
By Sue Gough Henly
Unlike many developed countries, Australia has plenty of wide open spaces, wilderness full of wildlife and long beaches with room to roam. Getting out and finding that space is one of the best ways to experience Australia. Luckily, many of its attractions are completely free. Even for city slickers there are lots of free parks and gardens to linger in and a host of online resources to help you find free (and almost free) things to do as well as cheap eats.
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Travel within Australia
Australia’s budget airlines (Tigerair and Jetstar) post very cheap fares if you watch closely. Prices go down if you travel very early or late in the day. Passes on Australia’s only national bus company Greyhound Pioneer represent great value, especially as some of them include tours. If you travel in a reclining seat and not a sleeping berth, train fares cost about the same as bus fares. However you travel, go from one destination to the next rather than backtracking which can waste a lot of money and time. Wicked Campers offers some of the best value car, camper, 4WD rentals in the country and it can get even cheaper if you are willing to relocate vehicles according to the company’s needs. Most cities have a nearly-free bike rental program and some, like Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide, offer free public transport throughout the city centre. You can also use Wotif and Last Minute for last-minute flight and car rental bookings.
There are many affordable family-owned guesthouses and bed and breakfast providers in city and rural areas and numerous country pubs have affordable rooms to stay in above the bar. Airbnb, couch surfing and home swapping sites offer terrific affordable options. Camping is an excellent choice in rural and coastal areas and Australia has some of the world's finest beachside tourist parks, many with self-contained cabins. Even if you’ve never set foot in a youth hostel consider joining the Australian Youth Hostel Association, which welcomes adults of all ages (some welcome families, too). They have kitchens where you can cook your own food, terrific tour desks and many have private rooms with en suite bathrooms. You could be sleeping in a train carriage, an old movie theatre, a former prison cell or a purpose built eco-hostel. Some, like the Sydney Harbour Youth Hostel, have fabulous views which you can enjoy with a rooftop barbecue. The YWCA also offers budget hotel accommodation in Sydney and Darwin.
Food and drink
Australia has fabulous permanent food markets in major cities (Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne and Adelaide Central Market) as well as many farmer's markets in urban and country areas. Shop here around closing time and you’ll get terrific bargains. There are lots of coin-operated barbecue facilities in city, beach and country parks where you can cook up a meal and soak up the Aussie outdoor lifestyle. Eat in inexpensive restaurants – Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Italian – which can be found all over the country. Look for BYO (or bring your own bottle) signs outside restaurants or on their websites. This Australian tradition means you can bring your own wine or beer into restaurants for a small fee, which will save you money. Many city bars and pubs also have happy hour, often between 4pm and 6pm, with half price drinks. Numerous RSL (Returned and Services League) clubs and League clubs (as in rugby league football) as well as Surf Lifesaving clubs serve hearty affordable meals.
Australia’s beautiful beaches are all free and many have professional lifeguards (during the summer months of December to February) as well as free toilets and showers. In Sydney, several beaches have free ocean pools as well. In Brisbane there’s the free Streets Beach at South Bank. Botanic Gardens in capital cities and other urban areas are also free. There are lots of free walking trails in urban areas (the Bondi to Coogee walk or the Manly to Spit Bridge walk in Sydney) as well as wilderness walks (the Great Ocean Walk in Victoria). The permanent exhibitions of all of Australia’s major art galleries are free to view. There are also Sydney and Melbourne free walking tours where no booking is required and you just show up, however, tips are appreciated.
While it is certainly not true that you will see kangaroos hopping down the main street and koalas hanging from the telephone poles, there are lots of places you’ll see Australia’s animals in the wild, completely free of charge. There's plenty of exotic birdlife to enjoy, even in urban areas. Dolphins are visible swimming off many beaches and whales are often sighted from headlands between May and November. Although nothing is guaranteed, you are likely to view kangaroos and koalas if you drive along the Great Ocean Road or around Kangaroo Island or indeed in any bush setting at dusk (be careful because kangaroos are attracted to car lights). There are more wombats than people on Tasmania’s Maria Island. Kangaroos regularly congregate at beaches on the south coast of New South Wales such as Pebbly Beach. On Rottnest Island in Western Australia you’ll discover other cute marsupials called quokkas.
The business centres of Australia’s capital cities and public spaces such as libraries, museums, galleries, parks, train stations and other community hubs now offer free Wi-Fi. Many hotels, cafés and restaurants also will pass on free Wi-Fi to customers.
There are some great online publications that not only tell you what's on in urban areas but also have useful information about cheap eats and happy hours. Search for sites such as Broadsheet, Time Out and The Urban List. In Melbourne, Melbourne Cheapskate is a terrific online directory that locates food and drink specials. The Happiest Hour offers a similar service in Australia’s capital cities. In Sydney, Liven is an app that allows you to claim a certain percentage off meals at some great venues. In Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and Australian Capital Territory, Clipp is a similar app.
Tipping is not considered obligatory in Australia. Australians often round up the cost to the nearest dollar when paying for taxis. In restaurants, diners usually tip the waitstaff between 10 and 15 per cent. Porters in hotels do not expect tips.