Australia’s diverse landscapes and distinct cities mean there’s plenty of freedom to roam. Make the most of your Australian holiday with these tips to help you stretch your dollars.
Unlike many developed countries, Australia has plenty of wide open spaces, wilderness full of wildlife and long beaches with room to roam. In cities, you’ll find gardens, museums and attractions. Luckily, there are plenty of free activities across the country, and you can still eat well on a small budget.
Travel within Australia
After you arrive in Australia, you’ll likely want to visit more than one place. Australia’s budget airlines, Tigerair and Jetstar, often offer cheap fares if you watch closely. Prices tend to be lower if you travel in the early morning or late evening. Sites like Wotif and Last Minute can be helpful for booking last-minute flights or car rentals.
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.
One of the best ways to reach Australia's incredible remote destinations is on the open road. You can rent a car, camper or 4WD vehicle from providers like JUCY and Britz for a reasonable price and head out on an epic road trip adventure.
Within major cities, check for free or nearly-free bike rental programs and enjoy the fresh air. Some cities, like Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide, offer free public transport if you travel within the city centre.
However you travel, be sure to plan an itinerary that minimises any backtracking, which can waste time and money.
Australia boasts many luxurious lodges and glamping getaways, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find quality accommodation on a budget. 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. BIG4 and Discovery Parks offer affordable holiday park accommodation for families, friends, couples and solo travellers.
If you want to stretch your dollar and meet other travellers, consider joining the Australian Youth Hostel Association (YHA), 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. Some hostels, like the Sydney Harbour Youth Hostel, have fabulous views which you can enjoy with a rooftop barbecue.
Food and drink
Australia has fabulous permanent food markets in major cities, like Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market and the Adelaide Central Market, as well as many farmer's markets in urban and country areas. Vendors offer great bargains if you visit just before closing time. You’ll also find coin-operated barbecue facilities in city, beach and country parks where you can cook up a meal and soak in the Aussie outdoor lifestyle.
While you’re sure to find several fine dining options wherever you are, there are also plenty of cheap eats to enjoy. You’ll find a range of cuisines, like Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and Italian, in very affordable restaurants across the country. Check with the restaurant to find out if they offer BYO (or bring your own bottle), which allows diners to bring their own wine or beer into restaurants for a small corkage fee. Many city bars and pubs also have happy hour, often between 4pm and 6pm, with deals on drinks.
All of Australia’s beautiful beaches are free to visit, and many have professional lifeguards patrolling the area during the summer months (December to February). Don’t forget to swim between the red and yellow flags, which indicate the safest area for swimmers. In Sydney, you’ll find stunning (and free) ocean pools near popular beaches, and in Brisbane you’ll find Streets Beach, Australia’s only inner-city, man-made beach lagoon.
Soak in a bit of nature in Botanic Gardens in capital cities, which offer green spaces within bustling business areas. You can also embark on one of many free walking and coastal trails, like Sydney’s Bondi to Coogee walk or Manly to Spit Bridge walk as well as wilderness walks. The Great Ocean Walk in Victoria is a favourite for locals and visitors alike. If you’re staying in Sydney or Melbourne, take advantage of free walking tours. Bookings aren’t typically required and you’ll get a taste of the city’s highlights.
Experiencing art is also incredibly affordable in Australia. The permanent exhibitions of all of Australia’s major art galleries are free to view.
From kangaroos and koalas to dolphins and whales, Australia has so much wildlife to encounter. There are plenty of zoos and aquariums, like the popular Taronga Zoo Sydney and Victoria’s Healesville Sanctuary, that have animals from Australia and around the world. While it’s not guaranteed, you can also spot Australia’s wildlife in the wild.
Dolphins are visible swimming off many beaches and whales are often sighted from headlands between May and November. You are also likely to view kangaroos and koalas if you drive along the Great Ocean Road or around Kangaroo Island. There are more wombats than people on Tasmania’s Maria Island, and 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 find quokkas – cute, small marsupials that seem to smile for selfies.
No matter your budget, you can find great deals on food, drinks and attractions all over Australia. Online publications like Broadsheet, Time Out and The Urban List not only tell you about the newest events and venues in urban areas, but also have useful information about happy hours and cheap eats.
If you’re on your way to Melbourne, check out Melbourne Cheapskate - 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.
Visitors can find free wi-fi in some business centres of Australia’s capital cities, as well as in public spaces such as libraries, museums, galleries and train stations. Some cafes and restaurants also pass on free wi-fi to customers. Check with your accommodation to see if they offer guests free Wi-Fi.
Tipping is not considered obligatory in Australia, and hotels and restaurants do not add service charges to your bill. In upmarket restaurants, it is common to tip waiters between 10 and 15 per cent of the bill for good service.