Well, this budget guide is a bit weird. Normally, I’m chilling in a country where the beers cost less than a dollar and the water will give you a brain hemorrhage, so it seems a little unneccessary to write a backpacking guide when there’s a 7/11 on every corner. Half the backpackers that read these things call Australia “home.”
But for the other half of my constituents, those backpackers who fell in love with an Aussie overseas and decided to follow him back home, buckle up. Like your Aussie did to you that magical night in the Cambodian hostel bathroom, this country is going to take your wallet, bend it over the sink, and fuck it silly until the manager walks in and kicks you out. But then again, just like your Aussie, it’s going to be a pretty sweet ride up until that point.
If you suck at metaphors – or you just zoned out thinking about that bathroom – here you go: Australia is expensive. If you’re lucky, you’re doing a year-long working holiday visa, where you can at least earn your keep. The wages in Australia scale appropriately, so while a tiny cheeseburger from Hungry Jack’s costs six bucks, you can make 23 bucks an hour just flipping those burgers. Traveling for a year will also help you save long-term because you can go slower, booking by the week and keeping your own food in the hostel kitchen. It takes the sting out of the cost and makes things a bit easier to handle, though the visa itself is $355 USD on top of whatever else you’ll be spending just to get there.
Once you’re in country, the standard cheap day/regular day/expensive day model from guides past holds up pretty well (though I’ll be giving some alternatives later). Australia, as the closest thing to America you’ll get without a school shooting on TV, also uses the Dollar, and the exchange rate is close enough that it’s not even worth thinking about converting once you’re there. $1 AUD = $0.94 USD or £0.55 GBP. Just accept it and think about the dolla.
This budget guide takes place in Melbourne (specifically, St. Kilda) in the Summer, as I stayed there for five months and know it best.
The Cheap Day
- Wake up in your hostel at around noon with the kind of shuddering hangover only Goon can bequeath. The benefit of backpacking in a first world country is that even if you do manage to find a shit hostel, there’re nicer ones for basically the same price. But for the sake of adventure, let’s say you’re in a 30-bed dorm with a snoring guy in the bunk above you. A hostel of this caliber can be around $21/night or $130/week AUD.
- Hostels here don’t do free breakfast very often, and unless you’re so poor you debated not eating in the first place, you probably wouldn’t want what they offer. Go for the standard backpacker breakfast: cheesy beans on toast. If you buy generic brand, you’re gonna be able to fill up for the equivalent of $1 AUD. You don’t even need to buy water – the tap is potable for once. Who said Australia was expensive?
- Whatever good karma Australia gets for its water quality, it loses for its WiFi. Who knew it was possible for a first world country to have the same Twitter access as Syria? It’s a cheap day, so you’ll be on your WiFi while you relax, but hostels don’t do it for free here. The best deal you’ll find is still around $4/day AUD. You’ll be able to find free WiFi at backpacker travel agencies like Peter Pan’s, but it’s usually slow, and you won’t want to hang out there all day anyway unless you’re actually planning your travels.
- Walk on over to St. Kilda Beach. 98% of Australia lives on the coast, because the other 2% are bat-shit crazy bogans who are down with wrangling tiger snakes and red back spiders on the reg. So luckily, whenever you’re strapped for cash, there’s a beach to visit for free. Unless of course, you’re in the North, where there are crocs and murder jellies everywhere, because fuck you, it’s Australia. Point is, you don’t have to spend money to have fun in Australia.
- By the time you consider having lunch, it’s already getting late, and since we’re doing a cheap day, skip it. There’s still goon sloshing around in your stomach anyway.
- Head back to the hostel to chill. I know these cheap days sometimes feel like you’re purposely not doing anything, but most hostels in Australia are cool enough that you’ll have a good time having a night in. For dinner, hit your grocery bag in the fridge again. Pasta and ketchup, those two-minute noodles – dinner always seems to be long and floppy. Either way, it’s a little more expensive than breakfast, but you can keep it to about $2 AUD if you don’t get too fancy with it.
- Normally it’s the Australians turning into dickheads and getting drunk, but since we’re in their land, now it’s the English who stand out (don’t get me wrong, the Australians are still getting blacked out obnoxiously, but now their accents don’t stand out). Resist the peer pressure and get some sleep.
And that’s a cheap day. All things considered, you only spent $28 AUD ($26.30 USD, £15.4 GBP). On a yearlong tour, these kind of lazy days are more common than you’d think, but don’t get too used to them.
The Regular Day
- Wake up in your new hostel feeling refreshed. Who knows how you teleported hostels mid-night, but now you’re in a slightly better one with fewer beds per room. Still no free WiFi or breakfast, so the difference is really minimal (seriously, the choice of hostels is entirely dependent on what you want out of them), but this one is $28/night or $189/week AUD.
- While the rest of your room is still in bed (what is it with Australia and sleeping in?), get up and hit the cheesy beans on toast again. Of course, you could go buy something else, but it’s the regular day, and you’ve got a back full of beans and cheese. You get used to it. It really does become a thing. Another $1 AUD.
- Pick up another day’s internet for another $4 AUD, because Tinder is huge in Australia and you think just maybe that hot blonde surfer chick will swipe right. She won’t, bro. Linger before swiping, because you’ll never see that girl again.
- Today, head into the city. Wherever that may be. In Melbourne, you can get around with these shitty little Myki cards (think Oyster cards from London, if Oyster cards didn’t work). You can get away without using them, but in the off chance you do get caught, the fine can be $200 AUD. If you don’t feel like risking it, a ride is around $3 AUD up to Federation Square to see the street art.
- Go ahead and eat lunch today. You’ve earned it. Of course, everything’s still expensive as shit, but you can probably rustle up some sushi or snacks from a stand for around $7 AUD, depending on how hungry you are. Spending money has a big influence on appetite.
- You paid for the Myki getting to the city. Fuck it. Be a rebel and steal a tram ride home.
- Eat dinner with friends tonight. You’re still gonna be eating pasta, but you don’t always have to be cheap – throw in some mushrooms, some cheese, some ground beef, some tomato. You know, go crazy. When you’re buying the ingredients from the grocery store, one meal like this will come out to around $3.
- And, since this is a regular night, you’re going out tonight. Australia turns everybody into alcoholics. Most hostels in Australia have a strict no-alcohol policy (though they turn the other cheek when you’re a long-termer), so go to Luna Park and bring a box of goon. Oh, I haven’t actually told you what goon is yet? Try a 4L bag of wine made with fish oil and eggs. The makers clearly know backpackers don’t care what they put in their bodies. It gets you fucked up quick and painfully, and all for the low price of $9/box AUD. If everybody chips in, you’ll probably be paying $2 AUD to get drunk tonight.
- Of course, you’ll keep drinking after you’re drunk. Nobody’s that responsible. Many places offer backpacker-styled $5 drink deals, so mitigate the loss by only bringing a $20 bill with you for the night.
You’ll pass out pretty much immediately by the time this day ends. And I’m not saying you’ll get shitfaced every night (you will get shitfaced almost every night), but while people drink different amounts, there’s a law of (anti-) conservation going here. If you don’t spend it on that, you’ll spend it on something else. By the end of the regular day, you’re $67 AUD ($63.98 USD, £36.85 GBP) in the hole. It’s a big hit by the standards of somebody just coming off a Southeast Asia tour, but after a while in Oz, this amount doesn’t even seem that unreasonable.
The Expensive Day
- Wake up in a marginally better hostel, still lacking WiFi. Hostels can get expensive, but since they’re the same quality, why bother? None of the best ones get higher than $28/night or $189/week AUD, even in the high season (that being summer in Melbourne, winter in Cairns). You’ll still need to tack on another $4 AUD for Internet, though.
- For breakfast, you could go out to eat, and if I wanted to exaggerate an expensive day you’d eat out every meal. But go for a big fry up with friends instead. Beans on toast get old, so spring for hash browns, sausages, eggs, beans, bacon, juice… if you get a good group together, you can pay as little as $5 AUD for your share.
- Head into the city again, and this time, do something expensive. Not everything in life is free. Get tickets to an AFL game. Go to a museum. Get day-drunk in a bar. We won’t even charge you a Myki fee. Let’s pretend you walked. Whatever you’re doing, let’s say tickets and a quick lunch combo brought you down around $30 AUD. That’s being pretty generous, as Australia has some high-priced shit, but hey, I’m feeling pleasant and my wallet has been happy lately.
- Meet up with more friends for dinner. You’ll probably end up eating out for at least one meal a day every so often, because you can only eat 2 Minute Noodles so many times before you vom. There are meal and drink deals all over town, but if you hit up Fitzroy Street (a big backpacker area in St. Kilda), you can find a good steak and pint deal for $15 AUD.
- And, of course, now it’s time to drink. If you’re sick of goon (you’ll either get sick of goon pretty damn quickly or not at all), then consider springing for a bottle of vodka with friends. Australia and alcohol treat each other like a bogan couple beating the shit out of each other but never breaking up, so as drunk as they get, it’s really expensive. $36/bottle AUD for Smirnoff that would be ten bucks back home. If you split it with friends, you should end up paying only $8 AUD for your share.
- Sometimes, you can’t help but bring your credit card out at night and spend all of your money. If the regular day has you spending $20, then the expensive day – and we’ll be lenient here – will have you drinking down $50 AUD that was supposed to go to souvenirs. Hey, it could have been worse. Just make sure that, as you stumble home, you’ve saved at least a little bit of that bill for Cone Heads, the greatest poutine you’ll ever drunkenly spill down your shirt. It’s ten dollars for a cone. Spend wisely, as going home without Cone Heads is a travesty.
If you thought that was bad, you should know that this is not even a true expensive day, where you take taxis and buy food and have your coins fall through the holes in your pocket. You only spent $140 AUD ($131.60 USD, £77 GBP). A bad expensive day can see the loss of up to $200. Luckily, with the wages being paid at some jobs, it’s possible to earn that much cash and more in a single day. So while you won’t be saving anything, at least you won’t be losing much.
Weekly and Monthly Budgeting
Keeping a daily budget is a good idea for smaller trips, but if you’re doing the working holiday visa, the bigger picture matters more. Some costs to keep in mind, assuming you’re staying in one city for a few months at a time during your travels:
- Rent: at $130-200/week, this will be your biggest expense.
- Groceries:depending on how good you are at (or at least, how willing you are to try), you can expect to spend anywhere from $30-60 a week on groceries.
- Cell Phone:They call them mobiles here, which sounds weird no matter how much it makes sense. Vodaphone has the best backpacker deal for your shitty unlocked brick, at $30/month for unlimited calls and texts plus some data.
- Tours/Events:Group tours are big in Australia among backpackers. Places like Fraser Island, Uluru, Cape Tribulation, and the Great Ocean Road can be done solo on the cheap, but its better to go on short 3-5 day excursions with a larger group of people. Throw in things like music festivals (Australia has a few nice ones), skydiving, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef. You’ll want to do something of the sort at least once a month, and that’ll add, on average, another $350.
With those costs in mind, plus a standard distribution of cheap/regular/expensive days, you can expect to pay, at absolute minimum, $1200/month ($1128 USD, £660 GBP) in Australia, with $2000-2500/month ($2350 USD, £1375 GBP) being more realistic. Here’s where doing the work visa makes sense – an easy backpacker job can pull in $23/hour and if you work full time, you can make up to $3000/month, meaning that unless you pick up a serious meth problem (the ice in Oz is choice!), you’re gonna live just fine.
The Campervan Option
Many backpackers traveling in groups for long periods of time like to buy campervans. Instead of living in hostels, you lead a nomadic life. Making soup over a camping stove in a parking lot, driving to choice destinations yourself instead of on buses or planes. Of course, being forced to sleep in a bed in the back of a van means that you’re choosing saving money over ever getting laid again, but it’s a choice some people need to make to find themselves, you know?
I can’t speak accurately on the budget requirements for this, as I didn’t try it, but here are some ideas:
- Campervans sell anywhere from $1500-7000 AUD ($1410-6580 USD), not including the cost of registration, post-purchase maintenance, and equipment. However, most will sell fully equipped with camping/entertainment gear, as they’re usually sold by backpackers trying to offload their vans quickly so they can GTFO before their visas expire.
- Gas in Australia is around $1.50/liter AUD ($5.33/gallon USD).
If it’s worth it to you, go for it. Generally speaking, the campervan option is better for groups of 3-5 people. If you’re doing it alone, it won’t save you much money in the long-run, and it’s a lonelier road anyway.
Cost of Transport
- Taxi: $8 for 5 minutes
- Tram: $3/ride
- Train: $12-20 (short), $30-80 (intercity)
- Bus: $40 (intercity)
- Plane: $100-400