5 Tips For Your First Experience Backpacking In Australia

If you’re considering a working holiday in Australia or even an extended backpacking trip, you’re bound to have heaps of things on your mind. Contributing author Lauren Fritsky is based in beautiful Sydney and nails out 15 tips to help make your first experience backpacking in Australia stress-free.

Word: Wreck.

Definition: Me when I landed in Australia on Jan. 25., 2010.

Cathay Pacific Airways deposited me in Kingsford Smith International Airport with no apartment lined up, the bare minimum in savings and two suitcases stuffed with my life. It was hot, I’d lost the address to my hotel and I couldn’t get the SIM card in my prepaid phone to work.
I’m happy to report my state of affairs has improved since then. Still, knowing a few things would’ve helped me acclimate to Aussie life a bit easier.

Here’s how you can basically do a better job than I did traveling, living or backpacking in Australia.

1. Bring extra money

Immigration recommends work and holidaymakers bring AUD$5,000. This isn’t enough. Sydney and Melbourne are some of the most expensive cities in the world. Plus, costs for items like produce have shot up since the floods earlier this year.

2. Sort out your banking

Consider using a fee-free credit card for some purchases. If you can’t be trusted with plastic, transfer as much money as possible to an Australian bank account to avoid fees of $50 or more for each transfer and debit and ATM withdrawal surcharges from both countries.

3. Use hostel memberships

Hostelling International memberships cost $25 a year and shave a few dollars off your hostel stay each night.

4. Wear sunscreen

There’s a reason an Australian wrote the “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” song in the 90s. I got sunburned so bad when I got here, I had a mark on my thigh for almost a month. Did I mention I’m olive-skinned and usually tan?

5. Visit the GP

The out-of-pocket cost for a GP visit is around $60 in Sydney — about $150 less than going to a specialist first. Check out this post for more on travelers’ health insurance in Australia.

6. Call home on the computer

You can call the States and Canada from Australia for free on Google phone through 2011. FREE!

7. Find cheap Internet

I bought a $99 USB modem only to pay $60-plus a month for spotty Internet. I now pay half that for unlimited wireless at my apartment. If you’re hopping about, skip the hostel Internet and head to libraries or McDonald’s to get it for free.

8. Skip the cabs

You can get one-way bus fare for the starting rate of a cab in Sydney. It’s then $2 per kilometer plus a 20-percent surcharge if traveling after 10 p.m. Save your money.

9. Drive

Or have someone drive for you. You can explore the many dirt paths, colorful landscapes and coastal areas a lot better if you’re in a two-passenger car instead of a 25-person tour bus.

10. Talk to locals

Chat with old folks, the people born and raised in Oz, the immigrants who came there for a better life. Their stories and observations will open your eyes.

12. Rock the suburbs

“Suburb” doesn’t mean the same thing in Australia as it does elsewhere. Many Oz suburbs are diverse and alive with a vibrant arts scene and café culture. In fact, you might prefer staying in a suburb over a CBD — rent is heaps cheaper.

13. Embrace “island time”

Emails go unanswered for weeks, buses rock up 30 minutes late with no explanation and service in restaurants is often non-existent. Just repeat “no worries” to yourself.

14. Know how to change your visa

I thought I could get another year out of my work and holiday visa by picking fruit. It turns out Americans aren’t eligible, though Canadians and many European citizens are. While one immigration lawyer said I couldn’t get on my American partner’s work visa, it turns out I could (and did). Make sure you research and talk to the right people if you want to stay longer.

14. Find the less-hyped spots

Myall Lakes, the Central Coast, Royal National Park and Ku-ring-gai Chase are all beautiful places as worth seeing as Great Ocean Road and the Great Barrier Reef.

15. Say things right

Know to say a “flat white with two sugars” when ordering coffee. Call peppers “capsicum,” cheddar cheese “Tasty” and shrimp “prawns.” It’s the Aussie way.
Have you traveled to Australia? Do any of these tips ring true to you? Add your tips for backpacking in Australia to the comments section below.