Australia spending summary
Overall score (Dan) = B-
Overall score (Jocelyn) = B
Total days = 25 nights, 26 days
Total cost = $5,270
Cost per day = $203 / day
Flight costs = $470 for two flights from Christchurch
Our expectations for Australia were surprisingly low after the great time we had in New Zealand because we didn’t see Australia as having the “highlights” around every corner like New Zealand did, and we weren’t convinced the cities would be that much different than anything in the US.
We were only partially right and as we spent four weeks exploring Australia, our sentiments certainly changed. We were correct in the thought that the big cities weren’t that much different than you’d find in the US, but we were highly impressed with everything else that comes with Australia. From the incredible rain forests and the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland near the city of Cairns to the barren and beautiful Outback, Australia’s sites won us over.
As you’ll see in the details, we got very lucky in Melbourne as we stayed 6 free days at my friend’s apartment near the beach – definitely a big money saver. Outside of Melbourne, we spent 6 days in a camper van in the “Red Center” (or the Outback), 3 days in an Air BnB apartment, and then 11 days in another camper van between Cairns and Brisbane.
Overall, we were okay with our spending resulting, but were disappointed with how much we spent getting between the cities within Australia. Australia is big and the distances between the cities and sites don’t even come close to comparing with the compactness of New Zealand. It’s much like visiting the US in that you have to either drive 10 hours to get from one great area to another or you have to take a flight. The good news is that flights between cities are much cheaper than you can find in the US.
How far does your money go in Australia?
Australia’s economy is currently very strong and the Australia dollar showcases that. When we arrived in Australia, it cost us about $1.03 US to buy one Australia dollar so everything was more expensive for us. Throughout the four weeks the US dollar strengthened and by the time we left the two currencies were at parody – meaning they were worth exactly the same. However, Australia is still more expensive than the US and that’s why we had to get creative with our lodging; more on that later.
Spending details – I’ll add them to the bottom since we had so many, but here are the per day highlights:
Transportation = $44/day (flights/taxi)
Gas = $42/day
Lodging = $40/day (Camper van, hotels, etc)
Food = $32.50/day (groceries, eating out)
Excursions = $24/day
By far our biggest win in Australia was the six free nights we had in Melbourne at a good friend’s apartment. Our other 19 nights in Australia were spent mostly in camper vans except three nights in an apartment in Sydney that we booked on AirBnB.com. After our camper van experience in New Zealand, we were confident in our ability to live out of one and we even downgraded to a smaller camper van! However, this one didn’t have a bathroom or shower which made for some interesting scenarios. We got quite creative in our basic needs of showering and even showered outside a few times with warm water we boiled in our coffee pot. My wife was quite the trooper, and I was really surprised with how “off the grid” we were able to live. It was definitely harder than New Zealand, but we saved over $30/day with the cheaper camper vans and we both found it worth it (ok, my wife may not answer that as easily as me!!).
We also used AirBnB for the first time while in Sydney. Hotels are very expensive there, and I couldn’t find a good Starwood hotel to use points to pay for the stay! We were mostly satisfied with our Air BnB experience as it took our cost per night from over $200/night down $85/night at Pharrel and Viviennes place – it wasn’t the cleanest place and they were a little creepy at times, but overall it was worth it.
Food is another area we excelled in (oh yea, that good) as we limited ourselves in the number of times we ate out and decreased the amount of food we wasted. We had a pretty boring breakfast and lunch schedule as we always had cereal and sandwiches, but as I mentioned in our “Smuggling Steaks” post, we stepped it up with nicer meals for dinner (cooked in our camper van) which was nice. We mostly ate out in Melbourne and Sydney because we didn’t have our camper van kitchen which took our “eating out” average to $32.50 per day while our “groceries” averaged $19 per day.
Keeping our camper vans full of fuel in Australia was quite expensive. At first it seems cheap when the gas stations sign show “$1.25” for gas, but once you realize it’s per liter – and four liters equal a gallon – you realize you’re paying $5.25 per gallon! Even worst than that, when we got to Alice Springs in the Outback, we learned that the extreme isolation of the area allowed them to increase price per liter to $1.75 all of the way to $2.35!! I’ll save you from grabbing the calculator – that’s $9.40 per gallon! In addition to that, we had to do a lot of driving to get to the different attractions in the Red Center (of course Uluru, but also some really cool places like King’s Canyon). Unfortunately, this brought our per day spending on fuel to $42… very painful.
Our excursion in Cairns – the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) – was also expensive, but we both think it was well worth it. We were somewhat concerned because our snorkel guide in Bora Bora told us he heard the GBR was dead and not worth visiting, but thanks to the persistence of my wife, we still went. It cost us about $200 per person, but it was definitely worth it as we took the 90 minute boat ride to the outer reef and saw the amazing marine life and coral formations that put all of the other sites we visited in Belize and Bora Bora to shame. We think the picture below by itself made it worth it (yes, this was a real picture with a Maori Wrasse who was good friends with the camera man).
When we first set our eyes on Australia, our rough plan was to visit the east coast from Melbourne up to Brisbane. However, once we realized we haddd to visit Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef, our travel budget certainly increased. We checked Greyhound schedules, train prices, and even “free transfers” where you can take a car or camper van for free between cities (and you just pay for gas), but the cheapest ways proved to be through the air. There are quite a few cheap airlines in Australia, but just with the amount of travel we had to do, it increased our overall spend quite a bit and we averaged $44 per day.
In conclusion, we really enjoyed Australia, but we’re still trying to reconcile how we’d recommend friends to visit. It’s tough because it’d be like trying to tell someone how to visit the US in a week – they’d miss a lot. However, if you have enough time to spend 3-4 days in the outback and another 4-5 visiting the East Coast (Cairns, Great Barrier Reef, Gold Coast, etc) we think it’d be worth it. If you only plan to visit the big cities such as Melbourne and Sydney, we don’t think it’d be worth it to travel to Australia – you can just visit the big cities in California instead! We’re excited to get to Southeast Asia where we hope to drastically decrease our per day spending.
Also, check out Jocelyn’s page to read about some of our adventures in Australia!!
Next up: Indonesia and continuing throughout Southeast Asia
Australia Detailed Spending