Traveling around Australia is relatively expensive, but how much should you allow and how can you make your money go further? First, let’s divide Australia into three regions:
Generally, the west coast is the most affordable to travel, the east coast is the most expensive, and the Outback falls somewhere in between. Sydney has become the most expensive city in Australia, followed by Melbourne, Darwin, Brisbane, and then Perth.
That stretch of land which hugs the coast running from Sydney all the way to the tip of Australia is undoubtedly the most popular route to travel in Australia, but also the most expensive. An average night in a hostel on the east coast will cost AU $25–$40 a night, and when you factor in the large number of day trips and expensive activities available, costs can add up quickly.
You’re going to need a minimum of four weeks to do the whole trip. Six weeks is ideal to really take in all the sights and activities and to chill out along the coast.
One way to cut down costs on travel is by avoiding flights to and from major cities. A cheaper way to travel is by bus. Look around for options to purchase tickets with ‘pay by the kilometer’, or you could pay for the trip from one destination to the other – in a hop-on hop-off style. These tickets can range from AU $19 for a short trip, to AU $585 or upwards for a trip from Melbourne to Cairns.
The cheapest way to travel the east coast is by renting your own car/campervan or joining a ride-share program. A used car can be purchased for between AU $1,000–$2,000+, or try looking for a campervan which can double as overnight accommodation.
With an absolute minimum of AU $4,000 in your bank account for a six-week trip, and a tight rein on your food and drink spending, you can travel well.
On that budget, you’ll be able to afford to dive the Great Barrier Reef, cruise the Whitsunday Islands, drive around Fraser Island on a three-day tour, check out Nimbin, Noosa's Everglades, and take a surf lesson in Byron Bay.
But, if you want to say yes to every experience and every night out on the town, you’ll easily spend closer to AU $5,500 over six weeks.
Australia’s mid-section spans from Adelaide in South Australia all the way to Darwin in the Northern Territory, crossing the red center and infamous Outback. Traveling from south to north, you’ll transition from the waters off the southern coast, up through lush national parks including Flinders Ranges and the wine region of the Barossa Valley, before reaching the opal mining town of Cooper Pedy, where the residents live underground to beat the unbearable heat.
When you reach the Red Center, watch spectacular sunsets from Uluru (Ayres Rock), take a hike through Kings Canyon, and make a stopover in the town of Alice Springs for a taste of the history and characters that make up the central region of Australia.
Traveling further north toward the rainforests and humid climate of Darwin, don’t miss Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks to see waterfalls, crocodiles resting in water holes, and dense rainforest.
By joining a local tour operator, you’ll learn about the culture, history and nature from an expert, without the stress of preparation and planning. Keep in mind that in Uluru and Alice Springs everything will cost well above average, due to the small monopoly of businesses.
Alternatively, you could rent a campervan through a reliable company and pay for fuel, but driving in remote areas demands lots of preparation, and the costs of food and petrol will add up.
To go all the way from Adelaide to Darwin expect to pay AU $1,500-$2,000 for a basic trip: camping in a tent under the stars, cooking cheap meals, and enjoying the real Outback experience.
You can fly in and out of Alice Springs and Uluru, however, these are small airports and flights are expensive.
Living costs in Perth and Western Australia are considerably cheaper than on the east coast. The cost of living in Perth is 20% cheaper than in Sydney, and also cheaper than Brisbane, Melbourne, and Darwin. Once you get over there you’ll fall in love with the thriving yet laid-back atmosphere of the state.
Starting in Perth, travel south through the Margaret River wine region before continuing to Esperance to see some of the most stunning beaches in Australia.
Head north from Perth to stunning Shark Bay and Monkey Mia, where dolphins come into the shallows every day. keep going north to Exmouth where you can explore the Ningaloo Reef and swim with whale sharks. If you want to keep going to Broome – it’s 1,553mi (2,500km) from Perth – give yourself two weeks to take in all the sights.
Driving the northern reaches of Western Australia is a real adventure, taking in the Gibb River Road, Halls Creek, the iron ore-rich Kimberley region, the Bungle Bungles, Kununurra, and the Ord River Dam.
To self-drive Western Australia, you’ll be committing to long (sometimes boring) stints of driving, but you’ll be rewarded with views and solitude you might not find anywhere else in the world. By renting a campervan with a few friends you can cut costs considerably, however, keep in mind the cost of fuel to travel vast distances and the added danger of driving in remote conditions. You'll need to research seasonal rains and driving conditions to avoid being cut off by flooding.
A generous budget for four weeks of travel along the west coast would be around AU $3,500. Organized tours will be expensive, costing around AU $1,700 for a 10-day trip from Perth to Broome.
Traveling around all of Australia probably won’t cost less than AU $9,000. This figure doesn’t include the cost of getting to Australia. If you’re already in Southeast Asia, a flight could cost a couple of hundred dollars. But, if you’re on the other side of the world it could be AU $1,500 or more.
To cut costs, research ways to work as you travel, drink glorious goon (cheap wine in a silver plastic bladder), eat two-minute noodles, and ask around hostels to see if backpackers are willing to share their contacts for car-share or give you free camping gear that they don’t want to take home.
Never underestimate the hospitality of Australian people, many of whom offer couchsurfing and friendly advice.
With more than 8,000 islands off mainland Australia’s shores, which should you explore?
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You said buses are generally cheaper than flights, I'd totally disagree with this. If one hasn't got a car and it's trying to get around with public transport than Id totally recommend flying vs bus. Travelling long distances (even Sydney to Melbourne which isn't huge) is generally cheaper and much quicker via air travel. You can generally find cheap enough flights and the time saved compared with long distance bus travel.
Brad, do you live in Australia? I frequently fly to Melbourne from Sydney, and can very rarely get flights for less than $300 return - and that's booking three months out. I challenge you to find cheaper air fares than a $99 bus ride with Greyhound.
Yes, flight deals can offer really cheap air fares with carriers such as Tiger Air (who can cancel at the last minute and leave you without a flight), but more often than not, we're left paying a hefty fee for a flight.
I’d agree with Amelia regarding flights and buses. I would say buses also offer an opportunity to see large swathes of the country that will be missed via plane.