If you’re really keen to travel the East Coast of Australia but think it might break the bank, let us reassure you that it doesn’t have to. One of our staff members, Rachael, had exactly the same worry for her first year of working and traveling Australia. She’s here to tell you how she managed to travel the epic East Coast for under $1,150 (around AU$1,500 at the time of writing).
I did a Working Holiday Visa between 2014 and 2016, and traveled the East Coast for the first 7 months of my trip (with work stops in between), including:
– Palm Beach
– The Entrance (yes, that is a real place)
– Port Macquarie
– Coffs Harbour
– Byron Bay (and Nimbin)
– Surfers Paradise
– South Stradbroke Island
– Rainbow Beach
– Fraser Island
– Airlie Beach
– Magnetic Island
– Cairns (plus Fitzroy Island)
– Port Douglas
First of all, I must admit I’m very money-conscious – because most of the time I have none – and this ‘ultimate budgeting’ translated to my travels. I’m not including Sydney as part of this post because as soon as I got there I went a little crazy – I’m yet to meet anyone who that hasn’t done exactly that, so don’t judge me! But once I left Sydney I was all about the budgeting, so I’m going to break this post up into 8 money-saving points:
Do a camping road trip between Sydney and Brisbane
Me and four friends bought a cheap car from Gumtree and split the price of the purchase and also the price of getting it insured and road safe before heading off on our trip. My friend had an app on his phone for free campsites in Oz (WikiCamps) so we just rocked up to the free sites along the way. Throw in some group food shopping (largely lived on BBQ’s, but that’s classic Aussie so it’s OK!), shared the cost of petrol, did many beach days and nights sitting around a campfire drinking, and all this set us up for a great (and cheap) road trip. We bought Monopoly for the road too, and we all know how addictive that is.
Get some work along the way
Although the road trip was cheap, I didn’t do a great job of saving beforehand because I was unemployed for a fair amount of time, so when I got to Brisbane I decided it was time to get a job. I couldn’t find one in Brisbane but I found an outback motel that was looking for an ‘all-rounder’ – food and accommodation included, with wages. I hopped on a bus out to Longreach and worked there for a month to get my funds up again (there’s not a lot going on in the outback apart from stunning sunsets, so it was easy to save). Once I had enough dollar in my pocket to go back to civilization, I looked for work in Brisbane and headed back there for 2 months.
I used my GoCard to within an inch of its life
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GoCard is Queensland’s travel card for rail and bus, but it includes something that I think is AMAZING for travelers: once you hit 9 trips in one week you get the rest of the weeks travel free. I worked Monday to Friday so I hit the cap by Friday morning so I was free to go wherever I wanted on the weekends. All I had to do was book a hostel for two nights and I was sorted because the GoCard covers all of the South East Queensland region. I went to Noosa on the Sunshine Coast, Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast and South Stradbroke Island – when I was there I lived cheap, doing free activities like the coastal walk in Noosa, chilling on the beach in Surfers, and walking around South Straddie. I didn’t eat out (except for the occasional $5 value Dominos) and I drank at home before going out. Cheap but still fun.
Buy tours with flexible dates
I pre-bought two tours before heading up the coast (when I got all excited and went crazy in my first two weeks of Sydney life) and that was the Whitsundays and Fraser Island trips. I did this because I could choose to go whenever I wanted, within a set time period, and I had plenty of time to pay it off.
I bought a Greyhound hop-on-hop-off ticket
I flew up to Cairns (stupidly cheap at $90) and bought a Greyhound bus ticket between Cairns and Brisbane (also really cheap for how far it takes you!). I don’t know why I chose to go the other direction to absolutely everyone I met, but it worked out well because my farm work was in Dorroughby, about 30 mins from Byron. So at the end I just hopped on another Greyhound from Brisbane.
I ate a lot of pasta and rice
I rarely ate out on this trip, because I knew how much money I’d have for other things if I didn’t…so I bought and cooked a lot of pasta. I had no problems using food left in the ‘free food’ section of hostel kitchens (what else is it there for anyway?!). There was even a hostel which had free rice and pasta – so I would go and buy tins of flavored tuna (80c per can) and add it to pasta/rice. Tasty. A couple of times I’d kid myself in to thinking I was eating Thai curry by buying the Thai red curry tuna and putting it with rice… I know, so sad. But I have no regrets.
I utilized book swaps all the time
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I love reading, but buying books wasn’t something I was willing to do (you know, being poor and everything). But the great thing about the East Coast is that there are book swaps everywhere – in hostels, cafes and occasionally, libraries. You just pick a book you want and swap it out with the book you’re done with. I got a lot of reading done this way, so it was perfect for me. FYI when I was in Longreach with nothing to do, I got a library membership so I could get free books out. Total bookworm.
I drank goon
Yep, the rite of passage for any backpacker in Australia – that lovely box of wine (which I’ve heard has fish eggs in). At $10-$15 for a 4-5 litre box, it’s a pretty nifty way of saving money and not missing out on any of the fun. You’ll find 9 out of 10 backpackers drinking it before they go out, and believe me when I say you won’t need any more alcohol after it (especially if you play a few games of goon pong/on the bus). Beware of the stinking hangover you WILL get afterwards … it is inevitable.
Thankfully by the time I got to the Whitsundays and Fraser Island (and had ran out of money) the tours included food, drinks and activities so I was all sorted before I went off to do my farm work.
By no means do I suggest you need to scrimp and scrape like I did – or being resourceful as I like to call it – but it’s just to show you that if you really wanted/needed to, you can still do the East Coast of Australia on a lower budget.
If this blog has made you realize that you can actually afford to travel up the East Coast, then get the first step sorted and take a look at Air New Zealand‘s sale fares to Australia.