The guide for you who’s going backpacking in Australia!
Here’s everything you need to know before your trip!
This is the guide that I wish I had read before I started my own journey. We had the best time of our lives and I would never change anything about our trip!
Backpack: You need a backpack, people who travel around with a suitcase will be classified as a “flash packer”, that’s how it is. I would say that 60 liters is a good size of a backpack. (This also depends on each bag, my bag should be 70 liters, but it is so small that it’s more similar to Josefin’s bag of 55 liters, sometimes they measure the bags different so you can’t really trust the liters). It’s a problem if the bag is too full all the time and it’s nice to be able to put in some extra things sometimes. I have a zip on my bag, and because of this I can put a padlock on. This is very good because then I can always lock up my valuables in my bag. The hostels doesn’t have safety boxes in the rooms everywhere, and maybe you don’t like to leave things among strangers. Sometimes you can leave your stuff at the reception, but it’s nice to have your belongings close to your bed. My bag is a great bag for backpackers. It’s a backpack, but in the same time it’s like a suitcase with a zip so you can open up a lid. In this way you can access everything easily. Are you supposed to walk a lot with your backpack this is perhaps not a good option, but for the average backpacker it’s a bag that will be perfect for you.
Osprey 70 liters with a small backpack that can be attached to the large one
Small backpack: You will live in your small backpack. It works as a beach bag and it’s a parallel weight on your chest towards your backpack. At some of the activities on the island you’ll have to leave your big backpack on the mainland and only take with you the most necessary things in a small backpack.
Clothing: Don’t bring too much clothes! I regret that I took too much with me, because I’ve thrown a lot of clothes. Besides, you’ll get boored very quickly about your clothes, they will become well worn and you will buy new ones. For how long are you going to stay here, are you going to be here at wintertime? It’s very cold here then. Maybe It’s hard to believe, but it’s true! It can be below zero degrees in Melbourne and Sydney. The evenings in Queensland can be very cold, you have to wear at least one warm sweater when you go out and flip flops are too cold, but maybe the alcohol can warm you up! I think you will need two pair of shorts, one skirt, five tank tops plus a few party tops, one t-shirt, a pair of jeans, a cardigan and a warm sweater. You will need one raincoat and perhaps a warmer jacket if it is not too big.
- You can use leggings as underpants if it’s cold.
- Some dresses, two or maybe three.
- A sarong as a beach towel because it takes very small space and you can find silk linen that dries very quickly after a shower instead of a big towel.
- Don’t bring too many underwear’s, about 10-15 pair of panties is enough and then you can wash them by hand if necessary. Another smart thing is to wash the panties you’re wearing when you’re having your shower, take some shampoo, wash them and then dry them overnight. In this way you’ll always have clean underwear’s and you don’t have to spend time to do the laundry that often.
- You’ll need a pair of sneakers and a pair of flip flops, leave the heels at home. It might be nice to have a good sole for the shoes, because you’ll walk a lot! Maybe you prefer to bring your joggers, but I think they take too much space.
- Two or three pairs of socks is enough.
Camera: (UPDATE: I now have totally different camera gear than while in Australia. Read more here: Photography.) I’ve got an underwater camera that I’m very happy with. It works well under water, at a party, for nature pictures. It’s all-round. But I don’t have a SLR. Many travelers have a small, manageable type of SLR, and the pictures get a thousand times better. It’s annoying when you look at something beautiful, capture it with the camera and then you’ll see that the camera’s lying. But I still think it’s very good with an underwater camera, because you’ll see so much under the water and to be able to catch it on the camera makes it even more fun to snorkel and dive. Maybe you can bring two cameras? The camera is the most important thing on the trip. The camera brings you all the memories and it’s well used every day. Of course this depends on how interested you are in photography, but everyone should take a lot of pictures on the journey, even if you think it’s fun or not!
Sunlotion: The ozone layer is extremely thin here in Australia, and you must be very careful with the sun. Seriously, it’s very dangerous. You can only find minimum SPF 30 here, because it’s stupid to use anything below. But if you still think you won’t need as strong protection you should bring a lower SPF from home. That’s better than skipping the sunscreen.
Insurance and passports: I always travel with insurance. It’s great to have; you never know what can happen. It is not very expensive and if something’s happen, you can get your money back. In some insurance policies you can even receive a trip back home if you need to go back for a funeral etc. Insurance is a boring spending but you are safe. You must have a passport that is valid for at least six months after you leave the country.
Laptop: Bring your own small laptop, that way you’ll save money on the Internet because it is always cheaper to buy WIFI than in the Internet cafés. It depends on how much you use the internet though. If you write a blog, write your posts in Microsoft Word to save Internet time, even long emails etc..
Vacuum Bags: Very smart! You pack your clothing in plastic bags, and they hardly take up any space in your bag at all. Then you can put more stuff in the bag.
Extension Cord: You have to charge your phone, computer, camera etc. It’s a lot of wires on one adapter. You will use an extension cord a lot, and the plugs is often far away from your bed.
Padlock: Sometimes there are lockers in the rooms where you can put your valuables, but you must have your own locker. Or as I said before, you can lock things in your bag. We always lock our cooler bags, because backpackers are often drunk or hung over and they can do anything to get food.
ATM Card: Bring at least two cards, and keep the cards in different places in case one of them will be lost or stolen. Then you’ll always have a backup. If you’re going to work here you can apply for the Australian ATM card straight away, it’s easy and fast.
Sleeping bag: People recommended me to bring a sleeping bag, but I’ve only used it once. There are sheets on every hostel you go to, and if you really need a sleeping bag you can hire it. I only used mine one time, at Fraser Island. However, It doesn’t take much space, when it is super convenient travel-friendly and made of silk, but I think you can travel without it! (Of course this also depends if you’re going to go by a van and camp a lot.)
Straightener: Skip the hair dryer, use the hand dryer in the restrooms instead! I always use a straightener, but it might seem like a luxury and unnecessary thing. However it also works as an iron! If you don’t have your own, you can borrow one from someone else and make your nice dress pretty again.
Vaccinations: It is enough to take the Hepatitis A and B.
Travel Buddy: Of course it’s fun to bring along a friend! You want to share your experiences with someone. If you have no friends who want to come with you, you might find someone on different internet sites. Otherwise, travelling by yourself is quite easy! It is very common, almost more common than to travel with someone. Everyone we’ve met thought it was exciting to travel by themselves, and had no problems whatsoever. You are never alone, there are people around you all the time and you will become more open to new friendships if you are by your own. Many times the people who started the journey themselves met people along the road and sometimes they become a big bunch of people from different parts of the world!
We booked a return flight to Sydney from Sweden, and that was about the only thing we knew before we arrived. And of course we had the VISA; you can apply for it here. It takes a few weeks before you receive it. I would recommend you to book a one way flight, because you never know when or from where you want to go home again. People said you could have problems entering the country if they couldn’t see a return ticket, but if you have enough money in your account you should be fine anyway.
How much money should you bring then? It is very difficult to say, everything of course depends from different persons. Either you have the gift to save money easily or maybe you’re wasteful. I would call myself an economic, I can save money but sometimes I just waste too much, but I always manage to have some money left somehow. We had a very big budget when we entered the country. Should I be completely honest, I can’t remember exactly how much we had, but it was probably around AUD 10 000. With that much money we could do absolutely everything we wanted, we did all the activities you can do, but we lived cheap and did not buy too much alcohol at the pubs. Goon (Australian wine in a box) and noodles is the rescue for the backpacker. We traveled for 4 months, went to New Zealand and Fiji and did everything you can do over there too. We did skydive, bungee jumping, rafting, diving, swimming with dolphins, you name it. But after 4 months we only had about AUD 1500 to go, and then it was time to start working. You can definitely go traveling with less money than we had, we sometimes called ourselves luxury backpackers because we sometimes were a bit convenient and took the more expensive option just because we could. For example, you can find other ways to live than hostel, you can rent a room in a apartment or you can go camping. There is a website where people help backpackers with a spot on their couch for free, CouchSurfing. This is very smart, but you should probably decide to meet the person in a public place before deciding to borrow the couch or not. We found out this too late in our trip, so we could unfortunately never try this. Hostel world is a great website where you can find hostels.
If you’re here on a Work and Holiday Visa you can get a job at any time, so if you run out of money you can always find a job. You can earn pretty good money over here, we could save up to AUD 5 000 in two months and we didn’t work that much. You can get an hourly wage of $ 19 and if you work in a restaurant you get the double on weekends. You can’t get great tips here though.
I do not recommend all of these organizations that help you with visas and jobs and so on. I would not go through such a website, you will be able to do everything on your own over here. We haven’t met that many who have gone through those websites, but the few we’ve met just thought they’ve put money for nothing.
On arrival in Sydney we didn’t know where to start. We were quite lost by then. Queensland had just been flooded and a major cyclone had damaged the country, so we didn’t think we could do the East Coast for a while. We went into one of the many travel agencies that are suited for backpackers. There are many of them, we made all of our bookings through Peterpans, and we’ve been very happy with them. There are many other agancies too, for example Travelbugs and Wicked Travel. You can also book activities through travel counters at the hostels. The best thing to do is to go in and talk to one travel agent and get a quote on the activities you want to do Then go to the next office and show them the price proposal. The agency will to try to sell it cheaper and then you keep on doing this with a few agencies and finally have you a great price. The best thing is to book many things at once, then you will get a package price and then you’ll save money. You’ll get a lot of help too, many great advices and ideas and you don’t have to do the planning by yourself. You also get many discounts and a membership card you can show up in some places to get a backpacker discount, and the Internet is for free in their shops or at least very cheap.
Neither I nor Josefin wanted to drive around Australia by a van, but there are many others that do. There are many campervans to buy, you can find ads at the hostels or at Gumtree. You can also rent cars as Jucy Rentals or Wicked Camper for example. If you are travelling by a campervan, I would highly recommend Lonely Planet’s travel guide. In this “backpacker bible” you will find everything you need, such as hostels, activities and so on. It’s very useful.
Most backpackers who need quick money start working on a fruit farm, like we did. Anyone can get such a job, it’s not advanced at all, but it can be physically demanding. The easiest is to settle down on a working hostel, they will help you to get a job and you sign up on a list and you will get a job as soon as you are on top of it. There’s working hostels everywhere, if you google “working hostel” and the city you want to work in, you will find loads. You can get help through the Harvest Trail as well. We worked in Bowen, Queensland, and it was really nice at wintertime. It is warm, like a Swedish summer and close to the beach. But it would be way too hot in the summer. Bundaberg is the most famous place for farm work. It can sometimes be a trap because all the backpackers go there, and then there are no vacancies left. Try to find other places that are not as famous as you can get a job faster. If you don’t need the money then maybe Wwoofing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) is something for you. You work on farms in exchange for accommodation and food.
What do you do on a fruit farm, then? The best job, in my opinion, is to plant by machine. You get exercise and sunshine, the job is chill and the days goes fast. Otherwise, you can pack and sort the fruit, or pick it. Picking is the worst thing you can do, it’s incredibly tough for the body and you usually get paid per bucket rather than per hour. If you want your second year visa you have to work for 88 days on a farm, it is also why there are so many backpackers who work with this. The good thing with farm jobs is that you can come and go as you want, nobody cares. If you only want to work for a couple of weeks, that’s fine.
The most popular website where you can find jobs is called Gumtree, where you can search for jobs all over Australia. The West Coast is great for working because you earn more, but it is a little bit more expensive over there. Many people are working either in Sydney, Perth or Melbourne. If you want to work in a restaurant or a bar, you must apply for an alcohol licensing, called RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol). The course will cost you about $ 140 but you can do it cheaper online, only about $ 50 I think. You need to have this if you’re going to serve alcohol, otherwise it’s not possible to get a job in a restaurant or a bar.
Bank: To get a bank account is not very difficult. Decide which bank you want and then go into their office and demand an account. We’ve got ANZ , it works very well, together with Commonwelth it is the most common backpacking Bank. They know how backpackers think; they help you to get an account best suited to you. It took two days for the card to be ready, and you can pick it up at the office.
Tax File Number: This is also easy to get, and you need it if you’re going to work. You can start working before you have got his number; just give it to your boss as soon as you receive it. It takes about a month to get your tax file number. If you work in Australia for more than six months, you can estimate only 13%. Otherwise you have to estimate 30%, but most backpackers take a chance on not being detected, and estimates 13% anyway. The important thing is that you indicate that you are an Australian citizen, and don’t enter an address that’s not Australian. You apply for your Tax File Number here.
Tax Back: In the end, it does’nt matter how much you underestimated, because you can get back almost all the tax money. You can easily claim your taxback here, but I was lazy and paid someone to help me with this. I just signed some papers and put some information together to taxback.com and they sorted the rest, and after a few weeks you’ll get the money on your account. All you need is your final payslip and information about your superannuation found, a copy of your passport and your taxfile number. Other companys can help you with this too, such as Peterpans etc.
Phone number: Get your Australian number as soon as you get here. I use Vodafone, and you activate your account via a phone call or you can go into a Vodafone shop and they’ll help you. The reception isn’t the best though. To call back home Skype is the easiest way.
What do you want to see?
Everyone who travels along the east coast does similar things. You will meet people over again, there will be new people and the old ones you thought you’d never see again turn up when least expected. Australia is huge, I don’t know if it’s possible to see everything. You may choose the things that you think is the most important for you.
Sydney. An obvious stop of course. The Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach and Manly Beach etc. I prefered to stay in Bondi because it’s close to the beach, but many people stays in Kings Cross or around Hyde Park. A popular thing to do is to climb the Harbour Bridge, which is very expensive, and you can go up in the Sydney Tower and see the city from above on a floor made of glas.
SpotX. After Sydney, we went to a three-days surf camp. It was great a time! Everyone who is in Australia have to learn how to surf, and if you do it as the first thing you can go surfing whenever you want after that. Three days was enough, I think. No beginner can learn to surf without help, and one lesson is not enough. After three lessons, you can continue by yourself. This place was really cool with really nice staff. Together with all the other surfers you’ve got a beach all to yourself. SpotX is located just outside of Coffs Harbour. Before Coffs Harbour, you should stay in Port Stephens which should be a great place, but unfortunately we missed it out.
Byron Bay. One of my favorite places on the east coast. And I’m not alone, everybody loves Byron Bay. Here you can spend at least a week. There’s a nice Pub, Cheeky Monkeys, where everyone goes partying, and you get free food every day at a certain time. You can go surfing and we went out to sea kayaking to see turtles and dolphins. But this can be done almost anywhere. Almost everyone who is in Byron Bay goes into Nimbin, the place like Amsterdam in Australia. There you can check out the weird hippies chillin’ around and acting strange wearing clothes with all the colors of the rainbow. Of course you can buy as much weed, mushrooms and cookies as you want. I was not that impressed by this, so I probably would not recommend going there. But it depends on what you like ofcourse!
Surfers Paradise. Australia’s version of Magaluf. This is a “big city” where all the Aussies goes on party vacations. It’s a lot of partying and you should do one of the many pub crawls. We stayed here a long time and loved this place. I think this place was fun and the beach is so long as you can see neither the beginning nor the end of it. Go on one of the many theme parks, I think the best one is Wet n Wild, a fun water park with nice staff!
Brisbane . Queensland’s capital city. To me it’s not a must to stay there, but I’m not much for big cities. Though it is a pleasant town with a cozy lagoon in the middle of the city, you may need to make a stop there anyway. There is a great partystreet, The Valley. You should go out to Moreton Island, a sand island where you can go sandboarding. We missed this, but there were many who went there and it seemed to be a cool place.
Noosa. A cozy little place, worth a visit for a couple of nights. There’s not much over there, just chillin’ around. Walk around in the national park and watch breathtaking views. There’s free buses from Noosa to Australia Zoo, The Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin’s zoo. There are crocodile shows every day to pay tribute to Steve’s love of animals. We were never there, we went to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney in instead, but Australia Zoo should me much better.
Rainbow Beach and Fraser Island. Fraser Island is a must, and to get there you have to stay in either Rainbow Beach or Hervey Bay. All backpackers gather there before and after their trip to Fraser Island. On Fraser Island you go around in four-wheel drive jeeps, camping, swimming in lakes with crystal clear water and watching wild Dingo’s. There are many tours you can choose from.
Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays. To get to the islands of the Whitsundays, you can stay in Airlie Beach. My second favorite place on the East Coast. Here it’s party every night, I promise! It´s a cozy little village that is similar to Byron Bay. Whitsundays is a paradise that can’t be described. It must be experienced! We sailed around the islands and there are lots of different boats to choose from, great and small, more party, or more diving.
Magnetic Island. A stunning island just outside of Townsville. You have to stay at the hostel Base, so it is! Wonderful view from the room with the beach right outside. There is also Full Moon Partys sometimes. On the island you can see wild koalas and we went on a mini-zoo where we could hold all the animals we saw, such as crocodiles, snakes and koalas. Not that expensive.
Mission Beach. Many people stops here to do rafting and skydiving. Skydive is a must do for everyone who has’nt already tried it. If you’re not doing any of that, I would not recommend staying here because there’s nothing else to do.
Cairns and The Great Barrier Reef. Here you can stay for several days! Nice town with plenty of things to do. Diving on the Barrier Reef is of course a must. To get out on the Barrier Reef you have to go by boat because it’s pretty far out. There´s a lot of different trips and different boats to choose from. You have to party at Gilligans and Whoolshed. Here you can also access cheap food and in some cases it’s also for free.
Cape Tribulation. You live in the middle of the beautiful rain forest, and you will drive over a river where you can see wild crocodiles. You may experience high humidity and a lot of wildlife. Many people goes here and it’s very nice, but my personal experience was not the best. Maybe we had too high expectations, but I still think that you have to go there. Skip the jungle surfing though.
Melbourne . You have to go over here, but try to go when it’s summer. It’s really cold at wintertimes. It is a cool and hip city that many people like. Many nightclubs and nice cafes.
The Great Ocean Road. There´s a road from Melbourne to Adelaide along the coast with amazing views. We did a day trip with a bus and could see the most significant things, but if we had had more time I’d like to do this with a campervan. Then you can sit and watch the sunsets over the ocean with the large rock formations that comes out from the water. I’ve never been to Adelaide, but if you go there you have to do a shark dive! You go diving into a cage where the hungry great white sharks is swimming around you. It’s expensive but really cool, I guess!
Kangaroo Island and Tasmania. We have heard a lot about these places. We could never get that far, unfortunately, so I don’t have much to say about it. But make sure to go there in summer when it’s hot! I’m sad that I missed out of the skiing in the Snowy Mountains, it would have been really cool to go skiing in Australia.
The Red Centre
Alice Springs. You can spend as little time as possible over here. You go here only to get further into the wilderness to see Uluru and Kings Canyon, among other things. But Alice Springs is not much. Tragically the Aborigines who drinks too much in their “communities” is kicked out by their own people, and everyone ends up in Alice Springs. Therefore, there’s high alcoholism and crime here, and you should not go out alone at night.
Uluru (Ayers Rock) Here you will see the world’s biggest rock from the flat red desert, and it’s something special. If you’ve not seen Uluru and the red desert you cannot really say that you have seen Australia. For me, this was perhaps not the highlight, but I have no regrets whatsoever that I went here. It is something you will never see again. Unfortunately, it is very expensive to go to the center, I don’t know if it’s worth the money.
The West Coast
Perth. Cozy city where many Swedes stops to work. Stunning beaches. It is a bit more expensive on the West Coast but you can earn a lot more too. The West Coast is quite different from the east coast. Much quieter and not as many backpackers. But you have to go here! A lot of surfing. Go to Little Creaters Brewery in Fremantle, great place!
Rottnest Island. A nice, car-free island where you go by bicycles. There are many nice small beaches and the island is very quiet and peaceful. There´s small Quokkas (small kangaroos) everywhere, and you can only find them on Rottnest Island.
Margaret River. Wonderful scenery and beaches! Totally amazing. Very small village where it doesn’t happen that much, but it is a quiet and relaxing flow. You must make sure to go on a winery if you’re in the neighborhood of Margaret River.
I don´t know that much more about the westcoast, but many people go there and it is an absolute must on the list. I was there with my family so it´s a little difficult to give backpacking advice over there. But I got the feeling that most people drove around in their own cars. North of Perth will be cool as well, such as Exmouth and Broome will be great for diving, and Darwin should be visited. If we had more time and money, we had probably rented a van in Darwin and drove down the west coast down to Perth. But there is something we have to do another time!
This ended up to be a big guide, but I hope I have answered many of your questions. I know how confused I was before I went on my own journey. Is there anything you wonder about or if there is anything I missed out tp write about, just feel free to ask! Comments is very appreciated – positive or negative! If you’ve got some tips yourself, just make a comment!
I envy all of you who´s going to experience all of this, you will make the trip of your life!