If you want a one line answer: a lot! 😃
We've lived in Australia for over four and a half years and travelled quite a bit, so we've got used to the costs associated with travelling around this vast country. It is possible to do a "cheaper version" of a vacation in Australia, but it still costs a lot more than the majority of the rest of the world.
However, it's well worth it. Australia is a bucket list destination and you will likely find yourself wanting to visit more than once despite the cost.
Spending money per day
Excluding flights, here's an estimate of what we think your spending money per day will be in Australia depending on how you like to travel. The below estimates would be for two people travelling together, not per person.
Backpacker: $125 AUD per day
This will get you a hostel dorm room or camp site, food to cook at your accommodation, public transport and a little left over for a few cheap activities.
Budget: $250 AUD per day
This budget is for a motel room, car hire and one meal out per day. This would be for people who were looking to do free or cheap activities such as hiking and sight-seeing, but with comfortable lodgings.
Mid-range: $350 AUD per day
The midrange budget will enable you to travel with a hire car, stay in private en-suite room at a decent hotel, eat out at a pub or moderate priced restaurant whilst having some money over for activities.
Top End: over $600 AUD per day
This is the Rolls Royce budget and would include very good accommodation, car hire and eating out for all meals in nice restaurants. This would also include a splurge or two here or there.
The cost of accommodation in Australia
On the whole, accommodation in Australia is good, but many options are pretty dated (even some of the five stars in Sydney). We've rarely seen any that weren't clean and comfortable, including hostel dorms.
Hostel Bed: $30-40 AUD per night, per bed
Yep, even hostels aren't cheap in Australia! If you're travelling as a couple, it's a very fine line between two hostel beds and a cheap motel room.
The big benefit of staying in a hostel is the kitchen, as you can cook your own meals and save a lot of money. However, the hostels in Sydney and Melbourne can get noisy as it's often the first stop for backpackers on their gap year.
Motel: between $110-160 AUD
Outside the city, the motels can be a bargain, especially in places like the Blue Mountains. We've stayed in plenty of these, and while the majority are uninspiring, they are virtually all immaculately clean and comfortable for a night or two and have basic kitchen facilities - kettle, toaster, microwave.
Air BNB: $100-250 AUD
Air BNB has become one of our favourite ways to find accommodation, especially when we travel with others. You'll often find real bargains in remote areas or incredible rental houses for a group in stunning locations which would cost a fortune in a hotel.
Hotel outside of tourist hotspots: $150 - $200 AUD
Hotels outside of the tourist hotspots are not too bad value in Australia. For $150 AUD you'll get a comfortable room with most amenities (including car parking). It's unlikely that breakfast will be included, but we always prefer to find a coffee shop as most of the time the food is better.
Surprisingly, places such as Cairns, Brisbane, the Blue Mountains, The Grampians, Adelaide and Darwin have options that fall into this bracket, despite being tourist destinations.
Hotel in a premium location: $250+ AUD
This is where the cost of Australia really stings. Hotels in top destinations such as Sydney, Melbourne, Hamilton Island, Uluru, Kakadu, Perth, Byron Bay and Kangaroo Island can be pretty pricey and not the five star experience you'd expect for the price. It's best to look at accommodation that's a little further out from the centre if you want to pay less. We've also found that typical 5 star hotels are nowhere near as good as upmarket lodges and boutique hotels. Check out a few of our favourites in this category.
The cost of transport in Australia
Australia's so big that you'll probably have to fly between destinations unless you have a lot of time. Backpackers spending over a month here can easily get the bus all the way up places like the East Coast, but even buses aren't as cheap as you would think.
Flying in Australia is pricey, especially on routes which aren't serviced by the budget airlines. Flights to places such as Darwin, Alice Springs, Uluru, Hamilton Island, Sydney - Melbourne, Kangaroo Island and really rural areas can cost between $150-300 AUD each way.
However, if you plan in advance you can get some great deals. If you sign up to the e-newsletter of Tigerair and Jetstar, you'll see flights for under $100 AUD to places such as Proserpine (Whitsundays), Cairns, Brisbane, Adelaide, Launceston (Tasmania) and Perth.
Tip to save money - Book well in advance with either Jetstar or Tigerair. They're both budget airlines, but they're a lot better than the Ryanair's and Easyjet's of this world.
Car Hire: Can be as little as $25 AUD a day if renting for over one week
Car Hire in Australia can be very cheap or phenomenally expensive, depending on where you visit. The cheapest places to hire from are the cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. We love using No Birds and Rentabomb as they offer real bargains.
The price sky rockets in the remote areas, with the Northern Territory being the worst offender. Here they charge over $100 per day and then charge additional fees when you exceed 100km per day. Unless you only plan on staying in Darwin and Alice Springs, it's impossible to stay under these limits, so expect to pay even more when you return the car. Usually 30c per kilometre.
Tip to save money - Use this website for price comparisons and also arrange insurance with your credit card or travel insurance. If you use the car rental insurance, you'll spend between $30-50 AUD per day extra.
Petrol: At least $1.10 AUD per litre in cities
Hurrah! Petrol in Australia is cheap when compared to Europe (in the UK it's nearly double this price). It can fluctuate wildly, but on the whole it rarely exceeds $1.40 AUD and never drops below $1.10 AUD. It's also cheaper to buy midweek than at the weekend.
However, the price in rural areas can fly up. We've seen $2 AUD per litre in the Northern Territory.
Public Transport in cities: $3-7 AUD one-way
Australian public transport is very good and a lot cheaper than places like London. A one-way train fare in Sydney is between $3-5 AUD and a ferry is $5-7 AUD.
Tip to save money - In Sydney use public transport on a Sunday! You have unlimited transport for $2.60 AUD.
The cost of food in Australia
Food is a tricky area to budget as it can vary wildly. In the Outback the cost of food will go up in price and down in quality (however, the portion sizes are huge!). In cities and rural towns, you can often find restaurants that are reasonably priced. However, your best bet to save money is always the supermarket.
Quick eats: About $10-15 AUD
Food in Australia isn't very cheap. The only option for less than $10 AUD when eating out is Subway, McDonalds, noodle shops or very cheap pub grub specials. Otherwise, even sandwich shops charge $10 AUD or more.
Coffee: $3.50 AUD for a regular, $4 AUD for a large
Australian coffee prices are almost universal and it's pretty cheap. It's like they've all agreed a market rate and no one waivers from it. There are just the two sizes here - regular and large - and unless you add soy / almond milk or an extra shot, you'll pay either $3.50 AUD or $4 AUD, and the quality is excellent.
Beer: $8+ AUD for a schooner
Australian beer however is not cheap. Government efforts to stop a booze culture has pushed the prices up and now you'll get 3/4 of a pint for $8 AUD (at the cheapest).
The price of beer in a bottle shop isn't cheap either costing at least $4 AUD per bottle.
It's alway best to check what type of beer it is as well, as sports venues serve "mid-strength", ie watered down.
Wine: From $5 AUD per bottle in a bottle shop, $10+ AUD per glass in a bar
Wine from a bottle shop is one of the few things in Australia that is surprisingly cheap. If you want, you can get a decent bottle of wine for $5 AUD! However, you're guaranteed to get a good drop if you go to $10-15 AUD. Our pick of the bunch is Dan Murphy's which always has the best deals. Stock up if you see one of these gems on your route!
In a bar or restaurant, the price shoots up to at least $10 AUD per glass.
Dining out: $30-40 AUD per person
Well this depends on where you go. Granted, you can get a pub meal for $10 AUD at the right time (a lot of pubs in Sydney offer $10-13 AUD meals at lunchtime or for a particular meal at dinner - think chicken schnitzel and chips), but in most places you'll probably be spending $20-30 AUD for a main, plus drink.
Weekly supermarket shop: $75-100 AUD for two people
Supermarkets in Australia aren't that cheap, but a lot cheaper than the rumours you hear. We heard stories of $15 bunches of bananas and all sorts of other horrors! In reality this is not the case, if you eat fruit and veg which is in season it can actually be very cheap, 50c for a huge watermelon and six kiwis for $1 for example. If you're thrifty, you can make under $100 a week stretch to include all meals, making your food spend per day less than $20.
How to travel around Australia cheaply
Otherwise, we'd suggest the following tips:
1. The best things in Australia really are free.
There is no greater way to experience this country than getting out on one of the many incredible hiking trails, relax on a white sand beach, swim in a pristine gorge or go wildlife spotting in the bush. Catching a sunrise or sunset can also be the most memorable part of your day. All of these things are free and more spectacular than you can possibly imagine.
2. Camp or hire a camper van
There are many incredible camp sites in Australia, usually in the most spectacular locations and many will be free or have a nominal fee. Similarly camper van sites will be cheap. This can be a great way of travelling truly independently and save a lot of money along the way.
3. Book accommodation with a kitchen or kitchenette
An easy way to spend a lot of money is eating out all the time. In Australia, you'll be lucky to see much change from $50 AUD for two people, no matter what meal.
Buying from a supermarket can make you money stretch a lot further and the good news is that there are a lot of places that offer kitchens / kitchenettes.
4. Choose your time wisely
It's good to know your peak travel seasons in Australia as it can have a massive impact on the cost (we've written a whole blog about the weather variations, but it hints at the costs as well).
If you want to visit places like Sydney and Melbourne in December/January, then prepare for a premium. However, winter (even in Sydney) can be a bargain, especially mid-week. We've seen harbour side hotels in Sydney on sale for $100 AUD per night in winter, then go up to $250 AUD per night in summer.
Similarly, if you want to save some money on seeing Kakadu or The Great Barrier Reef, then look at February. It's still in rainy season and there's great opportunities for a bargain. The price you pay is the not so ideal weather.
5. Don't go on tours, do it yourself
We love independent travel and one of the things you will quickly learn is that you'll save a lot of money (and have more fun) if you avoid tours. Aussie tours are pricey and quite often they are to public places. So the best option is to hire a car and do it yourself.
For example, a Blue Mountains tour can cost over $100 AUD per person. For the same price for two people you can hire a car, get some petrol, do everything at your own pace and have plenty of change left over.
6. Go to a supermarket rather than any other shop
When possible, go to a supermarket for drinks or food. Even convenience shops and cafes will charge several times more than a Coles or Woolworths. For instance, a 1.5 litre bottle of water can cost a $1 at Woollies, but a lot of other shops (especially in tourist areas) will charge up to $5 for the same thing.
7. Get a SIM card
Australian internet is famous for being incredibly slow, with countries such as Romania having faster internet speeds. However, Australia's mobile providers offer 4G at a reasonable speed.
Getting an Aussie SIM card not only helps you avoid the lack of public wifi (that's ridiculously slow), but it can stop you making expensive decisions. Being able to get online can mean you can book discount tickets through sites like Groupon, Scoopon or Living Social, and research cheaper ways of travelling.
They're pretty cheap too and we used a $30 pre-paid plan with Optus which gave 4gb of data and unlimited calls and texts to Australian and international numbers.
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Where's the most expensive place you've travelled to? Do you have any tips for travelling in an expensive country? Let us know in the comments below.