As you may or may not know, I returned from Australia at the end of May as my trip was sadly cut short. In the ten weeks or so that I spent in Australia, I think I learnt quite a lot about travelling Australia and backpacking in general that could be useful for anyone planning to do the same. So, in no particular order, here are five things that I think will help anyone on their first Australian adventure.
1. Don’t stick to a rigid schedule
Sure, it’s good to have a basic idea of what you want to do, like “go up the east coast”, but try not to stick to too much of a strict itinerary. Of course, this is sometimes unavoidable if you’re on a very strict time constraint or you’ve paid for the job lot in advance.
When I went to Australia, I had pretty much zero plans. I turned up in Sydney knowing I had to go to my step brother’s stag do, go to his wedding then bugger off to Surfers Paradise for six nights with my other step brother. After that, I had very little idea of what I wanted to do.
Obviously, the main advantage is that you can do whatever you want, when you want. For example, I initially booked into a hostel in Brisbane for three nights. Two weeks later, I finally checked out at 5am, ready to drive up to Airlie Beach in a borrowed car with two of my hostel roommates. What followed was a unique (if not a little stressful!) experience that would never have happened if I’d stuck to a completely rigid schedule.
I spent many a night in hostels talking to people and getting on really well with them before finding out that they had to leave in 48 hours regardless of whether they want to or not. It’s a real shame and, if there’s no time constraint, then what’s the rush?
2. Don’t overbook
One of the key things I learnt through experience wasn’t to overbook in hostels. As I mentioned earlier, I spent six nights in Surfers Paradise after Mike’s wedding which, in hindsight, was probably two nights too many. How I used to do two weeks in places like Ayia Napa and Magaluf is anyone’s guess!
The same applied to Magnetic Island. A beautiful place, but you could walk and see it all in two days. I saw so many people come and go in the four nights I spent there – I was actually envious of them all after two days!
Seriously though, if you like a place you can always stay longer. I found that most hostels keep your bed for you until at least the night before you are due to check out, so you’re hardly rushed into making a decision. I found that initially booking 2/3 nights in a place was a good move, as you can always leave if you wish or extend without feeling you’re stagnating.
3. Pack clothes for all weather
Hands up; who thinks it’s beautiful weather in Australia all year round? So did I.
The truth is that whilst Australia mostly gets weather far superior to England, it’s still prone to the odd bit of crap weather too. I was in Melbourne until May and in all honesty, it was bloody freezing for the most part. Granted, it’s not quite an English winter, but it’s definitely not t-shirt and shorts weather. Safe to say my one jacket and one pair of jeans got some good wear and washing whilst I was down south!
On the other hand, I was in Cairns just before Melbourne (in other words, the top end of Oz) and whilst it was pretty hot for the time I was there, it was wet season. In other words, it used to lash down for hours on end with no sign of relent. The confusing thing was that it was still red hot – flip flops in the rain is a very strange sensation I’ll tell you.
4. Budget accordingly
Have you heard just how expensive Australia is? You have? Take that, and double it and you’ll probably be close to budgeting well enough to cope.
I’m a fan of a wild night out and often wake up on a Sunday with little recollection of the previous night and next to nothing in my wallet but Christ; Australia takes it to another level! Be prepared to pay around $8/9 in a city for a pint of lager. That works out around £5/6. It’s no wonder almost every backpacker drinks goon and eats lots of pasta.
It must be said though that if you can get yourself a job then you should be alright, as the wages tend to be pretty good to compensate for the cost of living.
5. Sort the boring stuff out quickly
In order to work in Australia (providing it’s not cash in hand) you’ll need a tax file number. As it happens; the only work I did during my visit was some labouring on a lady’s house who paid me out of her own pocket so this wasn’t necessary.
However, as I was applying for more “official” jobs whilst in Melbourne I applied for my tax file number only to find that it’ll arrive in the post after 28 days. Luckily I was staying with friends so this wasn’t a big deal, but if you’re staying in a hostel you’ll need to stay there for all this time (or at least come to an arrangement where they’ll forward your mail on).
There are exceptions made for tax file numbers, and you can be given a month’s grace or so to get it sorted but it’s best to sort it out as soon as possible.
Similarly, if you’re planning to be around for a while then it’s worth setting up an Australian bank account. Again, this was on my to-do list as I only had an STA Cashcard. The Cashcard is a decent investment, but if you’re sticking around for the long term then you might as well get something that won’t charge you to take your own cash out.
So that just about wraps up my five top tips for backpacking Australia. There were quite a few pieces of advice I didn’t put in (don’t play goon pong at midday and don’t lose your iPod on a flight from Cairns to Melbourne), but I thought I’d stick to the things that were perhaps a little more informative.
Have you backpacked Australia? What would be your top tip?