How expensive is Australia really? Our 5-week Australia budget for two

One beautiful and free Australian sight

I will be honest: I was terrified about how much we’d spend in Australia. Everything I read talked about how you can probably maybe get down to $50 per person per day if you Couchsurf and eat noodles. With that in mind, I was enormously relieved that we didn’t totally blow our $150 per day budget — and we could have spent even less with a few small changes I’ll explain below. Here’s what we spent on 5 weeks touring Oz:

Total Australia budget (for 33 days): A$7,077.91 / US$5,449.26
Per day: A$214.45 / US$165.13
At the time of our visit, US$1=A$1.30; unless otherwise noted, all costs are for two people traveling together.

Meals

This is where your budget could easily explode out of control. We cooked, on average, at least two meals per day, and sometimes all of our meals. When we did go out, we generally spent A$20-30, and we almost never bought fancy (delicious) coffee, and instead got by on instant coffee. After all, Australia isn’t known for its food. Enjoy fish and chips and pies a couple of times to get a taste for local cuisine, but save your money and cook in most of the time. (Worth noting: Australian menu prices include tax and tip; if you factor that along with the conversion rate in, restaurant meals are often less expensive than in the U.S.)

Total: A$1,181.54 / US$909.79
Per day: A$35.80 / US$27.57
Average prices: A$4-5 for a coffee, A$5-10 for an entree (called “mains” in Australia; entree means appetizer there) at a fast food restaurant or cheap cafe, A$10-20 for an entree at a budget to mid-priced restaurant, groceries are roughly equivalent to U.S. prices.

Booze

Wiiiiiiiiine, y’all. It was so nice to be in the land of good wine! However, unlike Europe, local wine is not super-cheap in Australia. Thanks to high taxes, you’ll pay about the same for wine in Australia that you’d pay for the same bottle in the States. Beer, on the other hand, is far more expensive than the U.S. We generally stuck to drinking wine at home with dinner, but did occasionally have a glass at a bar. We also paid a bit more for some nicer wines while touring the wine regions of the Barossa and Hunter Valleys, which inflated our prices a bit.

Total: A$338.03 / US$260.28
Per day: A$10.24 / US$7.89
Average prices: A$10-20 for decent/good wine in a shop, A$20-30 for wine at the vineyard, A$2-3 per beer in a six-pack.

Transportation

I think public transit was the most unexpectedly expensive thing we encountered in Australia. If you’re staying in a bigger city, definitely consider the transit cost when comparing expensive lodging in the city center vs. less-expensive lodging further out. Also factor in the A$30-plus per person cost to get from the airport to the city before deciding to book one of those “cheap” flights between cities (many times it’s worth checking Uber prices before committing to public transit). By far, driving was the most economical option for us. It takes some finagling to find the best deals (one-way rentals can definitely add a lot of cost, but by checking costs between a variety of different cities on different dates with different sites, you can find cheaper rentals), but fuel costs less than I’d expected thanks to very fuel-efficient cars. In addition to driving, we took 4 flights during our time in Australia: Melbourne to Uluru, Alice Springs to Adelaide, Newcastle to Brisbane and Brisbane to Cairns.

Total: A$2,476.56 / US$1,906.95
Per day: A$75.05 / US$57.79

Lodging

Lodging is another area where the U.S. and Australia are pretty equivalent in price, but we managed our expenses by finding cheaper or free lodging. We aggressively comparison shopped across all of the hotel websites, stayed with AirBnB in the cities where there are lots of options (like Sydney and Melbourne), spent a week in Newcastle housesitting, redeemed credit card miles for a few hotel stays where AirBnB and booking sites were too expensive, and even stayed in a couple hostels when every other option was exhausted (specifically, Alice Springs and Phillip Island, where choices are very limited and famous attractions up the demand). When hunting for a place, consider kitchen access. It may cost more per night, but could save you on food costs.

Total: A$1,287.33 / US$991.32
Per day: A$39.01 / US$30.04
Average prices: A$25-30 per bed in a hostel, A$40-60 for a motel/holiday park, A$50-60 for an AirBnB in a city/tourist area, A$0 for housesitting (plus unlimited puppy snuggles)!

Attractions

Despite the fact that Australia boasts beautiful beaches and scenery for absolutely free, it’s easy to blow thousands on Australian attractions. We were very particular about what to spend on here, visiting only free sights when we were in cities, and investing in just a couple big-ticket excursions. In the mid-price range, we also paid to see the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island, went to the Koala park near Cairns, I took some yoga classes, and we went out to a movie in Brisbane.

Total: A$1,526.04 / US$1,175.05
Per day: A$46.24 / US$35.61
Prices: A$360 per person for Uluru tour including all meals and 3 nights lodging, A$25.10 per person for the Penguin Parade, A$16 per person for the Koala Gardens, A$323 per person for 1 day/3 dives on the Great Barrier Reef with breakfast, lunch, and all equipment, A$25 for Yoga at the Sydney Tower Eye, A$20 for 7 days of unlimited yoga in Newcastle.

Misc

We had to buy quite a bit of gear on arriving in Australia. For one, we were thoroughly underprepared for the cooler weather (unavoidable — carrying more warm clothing would have been crazy in Asia), and bought two sweaters, a pair of pants, and a pair of shoes. We also bought a small cooler, ice packs, and knives to supply many picnics as we drove from Adelaide to Sydney. Finally, we bought some gifts, paid to do laundry a couple times, and bought hair clippers, since they were cheaper than a haircut for Alex.

Total: A$267.37 / US$205.87
Per day: A$8.10 / US$6.24

Not included

I never count transportation in or out of a country in the daily budget, as that can vary enormously depending on whether you’re coming from a nearby country or from across the globe. Here’s what we spent getting to and from Oz:

  • Hanoi to Melbourne: US$478.98 for two
  • Cairns to Auckland: US$527.60 for two

How you can save money in your Australia budget

There are a few items that — while I don’t consider them mistakes — we could have done without. There are also some things we did that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Here’s how to save:

  • Skip Brisbane: In our original itinerary, Brisbane was the intended end point of our epic roadtrip and we planned to then fly to Cairns. However, our plans changed, and we ended up needing to fly to Brisbane, which meant the added expense of an extra plane ticket and transport from the airport. If we hadn’t already bought our ticket from Brisbane to Cairns, I don’t think we would have knowingly paid US$360.02 in transit costs just to visit Brisbane. In any itinerary it’s worth minimizing flights as much as possible and carefully considering whether each stop on your itinerary is really worth the added cost.
  • Don’t visit Uluru: For us, touring Uluru was absolutely worth it, but if you just had to Google what Uluru is, it’s probably not worth it for you. In fact, most of the Aussies we met had never been (though they did all say they really wanted to go one day). In addition to our tour, we spent about $500 on flights to and from Uluru.
  • Don’t dive the Great Barrier Reef: Again, this is one of those things that was totally worth it for us, but if you’re not a big diver/snorkeler, you definitely do not have to see the Great Barrier Reef. If you’re curious about trying it out, you’ll have more fun getting your flippers wet in an area with fewer people and cheaper snorkeling/diving (like Koh Rong Samloem or the Gili Islands).
  • Less wine: Yeah, close to $10 per day on wine is a lot. That’s pretty inflated by the pricier wine we bought while tasting in the wine regions. If you’re not that into wine, you definitely could spend less.
  • Couchsurf: We thought about doing this, but basically just never got around to building out our profile and looking for hosts. In all honesty, finding the first few stays can be a real hassle (as we’ve since discovered in Europe), but if you’re willing to put the work in, it can be a great way to travel for less.
  • Consider a sleeper van: We were a little hesitant to do this based on our route and plans. We also thought it could be difficult to find places to camp. Based on our first-hand observations, it seemed relatively easy for people to just park their camper vans in a parking lot overnight for free (we can’t speak to the availability of toilets and showers, though). If you’re only going to be driving, at least check out convertible sleeper vans to see if they may be what you’re looking for.

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