The True Cost of Traveling in Australia
After spending the month of February staying and playing Down Under, I have a pretty good idea of Australia travel costs. This post is a follow up to an earlier post about planning and saving for that month-long trip. I knew I wanted to follow up after the trip to give an accurate account of how much money I spent. But honestly, I was not looking forward to doing the actual math and seeing that final price tag—mostly because I knew I was over my budget. I probably could have kept better track of my expenses while I was on the road, but that is not my travel style. Although I am budget conscience, my main objective is to have a good time, not pinch pennies.
True Australia travel costs
I knew before I left that Australia would be expensive (hence the budget and all of the saving), but I was still taken aback when it came time to pay for things. The first time I walked into a post office and asked for five stamps, I was blown away when the total came to $15 (AUD) and some change. Wow. Needless to say, I sent fewer postcards than I was planning on. Although I had thought my cost-per-day estimate was a little on the high side (just to be safe), little things like postage told me differently. Already, my Australia travel costs were adding up!
What went right?
Food and accommodation
When it came to food and accommodation, we did well and my spending was what I expected it to be. Even though food was expensive, we often picked up things from the grocery store or stopped at a bakery for a meat pie (which are tasty and affordable). Rarely did I eat three, sit-down meals a day. Also, some of our expenses were “packaged.” For example, our campervan rental was both our lodging and our transportation all wrapped up in one price. And when we signed up for the Rock Tour to Uluru, our transportation, lodging and food were all included in the price we paid (the fact that we should have picked a more expensive tour is a story we will save for another time).
These types of packages are a little bit of an investment initially. But when viewed from a cost-per-day perspective, they can be a real bargain and help with Australia travel costs.
Two is cheaper than one
In general, having more people means things are more affordable. The cost of things like a rental car, petrol and lodging were cheaper for me when R was there to split them. When it was just me, I had to cover the cost of everything myself. I should have added a bit more to my budget to accommodate my solo adventures.
What went wrong?
I spent a lot more on inter-country transportation than I figured on. The cost of my domestic flights were what I expected. However, by the time I finalized my itinerary, I had added two additional states (Tasmania and South Australia)—which I had not accounted for in my original budget. Also, bus and train tickets and airport transfers were higher than I expected and added up real fast. By the end of the trip, I had spent more on transportation than any other category—and this did not even include my round-trip flight to Australia.
Make sure to do your due diligence when it comes to transportation and add it to your Australia travel costs.
In addition, we discovered that sometimes saving a little extra money was just not worth it. This point was driven home while we were walking along, trying to find the pickup location of our campervan. It was hot and humid—not ideal for walking around with backpacks. On the map, it looked to be relatively close to our hotel. But it soon became apparent that an Uber would have been a better idea. We were not poor backpackers. We could have easily afforded an Uber ride and we would have arrived cool and comfortable instead of hot and sweaty. Needless to say, we took a lot more Uber rides after that. Sure, it added to the expenses. But certain comforts are worth the cost.
I also spent more on souvenirs than I budgeted for. Notice how I said “budgeted for”? I know myself and my tastes well enough to know what to expect when it comes to souvenir shopping. However, I was in denial while setting my budget and did not include a realistic number. I have no one to blame but myself for that one. Lesson learned: be realistic with yourself and add some extra in your Australia travel costs for souvenirs.
Some of the expenses, like postage, were certainly unexpected. Others, like transportation, were due in part to a lack of proper planning and research on my end. Regardless of why I underestimated, the end result was an inadequate cost-per-day rate for my Australia travel costs.
What to do?
So what do you do when you realize your budget might not be adequate? If it had been necessary, I could have worked a little harder to stick to my original, cost-per-day estimate. I could have limited the meals I ate out, stuck to meat pies and sausage rolls when I did eat out, not have purchased as many souvenirs, etc. It would have been possible, but not enjoyable. And honestly, I did not save and plan for two years so that I could forgo fun or a tasty treat. Thankfully, I had a few things working in my favor:
- I had managed to save more money than my original goal of $5,000. Odd jobs (like housesitting) had given my travel fund a little extra cushion.
- I had purchased a flight cheaper than I originally budgeted for—almost $900 cheaper. That $900 equated to an extra $30 per day.
- The U.S. dollar was strong and the conversion rate worked in our favor. Basically, it felt like everything we bought was on sale (even if it was expensive to start with).
I did not throw out my budget completely, but I did make a conscience decision to enjoy my vacation and worry about the cost later. Now, I realize not everyone is in the position to do this. If sticking to your vacation budget is the difference between paying all of your bills the next month or not, then you have got to find a way to stick to that budget. I am grateful not to be in that position.
What did I spend?
I have been talking on and on about how Australia is expensive and I spent more money than I anticipated. But how much more did I really spend? That is the question. When I finally sat down and did the math, the results were a little surprising.
My month-long Australia travel costs totaled $5,200.
At the end of the day, I exceeded my budget by $200. That is much less than I was anticipating and easily covered by the extra travel funds I earned. My average cost-per-day was $145, $45 higher than I estimated. A $100-per-day rate was higher than the average backpacker rate of $72 per day, but below the mid-range rate of $145 per day. (Lesson learned: I should probably stop fooling myself and acknowledge that I am a mid-range traveler now.) $100 a day was not enough money. However, since I paid much less for my round-trip flight to Australia than I budgeted for, my overall budget was able to accommodate a higher per-day rate.
Side note: I would have stayed under budget had I not signed up for the Reefsleep experience. In fact, I almost did not sign up for it because of the price tag. It was an expensive excursion on top of an already expensive trip. But as I mentioned before, the Reefsleep goes down as one of the coolest things I have done in my life and was worth every penny. It was certainly worth going over budget for.
What did I learn about Australia travel costs?
A couple of key lessons learned came out of my Australia travel costs experience:
- Try to save a little above your budget to give your travel fund a nice cushion. If you do not spend that cushion, great! You can use it on your next trip. But you will never regret having a little in reserve.
- Make saving automatic. If I had not set up a separate savings account with an automatic transfer each month, I would not have made my goal. I cannot recommend this enough. Plus, it is really fun to see your travel fund grow bit by bit.
- When setting a budget, over estimate. Then maybe add a little more to your over-estimated estimate. It can’t hurt.
- Finding a good price on your flight can make or break your budget. This often entails a lot of time/research/leg work/effort/etc., but it will be worth it and could potentially save you a lot of money.
- When you find a good deal on a flight, book it! We have harped on this a lot, but we do so for a good reason. We have missed out on adventures because we did not jump on a great flight. Thankfully, that was not the case for our Australian adventure.
- Be willing to pay for certain experiences, even if they are expensive. My Reefsleep experience is a perfect example. It may have been expensive, but it was AMAZING! Sticking to my budget, when it was not critical for me to do so, would have prevented me from enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
- Know yourself. I spend more on souvenirs than I would like to admit and I am obviously a mid-range traveler these days. Giving up hostels was easy. Transitioning out of a backpacker approach to budgeting has been a little more difficult.
Saving and budgeting are some of the less-glamorous aspects of travel. Plus, it can be difficult to predict how much you will spend on a trip. However, creating a budget can help set your expectations for how much things will cost and contributing to a travel fund—no matter the size—will help ease the stress of spending while you are out on the road. But try not to get too hung up on the numbers. Remember, travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer and I have found that it is always worth the price.