When it comes to getting good deals, backpackers rule. But how do they do it? Tiana Templeman has hung out with backpackers from around the world to uncover their best budget travel tips for your next Australian holiday.
While some hard-partying backpackers insist that sleep is overrated, they all agree that somewhere to lay your head is the biggest drain on a holiday budget. Ergo, combining what you drive with where you sleep is an instant money saver. But for those not game to tour around looking “wicked”, companies such as Britz hire less conspicuous campervans from around $60 a day, or you can check out Standbycars.com for more info on how to get a first-rate campervan for as little as $5 a day.
While spending the night in a park or on the beach is illegal, there’s no law against sleeping on a plane – plus meals are also covered on some carriers. Taking the night flight from the east to the west coast of Australia saves on food and accommodation, and also has you arriving at your destination bright and early (albeit more red-eyed than bright-eyed).
The fact that hostels are often called “youth hostels” is a misnomer, since they’re popular with travellers of all ages. While long blonde hair and a cute Swedish accent may help you pick up members of the opposite sex, it’s not a requirement for entry. Hostels are also great for local travellers who value clean, simple lodgings at an affordable price. Many hostels offer private rooms with their own facilities, and groovy operators like Bunk (www.bunkbrisbane.com.au) are more in keeping with a funky hotel. Join Youth Hostels Australia for $32 and you also get thousands of YHA discounts on items like transport, tours, activities and attractions (www.yha.com.au). The Sydney Central YHA (inside a heritage-listed building across from Central Station, from $35 a night) and the Melbourne Metro YHA (with its rooftop BBQ and views of the city, from $26 a night) are of particularly high quality.
The rise of the net has seen the phenomenon of Couch Surfing become far more formalised and, with a bit of care, you can find yourself a friendly and cheap temporary home in most capital cities without difficulty. Gumtree.com.au keeps a regularly updated bulletin board, but by far the best is the Australian section of The Couch Surfing Project (www.couchsurfing.com). The site even has an interesting guide for solo female couch surfers, as well as tips for safe couch surfing with kids.
Wherever you decide to sleep, though, it’s almost always cheaper to stay longer. Ask if there are discounts for bookings over a week, bonus room nights or free add-ons like complimentary breakfast for longer stays – and remember: if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Backpackers aren’t shy when it comes to bargaining and are good at walking away with a smile when the offer isn’t good enough. It’s true that cheap accommodation is seldom glamorous but it does provide the perfect incentive to get out and explore. The money you save can be spent at a bar with great views (and happy hour – another backpacker favourite) or on dining out.
Speaking of food, no self-respecting backpacker orders room service breakfast. It’s expensive, and waiting for cold toast to arrive takes time away from sightseeing. Buy from the supermarket or nip out to a local bakery instead. Backpackers are great at sharing information, so don’t forget to ask like-minded travellers for recommendations on the best places to eat. Lunch is a great time to enjoy a picnic or treat yourself to some takeaway. Backpackers are more interested in overall atmosphere than posh surrounds, which makes sense, since memorable meals tend to revolve around time and place and good company. A simple meal eaten on a beautiful beach often beats fine dining (and always beats two minute noodles). If you do fancy eating out, look for local favourites – especially crowded, out-of-the way places that are always packed, as they’ll likely offer good value and excellent food.
Guidebooks (aka backpacker bibles) covering Australia are popular with budget conscious visitors from overseas, but they’re also a great resource for local travellers. They may often be the size of small bricks, but they offer guidance on everything from cheap eats and free activities to public transport, which is a great way to get around, save money and meet people. For example, a return taxi trip from Sydney airport to the city is around $70, whereas the train costs $21 return, plus you beat the traffic. Half-day passes, multi-savers and off-peak tickets save even more, as can taking the bus instead of the plane. With Greyhound (www.greyhound.com.au) you get to see the country (and admittedly far too many roadhouses) for a hugely bargain price.
Backpackers have an uncanny ability to seek out the best our country has to offer: a cold beer at a great Aussie pub, watching the sunset on Cable Beach, swimming at Bondi or just soaking up the atmosphere wherever they happen to be. If travel plans don’t work out, they see it as an adventure rather than a disaster and simply come up with another plan. These savvy budget travellers do spend money – according to Tourism Research Australia, an overseas backpacker spends around $5200 per visit – but they spend it wisely.
So why do backpackers always look like they’re having so much fun? Because they’ve found the best deal in town and cannot wait to enjoy it.