A Backpacker’s Guide to Australia

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Written by: Louise Denton

Use these quick links to navigate Louise’s wonderful Australia guide.


Australia is one of the most backpacked countries on in the world and there’s plenty of great advice from people who’ve been there, done that and still not washed the t-shirt.

If you’ve got the time, take a look at the discussion boards. Gapyear.com is the world’s #1 website for long-term, long-distance travellers. We’ll all do our best to answer any questions you may have, and offer advice on your trip. If you have no idea where to start planning your trip to Oz, the following information details the key things to think about. Feel free to message me, or post a new discussion on the message boards if there is something you need more information on. Everything on this forum is written by gappers, for gappers, so you’re in the best place if you’re stuck for inspiration or need practical advice!


Your visa should be the first thing you arrange when planning your trip. I’m sure 99% of people have no reason to be refused a visa, but it’s always advisable to obtain your visa first and then your flights.

If you are travelling to Australia for a visit and you don’t want to work, you’ll need a tourist visa.

The options are either:

  1. Visitor visa (subclass 651) – valid for a three months over a period of 12 months. It’s free (£10 admin fee) and you can apply online. For more information go to – http://www.immi.gov.au/visitors/tourist/evisitor/)
  2. Tourist visa (subclass 676) – valid for up to 12 months. You have to pay for this visa. For more information go to – http://www.immi.gov.au/visitors/tourist/676/

If you want to work and travel, you’ll need a Working Holiday Visa (subclass 417) – It’s a 12 month visa, which allows you to work for each employer for a maximum of six months at a time. You can work for the full 12 months if you want, but only a max of six months per employer.

There is a cost for the visa, and certain conditions you must read and adhere to. For more information go to – http://www.immi.gov.au/visitors/working-holiday/417/eligibility-first.htm

Have a look through the five sections about the visa.

To get one, you can apply online.

The above visa information might vary depending on your nationality. I am British, so the above information applies to UK and certain EU citizens. For other nationalities you can use the further information below:

If you’re not sure what visa you need, the Australian immigration website has a visa ‘wizard’ – you enter your details and trip particulars, and the system suggests a visa for you. Here – http://www.immi.gov.au/visawizard/

All other visa information can be found at http://www.immi.gov.au

Always make sure you read terms and conditions on visas!

Second Working Holiday Visas can be granted if you have completed three months (88 days) of harvest work. You’ll need to get certain details from the farmer and ensure the farms post code is accepted as regional Australia – see here – http://www.immi.gov.au/allforms/pdf/1263.pdf

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Ok, so this is kind of hard to advise on as different airlines always have special deals on and the cheap airlines change.

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When You Arrive

Right! So this is going to be a bit of a complicated section.

Depending on what sort of person or traveller you are (shy or out-going, first-time traveller or experienced nomad), you may prefer to do this differently.

A common dilemma people have is whether to book an ‘introduction package’ for their arrival in Australia on a working holiday visa.

First time travellers often prefer to book a package where a company organises your first few nights of accommodation, arranges tourist activities, settles you in, explains what there is to do in Australia, plus the boring stuff like bank accounts, sim cards, etc.

If you decide you would like a company to organise things for you, the most popular company among the gapyear.com crowd is Oz Intro. Their website is here – http://www.ozintro.com/

They are obviously not the only company, there are others. I’m just saying Oz Intro are popular.

Or you can organise everything yourself, which is generally the cheaper option. And you can make this option a bit less daunting by finding some mates to do it with via gapyear.com!

So, if you DIY and are on a working holiday visa, you’ll need:

  • Accommodation – For your arrival
  • A visa – (As discussed above)
  • A bank account – This is for when you start working. They’re all very similar – just walk in to any branch and explain that you need to set up a bank account. The biggest banks are Commonwealth, Westpac, ANZ and NAB (if you want to research the best accounts before you arrive).

You generally have to pay a monthly fee to have a bank account. I have a Westpac account which costs me $2 a month and a Commonwealth account which is $4 a month (both are essentially the same, so in my opinion Commonwealth are a rip off!)

  • A Medicare card – This entitles you to subsidised health care whilst in Australia. The information about Medicare cards is here – http://www.medicareaustralia.gov.au/public/migrants/visitors/uk.jsp and it’s free to apply for in offices around the country. Do a Google search for “Medicare Sydney” or “Medicare Melbourne” to find where your closest office is.
  • A mobile phone – You can bring an ‘unlocked’ mobile from the UK and walk in to any phone store and buy a sim card to put in to it. Or you can just buy a phone and sim package whilst in Australia.

That’s it!

Hopefully that wasn’t too complicated…

If still unsure on how to go about your first week in Oz, maybe try writing a list of pros and cons for whether to use a package or to organise it all yourself…

Where to Stay

Most people on this website will be looking at staying in budget accommodation. They will, therefore, be looking at what are known as backpacker hostels.

These are great for meeting people, and are by far the cheapest option. Sleeping arrangements can vary from a double en-suite room to a double room with shared bathrooms to, of course, the good old dorm rooms – which can be four bed, 12 bed, 20 bed… single sex or mixed sex. There are lots of options and a lot of hostels to choose from!

A dorm room will typically range from $20 – $35. Prices vary with season and depend on the size of the room. Private rooms are obviously more costly.

Book your first couple of nights’ accommodation before arriving! Not everyone does this I’m sure, but 90% of people when landing in a new destination for the first time would agree that it’s nice to be sure you have a bed for yourself and somewhere to head to!

To book a backpacker hostel for the night (or three) on your arrival, a useful website is http://www.hostelbookers.com – it’s like a hostel search engine. Alternative, you can go to the Hostels and Accommodation section here on gapyear.com; it’s essentially the same. All you have to do is enter your destination and date of arrival and a list of available hostels will be generated.

There are very helpful reviews, maps, pictures and descriptions of different hostels. You can book through them and pay a deposit (which is taken off the bill when you arrive), or you can contact your chosen hostel direct by finding their details on Google.

Some popular areas in Sydney include the city centre, Kings Cross, Coogee Beach and Bondi beach.

How to get around Australia

Most people fly in to Sydney or Melbourne. After that you’ve got range of options:

Go by Greyhound

They are essentially a coach service – like National Express (but not as cheap and nasty!). They will transport you from A to B and that’s it.
You can buy passes (hop on, hop off) to make it cheaper for yourself, and their website can be found here – http://www.greyhound.com.au/

Use Oz Experience

They are a bus service like Greyhound, but with smaller buses and tour group related. They drive you from A to B, but on the way stop at tourist attractions and arrange excursions at your destination. The groups are small and good for meeting people. They do bus passes from A to B – like a tour basically, but a hop on, hop off style. Their website is here – http://www.ozexperience.com/

Hire a Camper

You can hire a van from one city and drive it to another. Generally they have a bed in the back and all the equipment you need. Some of the best companies are below and you can find their links here:

  • Wicked Campers
  • Apollo
  • Britz
  • Travellers Autobarn
  • Backpacker Camper
  • Cheapa Campa
  • Jucy
  • Spaceship
  • Hippy Campers

Buy a car or van

You should have a little bit of mechanical knowledge to do this – Australia is a big country and you don’t want to break down in the middle of nowhere.
Look in the local paper for adverts, or on your accommodation notice board. Or check out http://www.gumtree.com.au or http://www.globalgossip.com

Hitch a lift with other backpackers

Backpackers who own or rent vehicles always want passengers for fun times and to share fuel costs. Check hostel noticeboards, gapyear.com and the Gumtree and Global Gossip links above.

Get a relocation deal

These are often free or very, very cheap ways to hire vehicles. Hire companies sometimes need their vehicles moved from depot to depot, and the cheapest way to move them is to get someone to drive it to where they need it to be for the next customer! This is where we come in!

Basically, the available vehicles are advertised on a website with the dates it needs moving and how much time you can have for the trip. See here: http://www.standbyrelocs.com/

Often they need to be moved quickly (which is the only drawback), so there is sometimes little time for sight-seeing. But if you need to be somewhere quickly for a flight, this could be for you.

Depending on how quickly the company needs it moved, you can sometimes negotiate a longer rental – e.g. five days for $5, and five days for $50 a day (still cheap). I did Alice Springs to Darwin in one, where you only need five days or so anyway. My friend did one from Broome to Darwin and got seven days. They all vary, but they are definitely worth checking out.


Not really recommended (I think I probably have to say that). I don’t mean the “standing by the side of the road with your thumb out”, but you can do that if you like. I mean just chatting to people, and asking about if anyone has space in their car for you. I found a couple of lifts this way.

Some points to note….

  • To hire a vehicle, you have to be 21.
  • To buy a vehicle, you’ll then need to arrange appropriate insurance and registration. If anyone needs more info, I can provide this – just ask!
  • WAIT until you get there to decide what to do – you might meet people you want to travel with and can book similar things as them! You might also find special deals if booking when in Oz.

Everyone is different! Some people like tours. I personally prefer the freedom of my own vehicle.


Ok, so working in Oz is a different experience for everyone. Some people struggle to get work – it’s not all rosy holiday dreams like some people believe before they leave the UK. Yes, you’re here to have a good time, but when looking for work, it’s the same as looking for work in the UK. You have to put effort in to find a job and you need to go for jobs that are realistic – although you might start out in holiday mode, getting a job requires work mode!

Another thing to think about are the restrictions imposed by your visa. You can only work for six months and for any one employer for a max of six months. Employers know this, so unless you are a strong candidate for sponsorship/applying for jobs in a specialist field, you’re probably not going to be offered a permanent position, so, don’t waste your time applying for permanent positions if you’re not intending it to be permanent. You’re unlikely to be considered, being on a temporary visa…

You’ll be most successful applying for temporary fill-in positions or positions in the tourist and hospitality industry. That is not to say you can’t ever get anything else. But people who are desperate for money, or cannot find work, look in the more casual sectors and you might have more luck.

Some job websites:


  • Check in the local paper for jobs (ask the newsagent what day they have the jobs/careers section).
  • Check hostel notice boards.
  • Do a Google search for recruitment agencies in the town you are in, and contact them.
  • Hand out CVs, in person, everywhere!

And then there’s the farm work.

If you complete three months harvest work in ‘regional Australia’ you’re eligible to apply for a second working holiday visa.

Here’s the information about what work you can do, where and what information you’ll need from the farm, to apply for the second visa – http://www.immi.gov.au/allforms/pdf/1263.pdf

Farm work varies everywhere you go and whatever you do. Pay varies, hours vary, accommodation options vary…

I’ve done cherry packing for $22 an hour, for eight hours a day, with tax taken off.
I’ve also done zucchini (courgette) packing which was $14 an hour, 10-14 hour days, no tax – cash in hand
I’ve tied bits of tape around trees for $15 an hour, 6-10 hours a day, no tax – cash in hand
I’ve picked strawberries, squash, and packed strawberries, squash and chillies.

There are a few websites that will help you find harvest work –

First is the government job search website for harvest work. You can either search jobs by month or by state. Pretty handy!
I generally prefer to call the phone number. They are very helpful and know about harvest seasons, where to go and accommodation. The site is here:

I have just found this website –

I have a copy of the booklet that is featured on the page, and it’s handy! It has a table in it that gives details of every farm town in Oz, what they grow and harvest and when the demand for workers is high.

You can download a copy of the booklet. Click on the book image on the right side of the page at the bottom. The charts and tables don’t start until maybe page 12, but they’re very useful! Dark squares represent high demand for workers and light grey represent a medium/low demand for workers.

Or check up on hostel noticeboards, and the Gumtree link which I have mentioned a couple of times now.

Sometimes, the backpacker magazines that you find lying round (e.g. TNT) have farm jobs advertised. And, of course, there may be new stuff on the boards here.

Accommodation options also vary. Sometimes you can get what they call a ‘working hostel’ which will be a local backpacker hostel. The hostel will have connections with a selection of local farmers. The hostel will arrange work for you through their contacts. Often the hostels will arrange transport too. And it’s handy if you can drive as these hostels are always looking for drivers!

Some towns that have working hostels include Ayr (QLD), Bundaberg (QLD), Mildura (VIC), Huonville (TAS), Berri (SA). And these aren’t the only ones.

Otherwise, you can find your own job independently. Sometimes the employer will have accommodation for you. Sometimes they will allow you to camp on their land. Sometimes you’ll have to stay in a motel, but then you’ll need your own transport.
Just bear in mind that farms are not going to be in the middle of a town so transport will almost always be an issue.

Also, don’t forget that farm work is hard. It takes about 5-7 days to get used to the 4am starts, the 12 hour days and the physical labour. However, you once you get over that initial horror and pain, its fine. I’ve had some of the best times working on farms – met some awesome people and saved a fair bit of cash.

And don’t be scared of bugs, they’re not that bad. (Apart from the ones in bananas, apparently).


Australia is an expensive country to travel around. It’s currently (Feb 2011) worse than it has been for a while due to the weak £ and strong $.

If spending pounds, you’re currently looking at a rough budget of about £1,500 a month (including everything – accommodation, transport, food, activities… etc).
You might be able to it on £1,200, but I think a good guide is about £1,500. I don’t think you would want to take any less than that per month of travel.

So, if arriving on a tourist visa for three months, I would budget no less than £4,500.
If arriving on a Working Holiday Visa, you legally have to have a certain amount of money when arriving (and can be asked to prove this on arrival, though it’s pretty rare). Currently this amount is $5,000 (Feb 2011).

For a typical day, your costs might include –

  • Breakfast = $5
  • Bottle of water = $3
  • Lunch = $5
  • Dinner = $15
  • Hostel accommodation = $25
  • A beer in a backpacker bar = $5
  • A beer in a normal bar = $7

= Average budget is about $50-$60 a day, without the trips and extras.

  • Bus ticket to the next town = $40 (obviously dependent on length of journey!)
  • Tank of fuel = approx $1.30 a litre = between $60 and $100 a tank.
  • Postcards & stamps ($1.25 each) = $5
  • Ice cream at the beach = $3
  • Day trip, e.g. Litchfield National Park from Darwin or Blue Mountains from Sydney = $100 each
  • 3 day trip to Kakadu or the Whitsundays or Fraser Island = between $180 and $300 each.
  • A box of goon (cask wine) = $15
  • A small cuddly koala teddy = $10

Just an idea. It all mounts up.


What to pack?

Don’t forget, Oz is a developed country and everything you need, you’ll be able to buy here, so don’t stress too much about packing and what to pack…

A few tops/t-shirts/singlets, a couple of pairs of shorts, a pair of long trousers and a hoodie should be all you need clothes-wise.

I got addicted to the surf shops when I first got over here and bought lots of clothes. There’s no TopShop/Man, River Island, Primark though! There’s lots of other shops (including cheap shops), and markets too.

I would personally advise against bringing work clothes. You can buy them out here when you know what sort of work you’re going to be doing. For instance, if you end up loving farm work and end up doing that for six months, the office dress stuff you have in your backpack is kind of wasting space. Bar work will generally just need a pair of black trousers and a top that may be provided. Just buy work stuff out here, and buy the cheap stuff 🙂 And there’s always charity shops!

Backpack or Suitcase?!

Personally I’d get a backpack!

Weight limits on bags for flights are generally 25kg for the long haul (getting to Australia). Most other flights will be 20kg, but Tiger and Air Asia are lower (possibly 15kg or 18kg), so double check before booking flights how much you are allowed!

Further Information

And I THINK that’s it. Hopefully that’s all you would ever need to know about coming to Australia! You can find out more on Tourism Australia’s site. I’ve tried to give a brief bit of information about the main things. Obviously the information provided can and will eventually get out of date though. If anyone can think of anything missed off here, or thinks the situation has changed, feel free to send me a message or post a new discussion about it. We are all here to answer questions, so if there’s anything you’re unsure on then just ask and someone will try and help out! Have a great trip and enjoy Australia. It really is a beautiful country, and I would know, I moved here!

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