Last updated on November 3, 2021
Australia has been built for travel and tourism and is thus incredibly popular with travelers all over the world. The backpacker culture is particular well developed because Europeans and Israelis can easily get a year work visa.
Fast Facts About Australia Travel
Australia is nearly as big as the continental US and has incredibly disparate landscapes; you can participate in nearly any type of adventure and fun activity: world-class diving, climbing, hiking, sky-diving, wine tastings, bush walks, camping and surfing are just a sampling of the sheer diversity in Oz. The culture is super-laid back, locals are friendly, and the backpacker community is warmly embracing of both newbies and old-hat travelers alike.
Vegetarian Friendly? Absolutely. No problem for vegetarians here, Australia even has a deep fried version of a veggie burger that I’ve never had anywhere else (breaded cheese and spinach). Fruit is plentiful and the hostel breakfasts offered throughout the country even have some great protein options to get the day off to a good start: toast with peanut butter or vegemite. Eating out can get pricey so you’ll be cooking yourself a lot of meals at the well-stocked hostel kitchens anyway!
Internet Accessibility: Australia only gets three out of five because internet was expensive. Like, seriously pricey because of the Telstra monopoly. Many of the tour booking agencies will offer a bit of free internet if you’ve booked with them. McDonalds was also just starting to offer widespread free WIFI as I was leaving – this will be a life-saver since there are still small towns that had no internet access except the local libraries. Many hostels offer it, particularly on the major backpacker route between Cairns and Sydney, but other than that it can be unexpectedly tricky.
Transportation: This is a non-issue in Australia; anywhere you want to go, you can get there easily. The Greyhound bus is a great option. There is a bit of a train network as well in some areas. Also, a lot of backpackers rent vans and travel the country that way so you can frequently just catch a ride between cities if they’re heading in the same direction! It’s reasonably priced and simple – in addition to all of the public options the organized tour industry is incredibly prevalent and that’s a viable route too.
Pre-Trip Reading Inspiration: Books About Australia
Check out my recommended books, music, and movies to inspire and learn about Australia—why not grab one and read it on the plane?!
Australia (FILM): Runs toward the typical Hollywood fare, but well acted and again, will show some of the previous conflicts and politics that shaped modern Australia…old told with a romantic Hugh Jackman-y sub-plot and engaging story..
Rabbit-Proof Fence Novel (FILM): Every traveler should see this moving film either before heading to Australia, or while your traveling through the country. The story centers on Australia’s Stolen Generation and the controversial aboriginal policies in the 1930s that took mixed-raced aboriginal children from their parents for “re-education.”
The Harp in the South by Ruth Parks: An older book that gives a look at a growing and struggling Australia when the country was first being developed. Shows a side of Sydney, and Australia, that is only an echo now.
If you can’t read any of these travel book recommendations then read up on the history of Australia online before you travel there.
Considered a backpacker’s bible by many, the Lonely Planet Australia is a beast of a book, but worth its weight in gold if you’re truly exploring the entire country. The transportation sections of the guidebook comes in handy the most on the road, giving you detailed options on how to cross the vast expanses of Australia!
Find more regional fiction and nonfiction books and long-reads.
Best Things to Do in Australia
Boy is this a hard thing to pin down! There are so many things to do across the continent of Australia that there is no single online guide that is going to share everything you need to know. But, across my more than four months traveling in Australia (two months backpacking and two months “living” there with a friend), I’ve seen and done a whole lot that I am keen to share.
My 5 Favorite Travel Experiences in Australia
Cairns is the center of the diving universe in Australia—this the Mecca for divers and snorkelers keen to explore the Great Barrier Reef. There are other cities where you can dive (Port Douglas most notably and the Whitsunday Islands too). The city is vibrant with activity and located in the far north of Queensland.
There is city is generally the end/beginning of the popular Cairns to Sydney backpacker route and with that title has a ton of activities, even though diving and snorkeling take the top honors and focus of tourism in this city. Most of the backpacker and travel activity is built up around the esplanade and huge lagoon swimming pool.
Things to Do in Cairns
- Diving: You have choices. Like, a lot of choices. I used Deep Sea Divers Den and loved them. I originally wanted to use Pro Dive Cairns but they were booked up way ahead of time; both would be a great option. If you’re a dive enthusiast then consider the live-aboard options, you go out further from the shore to slightly less busy spots on the reef. I did a three-day live-aboard—the best I could afford and I got in several amazing dives before they ferried me back to shore. The food is tasty and these dive companies are incredibly well organized—they have options for every budget and every combination of experiences.
**My Great Barrier Reef diving experience
- Rainforest Meets Reef: The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest in the world. Literally. It’s a UNESCO spot and so worth the multi-day excursion from Cairns. There are frogs, rare flowers, and the Mossman Gorge – all totally unique to anywhere else in Australia, and totally unique in the whole world, in fact.
- Rafting, Cultural Tours, Ballooning, etc: There are endless options in addition to diving – Oz is the land of packaged tours so it’s easiest to head to Peter Pan travel booking agency, tell them what you want and they’ll organize the companies and experiences. I used them a lot and had good success and less stress. Plus they have free internet.
Where to Stay in Cairns
Northern Greenhouse: 117 Grafton Street, Cairns 4870. A great spot, totally walkable to the Esplanade and all of the popular bars and activities. All of the dive shops and tour agencies will pick you up from outside. They have internet, free breakfast, luggage storage and they pick you up from the airport. Fun organized activities (BBQ) but yet not a total party hostel, so you can get a good night’s sleep.
The Woolshed: 24 Shields St, Cairns QLD 4870. They have special fixed price backpacker meals early in the night, then crazy amounts of partying as the evening wears on. A really fun spot to meet other backpackers!
Melbourne is the red-headed stepchild of the cities in Australia; while Sydney is very pretty and yuppy Melbourne has a much edgier and alternative vibe. It has a lot to offer as far as big cities go and is actually a favorite big-city travel spot from all of the cities I’ve visited around the world.
It’s easy to get around on the buses and trams to nearly any part of the city, so transportation, once you’re in Melbourne, is not an issue at all. The Internet can be a problem and expensive, so you have to stay at a hostel with wifi if you need it for work.
Things to Do in Melbourne
I did not rent a campervan or car so day trips were the best way to catch these sites around Melbourne!
- Philips Island: The worlds smallest penguins, fairy penguins, live on Phillip Island – they are incredibly cute and eco-friendly tours leave early in the morning from Melbourne and return in the evening. I loved Go West tours – the groups are of a reasonable size and they plan several activities throughout the day. This is a great tour for animal lovers since you also stop at an animal conversation center with emus, koalas, kangaroos, and more!
**My experience and travel tips for Phillips Island from Melbourne
- Great Ocean Road: Touted as the most scenic drive in Australia, it just might be true. It’s gorgeous. You’ll have a really long day if you take the tour, but the sites are pretty and if you’re a fan of nature and beaches then this is ideal.
**My experience and travel tips for the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne
- Explore the CBD with Coffee: The streets of Melbourne’s Central Business District are vaguely reminiscent of Europe – they’re tiny and cramped but full of delightful boutiques, street food stalls, and coffee shops with tables spilling into the already thin walking path. It’s a really fun way to explore the city and rub shoulders with the locals, literally.
**My first days exploring Melbourne
- St. Kilda Street Market: This Sunday market on the Upper Esplanade has tons of arts and crafts, vendors, and food and it looks out over the beach. Worth visiting if you’re in town for a Sunday, but don’t extend your stay for it :)
Where to Stay
- Home at the Mansion: On my most recent trip through Melbourne in late 2016 I stayed here and loved it. There are some long-term backpackers living there, but it generally has a great vibe and you just can’t beat the location. They have privates that make for a budget-to-midrange option with convenience if you’re keen too. If you’re on a budget, or keen to see other areas, I stayed at Melbourne Central YHA my first time through the area and it’s a spotless hostel that is friendly and welcoming to all, including families. This hostel is quieter than some, which is normal for a YHA hostel, and it’s run more like structured boarding house institution than many nearby hostels.
- Base Backpackers St Kilda: Base Backpacker hostels are offered throughout Australia and Oceania. These hostels can range a bit more expensive, but Base has high standards and a lot of extra amenities. If you’re heading to St. Kilda, you can’t miss with this if you’re looking for a fun, engaged backpacker environment.
- Alto Hotel on Bourke is a gorgeous boutique spot in a very central spot if you want nice-to-midrange.
Melbourne is a huge city. It really depends on where you stay, but head to the CBD for the little cafes popping out into the streets.
Sydney was my absolute first stop of my round the world trip and I was still taking off my travel training wheels as I explored the city. It’s a pretty city with a huge backpacking community – this is a hub for backpackers with working visas who are trying to save up money to travel around Australia.
That means there is a lively nightlife and all of the hostels have long-term backpackers living right out of the rooms. The transportation is fantastic and can get you all over to anywhere a tourist might possibly want to visit.
Things to Do in Sydney
- Sightsee the Opera House and Harbor: This is a no-brainer because the iconic Sydney Opera House is the first stop for many travelers. I recommend that you walk through the Royal Botanical Gardens and to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, then curve along the water’s edge toward the Opera House – it’s a lovely walk and worth the time, plus this is where you get many of those iconic shots of the bridge and Opera House together.
**My first days exploring Sydney
- Hike in the Blue Mountains: My favorite Sydney activity and most important tip – go see the blue mountains that are just a two hour train ride outside of Sydney. The blue haze from the eucalyptus trees give the landscape an ethereal look. Katoomba is the most popular city and worth staying a couple of nights if you’re keen on hiking.
**My Blue Mountain hiking experience
- Toronga Zoo: Boats leave from Sydney’s Circular Quay and ferry over to the Toronga Zoo – this is hands-down the best setting for a zoo in the world, as you hike up the hills and visit the various areas you have unparalleled views of Sydney Harbor and the CBD. I used the zoo as a way to take visual note of the dozens of dangerously venomous spiders and snakes that inhabit Australia.
Where to Stay:
Blue Parrot Hostel: Located in Potts Point, this hostel is just outside of the sketchier area by a block or two, but still close to all of the backpacker action in Kings Cross. There were a lot of people living in the hostel (which makes the rooms stinky) but they had nice community areas and gave great tips and recs for the city.
Australia Travel Stories
My very first round the world trip way back in 2008 started in Sydney, Australia. My travel stories, however span that trip, as well as subsequent trips back to the country to explore areas that I missed the first time around. Each Australia travel story and update was shared in real-time as I travel blogged my way around Oz. Pick up the adventure wherever you fancy: