9 ways to see Australia on a budget

Australia – with its wallpaper-worthy landscapes, vibrant cities, and unique wildlife – is a dream destination for many.

Unfortunately, while Australia is known to be laid-back, it is not known as a budget destination. Even locals find the cost of living a hard pill to swallow. Ultimately, how expensive Australia feels will depend on the exchange rate of the Australian dollar with your home currency.

Whether you’re in Sydney, Perth or an outback location in between, food, activities and especially accommodation can add up quickly. However with careful planning it is possible to keep costs reasonable on a trip to Australia. Here are our top money-saving tips along with a guide to daily costs.

A guide to daily costs

  • Shared bunk room in a hostel: $40–80
  • Basic room for two: $180–250
  • Single fare on public transport: $2–4
  • Coffee: $5
  • Bacon and egg roll for breakfast: $8–12
  • Meat pie: $6
  • Dinner per person, excluding drinks: $30–60
  • Beer in pub: $5–9, 
  • Cocktails: $15–25

Total average daily cost: $200300

Adventurous women following a hiking trail along a rocky outcrop
It is cheaper (and quieter) to visit Australia in the shoulder season months © pixdeluxe / Getty Images

1. Plan your trip during the off-peak season

Australia’s peak tourist season falls during the southern hemisphere’s summer. This makes December to February the most expensive time to visit Australia. 

Instead, consider traveling during the shoulder seasons of spring (September to November) or autumn (March to May), when you’re more likely to score a deal on accommodation, domestic flights and even tours. As most accommodation providers – particularly in urban centers – rely on dynamic pricing, these months are when you’ll be more likely to snag a room for a reasonable price. The same is true of seats on internal flights and tour buses. 

It’s also a great opportunity to discover offbeat festivals timed to coincide with the seasons, such as Tasmania’s winter solstice celebration, Dark Mofo, or cherry-picking in Victoria’s Yarra Valley.

2. Sydney is not always the cheapest city to fly into

Sydney is considered the gateway to Australia, but it’s not the country’s only international airport. You might be able to save a chunk of change if you fly directly into Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth instead. 

You’ll find that domestic airfares within Australia are surprisingly budget-friendly, although their high environmental cost bears careful consideration. One-way flights between Melbourne and Sydney retail for as little as $59. You can expect a slightly higher level of service and more inclusions when flying with Australia’s budget airlines (including Bonza and Jetstar) than you may have experienced with low-cost carriers in other regions. 

Another money-saving option is to consider a flight package. Qantas, Australia’s largest airline, often has travel deals that include airfare, hotels and car hire. You can use its multi-city trip planner to budget domestic travel within Australia. 

3. The cheapest places to eat are markets and pubs

Australia’s big cities have top-notch restaurants, but they can be pricey and are likely to be a stretch too far for budget travelers. Instead, opt for the lively markets in laneways, parks, and historic sites. Savor street food, like Thai and Greek delights, at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market or explore Sydney’s Chinatown night markets on Fridays, with dishes starting at just $5. 

If you’re in regional areas, weekends are a treat with farmers’ markets offering everything from freshly baked pastries and picnic supplies to souvenirs to take home. 

For more wallet-friendly dining, keep an eye out for food trucks – they’re everywhere. In Darwin, Parap Village Markets serves up some of the best laksa (Malaysian noodle soup) in Australia, while Sydney and Brisbane have a variety of options from Texas BBQ to Filipino fare.

And if you’re in the mood for a classic Aussie meal, check out the local pubs. Most will offer a daily special, like a $12 chicken parmigiana or a $10 burger with chips. Finally, before you balk at prices for mains, remember that they include tax and tipping isn’t customary; what you see on the menu is what you’ll pay. 

A solo figure stands on the edge of a red-rock cliff above a valley
Most of Australia’s national parks and open spaces are free to visit © Felix Cesare / Getty Images

4. Australia’s best attractions are free

In Australia, the real treasures lie outdoors on captivating beaches, coastal walks, and mountain trails. There are over 600 national parks and while a handful charge an entrance fee, most are free to explore.

There are also hundreds of cost-free museums and attractions across the country, including the Australian Museum in Sydney and the National Gallery of Victoria. Some may request donations or provide free entry only during specific hours, typically outlined on their websites. 

Another option is to join a free walking tour that delves into local history and iconic landmarks. In Brisbane, volunteers spend two to three hours guiding visitors through the city; the Sydney Sights tour leads you around neighborhoods and to famous places, like the Opera House; and in Melbourne, a Culture Capital tour takes you deep into the city’s labyrinth of laneways and arcades. While these tours may advertise themselves as “free,” they often run on a tips basis or “pay what you think it’s worth”, so bear in mind that the guides are usually expecting a financial contribution.

If you’re having trouble finding a tour online, ask at an information center or chat with the booking desk or concierge where you’re staying. Just remember to book your spot for these tours in advance.

For popular tourist attractions, consider investing in a multi-attraction combo pass. Sightseeing Pass Australia, for example, offers discounts for attractions in South Australia and Western Australia, while Sea Life Sydney’s Pass will save you up to 50% on other nearby sights. Alternatively, scout for discounts on platforms like Klook, Red Balloon and Adrenaline to make the most of your sightseeing adventures.

5. Hire an RV or campervan for cheap accommodation and travel

Whether it’s a road trip through the outback or along the coast, the best and sometimes only way to see Australia is by car. To explore efficiently, consider hiring a camper instead of a traditional car rental. Campervans provide affordable accommodation on wheels, with nightly fees at caravan parks averaging around $30 for unpowered sites, and upwards of $40 for powered spots (although you may find even better deals on private land through Hipcamp).

There are also free campsites available throughout the country, offering an authentic, off-the-beaten-path experience. These can be found using apps such as WikiCamps Australia and CamperMate. If you go this route, prepare for minimal amenities; some spots lack toilet facilities or access to clean water. 

Van rental costs start at approximately $40 per day, depending on the model. Camplify (which is like Airbnb for motorhomes and vans) has an under $100 section, making it easy to pick your next home on wheels within budget. Jucy Rentals is another option, best suited to road trippers on a backpacker budget.

While you’ll save on accommodation, bear in mind that petrol (gas) is expensive in Australia. Prices fluctuate, but at the end of 2023 a liter of fuel was between $1.80 and $2.10.

Family and a farm worker explore a farm with many sheep in a field
Get involved with rural life on a farm stay, which can be cheaper than the cost of a hotel room © AzmanJaka / Getty Images

6. Consider a farm stay for a different perspective 

Australia is witnessing a rise in the popularity of rural farm stays among travelers. Whether visiting a region for a month or a weekend, you can book a tiny house on a cattle station or sleep in a chic converted shearing shed. They can sometimes be cheaper than hotels, with a breakfast typically included. Most importantly, they double as a free attraction for the whole family, as many farm stays encourage guests to pet the horses and feed the cows.

To find them, use Hipcamp or Booking.com‘s “farm stay” filter. While some farm stays can be upwards of $600 for a luxe glamping experience, some cost less than $250 per night for an entire cottage to yourself. Many tourist-facing farmstays, such as the Tweed’s Hosanna Farmstay, double as campgrounds with sites from $21 a night and huts from $125.

7. Work or volunteer while you travel 

A working holiday visa in Australia can be a savvy move to explore Australia’s culture and breathtaking scenery while padding your wallet. Available for visitors between the ages of 18 and 30 (and up to 35 in some cases) from eligible countries, these visas allow you to work as a tourist in Australia. 

Housesitting is another option for travelers. You get to stay for free in great homes across Australia, in exchange for looking after the house, and possibly pets too, while the owners are away. Aussie House Sitters and Mindahome.com both list available house sits; there is a small membership fee to join, but it’ll pay off in accommodation savings if you land a housesitting gig.

8. Bring your own wine to dinner

Australia has steep taxes on alcohol, resulting in high prices. Expect to pay $13 for a glass of house wine. To lessen the blow on your budget, opt for happy hour drinks when cocktails are just $15 and tap beers will start at $5. Many places also offer food deals like $10 nachos and $5 fries. 

For a budget-friendly dinner with drinks, some restaurants – particularly Chinese, Italian, and Mediterranean ones – will allow you to bring your own bottle of wine. This will typically be advertised in the restaurant’s front window, with a nominal corkage fee of around $3. Although if you walk in with a “goon” bag (a four-liter bag of wine, which will set you back about $12) you might turn some heads.

9. Join a group tour

A common oversight among travelers is underestimating Australia’s vast size. With a population of just 25 million, its landmass rivals that of the United States. Travel times – particularly to remote regions – aren’t just critical to your itinerary; they’ll also affect your bottom line. 

This is when group tours – which cover lodging, food, transportation, and experiences – can be particularly good value, especially for destinations such as Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and K’gari (Fraser Island). Tour operators are typically able to negotiate lower group rates for their guests, saving you not just time and effort in planning, but money as well.