The biggest challenge for travellers to Australia is how to get around within the country. If you consider that the travel distance from Perth to Sydney is 4,500 km and from Cairns to Perth nearly 6 thousands km you soon get a picture of how big Australia is. The long travel distances coupled with the low demand for flights and public transportation to remote areas makes it expensive to get around in Australia.
So it's only with a thought out travel itinerary and accurate planning that you can make the most of your time and save money on transportation. Last-minute planning is a no-go in Australia, because of the high cost.
That's why it's important to learn a few key things on how to travel on a budget in Australia.
I have written many blog posts about this topic. On this page I give you an overview about all transportation options of Australia along with my best tips on how and when to use them.
How to get around in Australia on a budget
Depending on how much time you have and which part of Australia you want to visit, flying is definitely the faster way to get around in Oz. While fly and drive can be the best suited solution for those on a tight schedule, it's not always cheapest though. If you cannot consider driving by yourself, buses is the second best option to travel on the cheap. Train travel is another great way of seeing the country, but while it's convenient in populated areas, travelling by train to remote Outback regions can be quite expensive.
Here below a breakdown of all viable options for getting around Australia when touring the country.
Flying within Australia
Flying within major Australian cities is the way to go. For flights from Sydney to Melbourne or Brisbane to Cairns or Perth to Melbourne and more popular destinations there are many deals throughout the year. With less than 100 AUD you can likely to book a flight from Sydney to Melbourne, and if you grab a flight sale you can often save up to 50% on the price. Key is to book all your domestic flights early, when airlines start their flight sales or when they offer their weekly deals. Airlines usually come out with 4-5 main flight sales in a year.
Tip: Check the Friday Frenzy deals on JetStar or Happy Hour on the Virgin Australia to save money.
These are the most popular airlines in Australia:
- Qantas covers most of Australia
- Jetstar (low-cost airline) covers most of Eastern Australia
- Virgin Australia covers New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania
- Tiger Airways (low-cost airline) covers most of Eastern Australia
- Skywest the local airline for regional Western Australia
- Airnorth the local airline for the Top End and North Western Australia
Regional flights in Australia are very expensive and they are rarely on sale. That's why at times it will cost you more to fly from Perth to Broome that flying from Perth to Bali.
If you are looking for cheap flights in Australia you can check out Zuji Flights deals where you can view flights from a range of Australian airlines allowing you to quickly compare all flight options at a glance. You can search for holiday Packages (Flight plus Accommodation) for more budget options.
Driving in Australia
Driving in Australia is probably the best option for getting around Australia on the cheap and also the most flexible way to see much of Australia. However hiring a car is convenient if you are travelling in a small group, or with a travel companion. If you travel alone you can certainly hire a car and drive around by yourself, I have done it many times and it was not expensive. Key is to grab car rental deals. I once hired a car for 250 dollars for 10 days in Western Australia. Usually car hire deals are available from major Australian cities only and as long as you return the car to the same location, car hire is Australia is not expensive. And you will not have to pay for additional costs like the one-way fee.
For short-term trips I would suggest hiring a car and driving in a loop back to your starting point.
For long-term trips I would suggest hiring a campervan. If you plan +4-5 weeks around Australia camping is definitely the best way of exploring the country. Do not hire a campervan for a 1-2 weeks it's going to be expensive and not cost-effective.
Getting around Australia by bus
Getting around by bus is relatively cheap in Australia. There is an extensive bus network with great connections along the entire East Coast of Australia, from Melbourne to Cairns. The most popular bus network in is Greyhound Australia which offers an array of Bus Passes for most of the country. I would certainly use greyhound if you travel on your own and don't fancy hiring a car by yourself. You can purchase single bus-tickets for individual destinations too, these tend to be a bit more expensive. In Western Australia and in Northern Australian Greyhound is the cheap alternative for covering long distances where flights would be too expensive and hiring a car too challenging.
I have used Greyhound buses on my backpacking adventure in 2004 and loved it. I still use their service now and then to cover destinations that are difficult to reach by car or too expensive to fly.
Ticket discounts are available to YHA members, VIP and Nomads as well as from memberships cards from other approved organizations in Australia. Furthermore there are also smaller regional bus service operators. Here are the major bus companies in Australia:
- V/line runs in Victoria to major towns in south-east coast to Bairnsdale, Merimbula.
- Tassie Link runs across Tasmania covering most destinations.
- Premier Motor service destinations in South Australia and along the south-east coast to Sydney.
- Integrity Coach Lines runs from Perth up to Exmouth and Broome.
Travelling in Australia by train
Train travel in Australia is another great option if you are travelling on your own but you need lots of time. Train networks in Australia works very well in metropolitan areas and city ares, as well as along 4.000 km of East Cost with daily connections. All the rest of Australia is not covered by train, with some exceptions of the long-distance trains like the Ghan train and the Indian Pacific and in Queensland there are a few trains serving Outback regions.
I have travelled on all trains for +15 thousands km and loved my time spend onboard of Australian trains. They are however not inexpensive and cheap tickets are offered as seats. If you want to book a night-berth prices will not be lower than 1000 dollars per person, depending on the destination.
Going on guided tours in Australia
If you plan a long-term travel adventure in Australia, then combining a little bit of everything will be ideal. Flying, self-driving and public transportation in cities.
Sometime joining a local tour is the best alternative to hiring a car. It's important you choose the way of transportation according to your time frame, travel distances and places of interest on the way to your destinations.
If you wish to take a break, after long driving distances or too many flights, the best idea is go on a tour. In Australia there is such a vast offer to cover all types of services, ranging from backpacking tours to budget tours to high-end tours.
My advice is to prefer small tour operators which run by local people who offer next to experienced tour guides also a more personal approach by giving an insider's perspective about the destination.
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Getting around Australia – More travel resources
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