Backpacking (Australia)

Travel Guide Oceania Australia Backpacking


Backpacking in Australia

Melbourne Mall

Melbourne Mall

© Jaders

Australia, known for icons like the Sydney Opera House, kangaroos and blood-red Uluru is hot! And not just when it comes to scorching summers in Melbourne or an afternoon in Coober Pedy. It is, and not without reason, a 'hot travel destination'; popular for trips ranging from a couple of weeks to several months.

The Olympic Games of 2000 in Sydney have only served to fuel the country's image as a great travel destination and the travel industry continues to thrive on large amounts of travellers each year. Given the distances involved when travelling to Australia from most of the world and the amount of money spent to get there, this might seem like somewhat of a luxury dream destination. Not so as a visit to Australia need not cost you a fortune at all. Besides cheap accommodation and trips in Australia and an exchange rate that is favourable to most foreigners, there are also many attractions, especially when it comes to wildlife, that can be enjoyed for free or at a minimal costs. Whether enjoying one of Australia's dozens of national parks (many of which have been dubbed Unesco World Heritage sites), its coastline with over 7000 beaches, the spectacular Great Barrier Reef, the 'Red Centre' or stretches of rainforest in the north, you will find that these are accessible, no matter what budget you are on.

With a population of 19.5 million living in a country of nearly 8 million square kilometres, Australia boasts the world's lowest population density at only 2 people per square kilometre. Perhaps it is the sheer vastness of Australia that in some way has influenced the population and helped create easygoing and friendly locals with a warm "no worries" attitude that helps make any trip to Australia an unforgetable experience. Not to mention the climate of course that encourages an outdoor lifestyle and inspires a thriving beach culture in large parts of the country.

Whether you are looking for peace and quiet and a chance to get away from it all, or an all-inclusive experience with luxury and style, you will find Australia offers both and more. A perfect destination for young and old, rich or poor, Australia has something to offer for everyone.

This feature focuses on young independent travellers or backpackers and includes the most important things to know before departing, while you are working and travelling in Australia and after returning home. There is a lot more to travelling to Australia than included here; the kind of 'more' that you will only experience if you pick up your things and try it out for yourself!

Travelling, (a little) work and ultimately having fun in the sun, this would characterize the idea most people have of what independent travellers, commonly known as backpackers, do during their time 'Down Under'. And to be honest, they should be proven right!

The once in a lifetime opportunity that the Working Holiday Visa offers young people between 18 and 30 is all about getting to know a beautiful, culturally diverse country, seeing sites you only dreamed of, making friends from all over the world, enjoying some fantastic partying, lazying on beaches, working jobs that you would otherwise never do and basically having the time of your life. And, as if that isn't enough reason to pack your bags and go, you will find that the time in a different country will let you experience a level of independence and responsibility that will stick with you, ultimately shaping you as a more open minded, culturally diverse and responsible person. All in all, it is the kind of experience that staying at home will never teach you, no matter what degree you are completing, job you are in or amount of money you are making.

Twelve Apostles

Twelve Apostles

© Slummin'_it



Planning your Working Holiday


So, who is this experience set aside for? Unfortunately not for everyone! The visa requirements stipulate that this visa is only available to passport holders, without dependent children and between 18 and 30 (incl.), from the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, Ireland, Korea, Malta, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Hong Kong SAR, Finland and Cyprus.

Of course this doesn't mean you can't travel to Australia and backpack the country, it just means you don't apply for this specific visa which allows you to work there. From most countries though, getting a three or six month tourist visa or ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) is very easy and applies to nearly everyone, regardless of age.

Per country there might also be other possibilities to obtain some type of working permit in Australia, for example the Special Program visa which allows work in Australia through pre-approved programs. Check out the Australian Department of Immigration to find a visa that might apply to you. You will also find links here to apply online for the Working Holiday Visa and other visas to Australia. These online applications are extremely quick and this way you know you are never paying too much.

Also check the Red Tape section of the Australia article.


The most expensive part of any trip to Australia is inadvertently the flight, so anyone on a budget does well to start looking into tickets well in advance. The time of year you are flying will influence flight prices more than anything else, with flights around Christmas and in the nothern hemisphere's summer especially high. Generally, off months like March and October will guarantee you the best rates which is good to keep in mind if you are flexible about when to depart.

Another major influence on the pricing of your ticket will be the length of time you want to travel for. Open ended tickets that are valid for up to one year are going to cost substantially more than a ticket that is only valid for a maximum of three months with a pre-booked date of return. This is also the time you want to start thinking about adding in any stopovers on the way to and from Australia. South Eastern Asia and New Zealand are often included as stopover destinations, but there are other otions like the Americas and Africa which might be interesting, either for personal or financial reasons.

Keep in mind when looking at tickets that the seasons on the southern hemisphere are opposite to the nothern hemisphere and make sure the city you fly into is a decent destination at that time of year. People who have flown into Darwin in the middle of the rainy season or into Cairns while the box jellyfish are lurking off the coast will be able to convey the importance of this. For more detailed information on the average temperatures and weather in Australia have a look at the Weather Chart of the largest cities in Australia.

Also check the Getting There section of the Australia article.




© RosiePony

Although you always expect nothing to go wrong on a trip, it is best to be prepared for the worst. Good insurance is a must on any trip and when you are travelling for anywhere up to a year, this is no different. Although a lot of countries have reciprocal medical coverages with Australia, it is advisable to take out your own insurance as the coverage offered by the Australian government only covers basic medical treatment.

Coverage wise, it is also important to make sure that you are covered for any work related accidents, for basic 'adventure sports' like diving and white water rafting and for a decent amount if your luggage is stolen, as this is where the vast majority of all claims are made. Other areas to look at are medical, emergency, accident, repatriation and legal cost coverages among others. It really depends on you and what you are comfortable with leaving out or wanting to include. If you have any pre existing conditions, make sure the insurance company is well aware of these in advance so as not to run into any unpleasant surprises when submitting claims at a later stage.

Many travellers either extend or cut short their trip by a few months so making sure your insurance company will easily (and cheaply) allow you to purchase extra months or get a refund is something you definitely want to look at. Any insurance which is extendable up to 18 months should give you plenty of room to manouvre. As you are often not covered for medical expenses the first months after returning home, it is also smart to think about purchasing an insurance that allows you to add this type of 'return home' medical coverage on to the regular insurance.

When on a budget, insurance is an area you want to look into well as there is often money to be saved here. The huge differences in sales prices offered by different insurance companies in one country are certainly not always justified by a difference in coverage. With a commission percentage of up to 50% on insurance sales, there is some room to play with the sales price largely depending on how many intermediaries there are between the underwriter of your insurance and the seller itself. Be sure not to overpay, but also not to under insure!

By yourself or with a group?

If you do not have any friends interested in travelling with you, the choice to travel for such a long period by yourself is not always an easy one to make. Although you will inadvertently find that you are never alone for very long as a backpacker in Australia, some prefer the security and comfort that travelling with a group brings along. To accommodate in this, and to help arrange all other aspects of a backpacking trip to Australia, different organizations sell pre-arranged trips to Australia which include things like flights, pre departure information, airport pick up on arrival, an orientation session, a few nights in a hostel, insurance and so on. Although it might not always be your idea of an independent trip, these pre-arranged packages do include benefits like getting to know people quicker and getting some of the labour intensive arranging work taken care of. Also, because they often purchase flights in bulk, a fully pre-arranged package can be as cheap, if not cheaper, than doing it all on your own.

Here is a list of organizations that offer working holidays for groups in Australia.

The Olgas

The Olgas

© AviZana


Working, Travelling & Living in Australia


Workwise, it is important to remember that you are travelling to Australia on a visa that will only allow you to work for one employer for a maximum of three months. This inadvertently will mean that you won't be getting the 'crème de la crème' of jobs, as you will be seen as a temporary worker. And in that regard, employers worldwide feel the same; "why pay someone who is only going to stick with me for a maximum of three months a great salary if I can get a local to do the same work for longer?". So, if you are looking at your time in Australia to give you work experience that will be beneficial to your career, you should rethink your motives for travelling Down Under.

Another thing that unfortunately is not in favour of those backpackers looking for short term work is the large amount of people who have gone before you and scammed employers, quit after their first day, never showed up, showed up drunk because they just didn't care etc. Sad but true, a lot of backpackers have 'scammed' in some way, shape or form and considering Australian employers have to deal with nearly 100 000 of them each year, they are increasingly wary of hiring them.

Compared to 10, and even 5 years ago, work has become increasingly hard to find in Australia for independent travellers. This has paved the way for certain organizations to claim that they can offer guranteed jobs to backpackers who pay them a membership fee. It is always good to be wary of these guarantees as one 8 hour shift already qualifies as a 'job' in their eyes. Furthermore, the largest part of the jobs these organizations offer are 'passed on' jobs which they get referred from other free employment agencies, so if you enlist with enough free employment agencies, you can always get the same positions offered to you without spending the fees.

Next to registering with employment agencies, keep an eye on the local newspapers and notice boards in hostels for temporary work going around. Most work is still found the old fashioned way, by looking for it. Whether this means searching countless newspaper pages, calling employment agencies regularly to show you are eager or just knocking on doors of restaurants, cafes, bars and lunch rooms is up to you. But if you show you are eager, you will find the work available sooner or later.

There are some times of the year when work is exceptionally hard to find in certain areas, but not in others if you are willing to re-locate. For example, December and January are a particularly hard time to find work in Sydney with a lot of travellers heading there to enjoy Christmas and New Year celebrations. However, this happens to also coincide with the main grape picking season in Victoria and travellers that are out of money regularly decide to choose making money and spending little to not making money and spending a lot.

Having said all of this, if you go to Australia with right state of mind and expectations regarding the type of work you will be doing there, you will enjoy your time there like no other. Expect to get dirty working on a farm, 'enjoy' picking bananas or other fruits with hundreds of other backpackers on a plantation, try your hand at telesales or cleaning in hostels around the country; in short, be ready to do work you would never do at home. And if you work hard and are honest, you will be paving a smoother way for your fellow travellers after you!




© RosiePony

The most important reason for heading down to Australia will probably be the travelling that can be done there. And rightly so because there is a lot to be seen and without travelling you won't be able to see it. Australia might not look the part when you see it on a map of the world but it is the sixth largest country in the world. So when it comes to distance, it is best not to underestimate the time you need to spend travelling in Australia to be able to really see it. For comparison, the 8 States or Territories are about the same size as the 48 mainland states of the USA and about 1½ times as big as Europe.

Your choice of transportation around the country should be dependent on the time you have to see it. A good example is the 1000 or so kilometres between Melbourne and Sydney, a good 12 hours by bus or train and comparable with a trip from Amsterdam to Barcelona in Europe. Not to mention the 40+ hours that a bus trip from Cairns to Darwin will hold you up. If you have the time, and don't mind regular one or two day rides, cars, buses and trains offer a reasonable means of transportation. They also allow you a good opportunity to see some of the country and enjoy the unique scenery, although looking at red dirt does become somewhat of a bore after a while. If you don't have time, flying is going to be the only option that allows you to see a fair bit of the country in a reasonably short period of time.

Normally speaking, travelling by bus will prove to be the cheapest, with legions of travel passes, kilometre passes, point to point tickets and other opportunities existing. However, with the arrival of Virgin Blue as a discount carrier in Australia a few years ago, cheap online flight fares have become a regularity. Those travellers with time or good planning in advance can regularly take advantage of prices which are comparable, if not cheaper, to bus travel, without the coinciding travel times.

Very popular among independent travellers are smaller buses that stay 'off the beaten track' and travel Australia on smaller roads than interliners would follow. Travelling in this manner allows travellers to socialize more with fellow travellers and to get to know each other better. The bus driver doubles as a guide and there are regular stops and activities along the way, with pre-selected accommodation breaking up trips further. For those travellers with time it is a great way to see more of the country without actually having to purchase your own car or means of transportation.

If full independence is what you are after, your best bet is to hire or purchase a car. If you are staying longer than 4 or 5 weeks, purchasing can already be cheaper than hiring, with numerous car sellers offering a guaranteed buy back at a certain percentage of the sales price. There are numerous garages or autobarns where backpackers can cheaply purchase second hand cars, and some that specialize solely on the backpacking market. Keeping an eye on hostel notice boards and your ear open when talking to backpackers that are leaving the country are other popular methods. With some backpackers abandoning their car at the airport before departing the country, there are often bargains to be found in the case of desperate sellers. Just be careful you don't end up with their outstanding traffic violaion bills and that your insurance is all taken care of when you hit the road!


One of the biggest worries most people have when departing for Australia is what they will do about accommodation when they get there. Although logical to some degree, it is totally unnecessary. Accommodation is readily available at all different price ranges and if you want the security of booking in advance, there are numerous sites where this can be done safe and secure (like right here on Travellerspoint for example). Many hostels and hotels also offer free airport pick ups as an incentive to book your first nights with them.

Hostels are the most common form of accommodation for backpackers, although some backpackers on a less stringent budget might consider hotels every now and then. Hostels also offer the added benefit of getting to know fellow travellers quicker, offering cooking and clothes washing possibilities and being considerably more social overall, without necessarily losing in cleanliness and comfort. One drawback that unfortunately comes with sleeping in a room full of strangers is that you are bound to be woken at times you weren't planning to wake up. Another, unfortunately, is theft. Not everyone in your room might be inclined to respect that what you purchased is actually yours, so it is smart to keep an eye out at all times and not to leave valuables lying around.

If you are planning to stay somewhere for longer than a month there might be other options interesting to explore that provide you with a totally different experience. Short term shared housing options are an interesting possibility forming a good middle ground between a hostel and your own rented accommodation. You still share a room with a few people but these are all travellers staying for at least one month and therefore you get to know your fellow room- and housemates a lot better. Prices are not necessarily cheaper than one week rates in hostels but the added security and sense of 'home' are worth it to many.

If you are really planning to stay somewhere for a while, short term leasing is usually the cheapest and safest alternative. Although lease contracts for periods shorter than six months are not readily available, some real estate agents do offer them. Alternatively you can sign an agreement for longer and hope to pass it on to another traveller after a few months. Be careful that your name doesn't remain on the contract in this case so as to avoid unexpected bills later on. It is fairly common practice among backpackers to accommodate and 'pass on' rooms in houses that have been inhabited by travellers for years. No one really remembers who initially started leasing the place and as long as the rent is paid each month (and there aren't too many complaints from the neighbours), the agencies tend not to care too much. Local newspapers often have a weekly section with short term accommodation making these are a great place to start looking if you are thinking of signing your own lease. Otherwise, keep your eye on the notice boards in hostels to take over someone else's room when they move on. No need to pay too much if you can have the same for less!

A beautiful day in the mountains

A beautiful day in the mountains

© rockenroll



After your trip


When you work in Australia, you are obliged to pay tax like everyone else in Australia. The regular tax rate for travellers on the Working Holiday visa is 29%, although some employers have been known to work with different rates depending on the work you do. For example, a lot of the fruit picking and farm work is taxed at only 15% in an effort to make this a more attractive option for backpackers seeking work.

Just a couple of years ago it was common practice among backpackers to file tax returns for the full amount of tax paid in Australia. This was usually done by claiming to be a 'resident for taxation purposes' on the final tax papers. Although this was never legally right according to the Australian taxation office, because of their own negligence and a very peculiar tax system where payment was made before actually checking the tax records, this method became common knowledge and was not only practiced by large numbers of travellers but also by accountants and companies claiming taxes on the travellers' behalf.

Recently however, the taxation office has become increasingly strict and is now following up very closely any claims by working holiday makers to be residents for taxation purposes. In some cases, backpackers have even had tax bills sent to their home addresses long after departing Australia, reclaiming the total amount in taxes owed to the government that had been paid out earlier. Generally speaking, if your employer has deducted the correct tax percentage from your pay slip, you will end up not getting any money back from the tax office when you fill in your final end of year papers. Likewise, if you fill in your papers correctly, you will not be surprised with a tax bill long after returning home. In general, it is good to be very wary of any organizations that claim they can guarantee to get you tax back as these organizations are currently finding themselves in court with the Australian taxation office.

It is important to keep all your pay slips from your employers while travelling around Australia and also to request a final aggregate slip with the total amounts withheld and paid from each of your different employers when moving on. Although there are quite a few companies in Australia that charge you a fee for filling in your final tax papers, doing it yourself is equally easy if you have the right papers at hand and requesting these slips will make your life a lot easier. At your request, the taxation office can supply easy to use packages with all the forms you need to fill in at the end of the year. With a financial year in Australia that runs from the first of July till the end of June, keep in mind you will have to fill in your final tax statement twice if you have worked in separate financial years.


Besides tax, employers withhold what is known as superannuation, or 'super' for short, from all wages paid in Australia. This amount can be up to 9% of your gross wages.

Some temporary residents are now able to access their superannuation upon permanent departure from Australia. The most important criteria is that you have either departed Australia (this money can be retrieved even if you worked and travelled in Australia anywhere between 1992 and 2002!) or that you are leaving Australia to reside in another country.

If you fall under this criteria, even though this process hasn't been practiced widely by backpackers so far, it could very well be worth your time to look into getting your superannuation back if you worked several months while in Australia. The process is quite lengthy, mainly due to the fact that there are several thousand superannuation funds in Australia and every employer pays their contribution to a different fund, or sometimes even funds. To complicate matters further, most temporary employees are not told what superannuation fund is keeping their money and what their membership number is at that fund.

In order to claim your superannuation, you will need to contact each superannuation fund directly and provide them with a copy of your Australian visa and the exit stamp in your passport as well as your membership number at that fund. If you do not know the superannuation fund your employers used, you will have to request that information from the relevant employers. Due to different administration fees and procedures at each fund, it might only be worth it to claim your superannuation back when you have actually worked for several months for one employer. If you have only worked one or two week jobs for multiple employers who have all paid superannuation into different funds, you might find yourself tangled in a lot of paperwork for nothing. To help with this some organizations have started assisting independent travellers with their superannuation refunds for a modest fee and considering the complications of multiple funds, fees and taxes on superannuation, it can be worthwhile to contact these for more information.

More details on getting superannuation back can be found on the ATO website.

Back Home

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

© SolisPhoto

Sad but true, most trips have to end sometime and all you have left are the memories and pictures of what you experienced, saw, who you met and everything else that happened to you along the way. Although being back home with friends and family is great, it takes time to get used to a different lifestyle, regular work and so on. With a healthy pile of email addresses from your trip at your disposal it often helps to remember the good times with those you met along the way or just simply to keep in touch in case your next trip takes you their way.

With your experience fresh in mind, consider this also as the ideal time to share your experiences with others who are considering travelling to Australia. Let them know what's good and what isn't, what to see and what to skip, which hostels are great and which are terrible, where to find work and so forth. Several years ago you were limited to sharing with friends, family and anyone else you actually were in conversation with. Times have changed and because of the internet, you now have the opportunity to give back something to the travelling community without making it your full time job. You can share your experiences with strangers through sites, chat rooms, forums or by allowing others to contact you to request information on destinations you are knowledgeable about.

Although your once in a lifetime trip to Australia might end when you return home, what you get out of the trip will last you a lifetime!


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This is version 13. Last edited at 8:17 on Feb 13, 14 by KellieBarnes. 1 article links to this page.

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