17 Things to Know Before Travelling to Australia

 

Author: QUEENIE MAK

If you are planning a solo trip to Australia, then you must have a lot of questions about the country, culture and everything else in between. I know I did when I first travelled to Australia 15 years ago.

And I revisited the country again and still had so many questions. Even though I consider myself a seasoned traveller, I still researched a bit before my visit to Australia because I want to be prepared and make sure everything is in order.

Every country is a little different, and Australia is no exception. So I’ve compiled all the information about Australia for solo travel. Take a look at my list of 17 things you need to know before travelling to Australia.

Why Australia is great for a solo female traveller

Australia is a huge country and has so much to offer. For a solo traveller, it is an ideal country to visit as it is safe and easy to travel around.

Australia is ranked as the 10th safest country in the world. Female solo travellers will have no issues travelling around Australia. With any metropolitan cities, always practice safety precautions even if the cities are safe.

And if English is your first language, then you really don’t have an excuse not to visit Australia. English is the official language in Australia, but you will hear local slangs where you may or may not be familiar with. But it is quite interesting to learn about all the Australian slangs and terms.

Most of all, everyone I met in Australia was extremely friendly. There wasn’t a day where I didn’t meet a friendly local. How amazing is it to visit a country that is so warm and welcoming?

1. You must apply for ETA before travelling to Australia

Most nationalities will have to apply for an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), an electronic authorization, before arriving in Australia.

Some nationalities travelling to Australia can apply online. The online process is simple. It involves answering standard questions about yourself and inputting passport information.

The entire application will take a few days to process and costs $20AUD for a standard application.

Other nationalities will have to apply an ETA through a travel agent, airline or Australian visa office.

2. Money matters

Australia’s official currency is the Australian Dollar (AUD). It is a good idea to have cash while you are travelling in Australia. Although you will find that most places will accept credit cards.

For your reference, $1AUD is approximately $0.70USD.

I like to use Exchange Rates app on my smartphone when I have to check different exchange rates.

At any time, you can withdraw money from any ATMs linked to PLUS, Cirrus or Maestro networks. Be aware of bank fees.

3. Don’t leave your credit card at home

Many establishments accept credit cards and cash. But there are a handful of cafes and stores that will only take credit cards. So don’t leave your credit card at home!

For payments under $100AUD, you can tap your credit card without entering your PIN. For purchases over $100AUD, you will have to enter your PIN. So make sure you to remember your PIN!

 

4. Tipping is not required

Tipping is not part of Australian culture. It doesn’t matter if you’re eating at a fancy restaurant or a bar, a tip is not expected at all!

Moreover, a service fee is not included your bill when you dine out.

However, some restaurants will include an additional service fee for weekends and public holiday. For example, some restaurants charge 10% surcharge on Saturday and Sunday and 15% surcharge on public holidays.

 

5. Get GST tax refund when you leave Australia

In Australia, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) for most goods and services is 10%.

If you purchase anything over $300AUD, you can get your tax refund at the airport when you leave the country. Even if you have separate receipts, as long as you spent over $300AUD in the same store, you can get a tax refund. And refunds are available for purchased made within 60 days of your departure date.

Just make sure to bring all your receipts to the Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS) office before you check in your luggage. The Australian Border Force officer will check your receipt and your purchases, especially for the items you will check-in. For smaller items, they will request you to bring it with you on your carry-on. Then you will stamp your receipts indicated that they already checked your receipts.

After you check-in and pass immigration, go directly to the tax refund counter with all your receipts. And if you pay your purchases with your credit card, you can get a direct refund back on your credit card.

 

6. Everything is quite expensive in Australia

It won’t be the first time (or last time) to hear that travelling to Australia is expensive. And the truth is, it is pretty costly.

From accommodation, transportation, eating, going out, shopping and everything in between, you will need a bigger budget.

Generally, I would allocate the following daily budget at a bare minimum:

  • Accommodation – at least $30AUD for a basic dorm bed and up to $120 for a budget hotel
  • Transportation – local public transportation start from $3AUD and up, and if you are travelling between cities, may be up to $100AUD depending on your mode of transportation
  • Food – each meal will cost between $10 to $30AUD depending on where you eat
  • Entertainment – from museum entrance fee to a night out, budget around $20AUD or more per day

In terms of accommodation, I like to book hotels with Agoda. It is one of the best sites for booking hotels, guesthouses and hostels. I’ve used Agoda with bookings for many parts of the world, including Australia.

Moreover, Agoda has the most competitive prices compared to other booking websites. They have the best price guarantee, and they do not charge a booking fee. And if you provide feedback after your stay, Agoda will reward you Agoda dollars for future bookings.

Agoda has a huge database of accommodation available in Australia. Take a look at the website or browse through my Australia posts for specific hotel recommendations.

7. Countless Airbnb rentals including Airbnb Plus units

As I mentioned already, accommodation is expensive compared to other parts of the world. Typically, you will pay about $100AUD for a hotel room, and that is at the lower end of the range.

But if you stay in an Airbnb unit, it can save you a ton of money!

Airbnb is one of the best options for accommodations for solo travellers. You can choose affordable housing in Australia with Airbnb, including entire apartment, private room or shared room.

I’ve travelled throughout Southeast Asia and Europe and have stayed in many Airbnb. But I have to say that the choices in Australia are much better in terms of comfort and design.

And recently Airbnb introduced Airbnb Plus which is a higher-tier of Airbnb, where homes are verified by the company. Generally, the Airbnb Plus homes are newly renovated, have better design and have better finishes and fixtures.

8. Prepaid SIM cards are cheap, fast and reliable

Having a sim card in Australia will make travel and communication much easier. It is especially useful if you are travelling around the country.

I purchase a Vodaphone prepaid SIM card. It costs $40AUD for 25GB dataunlimited local calls, and 500 minutes for international calls and other bonuses. The whole plan is for 35 days. I purchased it at the Vodaphone store, and they had a promotion for the same plan at $25AUD. The data is fast and reliable.

If you are staying in Australia for a shorter period, there are other plans. Take a look at the Vodaphone website.

I highly recommend purchasing a Vodaphone prepaid SIM Card. You can buy it in any Vodaphone stores and at any airport. And remember to bring your passport when you buy the SIM card.

9. Electricity + universal travel adapter

The standard voltage in Australia is 230V. The power socket is type I. Check here to determine if you need to bring a travel adapter. Type I is mainly used in Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific, Argentina and China.

If your home country is not the same as Australia, bring a universal travel adapter for your travel so you can make sure all your electronic equipment can be charged. Check Amazon for the latest price for the universal travel adapter.

10. Find cheap flights with low-cost carriers in Australia

Depending on where you are in the world, it might be expensive to fly into Australia, considering how far the country is from the rest of the world.

However, there are a few low-cost carriers that fly into and within Australia, including Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Tigerair Australia.

It is one of the most economical ways to travel to Australia and fly within the country. And because Australia is a big country, flying is the best and fastest way to fly to different destinations.

If you want to travel quickly, then book a ticket with one of the following airlines to secure the cheapest seat to your destination.

While you book your ticket, make sure you are aware of the extra costs like checked baggage. Some low-cost carriers separate the cost of the airfare and checked baggage, so the actual cost of the airfare appears cheaper. You can potentially save a lot of money by travelling with a carry-on bag only. Check out my post on how you can pack a 7kg carry-on luggage.

11. Train travel is comfortable but extremely long

Australia has a train system that connects most cities, including Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Alice Springs and Perth. Take a look at the Australian rail map here.

One of the most famous routes is the Indian Pacific, which connects Sydney, Adelaide and Perth. The journey takes three days, but you will see many different sceneries along the way.

However, train travel is one of the slower ways to travel in Australia. For example, it takes more than 14 hours to get from Sydney to Brisbane.

But taking the train is great if you are travelling shorter distances and if you enjoy the comforts of the train.

I took an overnight train from Melbourne to Sydney, and it took about 11 hours. You can either choose an economy seat, first-class seat or first class berth. The train has a restaurant onboard just in case you get hungry. I thought the train ride was relaxing and comfortable. I really enjoyed it because train travel is one of my favourite transportation modes.

12. Drive on the left while in Australia

Driving in Australia is one of the best ways to see the country. Especially if you are taking a trip from Melbourne to the Great Ocean Road. It is one of the best road trips in Australia!

While driving can give you the maximum freedom in exploring Australia, it is an expensive transportation option. Between car or campervan rental, fuel, insurance and parking (in cities), you will need a much bigger budget.

As a solo traveller, it may not be the best option as you will not be able to share the cost. But if you meet other trustworthy travellers along the way, it may be an excellent option to see some of the off-beaten path places in Australia.

With that said, it is easy to hire a car in Australia. First, you will need to be at least 21 years of age and a holder of a valid driver’s license.

If you reside in Canada or the US, you can use your driver’s license. For residents of other countries, you may want to get your international drivers license before going to Australia.

While you are on the road, remember to drive on the left! I saw many signs on the road that says, “drive on the left in Australia.” Especially around Great Ocean Road, there are more accidents in the area because many overseas tourists drive on the right side in their home country.

And please beware of the speed limit. Most freeway speed limit is 100km/hour. Don’t speed! Not even a little bit! Because there are many traffic cameras along the highway, especially near the Great Ocean Road.

13. Long distance bus is a cheap and efficient way to travel around Australia

Greyhound Australia is Australia’s long-distance bus operator. The bus system has many routes that will take you to different parts of the country. The Greyhound bus has comfortable recline seats, USB chargers, and free wifi.

Taking a long-distance bus is the cheapest way to get around Australia, especially if you are travelling solo.

However, it is not the fastest way. It may be great for short distances between Byron Bay and the Gold Coast. And you might also consider taking the bus between Sydney and Byron Bay, which takes about 12 hours and 45 minutes.

If you have a budget constraint, the long-distance bus is an excellent option. Also, consider one of the Greyhound travel passes if you are taking the bus exclusively during your time in Australia.

Greyhound services many cities and rural areas in Australia. Check their route map here.

The easiest way to purchase a ticket is online. Go to Greyhound Australia, and search for your route.

14. Use local rechargeable smartcards for public transportation

Taking public transportation in Australia is extremely easy, especially if you use the local rechargeable smartcard. Each state has its own smartcard for contactless fare collection system for taking public transportation including bus, tram, train and more.

You simply tap your card when you start your journey and tap it again when you disembark.

Typically, it is cheaper to use smartcard than buying individual paper tickets.

Smartcards can be purchased and topped-up at any public transportation kiosks, 7-Eleven, newsagents and other participating retailers.

Here are a few cards you might need while travelling through eastern Australia:

Myki Card

Use a Myki Card for any public transportation in Melbourne and the state of Victoria. Public transportation includes tram, bus and trains.

It costs $6AUD to purchase the Myki Card. The card is not refundable.

Each ride costs $4.40AUD, and you can ride any public transportation for the next two hours. And if you take multiple trips on the same day, the system will cap it at $8.80AUD as per the daily maximum.

For more information on Myki card and fares, click here.

Opal Card

While you are travelling in Sydney and Byron Bay in New South Wales, using the Opal Card is the cheapest and easiest way to travel on public transportation. Public transportation includes train, bus, ferry, light rail and metro and on any NSW TransLink rail services.

There is a minimum value of $10AUD for an adult Opal Card. But there is a daily cap where you will never pay more than $15.80AUD a day. On Sunday, you can take as much public transportation, and it will only cost $2.70AUD. The only exception is the Sydney Airport station access fee isn’t included in the daily cap.

Go Card

Use the Go Card for all TransLink bus, train, Airtrain, ferry and tram in Brisbane, Gold Coast, Noosa, Sunshine Coast and other urban areas in Queensland.

Initially, you have to purchase the card for $10AUD. When you leave Queensland, you can return your Go Card at the ticket counter at the Brisbane Airport Station and get your $10AUD deposit and any remaining value.

15. Sample different Australian cuisine

When I first went to Australia, I thought the typical Australia cuisine is meat pies, fish and chips, lamington, vegemite, and marmite. I was right, partially.

Besides these typical Australian food, many different types of cuisine are also part of Australian culture, including Greek, Turkish, Cypress, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and many more.

Similar to Canada and the US, Australia is a melting pot of culture where you can literally find almost any type of food you want. So don’t be surprised to find the best Greek food or Turkish food down under, especially in metropolitan cities like Melbourne and Sydney. Check out my food suggestions in each of these posts.

16. Try typical Australian brunch food

Brunch has to be my favourite meal of the day! While travelling through the east coast of Australia, I’ve had my fair share of “brekkie” (short for breakfast, as Australians call it).

Standard brekkie and brunch food feature the freshest and healthiest organic ingredients. You will always find breakfast menu with eggs, avocados, toasts in various forms.

And cafes and restaurants often plate the food as if it is a piece of artwork. Take at the photo above – it is one of the most delicious eggs benedict I ever had!

So while you are in Australia, try some of Australia’s typical “brekkie” including:

  • smash avocado on toast
  • eggs on sourdough toast
  • different types of eggs benedict
  • acai smoothie bowls
  • ricotta hotcakes (pancakes)

17. Indulge in Australian coffee culture

If coffee is your choice of beverage, then you will love Australia!

Coffee is a way of life in Australia. You will always find the best independently owned coffee shops around the country. Many coffee shops roast their own coffee beans and their baristas have so much knowledge about coffee.

Try Australians’ favourite caffeinated beverage: flat white. A flat white has a double shot of espresso with milk froth on top. It is typically smaller than a latte and cappuccino.

Melbourne makes the best flat white (in my opinion), but the rest of the country isn’t so bad either. You can find excellent coffee almost anywhere you go.

And even if you are not a coffee lover, you should still try a cup of Australian coffee. It might change your mind about the caffeinated beverage.

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