Category Archives: New South Wales

Travel | How to get that luxury 5* experience on a budget

imageI will always be a backpacker at heart, but even I cannot deny the dream of luxury travel. While I love the simplicity and the freedom of carrying my life on my back and being able to change my plans at the drop of a hat, luxury travel does give you a wealth of opportunities to stay in some incredible places and doing amazing things you only dreamt of until now. Having worked in hospitality at a rooftop bar in a 5* hotel, you soon get to grips with what takes a regular hotel stay and turns it into a luxurious one. It’s those tiny details, and most importantly the staff who really transform your experience. This combined with my experiences as a traveller has really showed me what defines the 5* experience and how you could get this on a budget to still live within your means while travelling.

Most importantly – you don’t have to be filthy rich to live like a queen on your holidays. You just have to be smart and do your research before you go. putting in a few hours of reading and booking time before you go can make a world of difference to your trip. Especially when it comes to planning your actual travel.13892178_10153669370592617_5126173372115806732_n

Travel tips for luxury on a budget

  1. Think carefully about how you spend your money, would you rather fly business class or spend that money on a nicer hotel at the other end? A few hours in economy won’t hurt if it improves your holiday overall. Or, vice versa, if you’re going to a life of backpacking and hostel beds but face a 2-day flight, you may want to invest in your seat by chasing an upgrade.
  2. If you’ve got a long layover, why not purchase some lounge passes? These give you access to luxury food and drink, massages and spa treatments, beds to sleep in, unlimited wifi and could make-or-break your time in the airport.
  3. Parking at the airport? Look into services where drivers will drop you off at the airport and pick you up after you arrive back – these can really make a difference and mean you don’t have to wait in line for a bus.

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Accommodation tips for luxury on a budget

  1. When picking your accommodation, look at websites that offer last minute bookings for much larger properties as you may find some spectacular deals if they have had little interest. Most renters would rather hire out their place for a reduced fare than for none at all.
  2. Sometimes it can be better to sacrifice the size of your room and to go for the smallest room in a 5* hotel instead of a larger room in a 4* just because of the amazing services available that could save you money elsewhere.
  3. When booking, look at whether adding in meals and booking a bed and breakfast package might save you money overall. Sometimes if you go off peak season, you might even find half board can be offered at drastically reduced rates which could save you a lot of money buying meals and will give you the 5* dining experience.

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Activity tips for luxury on a budget

  1. When planning your trip, try and get a big group together as this can save you a lot of money overall. Whether its a backpacking trip or family holiday, a group booking ca make a world of difference to the overall price. Plus you often get extra added bonuses and rewards for booking as a group.
  2. Look on apps like Groupon and others for discount treats when you’re in the big cities – it’s amazing what you can find on there, from massages and spa treatments to entry to big attractions and shopping deals.
  3. Depending on what country you are travelling to, know the standard rates for things like hiring a private driver for the day. I did this in Bali several times and it was such a cheap and great way to see the island. We had a private driver who would take us to each attraction and would wait until we were ready to move to the next. No cramped bus, no schedule, just luxury.
  4. Plan your whole trip as one and save a huge amount. When I did the East Coast of Australia – which can be a very expensive trip – I saved $$$ and even got free meals and activities out of it by booking the whole trip as one package in Sydney before I set off. It does put you on a schedule but it also gave us luxury upgrades like our own private cabin on our Whitsunday’s cruise.

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Australia | My ultimate budget guide for a month on the East Coast

11745765_1147415768609240_7957452483586575087_nThere’s no denying the East Coast is a huge draw for young travellers heading to Australia. With its white sandy beaches, epic party spots and the Great Barrier Reef on your doorstep, it’s become something of a rite of passage for backpackers. For first-time travellers, it’s a perfect place to start out with all the familiarities of home but a damn sight more sunshine and fun trips to do. There’s no better place to make friends in Australia and many of the people I met on the East Coast actually became some of the best friends I have found since travelling. There’s so much fun to be had along the way with Fraser Island being a huge highlight for me, but don’t forget Whitsundays cruises, skydiving, white water rafting, surfing in Byron Bay and all the rest. The list of amazing trips and things to do is endless, and it can become a bit daunting when you first start thinking about planning your East Coast adventure, it doesn’t take long for things to get very expensive! The East Coast will without a doubt be the most expensive part of your time in Australia – why? Because you’re spending weeks partying non-stop and going on incredible trips – don’t worry, it’s worth every penny! But there are lots of ways to cut costs along the way – it just takes careful planning. So how do you go about budgeting for your trip?11224855_10152949576367617_5464624702726152160_n

How long does it take?

First of all, you need to decide how long you’re going to spend on your trip – whether you’re squeezing it in just before a flight home or have endless time to stop off along the way. I took five weeks to complete the trip, starting in Sydney and including one final week in Cairns. This seemed a perfect amount of time to fit in all the trips we wanted while still getting some downtime to relax between the nights out. I’ve had friends do it in two or three weeks, but they all wished they had longer to do it. Likewise, I’ve known a lot of people who, instead of booking a whole trip in one go, have figured it out along the way and stopped off in places to work. After asking a lot of travellers I met along the way, the consensus was that four weeks was the optimum time to take travelling the East Coast. 

It’s important to work out what your budget will allow for, to work out who you’ll be travelling with and how long you want to spend at each stop. Also, think about whether you want to do it during peak season, we did it during winter and still had amazing weather, and met lots of people – but it did make the trip cheaper overall. If you’re travelling with a big group there may be less flexibility on time and costs, but you may also manage to get great group discounts if you all book together. If you’re travelling as a pair, or alone, you get total freedom over every stop and can just decide on the spur of the moment to hitch a lift with anyone you meet along the way which can work out a lot cheaper. Even booking as a pair will wind up being cheaper overall than booking individually as they’ll often throw in extra meals/trips for free or discounted rates. Speak to a travel agent when you’re looking to book and ask for their best offer, then visit three others from different companies and ask for their best offer. Ask them if they can beat the previous offer!11898942_10153005074437617_7025964837598304311_n

Where to stay?

There are lots of different accommodation options from camping and couch surfing, to hostels and hotels, but by far the best option is hostels when you’re on the East Coast. They’re the best place to meet people and get further discounts on food and trips. I saw the very worst and the very best of hostels on the East Coast – from the bed-bug infested and the filthy to the luxurious chalets and en suites. The best way to find the best of the best – ask other travellers you meet along the way for up-to-date reviews and cheap deals.

  • Cheapest hostel: Gilligans Backpackers Hotel & Resort at £14/$25 for 10 bed dorm
  • Most expensive hostel: WakeUp Hostel in Sydney at £22-26/$38-45 a night
  • Favourite hostel: Base Backpackers Airlie Beach Resort at £19/$33 for a six bed dorm
  • Least favourite hostel: BUNK Brisbane at £14/$25 a night for a 20 bed dorm
  • Average bed: £18/$31 a night

TOP TIP: Always ask at the travel desk – often backpackers run it and they’re just as keen to get you the best deal as you are to find it. They’ll often give you huge discounts and throw in extra free meals or the odd night’s free accommodation.

Total: £360/$635

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How to get there?

There are lots of options available, from flying and organised bus trips, to renting a car, hitchhiking and hop-on hop-off Greyhound. On a tight schedule and without much money to spare, I’d recommend the Oz Experience Greyhound pass which costs just £213/$375 to travel a whopping 3150 kilometres at your own pace, it’s actually cheaper now than when I used it, so even better value! It does mean one or two long journeys by bus but it does give you the luxury of sleeping through them rather than having to drive and skip nights out. Before booking I really wanted us to drive the East Coast, but now I’m glad we didn’t, it would have been significantly more expensive and we would have missed out on meeting a lot of people if we had a camper van instead of hostels. Camper van hire starts from around £40/$70 a day but you also have to factor in fuel and insurance costs – it just depends on your budget and the experience you want. Internal flights are available if you’re on a very tight schedule and need to travel quickly between Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns for trips, but I wouldn’t recommend them unless you have only two weeks for the East Coast.

TOP TIP: Always go prepared on Greyhound – take warm and cool clothes as the temperature can be unpredictable and there’s nothing worse than shivering for a whole 12 hour bus journey. Take a packed lunch/dinner, the rest stops can be pretty grim for snacks and this will save you a lot of money. Don’t rely on the wifi on the bus as it’s pretty rare that it will work well for the whole journey.

Total: £213/$375 for Greyhound

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What to do?

The whole of the East Coast is chock-full of amazing trips and things to do, and there is a huge list of once-in-a-lifetime experiences you simply cannot miss out on! During my five weeks I swam with sea turtles, kayaked with dolphins, went whale watching, diving, white water rafting, drove 4WDs around a desert island and saw the Great Barrier Reef with my own eyes. It was incredible and definitely not something you want to scrimp on. Trips you don’t want to miss:

If you can’t fit all these in or just don’t have the money – narrow it down to the main ones (Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island, Whitsundays and Diving). There are plenty of other cheap, or even free, experiences to enjoy along the way!

TOP TIPS: Always look for trips that include free meals and shop around, often the travel agent next door will try to undercut the first one you go to. Also, enter competitions! They’re held at every hostel along the way and you can win some amazing trips – we won a Whitsundays cruise and a Kiwi Experience bus pass for New Zealand in one night!

Total: £1,470/$2,590

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What to eat/drink?

Food and drink can quickly blow your budget way out of control – it’s important not to get carried away, but also not to miss out by being too tough on yourself. You’ll meet all kind of travellers along the way – some are living off instant noodles and goon, others are surviving from one budget backpacker deal to the next. You need to work out what is realistic and try to balance your own meals – we flitted between eating out, taking advantage of backpacker hostel deals and cooking our own meals during our five weeks. Something to consider is going veggie, if you’re looking to cut costs this is a great way to do it. Meat is expensive in Australia and I’d much rather spend that money on activities or alcohol, I found it cheap and easy to eat healthy as a vegetarian in Australia. Just make sure to stay healthy – no-one wants to get ill on the East Coast!

  • Cheapest backpacker meal: instant noodles at 30p a pack!
  • Best hostels for budget backpacker meals: Wakeup Hostel in Sydney and Gilligans in Cairns from as little as £2.50/$4.50, or even free if you buy a drink!
  • Cheapest home-cooked meal: veggie pasta £2-3/$3-4
  • Best budget group meals to make: beach BBQs, fajitas, pasta
  • Average cost of goon: £7/$12 (Golden Oak 4l)
  • Cheapest bottle of wine: £2.50/$4.50 (Whispers)
  • Cheapest beer: £3/$5 (Tooeys stubble)

TOP TIP: Head to the backpacker bars and take advantage of the drinks deals, free breakfasts and food deals. Group together in hostels to rustle up a meal and find the costs cut hugely by sharing. Enter competitions and win drinks for you and your mates!

Total:  £200/$350 for food (based on spending £10 a day when not on trips with meals included) For alcohol it totally depends on how much, and what, you drink!11222133_10152951499637617_5982267502697766247_n

So how much will it cost you?

I’ve budgeted generously here and know lots of people who have done it on a lot less, but if you want to go all out and enjoy every amazing trip – you can do it in £2,000/$3,500. With a budget of £2,500/$4,400 you could easily drink every night and squeeze in even more trips along the way – likewise you could cut back even more on trips, food and drink to spend less. It sounds like a lot of money but when you see what you get for it, it quickly becomes clear this is a once in a lifetime trip, and one you want to do well! Nobody wants to regret not going diving on the Great Barrier Reef or not taking the catamaran to Whitsundays. If you’re on a tight budget, just prioritise the things you really want to do and cut out some of the less important trips/stops – you could easily cut this budget down to around £1,800/$3,100 this way. Every backpacker is different, but it’s important to find the right trip for you and to make your experience the best it can be. Talk to travel agents – their job is to make your backpacking dream a reality – and don’t forget the goldmine backpacker Facebook pages that hold a wealth of travelling experience and advice within them. Need any tips? Leave a comment with any questions and I’ll help you plan!11168431_10152928893202617_9101439380460830205_n

What was the highlight of your East Coast trip? How much did you spend along the way? What tips can you give other backpackers?

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Byron Bay | Living the surfer dude dream | Australia

imageAfter a long overnight bus ride – the longest I had been on since that horrible crash in Cambodia – I was exhausted from being unable to sleep and glad to arrive in Byron Bay. As we arrived in the seaside town, the sun was rising over the ocean and gave us a stunning first look at the place that would be our home for the next few days. After a few hours passed out and recovering at our hostel, Backpackers Inn, we hit the beach and wandered up to the town. There are many great hostels to choose from in Byron, and so many go for Arts Factory or Aquarius, but to be honest, I loved our little hostel – it was the only one that led straight to the beach and it was small and cosy. The others were much further back in the town and meant a bit of a trek to see the beach or visit the lighthouse. It was great to be a two minute walk from the beach and we spent many hours laying out down there, sunbathing and swimming in the chilly waters. We even spotted dolphins right by the shore on our very first day there – I swear my heart stopped for a second when I realised what I was seeing and how close they were.imageThere was so much to do in Byron, we had about four or five days which allowed us plenty of chill time and plenty of activities. My favourite day was when we did the walk up to the lighthouse and spotted countless dolphins playing in the surf, it was amazing and so beautiful up there. It’s about a two hour walk to the top, but we took our time and stopped off a lot to watch the dolphins. When facing the ocean, you head as far down the beach to the right as possible then check out the first viewpoint and watch the body boarders and surfers for a bit. After, head up the path and keep on going through the woods, past Watego’s Beach and up towards the lighthouse. There are lots of smaller beaches to check out along the way so take a towel and a book if you fancy stopping. You’ll also want to take water, and we took a picnic for when we reached the top. We went back in July and if was still pretty windy and chilly at the top so you might want to take a jumper like I did, but also pack on the sunscreen as it does get hot. My favourite part was a path that led off the easterly point of Australia where you could go right down to the sea – this is where we sat and watched the dolphins at sunset.imageAnother day was spent taking to the waves and attempting to stand up in our first surf lesson – it was booked through Backpacker’s Inn and cost around $60 each – a bit pricey but worth it as we were really taught how to master the waves and could all stand up by the end of it. We had a great group and spent about three hours out in the water with wetsuits and surfboards included. Being a small group of eight, we had plenty of one-to-one coaching from the two teachers and were given loads of help and support along the way. We did our lesson in the afternoon which I was glad about as the sun had warmed the sea slightly – I was dreading getting in the water but it was much warmer in there than on the beach. After a 15 minute water break, we were begging to get back in the ocean to warm up! Don’t expect to come back with no injuries – my whole body was aching the next day and I had bruises all over my legs and elbows from breaking my fall each time the waves knocked me down, but it was a fantastic workout and lots of fun. Especially when we got to watch the sunset from the ocean.imageWe were both very keen to spot more wildlife after seeing so many dolphins, so we decided to go on a Go Sea Kayak trip which promised we would spot dolphins, whales or turtles or our money back. It was a great trip, despite us being very hungover, and we spotted so many more dolphins which swam just metres away from us. It was a great few hours spent out on the water and was so easy to paddle the kayaks – anyone could do it. Unfortunately, despite staring at the horizon we didn’t see any whales and only one of the group spotted a sea turtle, but it was still worth the $60-odd dollars for the day, especially knowing that we had been on such an ecologically sound tour. Byron Bay is all about protecting the environment and the animals within it which I love. imageThe town of Byron is beautiful – a great place filled with live music, great food and a fantastic chilled out atmosphere. It’s not a party place which is nice, as it was so cold going out at night when we were there, but we still made it out for dinner and some fun. I loved going to the edge of town for the sunset drumming circle in the evenings, it sounds a but hippy dippy but it was great watching the beautiful sunsets with this musical background. We ate out a few times, at a cafe in the town, a Thai restaurant and a tapas restaurant – all delicious and I would highly recommend – especially the Thai restaurant which I believe was called Lucy’s. It was definitely one of those places where there is so much more to do in the day and the nights are spent chilling and recovering. But one of my great memories from the nights had to be sitting with an aboriginal guy on the pavement at 3am, peeling oranges for him as he played me the guitar. Definitely not a place to be missed on your East Coast trip!image

 What was your favourite activity in Byron Bay? Where did you stay?

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Australia | Planning our East Coast trip

imageWhen it comes to planning a huge trip like that standard backpacker route up the East Coast of Australia, it can be a pretty daunting task. Taking anywhere between two weeks to six months to complete, and with such a huge range of trips, activities, adventures and sights to take in – where on earth do you begin? There are so many questions to answer – what will we do, where will we stay, how will we get there? And so many options from sailing trips and four wheel driving expeditions, to waterfall tours and white water rafting. It’s no easy task, but one thing I’ve learnt since being in Australia is quite how much it pays off to plan your trip in advance. A complete contrast to Asia where it usually works out cheaper and easier to be spontaneous and just book everything individually as you go along. Here in the land down under its a much better idea to book all your transport, accommodation and trips as a whole to save big time on cash. It’s a shame to take the spontaneity out of backpacking and I’m still not used to it, but booking our trip this way saved us a small fortune.

I didn’t realise at the time, but our booking agent gave us huge discounts which seriously cut back our spending and allowed us to save our money for goon. After meeting and talking to so many other backpackers, many of whom booked things individually, we have now realised how good our deal was. All of our Greyhound buses from Sydney to Cairns, all our accommodation and all of our trips were included in a £1,300 package per person with several free meals thrown in and lots of upgrades. During our trip we stopped off at Byron Bay, Surfer’s Paradise, Noosa, Fraser Island, Airlie Beach, Whitsundays and Magnetic Island before finishing in Cairns. We stayed in fantastic hostels the whole way, met so many amazing people – you all know who you are – who had us laughing the whole way. We had the chance to take part in lots of amazing trips from kayaking with dolphins and surfing in Byron Bay, to driving four wheel drives around Fraser Island and whale watching, to cruising around the Whitsundays on a catamaran and swimming with sea turtles, to cuddling koalas and driving Barbie cars around Magnetic Island, finishing with white water rafting and a trip to the rainforest in Cairns.imageTo say it was amazing is an understatement – with just two months of travelling together, Mark and I wanted to make sure we crammed in as much as possible and really made the most of our time. By heck we did, we were exhausted and broke by the time we finished the East Coast, but had the biggest smiles on our faces and made some amazing friends for life, some we’re still travelling with now almost a month later in Darwin. My best advice? Research and plan everything – think carefully about your money and you can make it go so much further. By reading up about trips and talking to people before you book, you can be sure whether the trips are worth doing, whether they are worth the money, or if you can perhaps get a better deal elsewhere. It’s boring to do, but worth it in the long run when you can party a few extra nights or afford an extra trip somewhere along the way. It’s also worth thinking about whether you want to drive up the East Coast in a camper van or car, or whether you want to take the bus – in the end it often comes down to experience vs. efficiency – we chose efficiency because we wanted to be hungover on the buses and travel on the cheap but we had friends who travelled in a group in a van and had an amazing time.

There are so many choices and options, just be sure to make informed decisions and always shop around when booking! I’ll be posting individually on each place we visited and each trip we took so you can get a better idea of what you might enjoy, but in the meantime I can definitely tell you our absolute highlights were our Fraser Island Trip, Airlie Beach and white water rafting trip – all were amazing and I highly recommend them. Other places we loved included Magnetic Island and Noosa because of the sheer natural beauty of the places, but we also had a blast in Surfer’s Paradise thanks to an awesome hostel and crowd we met there.

Have you travelled the East Coast? What was your favourite trip or memory?

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Sydney | Manly and Maroubra Beach | Australia

imageOne of my favourite places in Sydney was Manly – I only went there twice in the month I spent in the city, but both times I fell in love with the seaside town. It’s one of the places you could just see yourself living long-term, and I know many backpackers who moved there despite working in the city and facing a bit of a commute every day. My first time there was actually the first Sunday I spent in Australia, just two days after I arrived. A group of us caught the ferry over from Circular Quay (an easy free bus ride on the 555 from the top of the CBD, and just $2.50 on the ferry as all travel prices are capped on Sunday’s) and after just 30 minutes we arrived at the small harbour there. As you walk out, you come to a little Boardwalk that takes you past a selection of bars and restaurants which look out right across the water. Don’t be put off thinking they are really expensive, actually a couple are really well priced and I had a lovely meal in one of them. Once you get to the road, it’s just a short walk through the town centre towards the main beach, with lots of places to eat, drink and shop along the way.imageThe main beach is heavenly – the golden sand goes on for miles and as far as the eye can see there are surfers riding the waves. Up and down the beach you can see groups playing volleyball or runners making their way along the sand, picnics and children playing. It’s just perfect, although be sure to get there in the morning or early afternoon because the sun actually sets on the harbour side and the beach is cast in shadow from the late afternoon thanks to the buildings. But I’m sure the sunrise is gorgeous there, and I know the sunsets are absolutely stunning over on the harbour side. There are lots of walks for those who want to explore further along the coastline, or to find somewhere a bit more secluded. I think what I loved most about Manly was that the beach and town felt like a place where people live, not just where people go on holiday or visit to pose like they do at Bondi and some of the others along the East Coast.imageAnother beach I visited, which is definitely worth a visit, was Maroubra. Sadly the day I went it was absolutely chucking it down and I got soaked through, but even then the surfers were out in full force and you could tell it would be a beautiful beach on a sunny day. Even in the rain it was pretty awesome, just miles of open sand and more of a deserted feel than the others. If there’s one thing Sydney boasts a lot of, it’s miles of gorgeous coastline with endless sandy beaches, waves packed with surfers and that beachy Aussie lifestyle we all come here looking for. Definitely try and fit a visit into some of the beaches into your stay. I’m already looking forward to heading back when the weather is better for a chance to sun myself on that golden sand.image

 

Have you checked out Sydney’s beaches – which is your favourite? Are you a beach bum, or do you prefer city life?

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Sydney | Bondi Beach to Coogee Walk | Australia

imageAn absolute must-do, the Bondi Beach to Coogee walk is a gorgeous way to spend a sunny day. I had planned to do it for ages but never got round to it because the walk organised through my hostel was rained off a couple of times. I finally did the walk by myself after spending a night in Maroubra and waking up to sunshine and clear skies, it was now or never. I started from Coogee and passed some seriously stunning bays and beaches, many of them had huge swimming pools of water where you could swim without the current, and all of them had surfers riding the waves. I had a fabulous day walking the route, feeling slightly guilty as I was passed by so many runners. It took around two hours, although I stopped in a few places to sit and enjoy the scenery and paddle in the ocean. It’s a perfect place to release your inner mermaid. I won’t talk too much about it because to be honest, I think the pictures speak for themselves.imageimageIf you fancy a good breakfast, I can recommend the little cafe just up above the natural swimming pools on Coogee Beach, they gave me just the healthy boost I needed before setting out on my walk. Take a bottle of water, even in winter it gets pretty sunny and warm doing the walk – but there are plenty of water points along the way to top up. Definitely wear trainers, I had sandals on which were okay but definitely not as comfy as my Converse would have been. When you finish the walk at Bondi, there’s the rest of the day to be spent relaxing on the beach, or chilling in the town.imageimage

 

Have you done the Coogee to Bondi walk? Which was your favourite bay? Can you recommend any other coastal walks you’ve done?

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Sydney | Surry Hills and Newtown | Australia

imageTwo of my favourite parts of Sydney were Surry Hills and Newtown, both I ended up in time and time again for food, nights out, music, comedy and more and I can’t recommend them enough for those passing through. While I was staying at Wake Up Hostel in Central, Surry Hills was less than a five minute walk through a tunnel under the train station, and Newtown was just a couple of stops away on the bus so as you can imagine, I ended up spending a lot of time in both. Particularly since the drinking laws in the Central Business District (CBD – basically the centre of Sydney) are a bit of a curb for fun nights out when you’re actually capable of behaving yourself after a few drinks. This just pushed us backpackers to look for other venues that weren’t too far away but offered cheap-ish drinks and no restrictions – don’t worry, we found them!

When I first arrived in Sydney, I ended up in Newtown quite a bit, whether it was for food, drinks or just a wander around the vintage shops. I liked it because it seemed a little less mainstream than central Sydney, it had a touch more personality and quirkiness which lured me in. Every time I went there, I seemed to meet really interesting people, eat delicious food and have a fantastic time which always kept me coming back for more. Around this area you’ll find a huge number of Asian restaurants from all corners of the continent from Korean and Japanese, to Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Naturally I wasn’t really in the mood for Asian food after five months of it, so we plumped for Italian or Greek when we visited, which were absolutely delicious. There are so many restaurants down the main street of Newtown which all offer deals and tasty fare, there’s no point me even recommending any because from what I’ve heard many of them are really good. One restaurant I had recommended to me again and again, but haven’t yet made it to, is Mary’s, a burger joint which has a huge reputation for the best burgers in the whole of Sydney! I’m saving that toothy when I return there later in the year.imageAlso lining the street are a range of cocktail bars, pubs and bigger bars that almost double as clubs later in the night. Later in the evening, you’ll find these packed with locals, travellers and all kinds of characters. I’ve often ended up there at the end of the night because you can still get into these bars until much later after the lockouts have occurred in the CBD and Kings Cross. The music is a bit hit and miss at some of these, but that seems to be a running theme in Australia so far, I’m still waiting for a good night out with the perfect soundtrack but they seem very few and far between. Either way, the drinks are average price for Australia, at least for Sydney, and you’re almost guaranteed a good night in my experience. Don’t forget to check out the wealth of charity and vintage shops here that are all worth a look, particularly the charity shops as many of the vintage shops hike up the price of items just for adding the work “vintage”.

Over in Surry Hills, there’s much more to keep you occupied from comedy nights and live music, to film screenings, quality food and cocktails. My favourite part of Sydney, I’m pretty jealous of friends living there, they just have the entirety of Sydney right on their doorstep and quite frankly, Surry Hills has so much within a few streets that you almost don’t need to venture out. One of my favourite places was The Soda Factory, which I returned to several times for various events – they regularly screen movies, hold trivia quizzes, have cheap food nights and more at this vintage American 50’s style venue. The staff are in braces and some in flat caps as a nod to the Grease-style era we all know and love, and the menu includes a range of hot dogs and sides, with other goodies to keep you munching. My particular favourite is the Mac’n’Cheese with Brie – absolute perfection! Plus there’s cocktails galore. I first went on a night when they happened to screening The Breakfast Club and holding a “coming of age” movie trivia quiz which we epically failed but had an awesome time taking part in. I returned for a screening of Zoolander and other cheap food nights which were great and I’ll definitely be checking out what else they have on when I head back to Sydney.imageAlso worth a look is Venue 505, a jazz club which holds events almost every night where talented bands and singers come to perform, and there’s also some free entry nights with a house band on as well. We went along to one of the free nights and with a cheeky glass of wine, it was one of the best evenings I’ve had in Sydney. If you love a laugh, why not check out some of the comedy nights advertised on Time Out website, I found one for just $10 where a bunch of amateurs were putting themselves under the spotlight and it was actually a really fun night – Cafe Lounge hosted the event I went to and regularly holds them on Monday nights. For food, there are endless streets of restaurants, breakfast bars and takeaways offering all kinds of food imaginable, but with plenty of space for the hipsters. A lot of the restaurants are unmistakeable aimed at hipsters, but who cares when the food they serve is that damn tasty? Head to Reuben Hills for breakfast with a friend like I did and enjoy eating soft baked eggs with chorizo and kale while sunshine pours through the windows. Pump yourself full of vitamins and health food at Organic Produce – a fabulous and really busy little restaurant, which is the city’s first organic cafe, and caters for all dietary requirements. I could go on for days about all the amazing things to do, eat and explore in Surry Hills, but instead, why don’t you guys go off and have fun finding your own favourites?

Have you been to Surry Hills or Newtown? What restaurants or bars can you recommend? Have you been to The Soda Factory for a vintage night of fun? 

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Sydney | 10 free things to do in Sydney | Australia

imageThere’s no doubt about it, us backpackers are always looking for ways to cut costs where we can and who can blame us? The more pennies we save on basic living means more money for skydives, snorkelling and drinking beers – it’s sensible really! Coming from Asia, it was so much easier to cut corners there where everything is so cheap, but in Australia it’s definitely harder. Not impossible though – I’ve been impressed with the number of food and drink deals available everywhere and buying things in the supermarket is definitely not as pricey as I expected. Nonetheless, it’s always great if you can find ways to entertain yourself in a budget and when visiting major cities like Sydney or Melbourne, it becomes a necessity. I spent a month living in Sydney and I was out most days doing a range of activities, and yet I managed to afford living in the city and not working for four weeks! So what can you do to fill your time? Here are my top 10 free things to do:

  1. Visit Sydney Opera House and walk the Harbour Bridge – they are both free to look at and take photos with, and if you are staying at the top of the CBD, there is also the free shuttle bus (555) which takes you direct to Circular Quay.
  2. While you’re down there, spend a day sunbathing and reading in the Royal Botanical Gardens. It’s a haven from busy city life and you can be surrounded by nature and water for a while – perfect. Plus there are plenty of paths to go running or walk along and discover smaller gardens.
  3. Pick a Sunday and save a small fortune on travel – all bus/ferry travel is called at $2.10 on Sundays so why not take advantage and head to the coast. Go to Maroubra and watch the surfers, or head to Bondi or Coogee to start the coastal walk, take a picnic and stop along the way. Or why not head to one of my favourite places – Manly, it’s peaceful beachy fun and also has a lovely harbour for drinks and food.
  4. On rainy days, head inside and learn a bit more about Sydney by going to the Observatory, The Rocks Museum, or get a bit arty and check out the galleries – there’s the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum Of Contemporary Art. All of these are free entry and are worth a look.
  5. In the evenings, look for cheap entertainment in Surry Hills – it’s not quite free but there are always comedy nights on for $10 a ticket at various venues, or movie nights and trivia quizzes on at The Soda Factory. All are a good laugh and great if you have a group of travellers on a budget. There are even some free jazz nights on at Venue 505 for the price of a drink at the bar.
  6. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, head to the markets at The Rocks and several other places across the city where collections of food, trinkets, vintage clothes, home items and more lie waiting to be discovered. Perfect for browsing and some even have live music.
  7. Need a feed but low on cash? Head to Newtown, which homes a little restaurant called Lentils… This place is fantastic – it provides people from all backgrounds with a home cooked meal and just asks that they pay what they can afford for the meal. The food was a tad bland when I was there, but the sentiment of the idea overrides everything and I was so impressed by the venture. They also have live music on sometimes.
  8. Get out of the city for a bit and head to the Blue Mountains. It will cost you a small amount to get there by train, but definitely don’t bother wasting your money on organised trips. You can easily catch a train from central, then a short bus ride, and be there in just two hours and it costs a lot less than a tour guide for the day. When you arrive at the Three Sisters, you can hike for miles around the mountains and take cable car rides.
  9. Keep looking online – the beauty of being based in one of the major cities is that often there are lots of free events and activities happening, you just need to make sure you hear about them. I looked on Time Out website every day to see what was on and often there would be exercise classes, comedy nights, gigs, markets and more listed there – some have small costs and others are free. Just do the research! Plus there is always free food and drink being handed out – I had free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, bottles of water, Coke and Mountain Dew, and even bags of pasta handed to me!
  10. WALK! It seems obvious, but often the biggest money saver is the one you don’t think of. Sydney is a relatively small city and is easy to walk around, do what I did and spend hours walking around the city and discovering little parts you never knew existed. The Botanical Gardens, beaches and the harbour have plenty of places to walk and explore, so take advantage of them.

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Check out the top 28 Sydney Hotels with Perfect Harbour Views – The Ultimate Guide by HotelsCombined to complete your Sydney experience.

Can you think of any other ways to save money in Sydney? What other free activities can you recommend? 

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Sydney | Luna Park, Bridge Walk and Sydney Observatory | Australia

imageOne of my least planned days in Sydney was one rainy afternoon where I reached the final straw after staring out at the blackened, stormy skies all morning. I’d already been up since first thing, had been to the gym and washed my clothes, caught up on emails. Now I was bored and needed some fresh air, one of the girls was complaining about the rain stopping her from seeing the city, but being a true English girl, I wasn’t about to let a bit of rain dampen my day. I decided to skip the free bus and walk instead for some exercise, down through the CBD to Circular Quay where it was just a short walk to The Rocks and up to Sydney Observatory. The Rocks is a lovely area of the city which is full of food, drink and live music, plus on the weekends the markets are worth a look. I wandered through, following Google Maps on my phone to find the road leading to Observatory Park where an amazing view across the city lay waiting. Even if you have no interest in space or visiting the Observatory, I would really recommend walking up to the park just to check out the view, it’s beautiful and a really special way to see the city. A friend from university was actually lucky enough to have her fiancé propose to her there, it’s such a romantic place to watch the sunset.imageThe actual Observatory is brilliant – free entry so a great money saver for the backpackers – and it’s a really cool building. You are given a little guide to the museum but a lot of it is self-explanatory thanks to signs, but it is also a bit of an interactive experience as you can watch videos, take tours of the telescope and more. Definitely worth a visit, and if you like history, the tours available at The Rocks museum are worth a look – they tell you all about the area’s criminal past. I mean, it’s up to you whether you’re interested in more than just boozing and the obvious sightseeing, but I found these were a great way to spend a rainy day in the city. After a good look round the building, I headed back down towards The Rocks, but followed a different path this time and found myself at the end of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Looking up at the skies which threatened rain at every turn but had yet to actually open, I decided to risk it and finally walk across the bridge.imageWalking the bridge is a rite of passage for backpackers in Sydney, I can’t believe that anyone would come to the city and not want to tick it off their list. Not only do you get to see the city from a different perspective, but you also get a chance to visit Luna Park, a vintage fairground which lies just across the other side. I had definitely planned to do it at some point but never thought it would be today, it just seemed silly not to when I was in the mood for walking and already at one end of the bridge. It didn’t take long to get across the bridge, but I took my time and stopped to take photos and chat to people along the way. I definitely didn’t wear the right shoes for all the walking I did that day, so if you do decide to do this day of walking, bear in mind it ends up with you covering up to 10k and for that you do need proper shoes. Halfway across the bridge you can get some great photos of the Opera House and city, and when you reach the other side, you can take the steps down, walk under the overpass and find yourself at Milson’s Point near the entrance to Luna Park.imageLuna Park is a restored 1930’s amusement park that sits on the banks of Sydney Harbour and is filled to the brim with nostalgia for times gone by, from the carnival favourites of hot dogs, candy floss and ice cream, to rides including the Ferris wheel and giant slides. It is one of the most iconic sights of the city, everyone knows the clown’s face and it can be seen from right across the harbour, even at night when it is lit up rather spectacularly. I actually had a bit of a different experience of the park, because when I went over that day it was actually closed to visitors. The gates were still left open however, so I had the very odd experience of walking through what felt like an abandoned 1930’s amusement park just as a storm looked like it was about to hit. It was a bit creepy, I won’t lie, but a cool experience to see the place without any screaming children or bustling crowds. I would definitely say it is worth a visit, whether you go just to check it out or actually fancy a day on the rides.imageAfter a walk round the park, I decided to head back before the storms hit and started walking back across the bridge. By this point I figured I’d walked this far and might as well carry on all the way home, so I ended up walking all the way back to Circular Quay and up through the CBD to my hostel – an app on my phone told me the walk had come to just over 10k altogether and my legs were feeling it! But it was a good way to get out and see the city, and a little exercise never hurt anyone. I was pretty amazed I managed to walk for hours and only felt a few drops of rain the whole time considering how dark the skies were – it was definitely worth the risk.image

 

Have you walked Sydney Harbour Bridge? Do you tend to visit museums and galleries when staying in a city – any you can recommend?

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Sydney | Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge and Royal Botanical Gardens | Australia

imageTwo of the most iconic images we hold of Australia are the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, the third? Ayers Rock, which I still have yet to see but am making my way towards slowly. Within five hours of my flight arriving in Sydney I had seen both of these and it was a pretty strange sight after a nine hour flight and no sleep. I couldn’t believe I was finally standing there staring at two of these incredible landmarks that I had only ever seen on TV before now, but what a welcome to the city. I was lucky enough to see them on my first day both bathed in glorious sunlight which really made it special. I felt sorry for friends who I later saw had posted photos of the two on an overcast, cloudy day which just didn’t have the same effect. I’m sorry to say that the Opera House just looks like a lump of concrete to me when it’s not sunny, and the bridge is just a load of metal on a miserable day. They just look so much less impressive without sunlight glinting off them.

I was very lucky while I was in Sydney and picked up some good weather despite it being a bit chilly on some days. So a lot of my days there were spent walking miles and miles around the city – at one point I was using an app which told me I was walking an average of 10k a day as I made my way round the city running errands and sightseeing. One of my favourite walks was down through the CBD until I reached the harbour, then walking either towards the bridge and across The Rocks, or heading the opposite way towards the Opera House and Royal Botanical Gardens. Anyone who follows me on Instagram will know that I spent quite a lot of time in the gardens, reading, contemplating my travels and making plans for the next few months in Australia. I have now been to botanical gardens all over the world and I can definitely say that I have never seen any as beautiful, well-maintained and idyllic as those in Sydney. They were a natural haven on the edge of the city – often it caught me by surprise as I lay on the grass facing the water to turn around and see skyscrapers not far from where I lay.imageThe gardens are filled with walks that take you around the lakes and through smaller sections of the beautiful layout. I would recommend to anyone who finds themselves with spare and sunny day to make their way to the gardens with a picnic, a book and time to walk to their hearts content. I found my favourite spot in the gardens pretty early on and it was somewhere I headed back to again and again to enjoy. I was even lucky enough to share it with someone special when Mark came out to join me travelling for two months and we had a sunny day of travel planning ahead of us. Our East Coast trip was actually the result of a day spent at my favourite spot and pouring over books and websites for the best possible trip. I think perhaps this is one of the things that made me love Sydney so much – the fact that it had so much green and natural space as well as the shiny buildings and concrete – it never felt stifling because you were always need open space and water.imageI’ve noticed since being in Australia that every Australian, and most travellers, seem to have a strict preference for either Sydney or Melbourne. It’s one of the first things they state and one of the first things they question me on when they realise I have been to both, but they are always baffled by my answer. I went to Melbourne for a few days with a friend at the end of May for my birthday and absolutely loved the city – I had already planned to move there in January when the weather improves but going there confirmed for me even more that I would live living there. But Sydney well and truly provided me with an amazing home I still miss even though I’m all the way up the East Coast – it’s such a great city and I completely fell in love with it but for totally different reasons. I can understand why many people seem to prefer one city over the other. But I just can’t see why people don’t seem to I’ve both, like I do, for different reasons. Both cities are fabulous and have so much to offer – I’ve been describing them to people back at home and my only way of comparing them is to say that Sydney is very much the mainstream, international sister of quirky Melbourne which has so much character is reminds me of Camden at home. Both offer a totally different experience but one that every traveller should experience for themselves.

Have you visited the Royal Botanical Gardens? What do you prefer – Melbourne or Sydney – and why?

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