There'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?
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!
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.
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
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:
- PADI Open Water diving in Cairns (3 days) £250/$440
- Great Barrier Reef snorkelling £100, taster dive £140/$246
- Fraser Island (3 days) £275/$483
- Whitsundays (3 days) £350/$615
- Surf Lesson in Byron Bay £25+/$44 (shop around)
- Skydive £220/$390
- Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb £150/$260
- White Water Rafting Xtreme £130/$230
- Cape Tribulation £70/$120
- Sea Kayaking Byron Bay £40/$70
- Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo £40/$70
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!
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!
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!
What was the highlight of your East Coast trip? How much did you spend along the way? What tips can you give other backpackers?