How to Travel Abroad on a Budget

First off, anyone is able to backpack to Australia or New Zealand on little savings, as long as you are able to afford the plane ticket there. Before I talk about the logistics involved, let it be known I fully funded my own trip. I had been at an entry-level job the past four years, I still pay student loans, rent, cell phone bill, car insurance, health insurance, groceries and anything else required to live in today’s world. Therefore, while I had money saved, I was going on a budget. I didn’t get money from my parents or my boyfriend – lets’ be serious – they are the LAST people that would want me traveling alone or staying longer in a foreign country on the other side of the world!

Before leaving, I did the following:

  1. Lived with my parents for a month. That means no rent and little to spend on groceries!
  2. Sold my car. I wouldn’t be using it and that put extra cash toward my trip.
  3. Cancelled my car insurance. Another bill I would not have to worry about each month, since I sold my car.
  4. Purchased cheap health insurance (since I was no longer employed). I’m sure insurance agents wouldn’t agree with this, but since I am what I consider to be “young & healthy” I went with the most basic option that would cover me abroad.
  5. Planned a departure date convenient with me being in Los Angeles. The ideal flight is out of LAX going west, so instead of flying from PHL to there (and spending extra dough), I waited for a wedding that was somewhat close to the area, then flew out the next day.
  6. Researched, researched, researched. I was unsure about entering the country legally, where I would be staying, what I would be doing, how long I would be gone and any other question a nervous Nelly would consider. Hopefully this blog will help if anyone is planning to go there. As mentioned in Backpacker’s Checklist, I packed minimally and prepared myself to live that way. There are certainly things I could have done cheaper as well.

So, first things first: Obtain Visa.

Still balancing all that was involved in my life as mentioned in #6 above, I was stressed about planning this trip. I eventually pulled the trigger in spring 2014 and applied for an Australian Work & Holiday Visa. This would allow me to travel AND find work (generally backpackers take on temporary WOOFing, bartending, serving, hostel or administrative jobs) for a full year for anyone ages 18-30. If you are planning to travel and have little saved or budgeted, finding a job as soon as you get there will allow you to stay longer. Most backpackers I met would work for a few months (usually with other backpackers), then travel for a few months.

As far as the application process for the Visa, I was thinking if I give myself a few months in advance (apply in spring, leave in fall), I’ll have time to request information, send and submit paperwork, do an interview and any other correspondence and logistical B.S. their government needed. I was far from wrong. I applied on a Thursday, paid the fee (at the time is was a couple hundred dollars) and thought I would have to wait several weeks for confirmation and follow-up. Instead, I got a confirmation a few hours later with my approved Visa. That was it. I still thought for sure there would be some sort of paperwork coming via snail mail, but it truly is that easy (and a bit scary?) for an American to get a Visa in the Land of Kangroos and No Dramas. If you don’t plan to get a job abroad, you can purchase a much cheaper Holiday Visa that allows you to stay there three months, but you are not permitted to work. It really just depends on your financial situation and what you’re looking to do.

Next, flights…

Now that the paperwork to enter the country was sorted, it was time to book the flights. This was another challenging step for me. Once I clicked the “confirm” button, the trip was set. Finally, I gained the courage to click it. To fly to the Southern Hemisphere, specifically to Cairns (northeast coast) or Sydney (Southeast coast), it generally cost $1000-$1500 USD. It turns out flying somewhere else first (such as Asia), then to Australia, is a lot cheaper. Brad and DD invited me to meet them in Japan before going to Australia. The flight (from Skyscanner) was $586.49 from LAX to Narita (near Tokyo, Japan). I would spend a week in Japan, then fly to Cairns for $331.28. Bringing the total airline cost to get to Australia to  $917.77. Quite a steal.

Where to sleep…

For accommodation, I planned to stay with Brad and DD in Sydney, and the rest of the trip find cheap hostels. Australia’s East Coast is Backpack Central. You could find hostels starting at $18/night, but generally ran about $24 AUD, or $20 USD. Depending what you liked – party scene, relaxing, in town, just out of town, etc. – there were lots of options to find your housing for the night. Be warned, most did not include wifi (pronounced “wee-fee” by many foreigners). This came at an extra cost. All hostels included sheets, pillow, bathroom and kitchen. Depending how private you wanted to be, you could get anywhere from a two-share room, which would be more expensive, up to a 20-share room with two bathrooms. I always chose the cheapest option and never had any problems, not to say they couldn’t occur.

There were also two nights spent on a bus and two nights spent on a boat.

Getting Places…

For transportation, there are two hop on hop off options if you’re going down the East Coast. You have Greyhound, which we all recognize so well, or Premier. Greyhound is a bit pricier, but includes free wifi and there are multiple bus times throughout the day. Premier is cheaper, but no wifi and only runs at one time a day. This could get inconvenient for those not wanting to wait at the bus stop at 2am. I ended up going with Premier, but to each their own. The buses make the same stops in the same towns, so I often could hop on Greyhounds wifi if really necessary. Generally, I slept on the bus rides, as two of the trips were 12+ hours overnight.

Adventure time…

For trips, such as snorkeling, sailing, hiking, and much more, you can buy packages at local travel agents with your bus included. Travel agencies such as Travel Bugs, Peter Pan or Adventure Land were in nearly every town along the coast. So, if there was a trip you wanted to add on, it was simple. I ended up doing Premier Bus + Great Barrier Reef boat & snorkel (lunch included), Atherton Tablelands (food included), Magnetic Island (hostel included), Koala Sanctuary, Whitsunday Islands Sailing (hostel + meals + accommodation included), Fraser Island (accommodation + meals included), Surf Lesson, and more for $1650 AUD. I added on two day trips along the way – Canoeing the Everglades (meal included) and the Great Ocean Road tour (meals included), costing an additional $200 AUD.

What to Eat/Drink…

For food, hostels often hold BBQ’s once a week, or there are Backpacker Specials such as $7 for a full meal + alcoholic beverage. There are also lots of cheap dining options such as fast food or $5 Dominoes (eek!). I wouldn’t normally encourage that, but it does help if you have a strict budget. Each hostel has a kitchen, so if you’re staying a few days and can stock up on groceries, that is your cheapest and healthiest option. I carried cliff bars, peanut butter, some fruit and other small snacks with me most of the trip.

Alcohol at bars is extremely expensive (we’re talking more than NYC prices), so purchasing at a bottle shop beforehand is the smart choice. Goon is the go-to for backpackers; a cheap, boxed wine that you may regret drinking the next day.

That’s Not All…

There are also a lot of free activities or BBQ’s offered by hostels and lots of beautiful hikes to check out. I learned to slack line (sort of…) in Noosa at the hostel, explored cities by walking, saw koalas in the wild on the Magnetic Island Forts Walk hike, and saw a kangaroo on my hike to the Lighthouse at Byron Bay. All for free!

Each adventurous trip, long bus ride, greasy piece of pizza and shared bunk beds were well worth the price.