How To Save On Accommodation While Traveling

When it comes to traveling, accommodation will generally be one of your biggest expenses, behind the cost of your flight and transportation. Especially in western countries, where a night in a basic hotel room can cost well over a hundred dollars in some places. Since I’m more keen on budget travel, I would rather use that money for other things. With so many alternatives out there, it’s easy to cut down on your accommodation costs. And sometimes spending less on accommodation doesn’t necessarily sacrifice comfort! In this day and age, you can still get the same comfort and privacy you would get in a hotel for less.

Hostels
elcafegroup
Hostels are the obvious pick for budget travelers as they can offer a cheap place to sleep. Privacy isn’t usually a priority for people who stay in hostels as they are more well known for dormitory-style sleeping environments. Typically you’ll share a room with 3-6 other people, but there are some pretty big hostels out there. I once stayed in a 40-bed dorm in Munich! On the other hand, plenty of hostels do offer private rooms for people who like their own space, and it’s usually a lot cheaper than a private hotel room!

Hostels tend to be thought of as dirty, your things can get stolen, and in the movies, a place where you might be sharing a room with a serial killer. Granted I have seen some pretty disgusting hostels, but the vast majority of them were actually decent and quite nice. Security matters a lot to guests, so many hostels are often equipped with lockers you can use for free or for a small fee. A lot of times you’ll also find many hostels out there that offer perks like free WiFi, free breakfast, or free BBQ dinners. I even stayed a hostel in Australia once that offered free kayak and surfboard rentals! Nearly every hostel I’ve been to was also equipped with a kitchen, so you can save even more money by cooking your own meals.

Not all hostels are the dark, dingy, and cockroach infested places like you see in the movies. There are a lot out there that are clean, comfy, and sometimes even quite homey and stylish. I’ve even gotten lucky in some places where my “dorm” bed turned out to be a queen size all to myself! Typically a good hostel has social areas where you can meet other travelers. This is why I usually prefer staying in hostels when I travel, because it’s where you can make new friends!

Airbnb
Airbnb is a great resource for people to find and rent lodging while traveling. I’ve used it a few times and it’s especially great when you’re traveling with someone or a group of people since you can split the costs. The way it works is people who have a spare room or even a whole apartment available, lease it out for short-term (and sometimes long-term) stays. You can rent out a room in a shared apartment or even a whole private apartment/house for yourself. You can find some good budget deals on here as an alternative to a hotel, especially when you’re staying in a more expensive city. But if you have the money, you can also find some very unique and interesting places to stay in. There’s even a listing to stay in a castle! 

Housesitting
Another interesting accommodation alternative, if you have the time and flexibility, is housesitting. There are several websites out there, such as TrustedHousesitters and Housecarers, where people who are going on holiday for a period of time are in need of someone to watch over the home and/or take care of pets while they are away. I’ve personally never tried this, but I know people who have and they saved hundreds if not thousands of dollars on accommodation during their travels. The catch is you do need to commit to a longer time period in one place (which isn’t always a bad thing if you have the time). But having a free place to stay for a relatively small amount of work sounds like a fair trade to me!

Camping
Starry Night
Camping is another alternative that can be fun and cheap. Sometimes it can be free! In some countries like Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, freedom camping is pretty popular and can be done in a lot of areas. While road tripping across Australia, my friends and I camped most of the way. It saved us a lot of money and made for a more memorable experience! There’s nothing like sleeping under the stars deep in the Australian Outback.

Couchsurfing
Another great way to cut down the costs of accommodation is to stay with someone who lives in the place you’re visiting. Couchsurfing is a great networking site of people who offer their couches or any free space in their homes for other travelers. While it’s nice to have a free place to stay, I find the most rewarding aspect about this option is that you meet and stay with a local who can show and teach you things about their city that you otherwise might not have known about. I use it from time to time and have had some pretty great experiences! There have even been times where I’ve been invited to local events and parties with my host’s friends. The service is free, but in exchange for letting me stay at their place I generally like to take my hosts out for drinks or make them dinner. It’s a great way to make new friends with the locals and have cultural exchange.

Of course sleeping at a stranger’s place sounds a bit weird and unsafe, but you just have to think smart when you’re searching for a potential host. Key things I look for are people who have complete profiles with pictures, details about their interests and hobbies, and most importantly reviews from other people who have interacted with them before.

Volunteering
Volunteering can add a rewarding and enriching experience to your travels. There are endless organizations and resources out there to find projects and opportunities, from taking care of sea turtles in Costa Rica, to helping out at local schools in Peru, to working on organic farms in New Zealand. In most cases you’re given a cheap or sometimes free place to stay in exchange for your work. I’ve used sites like WWOOFing, HelpX, and Workaway to find opportunities to work a few hours a day in lodges, hostels, and B&Bs in exchange for free accommodation.

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My Favorite Places In The World

A lot of times I get asked what my favorite place in the world is. And the answer I give is pretty ambiguous, because it’s hard to choose just one! There are several places I can think of that were especially memorable and favorable, all for different reasons. If I had to narrow it down to a top 10, these would be the ones (in no particular order):

1. New Zealand
Emerald Lakes | Tongariro
Might be a bit biased since I lived there for nearly a year, but New Zealand is one of those places that always seems to be on everyone’s top lists! And for a good reason too, there is so much packed into this little country–towering volcanoes, lush rain forests, beautiful beaches, charming rolling hills, fjordlands, gorgeous mountain ranges. It’s a stunningly beautiful country everywhere you look. As an outdoorsy, nature-loving kind of guy this is the perfect country for me and I love that fact that there’s so many things to do here to get your adrenaline rush fix. Besides that, Kiwis are some of the nicest and friendliest people I’ve met! The Maori culture here is strong and very interesting to learn about.

Highlights: Doing the Tongariro Crossing; heli-hiking on the Franz Josef glacier; black-water rafting Waitomo glowworm caves

2. Australia
Golgum Pool
Even as a kid, I always wanted to go to Australia so having the opportunity to live there for a year was a dream come true! Australia has become my second home and I’m considering moving back here again one day. I’ve fallen in love with the laid-back, easy going lifestyle that defines Aussie culture. The work/life balance here is something I admire. I’m also a lover of the sun, so a sunny warm climate is also pretty ideal for me. Two of my favorite places in the world are here, one being Sydney. I’m not normally a big fan of cities, but Sydney is one I’d live in. The other being the Margaret River region of Western Australia, where I lived and worked for 6 months. Some of the best beaches I’ve seen to date are there and it’s also one of the country’s premiere wine regions. It’s a beautiful place to live. I really hope to make it back to Australia again one day!

Highlights: Living in Dunsborough, WA; road tripping up the East Coast and across the Outback; exploring Kakadu National Park by 4WD

3. France
Birds Eye View of Paris
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in France now, more than any other European country, and I’ve grown quite fond of it! Most of the time I’ve spent there has been in Paris (one of my favorite cities in the world), but in this most recent trip I also got to see a bit more of the countryside in the Alsace Region as well as the city of Lyon. The thing I love about France is despite it’s relatively small size (well compared to the US at least) is how diverse it is. It’s got beautiful farmlands and rolling hills, wine regions, rugged coastlines, high mountains, a warm Mediterranean climate in the south. Plus I have an affinity for French language and culture, making this one of my favorite places!

Highlights: Walking the streets of Paris at night; wandering around the Christmas markets in L’Alsace

4. United States
Daydream
Even though this one is obviously biased as it’s my home country, nothing beats the diversity of the United States. From the polar regions in Alaska, to tropical jungles in Hawaii, to the stunning deserts in Utah and Arizona, there is such a huge range of places to see in the US. As a nation made up of immigrants, there is also such a huge pool of diversity in the people as well and you can find pretty much any kind of food from around the world that you can think of if you look in the right places. Despite living there most of my life, there’s still so much I have to see!

Highlights: Washington State in general, my home state (and the best state!); road tripping around Utah and Arizona; summer days with family on the New Jersey shore

5. Ireland
Stormy Skies Over Connemara
I’m currently backpacking through Ireland at the moment so I might still be caught up with the initial awe and excitement of being here, but I’ve loved every bit of it so far! Ireland is an absolutely beautiful country, especially out west and to the north along the rugged, weathered coast. While the weather might not be so nice all the time (where else is it sunny, then rain sideways, and hails all within a 10 minute time span?), it’s breathtaking when the sun is out. Irish people also have to be the among the most charming and friendly people I’ve met so far. I love Irish accents and find some of the expressions and things they say very amusing! Everyone is so chatty and welcoming that it’s super easy to make friends with the locals here!

Highlights: Driving around Slea’s Head; Killarney National Park; hanging out with locals in pubs

6. Portugal
Lonely Beach | Lagos, Portugal
Portugal is another place I’ve visited recently and absolutely fell in love with. I had no expectations coming here and ended up finding a place with picturesque cities, warm and welcoming people, amazing food and wine (port wine is out of this world), a nice warm climate most of the year, and beautiful landscapes. I was very surprised to find that many people here speak very good English, making it a lot easier to talk to people! It’s also a great destination to go to if you’re on a budget, as everything is cheap here compared to the rest of Europe. I’m still getting over the buzz of being in Portugal and really want to go back again sometime!

Highlights: Drinking port wine in Porto; exploring castles in Sintra; kayaking along the Algarve Coast in Lagos

7. Vietnam
Hmong Family
Vietnam is one of those countries visitors either love or hate, and fortunately I fall in the love category. From the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh which are buzzing day and night with the noise of endless waves of motorbikes, to walking with the ethnic Hmong people in the quite rice terraces in the north around Sapa, this is a country rich with history, cultural diversity, and one of the most distinguished cuisines in the world. The food alone is a major reason to love Vietnam. The variety in different dishes they have is astounding. There is quite a defined backpacker/tourist trail that runs the length of the country, but there are so many relatively undiscovered places to explore if you go off the beaten path.

Highlights: Boat trip on the river in Trang An, through stunning karst formations; Hoi An; canyoning in Dalat; trekking and doing a home stay with Hmong people in Sapa

8. Peru
The Locals of Machu Picchu
Peru is a special country to me, because it was the first place where I began traveling solo! I spent a week there in the area around Cusco and hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which is still one of my most memorable trips to date. While I would have liked to have stayed longer to see more of the country, what I did see and experience there was inspiring and made me want to travel independently as much as I could from that point on. I remember feeling so nervous and awkward when I arrived at the airport and I had to bargain with some dodgy cab drivers to get to my hostel. I stayed in a hostel by myself for the first time and forced myself to talk to strangers to make new friends. I Wandered around and got lost in the streets of Cusco and tried new foods in the local market. On the day of the trek our group had breakfast with a Peruvian family on their farm. It was exhilarating Walking through the Andes and being surrounded by stunning scenery everywhere, being in awe as I walked through the ruins of Machu Picchu. I would love to go back here again and see more of South America in general!

Highlights: Cuy (guinea pig) breakfast on a farm in the countryside; trekking on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu; climbing Huayna Picchu

9. Hong Kong
Hong Kong Lights
I love Hong Kong. It’s the kind of city that’s always buzzing with life and there’s always something interesting happening around the corner. It’s blessed with a beautiful harbor and surrounded by jungle-covered mountains. The contrast between nature and cosmopolitan city life here is amazing. One minute you can be on a bustling street surrounded by enormous sky scrapers, the next you can find yourself on a quite path going up into the mountains. And the food here is to die for! I loved exploring all the exotic fruits in the street markets (rambutans and mangosteens are my Asian favs). Chinese food in general is addicting, and the experience of being the only westerner in a family-owned noodle restaurant is memorable. I’ll never be able to look at Chinese food anywhere else in the world the same way again, the real stuff is so good!

Highlights: Eating amazing Chinese food; seeing Victoria Harbour at night; exploring the markets; cable car ride up to the Giant Buddha statue

10. Nepal
Swayambhunath | Kathmandu
As a lover of hiking and mountains, Nepal was always on my list of places to visit. Now I can say I finally have and it’s just as brilliant as I thought it would be! Despite going in the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake, the country is very much open for tourism. The country is one of the best places in the world for trekking, the opportunities are endless. I did the Everest trek and although I did have a bout of food poisoning and altitude sickness (not a great combo), it was a very memorable experience. Aside from the stunning beauty of the Himalayas, Nepal is also very rich in culture and diversity. There are over 40 different ethnic groups and tribes living here and the beauty of the Himalaya is stunning.

Highlights: Trekking up the EBC trail and seeing Mount Everest up close.

A Weekend In Kakadu National Park

The Kakadu Crew in Ubirr

Towards the end of my year living in Australia, I had the chance to visit one of the country’s greatest treasures: Kakadu National Park. I was lucky enough to have a friend who had access to a 4WD truck, which is required to see some of the bigger and more remote sights in the park. After living and working my last three months in Darwin, we decided to go out and spend our final weekend in Australia camping and exploring the park with some other adventurous backpackers.

Kakadu is huge, covering nearly 20,000 square kilometers. That’s half the size of Switzerland! At this size, getting around obviously takes some time, which is why a proper visit should take at the least a couple days. At first glance, driving through the park is fairly monotonous as we drove through a large expanse of gum tree forests, a lot of which has been burned by bush fires. There are, however, a considerable number of hidden gems and interesting places that make Kakadu one of Australia’s most popular and unique national parks: stunning gorges, hidden waterfalls, lush wetlands, and ancient aboriginal art sites. All of this combined makes it one most beloved places in Australia and it has the status as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here are just some of the major highlights you can find:

Ubirr & Nourlangie Art Sites
Sacred Art
The East Alligator and Nourlangie regions of the park are where you’ll find one of the park’s major attractions: ancient aboriginal rock art. Some of the paintings are believed to be 20,000 years old and typically depict creation stories, but also paintings of animals that the Aborigines hunted and paintings depicting the first encounters with white settlers.

Location: 12° 51.894’S 132° 48.611’E
Accessibility: Most sites are accessible by paved road, but may be restricted by flooding in the wet season.

Sunset From Ubirr Rock
Kakadu Wetlands
The sunsets in the Top End are legendary, with brilliant displays of color reflecting off the billabongs and wetlands. A great spot to catch the sunset is from the top of Ubirr Rock (pictured above).

Location: 12° 24.522’S 132° 57.255’E
Accessibility: All vehicles (may be restricted due to flooding in wet season)

Croc Spotting At The East Alligator River
The King of Kakadu
Ironically, there are no alligators in East Alligator River. It is instead the home to thousands of fresh and saltwater crocodiles. If you want to see some big crocs, this is the place! We took a brief break here and in just 10 minutes we spotted 7 in one little section of the river.

Location: 12° 25.577’S 132° 57.914’E
Accessibility: All vehicles (dry season)

Jim Jim Falls
Jim Jim
Perhaps the most famous waterfall in the park, this area can only be accessed during the dry season by 4WD vehicle and a 2 km walk over boulder fields and through monsoon forests. At the peak of the dry season (July-October), the falls actually dry up and cease to flow so the best time to visit is at the beginning of the dry season when the falls are still thundering down the cliff face surging with wet season rain.

Location: 13° 16.399’S 132° 50.311’E
Accessibility: 4WD only (dry season)

Maguk Pool
Maguk Falls
Also known as Barramundie Gorge, this quite swimming spot is in the southern part of the park. Getting here is recommended by 4WD but it may be possible for a car to make it here. Unlike some of the other falls in the park, this one flows year-round.

Location: 13° 19.097’S 132° 26.280’E
Accessibility: 4WD only (dry season)

Gunlom Falls
Golgum Pool
My personal favorite place in the park, this serene place is like a natural infinity pool. The plunge pool is situated on top of a cliff among a shady grove of gum trees with sweeping views overlooking the park. Getting there requires a short but steep climb to the top of the falls and on a hot day a dip in the pool is super rewarding and refreshing!

Location: 13° 25.874’S 132° 25.081’E
Accessibility: Possible with 2WD, 4WD recommended (dry season)

No trip to Australia is complete without visiting Kakadu National Park. It’s exactly how I imagined Australia to be–huge skies, big gorges, endless expanses of gum trees, great camping, big crocs and other Aussie wildlife, Aboriginal culture. It’s a special place not to be missed!

10 Must-See Places In The Australian Outback

Despite being a vast empty desert, there are a lot of interesting and beautiful places that can be found in the Australian Outback. Taking a road trip is the best way to see Australia, as it gives you the freedom to go to wherever you want, whenever you want. Here are just a few highlights of what we saw during our road trip from Cooktown in Queensland to Perth in Western Australia:

Devil’s Marbles – Northern Territory

Devil's Marbles

Located a few hours north of Alice Springs, this is a good spot to get out to stretch your legs and see some interesting geology. Here big red spherical-shaped granite boulders dot the landscape. Best time would be to come in the morning or evening as the soft light makes the rocks glow red. You can also spend the night here I believe.

Alice Springs – Northern Territory

A Town Like Alice

Alice Springs. The funky little town right in the middle of Australia, hundreds of miles from nowhere. I actually really liked Alice Springs, it reminded me of the Australian version of Moab, Utah for anyone who has been there. We did a free walking tour offered by the folks at the information center and it was actually pretty interesting since you learn a little bit about the town’s history. There is also a large Aboriginal population here and you can go on tours to learn more about the culture or buy original Aboriginal artwork.

The MacDonnell Ranges – Northern Territory

Macdonnel Ranges

Running west to east and right through Alice Springs, the MacDonnell Ranges is one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. Divided into two regions, both the East and West MacDonnell Ranges are worth spending some time in, although I found there was more to see and the scenery more spectacular in the West. These days these mountains would dwarf the Rockies or even the New Zealand Alps, but they are riddled with chasms and cool little swimming spots to cool off on a hot day. My favorite spot was Ormiston Gorge, which has a small swimming pond surrounded by giant walls of red and orange rock. We also spotted some dingoes here!

Uluru (Ayers Rock) – Northern Territory

Sunset at Uluru

Nearly exactly at the very center of the Australian continent lies the iconic big red rock (or “the remarkable pebble” as one Australian explorer called it). You would think that a big rock out in the middle of the desert really can’t be that special, but it is. Once you first see it, you just can’t stop looking at it. It’s massive, dominating your field of vision. The prime time to go is around sunset when all the hues of red and orange transform as the light changes. Watching the sunset at Uluru was my favorite part of the whole trip. There is also a nice 10 km hike you can do around the base of the rock.

Kata-Tjuta (The Olgas) – Northern Territory

Kata-Tjuta

About 50 kilometers away lies another massive and equally beautiful rock formation known as The Olgas (Kata-Tjuta in the local Aboriginal language). Rather than one big monolith, Kata-Tjuta comprises of several large rounded domes that rise out of the desert. There is a great hike you can do here called the Valley of the Winds walk which takes you through all the formations and little valleys between them. Be advised though, in the summer this walk can only be done in the morning hours as it’s closed during the daytime heat. And like Uluru, the sunset here is spectacular.

Both Uluru and Kata-Tjuta lie within the same national park, located about 5 hours south of Alice Springs. There is only one paved road going in and out, so it might be worth spending a few days here. From what I recall, entry to the park was $25 for a three day pass.

King’s Canyon – Northern Territory

King's Canyon

I was a little disappointed with King’s Canyon. After having been to the American southwest and even parts of the MacDonnell Ranges just a few hours away, I think having the title as “The Grand Canyon of Australia” is an overstatement. It’s a lot smaller than I thought it would but it is still a cool place to visit if you’re going to/coming from Uluru and never seen a canyon before. The Rim Walk is a must-do if you’re into hiking as it takes you through some really neat rock formations. The hike can be a little difficult for some, especially in hot weather so if hiking isn’t your thing then it’s probably just best to save fuel and skip the canyon.

Coober Pedy – South Australia

Coober Pedy

We didn’t have a lot of time to check out Coober Pedy, but if you’re driving through the area you can see Australia’s famous underground town and the opal capital of the world. Roughly 95% of the world’s opals come from Australia and a lot of it comes from here. With all the mining nearby and often being succumbed to the perilous heat of the Outback, the town has developed this sort of underground theme and some of the buildings (including a backpackers hostel) is subterranean. An interesting little place to check out if you have the time.

Great Australian Bight – South Australia

South Australia

Ah, the ocean at last! After two weeks of dirt, rocks, and termite mounds, it was refreshing to reach the Southern Ocean. Here the dusty, flat desert just simply ends—it plunges down into the vibrant blue sea. If there were any place in the world that could be the edge of the Earth, this would be it. The land just stops and it’s only ocean here all the way to Antarctica. If you’re here between May and October, you might be lucky and spot some elusive southern right whales as they do their annual migration!

Cape La Grande National Park – Western Australia

Lucky Bay

If you ever find yourself in southern Western Australia, you have to go to Cape Le Grande National Park. Some of the best beaches in the country can be found here, including Lucky Bay which is considered to have the whitest sand in all of Australia. The sand is so fine it also squeeks under your feet when you walk on it! It’s also a good place to spot kangaroos hanging out on the beach. Nearby is Hellfire Bay, another stunning white-sand beach on the fringes of a beautiful clear blue shallow bay. If you stick around for sunset, make the short climb up the summit of Frenchman Peak for the best views over the park.

The Wave Rock – Western Australia
Wave Rock

Located just a few hours outside of Perth near the town of Hyden, this unusual rock formation is a good spot to stretch your legs and explore a little after a long drive. It’s a big wall of multi-colored granite that resembles a wave about to break, hence the simple name the Wave Rock!

These are just some of the many hidden wonders and treasures hidden in the Outback. These are all easily accessible by a 2WD car, but there are many other amazing places out there that can only be reached by 4WD and high clearance vehicles.

How To Road Trip Across Australia

Nullarbor

Most visitors who travel to Australia tend to only see the eastern cities without ever setting foot into the country’s incredible vast interior. Granted there are plenty of cool things to see and do on the east coast. The sugar-white sand beaches of the Whitsundays are spectacular. Sydney is a beautiful city with a stunning skyline and harbour. The Great Barrier Reef is not to be missed. But to contrast the busy and oftentimes very touristy east coast, there is just something magical about the vast emptiness of the Australian Outback, which covers most of the country’s land mass. It’s so big that all of Europe can comfortably sit inside it. It’s a pretty big place!

Nowadays, getting around through the vast desert is actually a lot easier, with a fairly good network of paved highways connecting both populated and remote corners of the continent. There are also plenty of rugged long-distance 4WD tracks crisscrossing through it for the adventurous type. With all that empty space, big skies, open roads, and natural scenery, Australia is the quintessential place to road trip.

So last October after completing a trip up the east coast, I found myself embarking on another long-haul journey—this time across the entire continent from Cairns to Perth, a journey of about 4400 miles (7100 km). Since we really wanted to see Uluru and the other national parks in the country’s famous red center, we opted going by way of Alice Springs and then down south and over the Nullarbor plains into Western Australia. It took roughly 3 weeks to complete and was one of the most incredible experiences of my travels thus far!

So how does one exactly do a road trip like this across some of the loneliest and most formidable environments in the world? Here’s a little guide I’ve written up for any future Aussie road trippers:

 Getting A Ride
Into the Sunset

For starters, you’ll need your ride. If you plan to see Australia over a period of a couple months or longer, you can always buy your own ride and then just resell it before you leave. There are plenty of used campervans, 4WDs, and cars circulating around the country. It’s easy finding vehicles for sale in most populated places throughout the country, a quick check on Gumtree (Australia’s version of Craigslist) or community boards in hostels can confirm that.

Another cheaper alternative is to simply ride share. This is what I did and there are tons of resources out there that can help you find a ride from someone or help you find passengers to join you on your own trip if you already have your own vehicle. Take a look around on Gumtree, Coseats.au, or even the city community pages on Couchsurfing.com and you’ll find lots of lift offers or people looking for rides. There are even Facebook pages dedicated to ride sharing across Australia. You can also always ask around people in your hostel and check the community boards for offers. You just might get lucky and find someone (or a group of people) who are headed the same way you are! And the best part is if you go with more people you’ll (A) save money by splitting the cost of fuel and (B) will probably have a better time being with fellow travelers and not being alone.

Another popular way to road trip across Australia (as well as in New Zealand, USA, and several other countries) is by doing a rental car relocation. Oftentimes rental companies need volunteers to relocate cars or campervans to other branches. The pros of doing this is you get to drive a rental car for an insanely cheap price–usually a few dollars a day. However, it’s oftentimes free! Sometimes they even include things like car insurance and free gas vouchers, though this isn’t necessarily always the case. The con is that there is a time frame in which you have to arrive at your destination, so your trip is only limited to however many days they assign to you. There is an exception sometimes, however, where they allow you to keep the vehicle longer but then you pay the regular rental price after that. So if you’re short on time and are looking for a cheap way to get around independently, this may be a good option as well.

Be Prepared
Outback Skies

Once you have your ride, the next thing you need to do is to be prepared. If you’re driving through the Outback, be aware you’ll be in some of the most isolated and extreme environments on the planet, and getting stuck out there would not be fun. Summertime temps in Alice Springs easily get up to 38 C (about 100 F) and in other places it can get even hotter! In wintertime it’s the opposite, getting surprisingly cold at night (well, cold for Australian standards).

Remember to stock up. It’s essential to bring extra water and extra petrol with you as distances between stations are usually hundreds of kilometers apart. But don’t keep your gas container in your vehicle unless you want your car smelling like fuel and having all the fumes soak into your food (we learned that the hard way)! It’s also a good idea to routinely check your oil and fluid levels as well as the tire pressure to make sure everything is square and running smoothly. And don’t forget—everything costs a lot more in the Outback! Save money by stocking up as much as you can on food and drinks as it can get very expensive to buy goods in little remote stores. Something as simple as a plain loaf of bread can cost $5 to give you an idea. As for fuel, the highest gas prices I saw were around the $2.10 mark–much higher than on the coast.

Also, unless you happen to be driving a road train (Aussie lingo for a huge semi-truck) or your vehicle is equipped with a “roo bar”, expect to do your driving only during daylight hours. Driving at night can be fairly risky as that’s when kangaroos are most active and in many remote areas in Australia they are very common. And unfortunately they sometimes like to unexpectedly jump in front of your vehicle! Seeing kangaroos and even free-grazing cows hanging out in the middle of the road at night is not an unusual sight. You’d be surprised at the amount of roadkill that litters the side of the highways here. And the flies! After New Zealand I never thought I’d come across a pest worse than NZ sand flies, but the Australian bush fly is might as well come straight from hell. They don’t bite fortunately and looks similar to a common housefly, but they are oh so very persistent. As soon as the sun comes up, your face, arms, and back are usually covered in them; crawling up your nose, into your ears, into your eyes. No matter how much you swat them away they always come back. So bringing a fly net might be a good idea.

Where To Stay
Outback Camping

As you travel through the Outback you’ll come across tiny little stations called roadhouses every few hundred kilometers or so. Not only do they provide a place to refuel your car, but there’s also usually a restaurant and store that sells a limited stock of groceries you can buy. Some even provide different types of accommodation, anywhere from rooms to both powered and unpowered campsites, usually with basic facilities. The national parks do also tend to have camping grounds and accommodation available.

If you are looking for the cheapest accommodation and don’t mind roughing it your way across Australia, just do freedom camping. The Outback is a big land of nothingness, there are plenty of places to pull over and camp overnight rather peacefully. I would recommend using an app called WikiCamps Australia—it’s an excellent tool for finding free places to camp as well as official pay-for campsites and things like hostels and hotels in case there aren’t any free spots nearby (usually in and around cities freedom camping is forbidden…you normally have to be out in the remote areas to do it). It’s largely based on advice and reviews given by other travelers. Using this app saved us hundreds of dollars in accommodation, I wouldn’t go without it! And Australia is probably one of the best countries I’ve ever been for camping. Camping gear is actually fairly cheap here and can easily be bought from K-Mart or Target. And if you’re in the Outback, you’ll likely find lots of clear skies and dry weather making it perfect for stargazing at night!

 

7 Highlights From Australia’s East Coast

Upon arrival in Australia at the start of my working holiday, I had no idea where I was going to go first. But after a few days of planning and networking, I ultimately did a road trip up the east coast with some new friends all the way from Sydney to Cairns. “Doing the east coast” is on almost every backpacker’s bucket list when they come to Australia. The 1800 mile (2900 km) route took us three weeks to complete and took us from big cities, beautiful remote beaches, and everything in between. Here are some of the highlights from the trip:

1. Sydney
Sydney Harbour Bridge

If you’ve read my blog post from my first visit to Sydney, you’d know that Sydney is one of my favorite cities in the world. Despite being a major cosmopolitan city, there are plenty of natural areas around making it a perfect blend of city and nature. It’s an active city and there are always people out doing something, whether it be taking a run through the Royal Botanic Gardens, swimming or surfing at Bondi, boating or paddleboarding around the city’s many little inlets and coves…people in Sydney like to get out! One of my favorite activities was taking the ferry to Manly beach, which is basically a short cruise through the famous harbour with the best views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. There’s a lot to do here so it’s worth staying a while in this beautiful city!

2. Byron Bay
Byron Light House

Byron Bay is the epitome Australian surf and beach culture. Located at the easternmost point on the continent, it’s the first place in Australia to welcome the rising sun. The huge beach that the town sits on is big and beautiful, but the best thing about Byron was the vibe and energy there. Between the surf and hippie culture that is prevalent there, the atmosphere is relaxed and care-free. It’s a no shirt, no shoes, no worries kind of place. The town streets are filled with surf shops, funky little cafes, and a night scene that is also pretty decent. Outside of town are plenty of national parks that offer some great day or overnight hikes. A popular activity is to wake up early and watch the sunrise at the lighthouse. If you’re there between June-November you might be lucky and spot some whales on their annual migration!

3. Noosa
Noosa National Park

We decided to settle in Noosa for a few days as an alternative to Brisbane and the over-hyped Surfer’s Paradise. Noosa is a relaxed little beach town with some nice beaches and a big national park where you can see some Australian wildlife, like koalas and giant lizards called goannas. The hostel we stayed at (Noosa Backpacker’s Resort) offered free kayak rentals so we spent an afternoon paddling around the Noosa River. A nice spot to relax for a few days!

3. The Whitsunday Islands
Whitehaven Beach

The Whitsunday Islands are an island archipelago off Queensland’s central coast. A multi-day sailing trip around the Whitsundays is usually part of every backpacker’s east coast itinerary, but since I was short on time I opted for a one day trip. I went with Ocean Rafting which offers a day tour to the famous Whitehaven Beach along with a few opportunities for snorkeling around some coral reefs. It’s the only tour that has access to Hill Inlet Beach on Whitsunday Island, so you can actually walk on the pure white silica sand. The buffet style lunch on the beach was a nice touch as well!

4. Magnetic Island
Rock Wallabies

This little island paradise is often overlooked by travelers going up and down the coast, which is a same because it’s a great little getaway and definitely worth spending a few days. It was one of my favorite places on the east coast. Located about 8 km off the coast, the island is easily accessible by ferry from Townsville. Getting around the island can be done by bus or you can rent a moped or one of the open-air “moke” cars which kind of resemble those little battery-powered jeeps for kids. There are plenty of hiking opportunities with a big network of trails to explore. The most famous walk is the Forts Walk, which ascends to a lookout where you can see the ruins of old military used in WWII. It’s also the best place on the island to spot a koala in the wild. During my stay on the island, I saw a total of 6 wild koalas. If you don’t see any in the wild, you can always check out the Bungalow Bay Koala Village, which is both a hostel and a koala sanctuary. You can even get a chance to hold one!

The island is also a great place to just spend the day lounging on the beach, or snorkeling around some of the coral reefs dotted around Magnetic’s many bays and coves. Around dusk, head out to the tiny community of Arcadia where you can see some of the island’s resident rock wallabies. The cute little marsupials come out to feed right near the old pier. Being rather tame and curious, they sometimes hop right up to you!

5. Mission Beach
Mission Beach

Another underrated and often missed locale on the east coast traveler’s itinerary. My only regret is we didn’t stay longer! The town itself isn’t much but it’s one of the few places in the world where a World Heritage rainforest and the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef meet. It’s also a place where you can spot the elusive cassowary, a shy man-sized bird with a blue neck and a big intimidating crown on its head. Unfortunately we didn’t see any during our visit. If you decide to come here, stay at the Jackaroo Hostel–it’s one of the best hostels I’ve stayed at in Australia.

6. The Great Barrier Reef
Swimming With Crush

No trip to Australia is complete without seeing the Great Barrier Reef. The reef isn’t actually one entire mass of coral, but rather several thousand individual reefs and islands stretching along the east coast for over 2,300 km (1430 mi). I took a day trip out to Green Island from Cairns with some friends and we spent the day exploring the reefs. The island is actually a tiny little coral cay with lush green rainforest, sandy white beaches, and clear blue waters full of life. Aside from tons of fish, we swam with several sea turtles! This is a good place to see them as they come here to feed on the sea grass beds off shore. Although you see much bigger fish and more colorful coral further away from the coast on the outer reef, Green Island was actually pretty impressive and worth going to if you’re on a budget.

7. The Daintree Rainforest
Daintree Rainforest

While I wasn’t too impressed with Australia’s tropical city of Cairns, the areas around it are really worth checking out. Just a few hours to the north is the Daintree Rainforest, considered to be the oldest rainforest on the planet. Here you can see an abundance of Australia’s most unique flora and fauna, including cassowaries, saltwater crocodiles, Bennet’s tree kangaroo, and the electric blue Ulysses butterfly. Cape Tribulation is a beautiful spot where coastal mountains covered in lush green rainforest meet a sandy white beach and fringing reefs. Another good spot in the Daintree is Mossman Gorge, which has some nice walking tracks that take you into the heart of the rainforest. The natural pools here (they’re croc free!) are a great place to have a picnic and cool off in the tropical heat.

Merry Christmas From Down Under!

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Merry Christmas from Australia everyone!

It’s a strange feeling hearing “Winter Wonderland” being played over the loudspeaker at the grocery store when it’s 85°F (29°C for my non-American friends). This would be my second summertime Christmas and I still haven’t really adjusted to it. Even though I’ve seen the Christmas goods on display at the stores since September, it just doesn’t feel the same not celebrating next to a cozy fire on a cold and rainy day. That and spending Christmas Day at work two years in a row isn’t the most festive thing either, so next year I will definitely be home for the holidays.

Since I’ve been trying to catch up with my trip to Europe, I really haven’t done a lot of updates on anything current. So here you go! At the moment I’m living and working in Dunsborough, a little beach town in the Margaret River region of southwestern Australia and it’s quite nice! I’ve been working at a big resort nearby for the past two months. Things are fairly isolated out here compared to the east coast so not a lot of travelers make it out this way, which is a shame (or maybe a blessing?) because it really is beautiful. Not too crowded, nice summertime weather compared to the rest of the country, and the beaches here are stunning–way better than anything I ever saw in eastern Australia. The only negative would be the flies, which are now out in full swing that summer is here. I thought New Zealand’s sandflies were the worst, but they’re nothing compared to Australia’s bush flies. They don’t bite fortunately, but whenever you go outside they suddenly appear in swarms and crawl all over your face, up your nose, and in your eyes and ears. Swatting them away doesn’t do a whole lot since they come right back. It’s a part of life throughout most of Australia it seems that you just try and get used to (though I don’t think anyone really does).

My new friends I live and work with are a great bunch of people. It’s very international group which keeps things interesting 🙂 Overall, I’m happy staying a while in this part of Australia and looking forward to spending another summer in the southern hemisphere!

Where I’ve Been

Good day everyone!

I’ve just returned from spending the summer in Europe and I am dead tired! 21 hours flying time with another 14 hour layover in Vietnam thrown in there for good measure. Anyway, these next few days are going to be well spent sleeping.

Europe was amazing! As you can tell, the motivation to update the blog was seriously lacking. It takes time sorting through tons of photos and writing about the experience. That and I really just wanted to enjoy my time time there without being “plugged in” too much. In fact I didn’t even have my laptop with me most of the time so it wasn’t really feasible to do so anyway. But now that I’m back in the Land Down Under, I’ll write a post from time to time on each place I went to: France, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Italy, and Spain (and a very brief visit in Austria). For a sneak peek, here’s a photo I took. Brownie points to whoever can guess where it is!

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Anyway, like I said the next few days will be dedicated to sleep and getting ready to see Australia. I’m not even 100% where I’m going yet first, but the goal is to find a place to settle down and work for a little while. Unlike New Zealand, Australia is huge it won’t be as easy (or as cheap) getting around. Will I follow the backpacker trail and head straight up the East Coast to the Great Barrier Reef? Or maybe out west to Perth? Who knows. It’s a big country with lots of opportunities.

Sydney

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G’day from the Land Down Under! Actually, by the time I post this I’ll be literally on the complete opposite side of the world in Paris. This post is just to catch up on what I’ve been up to for the past week since leaving New Zealand.

After a hop across the Tasman Sea, I finally arrived in Australia. I couldn’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting for this day. As a kid I had this weird passion for everything Aussie. That carried on with me into adulthood and I always told myself if there was only one country in the world I had to visit it would be Australia. I honestly don’t know why I’ve found it so appealing, its mostly a big desert with some nice beaches all around. But even in the initial one week I had in Sydney, I can say that I can see myself staying a while. Fortunately, an old friend of mine from home who now lives in Sydney offered me a place to stay during my visit. Once I got my stuff dropped off at her place, I went out for a walk to the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Opera House. Typical tourist thing to do, I know, but I couldn’t convince myself I was actually in Australia until I saw it for myself.

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The Opera House is such a neat building, it’s beautiful. The sail-like roof has always fascinated me. In fact in high school I did a report on it and the architect who designed it, so it was surreal to finally see it in person! Seeing it up close is impressive, but I’ve found that the best place to gaze on this iconic landmark is across the bay at a place called Mrs. Macquarie’s chair. Here you get an amazing view of the city and the Opera House with the also iconic Harbour Bridge as a backdrop.

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I was really impressed with Sydney. I’m not really a big city person, but I could see myself living here. For one it’s super easy to get around. The train and ferry system is very efficient and can get you pretty much anywhere. There are also so many neighborhoods around filled with nice cafés and restaurants (Australia is pretty big on the café scene). It seemed like everywhere I went there was some amazing aroma in the air that made my mouth water, especially in places like Chinatown and Bondi. For such a huge city, I thought it was fairly clean. Not a lot of pollution or litter lying around. The atmosphere is very lively, both day and night. Lots of people out running or doing some sort of sport, lots of people socializing with friends and colleagues in the parks. At night the restaurants and bars are alive with activity. Even in the winter (off-season), everything seemed busy.

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Of course there are the beaches. I made a few trips out to some of the city’s famous beaches like Manly and Bondi. From Bondi there’s a pretty neat walk that follows the coast for a few miles to Coogee Beach, another popular beach. And always surfers everywhere! In fact, one of my French friends I had met and travelled with in New Zealand also happened to be in Sydney the same time I was so he and another friend did some surfing at Manly Beach. It was my first time and I managed to stand on board (briefly) on my first try. Best of all, no shark attacks or jellyfish stings!

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On another day, we took a trip outside of the city to the Blue Mountains in the west. It’s very easy and relatively cheap to get to by train (two hour ride) from the city center. After New Zealand (and coming from the Pacific Northwest USA), I could hardly call them mountains. They’re more like hills, but the views were very nice. We were all surprised at how cold it was though! Bad idea to wear only a light jacket and shorts. It was also very crowded with other tourists, but we did a bit of walking around in the bush and managed to find a great viewpoint that was absent of other people.

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It was a great week in Sydney and even though I went out and did something or went somewhere new every day, I’ve barely scratched the surface of this great city.