Budgeting Travel – Australia


How We Budgeted Our Trip to Australia

{*Tips* for budgeting your own Dream Trip}

My husband likes to tell everyone that I’m his travel agent. He’s often told me that if it weren’t for the internet, that a profession as a Travel Agent would be my calling.

I disagree.

As much as I love planning our trips {it always gives me something to look forward to!}, I sometimes hate it, too. There’s the stress of The Budget and all around not knowing if a hotel or experience is too- good-to-be-true. The stress comes in because I have trouble making decisions. My poor decision-making skills is one of my poorest qualities.

The other reason why I wouldn’t make a great travel agent is that everyone has different wants, needs and tastes and catering to that would be, well, hard.

I know what Rob and I like.

know what our budget is.

know what matters and doesn’t matter to us. {Bathroom in the hotel room=yes, hot tub or chocolates on the pillow=no}

I have developed a sense of how to get the best value for what suits our needs.

Australia was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for us that I really didn’t think would happen for another ten years. And that was only if I could convince Rob:

  1. To make the long haul flight
  2. That he wouldn’t be bitten by any gigantic spiders

But when we realized that we had enough miles to book a normally-$1700-per-person flight, I didn’t need to twist his arm. A $3400 savings? Hell, yeah!


My number one *tip* to make your dream trip happen is this:

Put away 10% of your paycheck every pay period.


Honestly, I put away more than that because we take more than one trip per year. It’s also because traveling is my passion. Some people treat themselves to massages or pedicures with their disposable income. Others love to do projects around the home. The truth is, whatever it is that you want to do, if you want to do it badly enough, you will make it a priority.



With our roundtrip airfare secured with miles {aka points} through Flexperks* it was time to decide what parts of the country we would visit with our limited amount of time.

Read: I’ve made it all the way to Australia, I’m not skipping the Great Barrier Reef!

We’d be gone a total of 17 days, but 3 of those days are spent traveling to and from the U.S. to Australia. Because Australia is roughly the size of the U.S, let’s compare distances.


We considered the fact that this could be a once-in-a-lifetime trip and planned it with the assumption that we might not get back.

In the end,we chose the following {with comparisons of locations and distances with the U.S.}:

  • Sydney – located about Jacksonville, Florida
  • Melbourne – located about New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Uluru – located about Denver, Colorado
  • Cairns – located just north of Lake Superior in Canada {only picture on the beach instead!}

Remember, too, Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere. So that means when we were going in September, that’s springtime. And it gets warmer as you go north!

Now, what would be the most efficient for us to get around?


To give you an idea, a flight from Sydney to Melbourne takes about an hour and a half and costs about $60 – $150 per person. Driving from Sydney to Melbourne, takes about eight hours. Sometimes, when you are in another country, driving can be ideal for the views and stops along the way. For the sake of time, finances and our sanity, flying was the best choice for us on this trip!

The Australian airline Qantas offers a Walkabout Air Pass, which is intended to help travelers see more of the country. However, I found that it didn’t include all of the routes we needed, nor was it any less expensive than booking individual one-way flights.

We ended up flying the following airlines:

  • Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Sydney (SYD) with a layover at LAX via Delta using miles through Flexperks {click here to apply for a Flexperks VISA to get 5000 bonus miles using my referral #} (14-15 hours LAX  to Sydney)
  • Sydney (SYD) to Melbourne (MEL) – Virgin Australia (1.5 hours)
  • Melbourne (MEL) to Ayers Rock/Uluru (AYQ) – JetStar (3 hours)
  • Ayers Rock/Uluru (AYQ) to Cairns (CNS) – Qantas (2.5 hours)
  • Cairns (CNS) to Minnepolis-St. Paul (MSP) with layovers at SYD and LAX via Delta (using miles)

This worked out very well for us. We were able to maximize our time at each location. Each airline was very different.

Bonus / *Tip*: Because we booked our RT Delta flight through Flexperks, we received the Delta miles for the flights to and from Australia!

Virgin Australia seemed to operate like most airlines in the U.S. Although we received Tasty Cheese sandwiches as a snack!

We were warned in advance not to use the budget airline Tiger because many flights are canceled. The other budget airline JetStar was touted as reliable, but tacks on fees. Be sure to pay for your baggage when booking your flight with JetStar or you may be charged up to $80 to check a bag when checking in! {Luckily, we had this tip in advance.}

Then there was Qantas who fed us a full-on dinner, which was fully unexpected for such a short flight!

Recap of Airfare *Tips*:

  • If you pay off your credit cards every month, use a miles card for every purchase you make to earn as many miles as possible for free flights!
  • If you are going to cover great distances, flying might be a better option than driving!
  • Booking through one airline for your entire trip isn’t necessarily the cheapest nor most efficient



After the flights were booked, it was time to look for accommodation.

By our standards, Australia is expensive! Trying to find a comfortable place to sleep for 15 nights without breaking the bank was difficult.

Gone are my just-out-of-college days of bouncing from city to city sleeping in hostels. I need my own privacy, thank you very much. And a decent bed.

That being said, we generally don’t splurge on hotel rooms. For us, it’s a place to sleep and shower so we can spend the next day rested and ready to explore!

Our general requirements are:

  • Affordable (which is a different definition to everyone)
  • Location (close to attractions and restaurants or to public transportation to get us to them)
  • Bathroom in the room (more of an issue if you are staying in a hostel or in Europe)
  • Clean and safe (some of this goes along with location)

For this trip, I booked the following accommodations:

  • SydneyMeriton Service Apartments – Found on Trip Advisor, well-rated. I found a better deal, too, booking through Trip Advisor rather than booking direct.

View form our Studio in Sydney

MelbourneCosmopolitan – Everything near the city center was astronomically priced. Finding this gem in St. Kilda with great dining options and close to the tram, was perfect. Plus, I found a deal on Orbitz.com, which included free wi-fi.

View from our balcony room in Melbourne

View from our balcony room in Melbourne

  • Cairns (which I have yet to write about!) – We found a little place called Il Palazzo near the Esplanade through Airbnb – our first experience!

With all of these places, we averaged about $114 per night with all taxes, fees and wi-fi included. For everything else I was finding in Australia, this was a steal.

But where to stay at Uluru?

It was already expensive to get there. They had inexpensive hostel dorm-style options, but I knew that wouldn’t fly with Rob. Most rooms other rooms in Yulara were priced around $250/night, with a two-night minimum. What’s a girl to do?

I splurged.

Yup. I got the $375/night room – a Rock View Room at the Desert Gardens Hotel. That is INSANE. I’ve never spent that much on a hotel before in my life. I had to find a way to rationalize it.

  • Balcony – Sit outside and watch the birds {more to come on that one!}
  • Balcony – Sit outside and eat dinner and drink wine {save money by not dining out}
  • Rock View – We had a view of the Rock! With tours of Uluru at Sunrise and Sunset. Instead of taking the $60 Uluru Express shuttle and doing it all again the following day, we could just sit on our balcony and watch the sun go down and hop out of bed in the a.m. to watch it come up.

In the long run, it could save us a little money by not taking the shuttle, dining out in one of the hotel’s expensive restaurants and sharing an overpriced bottle of wine. Or it could have just been a wash. Either way, I knew this is what we wanted to do.

It turned out that our exchange rate on our credit card was a bit better upon return. This put us at a final average at $159/per night in Australia, which sounded reasonable to me. As a reminder, this included all taxes and fees, wi-fi at all accommodations except Uluru and included a couple of meals we ate in Yulara that we could put on our room.

I could live with $159.

Recap of Accommodation *Tips*:

  • Check reviews on Trip Advisor – but don’t believe everything you read. {We once booked a hotel in Montmarte Paris that had mixed reviews. But the “bad ones” complained about the tiny rooms and elevator and the “rude” staff.} Instead, use the reviews based on what is important to your stay!
  • Make location your #1 priority – Your accommodation should be first and foremost in a safe area. But being close to landmarks or public transportation can make your stay more enjoyable. Views are only important if you plan to spend significant time in your room!
  • Shop around – When you’ve narrowed down your hotels, compare locations as well as prices. Sometimes the hotel is cheaper if you book directly. Sometimes you’ll find better deals on Orbitz, Hotwire, Hipmunk, Trip Advisor, Travel Pony… Just a few for you to try!


Public Transport

When Rob and I are in a foreign country, we don’t rent cars. Maybe we will in the future, but right now, we know it’s just not the best choice for us if we don’t want to strangle each other before we get home. It’s a vacation, after all.

In Australia, we relied on public transport within cities and took tours out to more remote locations.


  • Taxi – We cabbed it from the airport to our hotel because we were tired and cranky and didn’t want to think.
  • Airlink – The Taxi was much more expensive than the easy Airlink train that we took back to the airport at the end of our stay.
  • Train – easy to get around the city


  • Shuttle – We booked an airport shuttle because St. Kilda is considered in the ‘burbs. I made the roundtrip reservation online and it was a breeze. They even re-booked us on the next shuttle when our plane didn’t arrive on time.
  • Tram – easy to get around the city
  • Car – We rented a car with Mum & Dad, although they were kind enough to be our driver and navigator! Win-win for us!
  • Tour along the Great Ocean Road

Uluru –

  • “Free” shuttle to and from airport.
  • “Free” shuttle around the resort (but we walked it.)
  • Tours

Cairns –

  • Inexpensive cab to and from city center, which was very walkable
  • Free shuttle from our hotel to departure locations for our tours of the Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef (yet to come!)

Recap of Public Transportation *Tips*:

  • Weigh your options – which is more efficient or economical for your destination: a rental car or public transportation?
  • Use tours when you’d rather not drive! You may get more bang for your buck when you have a guide that would take you somewhere you wouldn’t have known to go.


Food & Drink

This is a always a variable that is hard to budget. We found that Australia was more expensive than we had expected. At the time $1AUS was approximately $.95US to $.98US. So, the dollar value was really close. As of today’s post, the Australian dollar is worth more like $.80US.

A few things we consider when we travel:

  • We don’t tend to eat breakfast out when we are traveling, the exception being if there is a well-reviewed or must-have local dish and/or restaurant. In Australia, we did a get a few Flat Whites and a couple of Meat Pies, for example.
  • Instead, we bring breakfast snacks or buy them upon a rival in a grocery or convenience store. (Wandering around a grocery store in a foreign country is one of my favorite things to do!)
  • I like to bring a water bottle or buy a bottle of water just once and refill it.
  • We do tend to have sit down lunches or dinners, but don’t always eat a full meal.
  • And we always try to drink wine in wine countries! {It’s cheaper to do so and tastes better, too!}

Recap of Public Transportation *Tips*:

  • Eat one meal in your room or get groceries and have a picnic!
  • Refill a water bottle rather than buy one every time.
  • Drink wine in wine countries and beer and beer countries.



We don’t tend to buy many souvenirs when we travel, unless there is a must-have item that is unique or can’t be found anywhere else. A handmade bowl that will remind you of your trip every time you use it or a piece of art that will start conversation are great choices. They don’t have to be expensive either.

*Tip*: Expensive or not, be sure to put your prized souvenir in your carry-on, if it isn’t something restricted. I’m sure you picked it out carefully and already have an emotional attachment! {We lost an inexpensive, but an invaluable piece of Aboriginal art by packing it in our suitcase.}

*Tip*: Do not spend time shopping for souvenirs for specific people.

I learned early in my first travels that trying to figure out what to bring back as gifts becomes stressful. I heeded the advice to not bring back gifts from your travels. You are on vacation. You’ve saved your dollars and your vacation time for it. Don’t waste your time or relaxation trying to find that perfect gift for someone else. The exception is if someone helped finance your vacation. But it doesn’t have to be a big gesture.

On this trip, we were lucky to find a few inexpensive trinkets that we thought we would love to receive. We bought a bunch of them up, but didn’t try to figure out what we would be getting everyone. Instead of giving them upon our return, they became easy Christmas gifts along with a few Australian coins either with a kangaroo or a platypus on them.

On that note, when I was a child, I always loved when my dad brought back Canadian Dollar coins! Your leftover change that you can’t exchange is always a fun gift for kids.


When I see trip packages for Australia, I’m astounded by the price of the “deals.” They are usually for a designated number of days and include airfare and accommodation, but not food and drink. When I compare the cost of our trip, with the number of days we were there and what was included, I know we got a much better deal. But, the trade-off is that I planned it myself and that took time. That might not be worth it for you.

Yes, our trip was more expensive than any other I’ve taken; but for the number of days we were there, getting to the places and experiencing and dining where we wanted , it was a much better value to piece it together ourselves.

It truly was, a trip of a lifetime.

How do you budget for a trip?
Do you prefer to DIY or book a tour?
What are your tips for keeping it less expensive?


*Click here to apply for a Flexperks VISA and here for my referral # to get 5000 bonus miles.


Other posts about our trip to Australia:





12 responses »

    • No Regrets. We’d rather get a feel for a place than feel too rushed. New Zealand is on the list at some point!

      Next international trip needs to be a little more affordable. Can you guess where it might be?! 🙂

      Thanks for being my inspiration to travel abroad, Madame!

  1. Nice post, Carrie…I miss you!!!! J and I are dying to get traveling (it’s our “thing” too)…we keep wondering how old Ellie needs to be before we can either leave her with the grandparents or take her with us. Rob is a lucky man- you are like his own personal Barbara! :). We will be in Mlps this summer, maybe we can see you…miss you!!! Happy travels (I am totally jealous of this trip!)

  2. Great tips for traveling around OZ.
    We love JetStar for the cheap flights, but always have to pack minimally for our trips and just bring one carry-on.
    Glad you mentioned the dollar conversion right now. It’s so nice to pull my money out from my american account to use over here. I’m making money every time i go to the bank. It’s really the best time to travel to Australia.
    I am looking forward to checking out all of your other Australia posts, so many places you visited I haven’t had the chance to yet.

    I have traveled unplanned and planned. I like more of a scheduled group tour just for economical reasons I feel like it’s a great value and keeps me to a budget.

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