If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about Australia since I arrived, it’s that it is bloody enormous.
I knew it was big, of course. Bigger than the UK, sure. Bigger than several UK’s, I imagined.
As it turns out, this doesn’t even cover it. Australia is pretty much the size of the whole of Europe. That’s right: it’s the size of the ENTIRE CONTINENT I call home.
It stands to reason that in a country of this size, how you travel makes a huge difference. This isn’t going to be the half-hour difference between driving and catching the bus to work. This is like, do I spend several days chewing up tarmac in the car, or should I catch a several-hour flight across the few thousand kilometres between states?
With that in mind, I’ve put together a comparison of the many and varied options there are for travelling around Australia. No judgements here: I’ve tried them all at one time or another. But it’s definitely good to know the pros and cons before you choose. Plus, I’ll throw in a few travel hacks and budget tips to get you started, once you make that hoie.
So start your engines, guys.
I’ll give a brief outline of each type of transport, followed by a list of its pros and cons, and round off with a bonus tip for cheaper, smarter travel. I’ll finish up this post with a price comparison, and a word on public transport within the major cities.
There are lots of bus companies out there that travel the length (but usually not breadth) of Australia. You’ve probably all heard of Greyhound, but what about Premier, Firefly Express, Swan Gold? Thought not. There can be a pretty large price difference between these, so it’s worth doing your research before you buy a ticket.
Different bus companies (understandably) concentrate on different areas of Oz. Greyhound do the east coast down from Cairns to Sydney and on to Melbourne, as well as parts of the west. Firefly covers the route from Melbourne to Adelaide. VLine (unsurprisingly) service Victoria. Integrity offer buses from Perth to Broome. Because of the proliferation of companies, it’s hard to offer hard-and-fast comparisons that apply to all of them, but I’ve done my best:
- Can be a budget option. You pay for the ticket, and you don’t have to worry about extras – like fuel, insurance, and so on.
- Peace of mind. So long as you make it to the pick-up point at the right, you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. Drunk too much the night before? No probs. As long as you can drag your sorry arse to the bus stop by the specified time, you can happily sleep off your hangover.
- Can be sociable. It is pretty common for backpackers down the east coast to be booked onto some kind of Greyhound ticket, so it can be a great way to meet people. Bet you’ll spot some familiar faces from your hostel on the bus!
- You have to travel to a schedule. Running late here isn’t an option: you’re travelling on someone else’s timetable. The timings might be not to your taste, or there might only be one bus a day, and you’ll just have to deal with it.
- Long as hell. I personally quite enjoy a long bus ride, but if your phone dies or you don’t have something to entertain yourself with, you will quickly realise the downside of Australia’s sheer scale. The problem with buses, too, is that they tend to make detours to go through obscure places, and seemingly stop every twenty minutes or so. Bit of a bummer if you’re in a hurry.
- Drop off points might be far from where you need to be. Buses will usually stop in a fairly central location – like the post office, or near a tourist information – but it’s not always easy to figure out where the bloody hell your hostel is.
Travel Hack: Greyhound Hop on Hop off tickets can actually work out pretty good value in the long run. Especially if you buy them in the low season (I bought mine sometime in August, though my travel began in September). When you think about the costs of petrol, repairs, and insurance, driving probably doesn’t quite work out as cheap as you’d think.
Trains aren’t very commonly used by backpackers relative to other modes of transport. However, it might be worth looking into if you are staying in a more out-of-the-way place that happens to be on a train line. Or if you just fancy a change from a bog-standard bus.
- If you don’t have a car, this might be your quickest option for getting from A to B.
- Potentially more comfortable and interesting than the bus – goes via different route, through countryside often rather than on a never ending highway.
- Not many options here – Australia isn’t the best-connected by rail
- Can actually take a pretty long time to get somewhere, and the cheap tickets do not make for very comfortable sleeping arrangements… Just saying.
Travel Hack: Make the most of that student discount if you have one. International student cards most certainly do count (I checked), and you can get around a third off the price. Swish!
If you’re in Sydney, all train travel on Sundays is $2.50 – making Sunday a great day to choose to visit the Blue Mountains, for example! $2.50 for a four-hour round trip ain’t bad.
Renting a Vehicle
Rental vehicles can be great if you have a pretty specific plan in mind, and better still if you’re going with a group who can split the cost. If you decide to rent a camper, this also has the added bonus of being both transport and accommodation for the duration of the rental, so you stand to save even more money.
Looking to do a road trip? Check out my guide on how to take an epic Aussie road trip here
- Cheaper than buying a vehicle, provided that you a) don’t break anything and b) aren’t planning a very long trip.
- Relatively little responsibility – with rentals you don’t have to worry about the paperwork, necessary roadworthy checks and more that come with buying.
- No need to worry about selling it on (a major potential stress if you’re buying!)
- You’ll have to pay a hella scary bond (often in the thousands) – not good for stress levels when driving in less than ideal conditions. Every gravel road will be nerve wracking.
- You have to stick to a pre-determined time frame. Basically you have to guess how long a road trip is going to take – and there’s not much room for hanging out longer in a particular place because you like it.
- One-way fees. You might have to pay extra if you want to take the vehicle in one direction only, rather than returning it to where you got it from. Bit annoying, really.
Travel Hack: Relocation deals can save you a bundle if you’re pretty flexible on where and when you go. Companies sometimes need their vehicles to be moved back to a specific place, and they will rent them out to travellers at an unbelievably low price, often $1 per day. You might also get some of the petrol costs covered, against receipts.
Almost all of the major rental companies have relocation options, and you can often sign up to email alerts. Check out Jucy, Wicked Camper, Britz and Hippie Camper to name just a few. Or, head to www.transfercar.com.au for a round-up of all relocation options.
Buying a Vehicle
It is unbelievably easy to find good, cheap vehicles for sale in Australia. The backpacker culture means that people are buying and selling all the time, and there are a lot of serviceable vehicles out there.
(There are bad ones too, but be smart about it and you should be OK).
- For a longer trip especially, this can actually work out cheaper than renting if you find the right deal. There’s also the advantage of being able to sell the vehicle on at the end, and recoup some of the cash you paid for it in the first place.
- Freedom! The great thing about owning your own car or camper is that it’s totally up to you where you go and when you go. You can set up camp for a few weeks in one place if the fancy takes you. No time limit, no set route. This makes for an awesome road trip.
- Having a car can be useful for more than just travelling from A to B. Once you’ve arrived at B, you can use it for getting around too, which might save you money on public transport, for example.
- If something goes wrong, you’re on your own! (Pro tip: make sure you carry extra fuel if you’re covering long distances).
- Costs can add up, as mentioned previously. Petrol, insurance, and probably mechanic checks should definitely be taken into account when you’re weighing up your options!
Travel Hack: Use Facebook groups and Gumtree (and local classifieds!) to find good deals on cars for sale. For Facebook, just search your nearest big city + ‘backpacker’ and something will come up. Watch out especially for people who are imminently leaving the country – they are going to be much more eager (desperate) to sell for a lower price!
Coming from the UK, the concept of internal flights was a bit of foreign to me. But in the case of Australia, flying from one city to another actually can make a lot of sense, if you don’t want to spend hours or days travelling.
- By far the quickest way to travel. Even if it’s more expensive, the time you save is valuable in itself.
- Can be cost-effective provided you manage to find a good deal. Especially where by land it might take several days, and therefore hefty costs in terms of food, petrol and whatever else.
- Can potentially be expensive, especially if you’re not just travelling between state capitals.
- Weight restrictions can be a real pain. This is particularly tough if you’re moving on after a long stint in one place – say goodbye to all your carefully hoarded clothes and extensive collection of spices.
- The logistics of getting to and from the airport can be a pain. It is still a speedier option, but when you factor in time taken to get there, check in, and go through security, this does add up!
Travel Hack: Sign up for budget airline newsletters within Australia to grab a bargain when they are available. Scoot and Jetstar often release cheap flights – and you’ll get all this straight to your inbox!
Clearly there are some things I’ve missed off the list here, largely for practical reasons. Good luck finding a boat to get you down from Cairns to Sydney…
However, it is useful to have an idea of these other options for more local transport.
Boats are relevant when you are going to specific destinations – Kangaroo Island off South Australian coast, the state of Tasmania, and Rottnest Island out west of Perth, to name a few. Then, more generally, there’s public transport – the famous trams of Melbourne, of course, for getting around the city… and Adelaide’s singular tram.
Just for a general idea on prices:
|Perth-Rottnest||$67.50 adult day return, plus $18 admission fee|
|Kangaroo Island||$98 adult return; $196 return with vehicle|
|Tasmania ferry crossing||$99-$230 each way, depending on whether you have a vehicle or not|
|Townsville-Magnetic Island||$33 adult return|
I pulled these figures from a very brief Google search. You will likely be able to get better prices by booking further in advance, taking advantage of deals, using voucher codes etc.
In Melbourne trams are the best way to get around. It’s usually $4.10 per journey, with a maximum daily fare of $8.20. You can also get a weekly pass if you are a frequent tram user, at a cost of $41.
Note: you need a Myki card, at a cost of $6, to travel outside of the CBD’s free tram zone
Public buses around Australia are all pretty easy to figure out (especially with the help of Google Maps and CityMapper. CityMapper might just change your life). Prices vary massively depending on the journey you’re making, so I won’t go into detail here, but I will say this: get a travel card. Some places (like Melbourne) actually require you to have these, others (Sydney) it just makes life a hell of a lot easier.
Check out the following links for more information:
Brisbane – Go Card
Melbourne – Myki card
Sydney – Opal card
As promised, here’s a breakdown of the price differences for one specific route, travelling by all the different potential transport options. A great way of comparing possible routes is to use the website Rome2Rio, which has data from all the world to help you make the right transport decision. The figures below are quoted from this site, and just show a basic range. Again, if you are a student you might be able to get cheaper prices, as well as if you use loyalty points or voucher codes and so on.#
Sydney to Melbourne (877 km by the main highway)
|Mode of Transport||Price|
|Flight||$65-$250, plus $17/18 either side for an airport transfer|
|Train||$80-$140 - book as far in advance as possible!|
|Bus||$6-$75 for a Firefly bus; $105-$205 for Greyhound|
|Driving (car)||around $120 in petrol|
|Driving (camper)||around $160 in petrol|
And thus concludes my brief rundown of all your transport options in Oz.
I really hope this has helped you guys out in some way!
And, if you have indeed found this helpful, head on over and have a read of some of my other blogs on travel in Oz. There are PLENTY more tips where these came from.
I’ve written everything from practical tips to save money in Far North Queensland, to filling out your tax return, to an exhaustive guide on the second year visa. Go check out the good stuff.
Keep on travelling!