The Hungry Wanderers

Eating and exploring our way through the world

Australian Wrapup – Thoughts on planning your trip.

Posted by gingerbreadpirate on April 12, 2010

Harbour.tif Well, we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our trip to Australia.  From the Great Barrier Reef, to Coffee World, to a Stonegrille on Jervis Bay, to the Great Ocean Road, we had a great time, and we hope you enjoyed reading about it.

But what we really hope is that you’ll find yourself planning a trip to Australia soon.  I don’t know what, exactly, I expected in Australia, but I know that I wasn’t disappointed.  In so many ways, it’s really not any different from being here in the States.  The mountains looks like mountains, so naturally familiar.  And yet, something about them is so foreign and exotic, with the yellowish tint of the gum tree leaves, or roving cattle in the valleys. 

 

IMG_3477The same is true for the night sky.  You look up, and it’s just a bunch of stars, brilliant and bright.  But somehow, even if you’re not an astronomer, you just sense that something’s different. 

“Where’s the North Star?  And what’s all this other stuff?” 

“Oh, that’s the Southern Cross.” 

“Really?” 

It’s just amazing how similar, and yet wonderfully new and different everything is.  So we hope you find yourself insatiably longing to go see what Australia has to offer, and we promise you won’t be disappointed. 

We’re putting this post together to give you a feel for what it cost us to go, and how we went about planning it.  This week, we’ll have another post on what we would do differently, and how we would cut some significant costs to the trip, were we to do it all again. 

As a little background, going to Australia has been on my list of things to do for a LONG time.  Aside from the fabulous adventure I knew the trip would be, I had the familial obligation to go see my brother, who has lived there for almost 10 years.  I couldn’t help but feel guilty that everyone else in the family had managed to go see him, and I hadn’t.  I had been budgeting, even when I was single, to save up money, miles, and vacation time to put together a three-week trip.  Once I got married, suddenly the budget wasn’t enough, I didn’t think I could ever fly that many miles or save enough money, and now two people had to put together the vacation time.  On the flip side, I knew I’d have a partner to go experience the continent, instead of wandering like some kind of drover in the Bush.

The first thing I would say about anyone trying to plan a trip would be to determine what you want to do.  We would be flattered if you started with our blog and Where We’ve Been as a start, but to be honest, there are wonderful resources online and great travel books available on all that Australia has to offer.  We also worked with a company called GoWay.com on everything.  Our agent, Emma, was fantastic in customizing our itinerary to our personal needs, including the fact that I had family in the area, and we would be providing our own transportation to and from the Australia.  For the record, we’re not being paid by GoWay Travel for the plug (if only!).  From our fickle beginnings of trying to figure out what to see and what season to go (we were originally considering September ‘09 to go), to our final itinerary, and including a last-minute change in hotel accommodations (the hotel was under renovation, so we were moved to another local hotel), she was taking care of us.  So, with sincere appreciation for all the help, thanks, Emma!

You might consider that you would benefit from a travel agent.  In many cases, we shy from agents because we simply feel like we can plan the trip as effectively ourselves, without the overhead of an agent.  Certainly, with domestic destinations, that’s generally true.  If you’re willing to research your destination, the internet provides a wealth of information on most anywhere in the U.S.  However, when researching overseas destinations, we’ve found it all to be a little harder.  What are the visa requirements?  Are ATMs generally available?  Do people there even know what travelers cheques are?  Do I need an international driver’s license?  These are all things a good agent can help you with. 

For Australia, we had additional concerns like:  What are the speed limits generally like?  How far can you generally drive in one day (i.e. do the highways support “interstate” travel?  Or is it all dirt roads, like in the movies?)?  Are hotels generally available in every town?  What are good places to see along the way; less-talked-about, but still great sites?  Once again, a good agent can help you with these things. 

There is the other “sock full of cash” travel method.  You figure out how to get there, and bring a bankroll to support the lifestyle you anticipate living, and figure the rest out once you get there.  This method thrives on spontaneity, and I can’t say that I’m not a bit jealous of anyone that can travel this way to someplace new.  Being a planner, I imagine getting there, not having enough to get to see the sights I really want to see, and eventually being stranded in the Bush, on my way from one small town to the next.  Indeed, we saw several backpackers, and even our waitress at Romano’s on Hamilton Island had traveled this way.  She was working at the restaurant to earn enough money to return to Saskatchewan. 

As I said, we opted for a fully-planned trip, complete with GoWay’s support.  When I initially put together an estimate for how much we should save, I estimated $10,000.  To be clear, and perhaps a bit obvious, that’s a lot of money.  That’s a LOT of money.  The Wife did her best to keep her eyes in her head when I suggested it, but then I started talking about all the expenses.

Item Approx Cost (USD) Qty Total
Transportation      
Transpac Flight $1500/person 2 $3000
Intra-Continental $1000/person 2 $2000
Hotel rooms $100/night 20 $2000
Meals* $40/day/person 40 $1600
Souvenirs $500 1 $400
    Total $9000
Incidentals 10% 1 $900
    TOTAL $9900

 

Now, I know it looks unreasonable, but I want to remind you of two things: 

a.) It’s a long way to go.  As you can see, I estimated $5000 for transportation, alone.  Just getting there is expensive, but there’s no way around it.  Australia isn’t getting any closer. 

b.) It’s a long way to go.  I know this is the first as the last point, but not really.  Between the time difference, the distance traveled, etc. you need to make the trip worthwhile.  You can’t “do” Australia in a weekend.  After three weeks, we were only able to see the East Coast, really.  You lose almost two days in transit from the East Coast, for heaven’s sake!  By planning ahead and budgeting, though, you can maximize your time on the ground, seeing and doing and enjoying, and ultimately save money by not having to return. 

To rationalize my estimate, take a look.

Transportation – Getting there -  Flights across the Pacific are expensive and long.  There’s just no way around it.  You can find some great deals if you really look, and you’re willing to fly in the off season (our summer, their winter).  Air New Zealand had some great deals on flights through Auckland, but the dates never matched up for us.  We were pretty well boxed into March, though.  When traveling, flexibiltiy=cost savings.  We were not flexible, though.  We had the move and a wedding in May, and we didn’t want to go during the peak of summer (sounded hot to us).  We also didn’t really care to go during the winter, because we weren’t sure how much would shut down for the off-seasons.  In hindsight, an escape to somewhere cold during the peak of the Nevada desert summer sounds wonderful… perhaps we should have reconsidered.  =)   
In the end, we were under this number.  We helped our costs by departing out of Las Vegas while househunting, and the Global Financial Crisis (GFC as the Aussies refer to it) has helped depress these international fares, so we saved about $500 off this estimate.

 

IMG_3247Transportation – Getting around – It’s a big country.  I hate to keep harping on this, but it’s just one of those things.  We drove over 2300 miles while we were there, and never saw the Outback or the Indian Ocean.  Imagine trying to “get around” the U.S. in 3 weeks and see a selection of all the major sites – Golden Gate Bridge, Rocky Mountains, Grand Canyon, DisneyWorld, Manhattan, and the National Mall.  Notice that I left out some big ones like Sedona, Chicago, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Niagara Falls, and the east coast beaches.  Getting around I figured between rental cars, a flight or two on Qantas (the primary Austalian airline), and a train ride, AND public transportation, $1000/person was fair. 
In the end, this was about right, but a little high on my prediction.  A month in a rental car, plus all the tolls around major cities, $50 in gas every travel day (yup, gas is $1.30 AUD/liter –PER LITER, like Europe – or about $4.60/gallon USD), our train ride to Brisbane, and our flight from Cairns to Melbourne… it all adds up. 

 

IMG_7367Hotel rooms – We really wanted spend a lot of time SEEING Australia, and not just Sydney and Melbourne, so it was really hard to tell how much hotel rooms were going to be outside of urban areas.  I couldn’t really name any resorts or tourist destinations in Australia outside of the Great Barrier Reef or Uluru when we started planning, so I just plucked the number out of the air. 
This turned out to be about right, too, though, although I predicted a little high.  One thing to keep in mind is I “upgraded” our accommodations on Hamilton Island to “first class.”  Hamilton Island, also, is a very expensive place to stay, so these rooms really were a splurge, but they were fantastic.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a hotel room quite that fantastic, when the whole picture was considered (location, view, quality, seclusion, service, amenities, etc.)  All the rest of our hotels were 3 – 3.5-stars.  We were remarkably pleased with the quality of all our hotels, to the point of surprise.  We expected Holiday Inn-type quality, and we felt like we were, at a minimum, a half-step above that everywhere we stayed.   
Also, my brother said that hotels booked from inside Australia (.com.au IP addresses), are generally far cheaper than rates offered to interinational rates.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but this might be another place that working through an agent like GoWay, who has a sizable office in Downtown Sydney, might pay off.  There’s no doubt in my mind that we benefited from corporate purchasing power on our hotel rooms.
One more note, here.  I did not check the prices of the hotels prior to booking.  I knew how much we wanted to spend, told Emma what we were looking for, and compared the total (non-itemized) quote against the budget.  It all fell in line, so we booked it. The itemized quote was available upon request, which I requested when we got home, just because I wanted to see what it all looked like (and I wanted to know so I could write this entry more effectively).  In hindsight, I still think we got a deal.

 

IMG_2165Meals – This was another hard one to determine.  I had no idea how much food cost, or how available it would be.  So I figured, if we ate at the hotel, or a local cafe for breakfast, had a reasonable lunch every other day, and a nice meal out 3 times a week, when combined with the conversion rate, $40/person might be reasonable. 
As it turns out, this was probably the one place that my calculations were wildly off.  Anything consumable in Australia, we thought, was very expensive; 1 liter of water was $3 in most places.  We paid $8 for a 2L in one place.  Nothing was under $1.  I think the $1 menu at McDonald’s was actually $1.99.  It wasn’t uncommon for breakfast to end up just under $20, and a lunch-type meal (sandwiches, beer – beer being cheaper than soda in some cases – and a side) to be as much as $50 AUD.  It was hard to have any kind of reasonable breakfast (coffee and toast) for under $8/person.  Things were just expensive. 

 

IMG_5844Souveniers and incidentals – You know you’re going to spend money on SOMETHING.  Things for friends, a hat, a boomerang, a didgeridoo, SOMETHING.  The tours all cost something to go on.
We bought a GPS for $170 AUD, which was one of the best investments we made.  We left it for my brother when we departed.  We could have bought maps on our GPS here, but they were just about as expensive as buying a new one there.  Since ours is a couple years old, we figured that one in Australia would probably have spoken streets, a better interface, better battery, etc. etc. etc.  Incidentally, the TomTom Start that we bought there clearly had some more sophisticated software than the Garmin we have here at home, but I still strongly believe that GPS interfaces have a long way to come before they are really user-friendly.
We also bought a wireless data card to keep up with the blog.  Internet access was between $10-$30 in every hotel we went to, per computer.  That’s a minimum $20/day for internet for 20 days, that’s $400!  And some places charged by the kilobyte, which really drives the cost up when you’re uploading (and downloading) pictures.  The $170 data card (with pre-paid plan) gave us both internet access at every hotel except Gipsy Point (which didn’t have any mobile reception), we were able to save some significant money.
This one is perhaps more difficult to track than the other costs, because so many of the fees get wrapped up in other costs.  Tours might be included in an entrance fee, or a hotel bill.  A lot of the costs are small, and get paid in cash, and we forgot to keep the receipts.  Some things I would include here, like buying books to read on the plane, or a new cosi were expended far before the trip, and I might have missed some.  Certainly, going on the SkyRail was in here, along with the XXXX Brewery, and the Bundaberg Barrel.  I’m pretty sure, though, that we overshot this one.  We did a lot of free things, too. 

So, we had a fabulous time, and spent a lot of money on our trip.  Was it worth it?  Absolutely.  Would we do it again?  No, actually.  We have seen enough that we would feel comfortable doing several things differently to enhance the value of our trip.  I’ll follow this post up with another discussing things we agreed would be money-saving, and value-enhancing for a trip to Australia.  Tune back in to see!

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