Australia: Backpacking For Beginners
People have many reasons not to take their first steps on a backpacking adventure. How is it done? What if something goes wrong? How do you sort travel from AA to B? What if you can’t understand the language? How do you sort out accommodation? What if you get scammed? People are afraid of taking the leap of faith into the unknown. Luckily, there’s one country where backpacking is as easy as can be, a country where these problems don’t exist! That country is Australia.
More specifically there’s one route which almost every traveller backpacking in Australia will in one way or the other travel along, the East Coast. In this article I’m going to show why Australia is the best place in the world to begin your first backpacking adventure!
A Very Popular Choice
Australia arguably has one of the most popular backpacking routes in the entire world. Although there are countries that can compete in popularity when it comes to backpacking (e.g. Thailand, India), few countries have such a well-established tourist industry and a route that practically every traveller in the country will inevitably follow. For any traveller in Australia, it’s near impossible not to follow at least part of the East Coast.
As its such a popular backpacking destination, you end up being in contact with hundreds of other backpackers during your time in Australia, most of which have or will be travelling the exact same route as you. You’ll find yourself running into the same faces as you go along, and end up at the same spots. Not only is it an amazing way of meeting like-minded people, but there’s a real sense of security being around people who are walking a similar path. You’re surrounded by knowledgeable people who can answer questions you have about your journey, and how to get the best out of your remaining travels
The more popular the destination, the more well established the tourist industry. Many people’s biggest fears are having to arrange everything that comes with travel i.e. hostels, transport and tours. How do you go about it? In Australia, this couldn’t be easier.
First of all, there are endless tour companies throughout the country which (if you really wanted) could arrange every single step of the way. That includes every hostel, every form of transport and even a handful of the best tours. You’ll simply get an itinerary telling you where to be and what time, so you don’t have to do a thing!
However, for those who prefer a little more independence, that’s also easy to achieve. Plenty of tour companies are able to arrange anything on the spot. Also, with a such a vast variety of companies to choose from, you’re able to find tours that perfectly fit your needs.
You could also be completely free of tour companies if you so wished. Millions of travellers follow the exact same route and many end up doing the same thing. As a result there are plenty of people that can give you tips and advice on where to go, what to see and how to do it.
Lastly, having a well established tourist industry means that problems are much less likely to turn up, and if they do, they’re dealt with efficiently and quickly. It’s a matter of reputation for these companies that they do so. You’re not going to be left behind or fucked over, everything’s as professional as can be.
Another major concern for would-be travellers is getting from A to B. How and where do you book tickets? Which routes do you take and do they go the way you want them to? These are problems that even seasoned travellers must still overcome. However, Australia has such a well-established backpacking industry, everything is very simple.
There are a number of options across the scale. Some may choose to take cheap flights between certain points, particularly if they’re on a tight schedule. However, if you have the time, then its pretty unnecessary and could miss out on so many things in-between. Another option is Australia’s railway network, most of which runs along the East Coast. This is one of the most expensive options.
Another popular option while backpacking in Australia is to rideshare i.e. strangers riding together to different points across the country. You can find plenty of groups on Facebook where travellers looking or offering a ride will post their information (destinations, dates of travel etc.), such as this. Usually the only cost is splitting the cost of fuel between you. That being said, it’s understandable that first time travellers may feel a little uneasy with this option.
Undoubtedly, the backpacker’s choice has always been long distance coaches. At least 75% of the passengers on these coaches will be backpackers, guaranteed! Often, you’ll run into familiar faces that are travelling to the same spots! The coaches take anywhere between 4-12 hours, which I admit sounds and, at times, feels like a lot, but it’s the cheapest and most popular option. Greyhound Australia and Premier (travels to less areas) are the two main companies in the country. Both offer a range of passes which can be used along the East Coast. Tickets can be booked online, and the best deal can be compared on Check My Bus!
So Much To See
One of the reasons it’s such an incredibly popular route is the sheer amount of diversity all along it. The 2,485 miles between Melbourne and Cairns has the complete spectrum of every landscape, ecosystem and vibe you could ever imagine. To put things into perspective, the route is the same as traveling from the northern tip of Scandinavia to the southern end of Italy, basically travelling the whole of Europe!
With such a great distance in-between, there is a plethora of things to see! The East Coast route brings you through enormous cities, pristine beaches, lush rainforests, red-earthed deserts, and some of the most abundant sea life in the world. For first time travellers there’s no better way of experiencing so much variety in such a short time.
It’s not just being able to see such incredible diversity in the landscapes, but its what you can experience in them! Do you want to camp on a tropical desert island surrounded by wild dingoes and fresh water lagoons? You got it! How about a few days sailing across the Great Barrier Reef? No problem! Spending the night in a teepee in the middle of a rain forest full of friendly iguanas and turkeys? Don’t mind if I do.
Where Would You Go?
Typically an East Coast trip always goes through the same sequence of destinations. They include the bright lights and big cities of Melbourne and Sydney, the tropical hippie paradise of Byron Bay, the pristine beaches of the Gold Coast, the site of Steve Iriwn’s zoo at Brisbane, the adventure filled Rainbow Beach and Fraser Island, and last but by no means least, the exploration of the Great Barrier Reef from Whitsunday Island and Cairns.
Each spot offers something completely different. After stepping off an 8+ hour bus journey, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in a completely different country. The variety means that there really is something for everyone, no matter what your passion. It also means that you might not like some of the places you end up, and that’s okay! Its part of the experience. Like every stereotypical backpacker says, “travel has taught me soooo much about myself”. You end up learning what kind of places you prefer, which places make you the happiest and which don’t.
What Would You Do?
Not only do travellers end up going to the same spots, but they also take the same tours. Though there are hundreds of tours to choose from, some have become must-do’s when backpacking in Australia. The two best and most popular are camping on Fraser Island and sailing the Whitsunday Islands.
Personally, I’d recommend camping on Fraser Island as that was by far the best experience I had in Australia. A large group of backpackers become a large convoy of monstrous 4X4’s shredding it’s way through the sandy coast of the island as you pass ship wrecks and delve deeper into the central rain forest to discover fresh water lakes, some of which are the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. You might be lucky enough to run into one of the many wild dingoes that roam the island freely. At night, you return to camp and spend your evening cooking over barbecues and drink your limited supply of booze around a campfire until it runs out.
However, for many it doesn’t compare to the time they spent sailing the Whitsunday Islands. A smaller group of travellers spend a few days onboard a boat at its sails its way through the inhabited islands off Australia’s east coast to one of the most picturesque places in the country. Depending on the tide at the island, a sand bank unveils itself in the middle of the ocean, allowing you to walk across the sea! The tour also includes plenty of chances to snorkel in some of the best spots along the Great Barrier Reef, where you might be lucky enough to run into a dolphin or a turtle!
Of course, you don’t have to take any sort of tour at all! You could arrange a completely independent adventure if you so wished! If you’re simply looking to get back to nature, you can. If you’re just after a month long piss-up, you can do that too, it’s Australia after all!
Heaven for the Animal Lovers
If you’re a lover of all god’s creatures, big or small, then Australia is the place for you! Not only does the country have an unbelievable variety of landscapes ranging from the lushest of rainforests to the most barren of deserts, but they’re home to some very unique ecosystems. For some (me included), the most exciting thing about visiting a new country is having a chance to get up close and personal with an exotic animal in their own habitat. Luckily, Australia is home to some of the most diverse range of wildlife on Earth, most of which can only be found here!
Obviously kangaroos and koalas are the two most well-known names on that list, both of which are valid enough reasons to travel all the way to Australia. However, there are so much more than just that! Alligators, snakes, spiders, sharks, sea turtles, dingoes, emus, wombats, the list goes on! Plenty to feed your animal fix!
A Language You Can Understand
This may seem like a very trivial reason, but it’s a legitimate worry for most people. Not being able to communicate with locals when you’re in a foreign country can be a problem, even for the most hardened traveller. Especially in moments such as trying to sort accommodation, transport or tours. Even worse when a real problem comes, and you have no way of explaining or getting an answer. It can be very challenging!
Luckily for you, Australia is an English-speaking country (in case you didn’t know). Outside of a strong accent and a few unfamiliar words or phrases that make you feel like a “drongo”, communication is never an issue.
Travelling to many countries, tourists become the target of scams, this is just undeniable fact. Not so in Australia. You’re not going to have tour companies trying to rip you off or salesmen jacking up prices. Everything is based off reputation and it’s a very competitive business. Tour groups can’t afford to gain a bad reputation for ripping off unwitting tourists. Thus, while backpacking in Australia you’re safe of any dodgy scams.
How can I get the visa and what’s the process.
That will depend on your home country. For example in the UK you’re able to apply for a visa online which is a very easy process, however I’m afraid I’m not sure what process there is in other countries