Everything you need to know about travelling down under! From where to go, how to handle that flight, the spiders, seeing Kangaroos & Koalas, learning to do a Tim Tam slam and of course, appreciating their version of marmite – the great Vegemite. This is your ultimate guide to planning your perfect trip to Australia.
I’ve done 7 trips over 20 years and lived in both New South Wales and Queensland. For recommendations for hotels and restaurants and things to do you can find that here. But to get you started with the basic questions, tips and tricks to maximising this once in a lifetime trip to Australia then read on.
How long to go for?
This will usually be determined by your budget and holiday leave allowance. If you can, I would advise a good 3 weeks minimum (actually in Australia) for a first trip or indeed any trip. If you are booking leave from work then bear in mind you also need to add on 3 travel days and possibly a few jet lag recovery days when back. Don’t under estimate that jet lag! Your boss won’t thank you if you slide straight into work.
Also a warning – there is every chance you may fall in love – with the country! My first trip was just so incredible, I was having such an amazing time, I didn’t want to come home. But being so far away from London it’s not like you can pop back again easily…. so I negotiated with work to extend (unpaid!) my trip – so just warning you!!
When to go?
It really depends on what you crave weather wise. If you can handle the heat then their summer, Dec – Feb is perfect for you but this can also be the rainy and the stinger season – which means some beaches are off limits.
If you prefer the cooler climes yet with sunny drier days then hit up their winter in July/ August. But it will also depend on where you choose to go – one year I was in Uluru at Easter and it was 41 degrees but only 17 when I flew to Melbourne.
One thing to note if you go for the classic Sydney Christmas and New Years with THOSE harbour fireworks – many bars and restaurants shut for a week or 2 following! It’s their summer hols and so it could be disappointing, even some hotels are scaled down. So do check and bear that in mind!
My favourite time to go is mid Jan. Everywhere has reopened and then all the summer festivals and fun starts. There’s open air cinemas, pop up’s, awesome arty events etc plus if you are from U.K. then you’ll be ready to escape the long winter by then!
Where to go?
For many, this decision is often driven by visiting friends and family. If that’s you, then make sure you actually get out and explore the country. It’s so easy to slip into your friends and family lifestyle – which is glorious to be a part of but there’s so much else to see and do!
For a first timer definitely head to the east coast. Starting in Sydney – it’s iconic. From Sydney there’s amazing day trips to the eclectic Blue Mountains or wine tasting Hunter Valley region or make your way north to the infamous hippy destination of Byron Bay.
The further north you go the warmer and wetter it will get. From Byron you can cross over to Queensland and up to the touristy more trashy but fun Gold Coast and the famous Surfers Paradise.
An hours drive north or a lil plane hop is the more family ordinated Brisbane. (Though since Sydney clamped down on the party scene Brissie has picked up the baton and fast becoming more and more popular – with some awesome rooftop bars).
A few hours drive further north or another plane hop and you hit the more chic Sunshine Coast. Full of beach resorts as this is where the locals holiday.
Or jump much further north to the famous Frazer Island – with no road just sand and a lot of 4X4 jeeps! Or fly further up to Cairns and see the magical Milla Milla Falls.
Then maybe you might fancy heading to the northern top of the east coast and visit Cape Tribulation – where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef.
Or if uber lux is your vibe then jump across to the Whit Sundays, for swimming and snorkelling in the most stunning location – the Caribbean of Australia.
Calling all wine connoisseurs or just those that love a Aussie wine – maybe heading way down past Sydney to Victoria and visiting some of Australia’s best vineyards is your thing. Though they are also widespread across all of Aus – depends what your tipple choice is!
You may decide metropolitan Melbourne is more you jam – reminds me of a cross between Southbank in London and Brighton. They even have a Brighton beach! It is also home to one of Aus’s best exports – ‘Neighbours’ as yes can visit Ramsey street! (That was my best culture moment ever!)
Could the heritage of the country be your draw and your trip would not be complete without flying to the centre of Australia and visit the spiritual, magical and memorable Uluru (also known as Ayres Rock).
Then there’s the north, south and east – all places in 20 years I still have to visit!! Be warned the time will fly and you can only do so much – it is exhausting but oh so worth it!
If you are struggling to prioritise my suggestion is to make your – can’t go home without having been – list. Plot them on a map and you’ll see where will maximise your time. And remember how huge the country is. You don’t just pop places like Perth from Sydney – that would be like an Aussie coming to London and popping to Cyprus for a night! Totally doable but not as close as you’d assume.
Before you go booking anything, please double check you are allowed in to the country! They have a visa entry requirement depending which country you are from. More can be found here. As a U.K. citizen I just needed a valid passport and the e-visa – which is free online if you just going for a holiday and staying under 3 months. (Don’t get scammed by sites that charge!) To apply direct click here.
The first thing every one says when I talk about my love of Aus is how can you do that flight, followed by, what about the spiders!? In 7 trips I still haven’t seen one, or a snake, a shark or a crocodile for that matter! If you head into the bush or outback then sure, they would be much more common but in the cities not so much. Though there is a phrase that every Aussie has a huntsman spider story… so maybe I’ve been lucky!
You are much more likely to see wild Koalas and Kangaroo’s! Though you wouldn’t want a Kangaroo hopping out in front of you whilst driving – they are big!
The nasties you need to look out for are the Mossies! Like anywhere they love the humid heat and stagnant water. When I lived in Brisbane, if I went out to check the mail box first thing, I’d come back in with a new bite. A rooftop bar by the river … if I didn’t spray, I’d look like I had chickenpox the next day! Also super common (more in Queensland) are Geckos who like to roam around and stick to your windows but are harmless. So as far as the spiders, snakes, sharks and crocs don’t worry – you are most likely to find the in Wildlife centres – safely locked away or fake ones for fun photos!
The flight however is hideous. That comment is fair – it’s all true. There’s no way of dressing it up! Economy sucks. The length sucks. The jet lag sucks and the lay over sucks. Unless you are in fancy class with a flat bed but even then it’s long, disorientating and exhausting! I’ve travelled in economy, premium economy and business – tho I don’t recommend breaking your foot to be upgraded to business. Yes that has happened twice to me!!! (You can’t fly long haul with a cast due to the DVT risk unless your leg has to be elevated!) I mean it was one way to experience tea, biscuits and bubbles on tap! Oh and ruin me for future flights!
But for those less clumsy than me and with cheap biz class tickets long gone most people will be in some sort of economy cabin! I have found premium economy worth it – if you can get a good deal. Just having that extra space and quieter cabin really helps the claustrophobia. Plus you get 2 checked pieces of luggage. (You might only think you’ll need one case but coming home twice I have had to buy a second for all my purchases – mainly gifts and I heart Sydney hoodies!)
You can of course always ask at check in about upgrades. Might not be free but there may be a deal to be had! Or some airlines like Etihad offer a bidding system nearer the time of your flight where you literally enter a live auction to get upgraded. If you have a small budget then worth a shot! But for most people it’s time to buckle in, suck it up and know the economy pain will be worth it!
The lay over
This is personal preference or down to cost saving. Sometimes it’s cheaper for a long lay over, some people prefer to use this as an opportunity to explore another place on route depending on your holiday allowance. I like to to get there as quickly and stress free as possible. So always opted for short lay overs. (Side note for re-boarding, even though you have stayed airside you usually have to go through hand luggage security at the boarding gate. So that perfume you bought at gatwick – keep it in its sealed security bag.)
I’ve been through Abu Dubai, Kuala Lumpa and Singapore. The latter has one advantage – they sell Melatonin over the counter in their airport pharmacy. Which helps with jet lag and sleep! Can’t be bought in Aus or U.K. so I always stocked up!
From London, one leg is always longer – I prefer to board in the evening and have the longer leg first as I can usually fall asleep for some of it. (Am lucky it’s a super power!) Then the second leg doesn’t feel so hideous. (Tho if you fly with the same airline it will also be this in reverse) My last trip I did 7 hours then 14 with a 4 hr lay over which fell at 2-6am London time. I was in Abu Dubai airport wide awake, unable to sleep in the middle of the night but it was the cheapest ticket so I sucked it up. But it was hard going. I re boarded and luckily clean passed out but after what I felt was a whole nights sleep, I discovered we had still 10 hours to go. And it so painfully slow!
Apparently it’s like child birth you do forget the pain – and it’s true! At about 15 hours in I woke up thinking this is not ok, get me off, why why did I forget this part. But when you land and the excitement kicks in, it’s oh it’s so worth it!
When I first landed for my first solo trip to Australia, nearly 20 years ago, I wasn’t a seasoned a traveller and it was hugely exciting but also utterly overwhelming. There was another flight from Asia just in and passport control was a lot. Dogs were running around everyone, then noise was loud and queues were long. Which when you are sleep deprived can be quite daunting. I didn’t know then I was neurodivergent and so I found it particularly challenging but now I have couping strategies, like headphones.
In customs, I hadn’t appreciated the strict food rules. I had dried banana pieces (was a snack of choice back then!) and had all my bags searched as it’s banned. But they were really kind and helpful as I had declared it on my incoming passenger card they give you on the flight.
The golden rule is always, always no matter what food or medicine you have – declare it. Sometimes that means they read your card and you can go straight through. But if there’s something on the contra-ban list that you didn’t know about then you won’t get fined. Though it may be confiscated.
The customs website isn’t hugely clear for some specific things so just put it down on your immigration card – which they hand to you on the flight. (This seems a good website of how to fill it in) But as a general rule avoid bringing fruit, dried fruit, dairy, seeds – this goes for any airplane food too you may have pocketed.
Keeping in touch
Due to roaming charges of the past and having lived in Aus, I always get an aus sim and bring a spare unlocked handset. The roaming charges have massively improved – now they have been regulated. My last trip didn’t cost me anything extra to use my UK phone! But if you have friends in Aus they won’t want to be calling ‘abroad’ to your number – though most things can be done on WhatsApp these days. But for just a few dollars, I recommend taking a spare unlocked handset and getting the sim and then stick your home phone in wifi mode for the trip.
At the main airports there’s plenty of places to buy a pay as you go SiM – I used Optus desk at Sydney Kingford airport – where someone can actually help you! Though I’d advise, before you leave for your trip, figure out which plan is for you – as you will be tired and making decisions is hard!
Uber is alive and well in Australia but no Bolt or Lift. The buses, ferries, trams and trains I found super reliable.
And just use Citymapper or Google maps to navigate. But from the airports I tend to jump in a metered taxis – but confirm the price before you get in! Especially the way back to the airport if not ubering!
Internal flights are cheap – if you book in advance but be warned there’s different airports used by different airlines – much like London. Also be wary of your luggage allowance – if you are taking all your luggage around with you the allowance may be less than your international flight over. There’s also the Ryan air and BA equivalents…. I once flew with Tiger airways to Melbourne and all my aussie friends were like noooo but that day the preferred Virgin carrier had all their computers go down .. and I breezed down to Melbourne leaving chaos in Sydney! (Tho we did also arrive in a very odd small tin pot airport but so did our bags – so success!)
That said Virgin are my favourite internal flight operator. So thoughtful, kind and it’s like the old days where even on a short flight you get a drink and snack or meal! Jet star are cheaper but will weigh hand luggage and Qantas is known for delays. But sometimes the budget overrules whats a better experience and the good ones don’t always get it right.
For domestic flights I recommend 90 mins before – if you are checking in baggage. If not then you can slide in later but that just makes me anxious so I’m a be early type! Oh and there’s no 100ml restrictions – just no aerosols or sharp object’s in hand luggage.
Hotel on arrival & Jet lag
When arriving down under, a lot of the international flights get in very early in the morning. If you are staying in a hotel, your room will probably not be ready. Have a plan, as to reinforce – the tiredness is real! I have often stayed with friends so not had to worry about staying awake till check in. I have also gone against all the rules of jet lag, had breakfast then gone to bed for the day, woken up for dinner and then slept brilliantly all the way through. So my first ‘real’ day I am refreshed and ready to go! Some will say you need to power on through – which if you have slept in first class I fully endorse! But I tried this last time (not the first class sadly!) and it ruined me. The jet lag haunted me the whole trip! 4am was my new wake up time! So do what you know is best for your body. But if you are in a hotel you won’t be able to sleep until 2/3pm anyway. So while you wait for your room I’d suggest check in and having a shower in their gym (if available) – it’s amazing after all that time!
Before you leave for Aus – research where you fancy for your first Aussie brunch so it’s special. They were way ahead of the brunch concept so do it well! As I always fly into Sydney I either hop over at the eastern beaches or a city rooftop, of course! Then off to the local shops to get amenities I need for my room or trip and hopefully by then it’s time to unpack and sleep!
Always leave some room – you will shop. As I mentioned I always return with a new cheap case full of gifts and things you can’t get in the U.K. Though after 20 years you can now get most things through the magic of the internet – kinda spoils the fun a bit. If I am travelling round Aus then I save my tacky shopping until the last few days when I don’t have any more domestic flights. That way it doesn’t take up weight and space when you are jetting around.
One golden rule – always, always put an air tag in your checked luggage. This isn’t an Aus thing but a travel thing. If you are not reunited with your belongings then you will have more of an idea where they are!
Though do note there can be on a lag so once I flew and as we took off my luggage appeared to be in another terminal but it just hadn’t updated yet! More on my general packing tips to come.
One thing this last trip I didn’t need to pack was any Australian Dollars. Everything is tappable. I took $50 that I brought home last time. And brought it home again this time! It’s nice to have a bit of cash to feel that security. I do ensure I have at least 3 cards I can use abroad on Apple Pay so I’m never caught out. And don’t forget to bring the actual cards – which I only used to pay for the odd hotel but should your phone be stolen or have an unknown limit on your Apple Pay appeared – you have these as back up.
Things to do in Aus
Like most major cities you will find an array of museums, art galleries, heritage sites, amusement parks and great shopping – Aus has all those and more.
Then there’s the more bespoke to Aus activities like cuddling a koala or learning to surf. Click here to find your city destination and guide to what to do, where I’ve stayed, places to eat and of course rooftop bars!
Food and drink
Australia used to be fairly cheap but the last decade the major cities are now rivalling London prices. But like everywhere there’s fancy places like the boujee rooftop bars and more low key venues – including some more quaint pub rooftops. Click here for the rooftop bars.
Fish plays a big part of the diet and I also noticed this last trip how amazing the gluten free offering was. Small plates are much more a part of dining now than anywhere else I’ve been. Means you satisfy more cravings!!
As Australia is home to more unusual animals you can expect some more unusual options – I once had a tasting plate of crocodile, wallaby, emu and kangaroo!
Most restaurants haven’t reverted back to waiter service for ordering. QR codes are very much here to stay. And I went to NSW, Queensland and Victoria – same everywhere. Place your orders through the app but it is delivered to your table so having that Aus sim card was handy!
This way of ordering is also a game changer for solo travellers. No fear of losing your table while you place your order and fancy another – easy!
There’s also lots of new sweets and cakes to try. I am addicted to Cheekies – though I am in the minority with my friends! I can literally inhale a bag in seconds! So all the more for me. This brand also make some called ‘snakes alive!’ Great for gifts for kids! Or big kids!
Then there also Vegemite, Lamington’s and Tim tams you have to try. For the famous ‘Tim tam slam’ you have to bite a corner of each end of a Tim tam dunk in your tea or coffee and use as a straw! Thank me later!)
With over 10,000 of the world most beautiful beaches it’s hard to know where to start! They all have something different.
From the famous Bondi beach to the uninhabited Whitehaven where you only leave your foot prints, to Melbourne’s infamous St Kilda to the beach that doubles as a set for one of its flagship shows: ‘Home and Away’. You will be spoilt for choice.
Lastly whilst you probably won’t be watching much Aussie TV don’t expect much, it’s not great viewing. (Except for their soaps obviously 😉 And never listen to the morning forecasts or look at the weather apps – esp the BBC…. I was sat in 33 degrees with clear blue skies and the app said my location had a thunder storm!
Wherever and whenever you go, I hope you have the most amazing trip to Australia. Be prepared for that jet lagged bump back down to earth when you get home. You’ll be glad you booked those extra days off as you pop on your new ‘I heart Aus’ hoodie, open some Tim tams you bought for others, and pour through your pics, pinching yourself you were on the other side of the world. It’s a one in a life time experience – but as said to start – you will want to go back, maybe even move there! I know I’m already planning trip no 8… (and yes I tried living there that’s a story for another day.)