Author: Grant Eckert
Australia is a huge country, almost as large as the contiguous United States, and one of the most important backpacking tips for any traveler would be to give themselves enough time to really see the country.
Most international visitors fly into Sydney, the country's largest city, but the rest of this vast country, which also happens to be a continent, is well worth visiting too.
One of the biggest challenges is negotiating the huge distances; the distance from Perth on the west coast to Brisbane on the east coast is almost 2500 miles. The easiest way to travel is to fly. QANTAS serves the major cities as well as smaller places with intriguing names, Wollongong, Lord Howe Island and Doomadgee.
If you plan to see as much of the country as possible, consider buying one of the many air passes available which allow you to save money by taking a certain number of flights within a specific time period. The cost depends on the itinerary. A ticket from Perth to Cairns to Alice Springs and Melbourne might cost around $1200. You generally need to purchase these tickets outside Australia, and often in conjunction with your plane ticket to and from Australia.
If you have the time, driving is an excellent way to see the country, and to appreciate the sheer size. Car rental is easy and convenient, you will need a valid driver's license to rent a car and you need to have it with you while driving. Many travelers even find it more economical to purchase a car and then sell it before returning home. Australian drivers are polite, and won't tolerate drunk-driving, driving without a seat belt or talking on a cell phone while driving.
Roads are generally good in Australia, although some roads in the Outback are unpaved (or unsealed, as they are known) and can only be driven safely in a four wheel drive vehicle. If you are driving in the more remote parts of Australia, be alert for animals and "road trains", huge tractor-trailers up to fifty yards long. Never venture into the Outback without extra water and fuel, spare tires, a rope and perhaps a satellite phone. And don't forget, they drive on the left.
There is also a surprisingly good rail and bus network in Australia, there are several long distance bus companies, although Greyhound Pioneer Australia covers the entire country. Also, if you have the time, the train journey from Perth to Sydney is considered one of the world's most spectacular; it also boasts one of the world's longest straight stretches of railroad track.
If you don't want to fly or drive, consider an escorted tour. These can vary greatly in the quality of accommodation, the length of the trip and exactly what you will see. Most tours take in the popular destinations, Sydney and the surrounding Blue Mountains, the Gold Coast, Uluru, (Ayers Rock) and the Great Barrier Reef. Darwin makes a good base for exploring the tropical north of the country and Alice Springs is convenient for exploring the Outback.
Many people visit Australia to experience native Aborigine culture. If you plan to travel on Aboriginal land, other than on a designated road, you will first need to obtain a permit from the Land Council in that state. There are plenty of places throughout the country to see Aborigines and purchase their art and crafts, but you are also expected to show respect for their sacred sights.
The unit of currency in Australia is the dollar; divided into 100 cents. At the time of this writing, Australia is affordable to American and European visitors, due to the rather favorable exchange rate. ATMs can be found in all the larger towns and the major tourist areas, although they are often hard to find in the Outback.
Credit cards, particularly Visa and MasterCard, are widely accepted. Tipping is not as common as in the US, although it's appreciated. An inexpensive hotel room might cost somewhere between $50 and $80; a more luxurious hotel room may cost in the range of $260 to $300. Hostels and campgrounds are also widely available, reasonably priced and popular with families and backpackers.
The internet has meant that trip planning and keeping in touch has become easier. Australia is no exception. Internet access is widely available, even in the remotest Outback settlements. Australians use 240 volts AC, so you will need to take an adaptor for electrical appliances.
One of the easiest aspects about traveling through Australia is that the language is familiar. Although, you may come across such strange things as thongies, billabongs, sheilas and, as Australians are well known for their hospitality, possibly an invitation to a shrimp on the barbie.
About the Author:
Grant Eckert is a freelance writer who writes about topics pertaining to vacations and the travel industry.