The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel in Australia
Hello there, brave travellers! Is there any place so exciting and exotic as Australia? It’s an entire world within a continent! Just venture a little bit outside the main coastal cities, and you’re already in for a wildlife adventure of some sort.
But let’s face the facts. Australian prices are pretty steep, and just the transport alone would set your budget back significantly. Thankfully, as with most places in the world, there are still many ways to travel for free or dirt cheap. Read on for more information on the cheapest ways to get around Down Under.
100+ tips, including:
When you travel, the end rarely justifies the means - it’s the journey itself that counts! Here are a few ways you could get around this giant country dirt-cheap or free.
Free cars and campervans
Let’s kick this off with the obvious choice! Transfercar makes free travel possible, and since you’re already on our website, why wouldn’t you just go on and search for your ideal free rental car or your free rental campervan. “Free rides? As if!” you say. Well, here’s how it works: Rental car companies need to reposition their fleet for new hires, and travellers can help them relocate those cars. It’s a scenario where everybody wins: Travellers get a free ride and rental car companies save on expensive relocation costs.
Get your free rental car now!
Transportation on the east coast is significantly cheaper than transportation on the west coast. Book in advance for that extra discount, and keep your eyes open for $1 bus fares: Greyhound Australia, Premier, and McCafferty are the three major bus companies, and all of them have this offer. Most of the time they do the regular $30 fares, however, and expect a steep rise in prices for night buses.
Carpooling and ridesharing are always a good way to cross long distances in new and interesting company. There are a number of carpooling avenues you can explore to share travel costs.
CarpoolWorld is a large Australian carpooling website. The drivers register their current location and destination, what time they wish to leave, and write a short description about their trip, or their offer. All the regions are very well connected. Gumtree is a popular website for exchanges, sales, or information, but it gets a little shady and unsafe when you enter the ‘rideshare’ category, so be wary around Gumtree offers.
Facebook groups such as ‘Australia RideShare’‘Australian Car Market, Carpooling and Travel Buddies’ and ‘OzRideshares’ all have very large communities, making them very active places to find a ride and check out just who it is you’re getting in the car with, if you’re a little worried about traveling with complete strangers. If you’re a backpacker, OzRideshares is especially handy, as it is essentially a backpacking community.
Almost any trip between major cities in Australia is automatically a long trip that requires a flight. You can travel pretty cheap - if not free - with free car rentals. However, in the west coast, larger cities are far and sparse. This is why most people choose air travel. Skyscanner and WebJet are flight cost comparison websites. In terms of companies, Tiger Airways, Jetstar and Virgin Blue are cheap, while Qantas is definitely not. Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning, Tuesday, and Wednesday flights are the cheapest, if you aren’t pressed by time and can wait it out.
Take a vacation from rent! We have compiled a list of some of the best solutions for free or dirt-cheap places to spend the night in Australia. A roof over your head is guaranteed. We’ll even throw in some walls here and there!
Sleep for free... in a free campervan!
Transfercar is not only the single least-expensive (free) way to get around Australia, but it can also be the answer to your accommodation dilemma. Campervans are listed regularly on our website, where you can choose from a variety of models and features (petrol included, insurance included, etc.) in order to save even more cash. Free accommodation and transportation in Australia, what more could you want?
Couchsurfing is a popular concept for free accommodation during short stays abroad. It is essentially a community of like-minded individuals willing to welcome travellers into their lives and homes for a few days. There are over 9 million people participating in this community. Just sign up for the website, search the Australian region you plan on traveling to, and check out the locals offering a free couch for you to crash on, and send a ‘Couchrequest’ once you’ve found the perfect match.
The community runs on positive feedback, so it is pretty easy to find a trustworthy person to stay with. Heads up! If you know you’ll be traveling sometime in the near future, it may not be a bad idea to list your own premises in Couchsurfing. It’s a great way to meet new people, and the longer you’re listed, the more likely you are to get a good place to stay.
Australians are proud of the diversity in their country, and will take any opportunity to drive into the country. Hiking, trailblazing, camping, these are all popular pastimes for Aussies who know how to enjoy mainland Australia the way it’s meant to be enjoyed. FreeCampingAustralia does exactly what the name says - it lists out all free camps across the continent, and also some dirt-cheap ones.
There are plenty of websites for people who want to support themselves abroad when traveling. WWOOF and Workaway provide an opportunity for travellers to get free food and board in exchange for work. WWOOFing is largely based on a network of organic farmers who provide accommodation and food for their WWOOF volunteers, in exchange for around 4-6 hours of work per day.
Workaway is a little more open to different kinds of jobs - really, everything is listed, from running a hostel, to babysitting, to repairing cultural monuments. People list the jobs they need done, the months when they need to be done, and a short description, and if you plan on visiting a country for a longer period of time, this could be a way to support yourself: a few hours put in daily for free room and board, and often other perks as well.
There is no place like home - and sometimes, even another person’s home will do. Live rent-free in somebody’s home when they are out of town, minding their plants, pets, and premises in exchange for boarding.
If you’re not terrified of being responsible for other people’s possessions, check out Trusted House Sitters, a worldwide house sitting organisation that has plenty of listings from Australia. They specialize in pet sitting and house sitting. A year-long membership is $9.92 per month, and offer plenty of veterinary perks for pet owners who sign up as well. Their advanced search options provide you with the opportunity to specify which animals you would be willing to look after and allow you to search within certain dates.
House swapping enables you to stay in fantastic houses for free, so long as you own a house or apartment which you can offer in return. This is not a service for renters. House owners, read on:
There are several websites that provide listings of available houses to swap: Home Exchange is a global service, and a year’s membership costs $150. It is free to browse listings on AussieHouseSwaps, but when you find what you are looking for, you’ll need to register at a yearly $65 price. HouseswapHolidays ranks best, at $59.99, and an additional free membership on YourHomeForMine. On the other hand, Love Home Swap offers great international home swaps, and it has plenty of lovely Australian homes and mansions in major cities and remote places alike. Registration fees range from $20 to $34 per month depending on the plan.
With the traveling basics covered, it’s important to stop and think about what you plan on doing once you get to Australia. Note the following: Australia is a pretty expensive country. If you wish to maintain any sort of budget while there, it is important to look into the wonderful world of couponing.
Bookme specializes in affordable tourist offers in Australia. With discounts as low as 20-99% off, even Australia’s top tourist traps feel like a steal. What are Australia’s tourist traps? Beach activities, mostly. There is just about every kind of beach activity covered on every beach across the entire continent. In cities such as Brisbane and Sydney, BookMe specializes in thematic daily tours and nights out, be it a fancy dinner or a pub crawl.
If you are into vouchers and deals then there are a number of other sites that list hot deals around Australia; the largest sites which cover almost any topic of interest are Groupon and Scoopon, Adrenaline is perfect for thrill-seekers, and Vaniday is the cheapest way to pamper yourself.
Great free city attractions
Australia is geographically and biologically one of the most diverse places on Earth. It would be a shame to miss an opportunity to hike the natural wonders that can be found literally everywhere that’s not a busy city. The good news is that even the busy cities have their fair share of free attractions.
Most Melbourne good times are somewhere along the lines of hipster food and drinks and St. Kilda pier. Chinatown is full of cheap eateries where you can bring your own drinks. The Queen Victoria Market is a place for cheap souvenirs and mouthwatering street food. Take your daily catch to the Royal Botanic gardens for beer and “barbie” with your new carpool friends.
Once you’re full, you can take several fun walks - around St. Kilda Pier while looking for penguins, down Melbourne’s graffiti laneways, or with an organized city walking tour. Melbourne also offers free films and exhibitions at the Australia Centre for the Moving Image at Federation Square, and Aboriginal artwork exhibitions at the Ian Potter Centre.
Sydney has a multitude of large public parks that you can dawdle under the sun in, but you can also plan very active cheap days: Scenic boat rides passing under the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House are a dime a dozen - meaning they come at all prices, even really cheap ones. The Free City Walking Tours start off each day at 10:30am and 2:30pm from Sydney Town Hall.
Bondi Beach is Sydney’s main tourist offer, because who wouldn’t want to learn to surf in Sydney? Check out the coupon sites listed above to find the best value surf schools while you’re at it. The Art Gallery of New South Wales has a rich offer of free art exhibits, and even free films on Wednesdays, and the Museum of Contemporary Arts over at The Rocks is also free.
This is another big city that does not lack a whimsical charm. In terms of natural attractions, you can visit the inner city lagoon, cross Brisbane’s River in the Red City Hopper Ferry for free, stroll down the Mt Cootha Botanical Gardens, New Farm River Walk or Lamington National Park.
Affordable nighttime activities include free comedy shows at Brisbane’s Powerhouse every Friday at 6pm and Green Jam Sessions outdoors at Melbourne St. Green. The Museum of Modern Art in Southbank has a free entry, and yuo can even catch a free film at the State Library on Sundays.
This beach is best known as the starting point for all Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef tours. Obviously, both of these activities are pretty steep, but you can enjoy Airlie Beach without breaking your bank. Catch a tan at Airlie Beach Lagoon or by the Greyhound bus stop, enjoy the cultural melting pot at the weekend markets, take a walk along the Bicentennial Boardwalk, and by all means, visit Cedar Creek Falls if you have a car.
Australia is a chockful of cultural activities. The culture stems from a unique history and a passion for the arts. There are budding museums around almost every corner; ones that talk about Australia’s fascinating past, others touch upon contemporary arts, and there are those that touch upon the future. As a result, Australia represents a science nerd’s haven, with art shows, festivals, concerts - all of which seem to happen on the same day, every day all year long.
You could do what most Australians do, and keep up with Australian cultural activities through the often updated Eventfinda.
There are fantastic free museums all over Australia, and they cater to almost any niche. Some of the best free museums you should visit are:
- Nicholson Museum in Sydney. It’s the place to be if you want to see the largest collection of antiques in Australia. It has a display of near eastern, classical, Egyptian, Cypriot and European collections. It’s conveniently located in the Main Quadrangle at the University of Sydney. It’s open 10am - 4.30pm weekdays, 12pm - 4pm 1st Saturday of every month, and it’s closed on Sundays, public holidays and other saturdays.
- Sydney Jewish Museum. It’s free on the first Sunday of each month. The museum serves as a testament to history of the Jewish people and the toll the Holocaust in Australia left on the Jewish community. There’s a gift shop, a gallery, a war memorial plaza, a theatre and a sanctum of remembrance.
- The Australian National Maritime Museum. It’s located in Darling Harbour, a jewel spot in Sydney. The museum has exhibitions that focus on Australia’s cornucopia of connections to the sea: commerce, immigration, tourism, defense, and more. The museum is fantastic for families, and for solo tourists as well.
- The Government House. The government house in the Royal Botanic Gardens is a historic site in Australia. You can get to it and experience tours, concerts, exhibitions, festivals, lectures and many other events. It’s even used for state affairs and events. The house has an interesting display of soft furnishings and fabrics used throughout.
- Homebake is a quintessential Australian music festival, held in December at the Domain in Sydney. While Homebake doesn’t have the budget for lineup busting headlining names, it certainly makes up for it with its atmosphere and the tickets that seem to sell like hot cakes. Homebake 2015 sold out in under 10 minutes.
- Falls Festival is one the most important events on the Australian festival calendar. The even has two lineups, and both happen simultaneously albeit at two different locations - in Victoria and Tasmania. Falls attract international acts, and this is further evidenced by the fact that tickets are incredibly difficult to get. But if you do manage to snatch some tix, it’ll be worth it
- Meredith Music Festival’s three rules are “No glass, no bean bags, no dickheads.” You can only imagine the high class musicality that goes on its stages. The festival is also one of the eldest ones in Australia. The Victorian venue makes the festival feel a lot more intimate and closer than at other venues.
- St. Jermoe’s Laneway Festival. Melbourne’s CBD is notoriously claustrophobic, but the Laneway Festival uses it to its advantage. It began in 2004 much to the praise to local critics, and it continues to take place in small laneways and urban passages. The small street capacity for huge crowds will either fright you or delight you… or both.
Free movies in Australia are a bit rare. You have to be at the right time and the right place to find a free viewing, and they’re usually set in public libraries. But you can always try to go to film festivals! They’re organised all over Australia - indoor, outdoor, and wherever in between and beyond, and the ticket price ranges vary wildly. The screenings usually include choice cinema that eschews mass-produced Hollywood films. Go to Film Festivals Australia to search for the best events, through all niche genres and prices points, all over Australia.
Food is only free if you’re eccentric enough to try dumpster diving or foraging, or if you’ve got mad wedding crashing skills. The rest of us have to find some way to feed ourselves on a budget, and we’d like to share a few cheaper routes to take when planning meals in Australia.
- Aldi This chain of supermarket is your best bet when you’re down on cash and hungry. Year after year, they keep a spectacular record of being the cheapest supermarket in Australia - even causing chain supermarkets in its vicinity to drop their prices, just to remain in the game!
- Groupon and its mate Scoopon keep an impressive list of available coupons per city, and you can easily find dirt-cheap food and drinks in fancy restaurants and pubs with these sites.
- Food courts and food vans are still a big deal in major cities around the continent. This is a great way to eat a warm meal - even one with a spoon - for ridiculously cheap prices. Keep in mind that most Australian restaurants still practice BYO (Bring Your Own [Drink name here].
- If these sites aren’t producing the desired results, try googling the name of the town or city in plus the word “deals” and it should come up with an overview of the deals in that town or city…
You’d never think of swiping around your social media while driving through the incredibly beautiful Australian country side, but then again, how did those artsy nature shots of the Outback come to be, if from some blogger snapping away their entire vacation? Not to mention, Australia is immensely large. You wouldn’t want to get lost here, and if you do, you’d want your phone on you. We’ve come up with some ways to keep in contact and utilise the internet without paying a small fortune in roaming fees.
Whichever brand you choose, expect to find the cheapest broadband plans starting at $10, and the ones most popular with backpackers at around $40.
- Of the three major mobile operators in Australia, Optus is the cheapest with decent coverage. For $10, get unlimited national calls and SMS and 500MB data
- Kogan is a smaller provider, with a $16.99 30-day plan: 1GB data and unlimited national calls and SMS.
There are free wi-fi hotspots all around Australia - not nearly as many as you’d find in Europe or North America, but they exist. Don’t feel awkward asking strangers for instructions though, check out the free wi-fi website.
Take advantage of retail chains and restaurants, all of which have wi-fi available. After all, isn’t free wi-fi the reason coffee shops exist?
- City CBD’s are also usually interspersed with hotspots. Log into Victoria’s CBD’s with the password “VicFreeWiFi” for 250 MB per device, check out this detailed map of Perth’s free wifi spots here. Melbourne hotspots are at the Federation Square, Flinders St. Station, the City Library, the State Library of Victoria, the Queen Victoria Building, the airport, the Melbourne Museum and Melbourne Visitor Centre; in Sydney: Circular Quay, Public Libraries and McDonald’s restaurants; in Byron Bay: the Gallery of Modern Art and the State Library..
- Be wary of hostels with Global Gossip pay-to-use terminals. These are expensive, not that fast, and almost everywhere. Find a hostel with TRULY free wi-fi using HostelCritic to guide you.
- Viber is a fantastic way to keep in touch with family and friends back home because it’s absolutely free if you have an internet connection. You can use Viber to call, text and send pictures to anyone in the world.
- Likewise, Skype can be used not only to make video calls but also voice calls and to send messages. It is free to download and as long as you are connected to the internet the communication is free to use.
- WhatsApp is an application that enables you to call (an increasing number of people prefer it to Viber claiming that calls are clearer and more stable), chat, send images and voice notes to your friends and family for free.
We hope that you will find this article informative. If you know any other great ways to save some money while traveling in Australia, please let us know on our Facebook page. In the meantime, check out the amazing deals below - free travel starts with a free rental car.