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Thrifty Travel in Sydney and Beyond

In conjunction with my friend Brooke of Brooke vs. the World’s upcoming e-book on thrifty traveling, I am offering you my tips on saving money whilst traveling. While most of these tips apply primarily to travels in Australia, some are helpful anywhere you go.



It’s hard to find good deals on airfare these days, especially to Australia. If you’re traveling within Australia, the cheapest flights will be found on budget carriers Virgin Australia, JetStar and Tiger, which is not currently operating. Virgin has a happy hour every day on their website with deals and if you join JetStar’s email list, you are the first to find out about fares for $10 and under. Credit card holders also get special rates, like their $1 fare sale that happened a few months ago. If you’re flying anywhere else, follow the RSS feeds and emails of websites like Airfare Watchdog and Travelzoo for the best deals. And as always, flying with only carry on luggage saves you at least $25! See my recent post, the Australian Airline Conundrum before flying any of these carriers. 


When I was trying to figure out ways to get across the country (did I mention it’s HUGE?), I looked into lots of options, including tours, trains and finally buses. For my upcoming trip to Cairns, I found a East Coast Mini Traveller pass from Greyhound Australia that is hop-on hop-off and stops everywhere I wanted to go for $367. In comparison, the Oz Experience hop-on hop-off pass on the same route is $640.

Local Transportation

Avoid taxis at all cost. In Sydney, I’ve spent $40 to get home from Circular Quay. While it is often your only option late at night, since trains stop running at midnight and night buses follow the train routes, during the day there are plenty of options. Buses are around $3.30 for a single ride and trains are $4.00 and up. Ferries are the most expensive, from $10 per ride, even across the harbor, but by far the most enjoyable. If you are spending a good amount of time in the city and plan on going many places around town, I recommend a return bus or train ticket or the MyMulti pass, which gives you access to buses, trains, ferries and the light rail, which runs from Haymarket to Rozelle. Likewise, in London, ALWAYS use an Oyster card because they’re reusable and save you lots of money on trains and buses.


Thrift Stores

How can you not save money here? It’s in the name! Vinnie’s and Salvos (Salvation Army) are my go-to thrift stores here, for everything from gently used books to a toaster oven. I was a big thrift store-aholic in high school and not much has changed. Most of my clothing here is hand-me-downs from my roommates or cheap quality goods from stores like Cotton On, Ally and SES. Before leaving for Australia, I went to my local Dollar Store to find some random nicknacks. As the folks over at Beers and Beans pointed out, you can find a lot of travel items there. I picked up a lock for my backpack, a door stopper, duct tape and nail clippers.


I’ve gone crazy for markets in Sydney. Nearly every suburb has one on any given Saturday. In Balmain, I bought a $4 paperback. There are also markets in Glebe, Bondi and the Rocks. I recently visited the Addison Road Centre in Petersham, which has a Reverse Garbage, which sells everything from old signs to used fabric to worn out books. They also have a farmer’s market with fresh food, jewelry, clothes, incense and everything in between. Another good way for a bookworm like myself to save money is through hostel book exchanges and even local bookstores that allow you to swap.


Deal Sites

Just like you would use them at home, deal sites can be very handy whilst traveling. Jayne of 40 Before 30 alerted me to before my trip to London, which saved me some quid on dining out. In Sydney, Cudo is my deal site of choice, while at home I use Groupon or Living Social for things like $5 brewery tours or a $22 art lesson.

Free Activities

Community festivals are a great free activity, like the upcoming Rocks Aroma Festival. It’s free to wander the stalls. Likewise, museums here are mostly free, except for special exhibits. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and the National Gallery Victoria in Melbourne, as well as the Australian War Memorial in Canberra are examples. Sydney’s best walks, like the Bondi to Coogee Walk and a walk across the Harbour Bridge are free. And lastly, planning your own route instead of taking a tour saves you moolah. The double decker bus that runs around town (and nearly every city these days) mostly pays for the gas to run it and the salaries of the guides. Instead of taking a boat tour, take the ferry. You can also take a free tour of the city that runs daily, rain or shine.


Here again, the deal sites give you the chance to enjoy a meal for two, including wine at a restaurant you otherwise may not have visited. Sites like Dimmi offer incentives if you book reservations through them and reward you with a free meal after ten bookings. Australia is unique in that you can get delicious, restaurant quality meals at pubs for a reasonable price. I would know because most of my meals are eaten at the pub and you can get everything from steaks to pasta to Asian dishes to seafood. Most places have a daily special under $20.

While avoiding drinking saves you money, you shouldn’t abstain in a country like Australia, ripe with award-winning wines. While beer is rather expensive ($7 and up per pint where I work) due to the fact that two or so companies own all of the market, wine is cheap. It doesn’t have to be goon and doesn’t have to come in a box. Delicious wines can cost you $15-20 per bottle from your local Bottle-O (liquor store). Don’t forget about imports from New Zealand, either. If you plan on having a big night but are low on cash, avoid clubs and The Cross at all costs. Entry fees steal at least a couple of drinks worth out of your pocket before you enter the door. Some bars have backpacker nights where they offer discounted drinks, including ScuBar, The Gaff, Scary Canary and Side Bar here in Sydney. Last but not least, happy hour is your friend. When I was an intern back in Charleston, I worked on a iPhone app that tells you where the closest happy hour is, how long it lasts and what the specials are, called Cocktail Compass.


Couch Surfing

It’s my go-to for cheap accommodation because you can’t get any cheaper than free. I had my first CouchSurfing experience back in Los Angeles and look forward to the chance to do it again here. But be a courteous guest. Remember traveler karma.


My second choice is hostels, for the obvious cheap factor. Sure, I may not always love having to share a room with someone who snores like a freight train, but for $20 per night, you can’t beat it. I usually book directly through HostelWorld after reading some reviews. If you get sick of sharing dorm rooms, most hostels also offer private rooms for slightly more, but cheaper than hotels.


I had never considered this option until I read about Hecktic Travels‘ adventures housesitting in a castle in Ireland.

Et cetera

Free Wireless

Why pay $1 per 15 minutes at the hostel’s internet cafe when you could use it for free elsewhere? I will admit that internet in Australia is shady at best, but there are a few places you can get it free. McDonald’s, Gloria Jean’s and Breadtop throughout the country all have free wireless, as do many cafes, including Marrickville Road Cafe. In America, Starbucks now offers free wireless internet to all customers.

More Thrifty Advice

9 Responses to Thrifty Travel in Sydney and Beyond

  1. Christine Amorose July 27, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    Don’t forget that most of the museums are free–you usually just have to pay for exhibits!

  2. mukuba2002 July 28, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Great tips, now i know how to save money when am in Australia

  3. brooke schoenman July 28, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    Thanks for the very thorough post! I love the part about the markets and thrift stores (my fave!). And I think that when you drink wine in Australia, you get more bang for your buck, right?! More alcohol per drink ;)

  4. teammakepeace July 29, 2011 at 3:30 am #

    Great tips and really needed in this expensive land of mine! I went to bungalow 8 on King St Wharf the other day for lunch and they had free wi-fi!!! i was shocked

  5. amygriz05 August 2, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    Glad you posted this! Signed up for Cudo with our hotel’s postcode – hoping to find something worth purchasing ahead of time for our trip! :)

    • carolineinthecityblog August 2, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

      I’m on all of their lists and at the very least you can go out to a nice dinner for 2!

  6. Amy (Australasia Dreaming) August 9, 2011 at 9:32 am #

    This is fantastic! Thank you so much – I’m an exchange student at ANU at the moment looking forward to travelling this summer, and so it’s fantastic to know that I can to this without paying the Earth!

    • carolineinthecityblog August 12, 2011 at 1:08 am #

      Thanks for the comment Amy! How are you liking Canberra? And how did you meet a boy from Atlanta?

  7. Annie@GreenTravelReviews November 13, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    Such a good list, thanks for sharing this! I too am a great fan of Couchsurfing, the best ;-)

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