by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 1st October, 2018
Travelling solo to the opposite side of the world (which Australia probably feels like if you're in the northern hemisphere) is incredibly intimidating and some would say, risky. But it doesn't have to be so scary or seem so impossible. Thousands of people explore Australia by themselves every year, and come away with the experience of the lifetime, and would encourage you to do the same. There are so many benefits to backpacking solo that you may miss out on if you never try it for yourself. The opportunity to meet new people increases when you're forced to try and make friends rather than clinging onto whoever you're travelling with, but you still remain independent, with the ability to do whatever you want or go wherever you want, without anyone to hold you back. On a practical level you'll probably find it easier to save more money and therefore travel for longer, with more opportunities to explore and experience the country you're in. Finally of course, the mental benefits of solo travel can't be ignored - travelling alone is one of the best ways to challenge yourself and move out of your comfort zone. For many people it can be life-changing.
Australia is an ideal destination for backpackers from all around the globe. It's a developed English speaking country, making it easy to get around for anyone who speaks at least a little English, but also has great road networks, tourist attractions and infrastructure. The generally warm sunny weather means that you're unlikely to be caught out in the middle of a snow-storm, with the only major weather events that could threaten your trip being hurricanes or extreme heat, and given how large Australia is, they aren't too difficult to avoid. Although Australia is similar in many ways to other large developed western nations such as the US, Canada and the UK, they still have a distinct culture and a very unique landscape, making it a great place to escape and explore something completely new, whilst remaining safe. The sheer size of Australia means that you'll never be bored, because there is always something to do or somewhere to go. With vast empty beaches, tropical rainforests, snowy mountains and busy cities, it's unlikely you'll find yourself with a dwindling itinerary. As a general rule, backpacking in Australia isn't any more expensive than backpacking in the US or another western country, and can oftentimes be cheaper if you're happy to sustain yourself with cheap tropical fruits and lazy days at the beach. Plus, if you ever do find yourself getting tired with Australia, popular travel destinations like Thailand, Indonesia and New Zealand are only a short plane ride away.
The best places to be in Australia totally depend on what you like to do when travelling, so I've split it into two main categories: Adventures into Cities or Adventures into Nature.
Melbourne is a classic, and a must-see for anyone visiting Australia, fondly dubbed as Australia's "coolest" city. Offering a hipster vibe and a wide selection of places to eat, an incredibly art scene, some pretty impressive architecture and a history of pioneering activism, Melbourne is the place to be for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in creative, progressive culture. Plus, it's also got some of the best coffee in the world and was recently named "vegan capital of the world". There's plenty to do and explore, from street art, to tram tours to gourmet food markets.
When asked to name the most famous Australian city, Sydney is usually the first word that comes to people's mouth, and for good reason. Despite not being the capital of the country, Sydney has got a reputation for it's iconic skyline, dreamy beaches, entertainment and rich history. If you're trying to stick to a budget, Sydney probably isn't the best place for you though, as everything here can get pretty expensive.
Interestingly, Brisbane first started out as a penal colony for the British to send all of their convicts, but it's come a long way since then and is now one of the biggest tourist destinations in Australia. It's starting to get a Vegas-like reputation for it's swanky hotels, nightclubs and expensive shopping destinations. If you're not into strip malls and nights out however, there's still an abundance of natural wonders to capture your attention. Brisbane is most famous for it's river, around which the rest of the city is built, an a particularly relaxing attraction being the Brisbane Botanic Gardens (depending on what time of year you go) along with the inner-city beach, which is exactly what it sounds like - a beach in the middle of the city. Be careful though, if you don't think you have a decent heat tolerance, you might want to stay away from Brisbane in the summer, where temperatures regularly hover around the 30 degree mark (that's 86F) and tropical downpours are common.
What sounds like a shoreline is actually one of the most popular destinations in Australia, with more sun sea and surfing opportunities than anyone could ever need. It's a paradise for beach bums and party animals alike with bar and mega clubs mixed with animal sanctuaries and high-end restaurants. Not that far away is some of the countries most pristine nature reserves and subtropical rainforest.
While not technically a natural wonder and actually just a very long road, The Great Ocean Road holds the key to some of Australia's most scenic and spectacular sites. If you're planning an Australian road trip and you're not sure where to start, this is surely the best place. It's one of the most well-known road-trips in the world, and for good reason. Stretching 151 miles, it follows part of the coastline of southern Australia known as The Shipwreck Coast. It's great for walking, hiking and wildlife spotting or just relaxing on the beach. The variety of different attractions and events available along the great ocean road is slightly ridiculous, but you definitely won't be bored. Plus, since this is one of the most well-known roads of all time, it's a perfect start for beginner road-trippers.
The sunshine coast is the perfect name for such a picturesque stretch of coastline. Located in southern Queensland it stretches from the city of Caloundra to the Great Sandy National Park (which is an excellent name for a national park). Nearby you'll find one of Australia's greatest national parks - Noosa National Park, home to many many koalas and many more white sand beaches.
It wouldn't be right to talk about Australia's natural beauty without mentioning the great barrier reef, aka, the largest living thing on the planet. Although struggling recently due to climate change, parts of the reef are still thriving, and there are some huge conservation efforts taking place to try and save it. If you're a marine biology nerd, or just don't want to see this incredible natural wonder fade away into history, you can even volunteer on expeditions to help scientists learn more about the reef. There's no better place to explore the beauty and diversity of the ocean than the great barrier reef.
If beaches and reefs don't appeal to you, there's always the rainforest to consider. Queensland's Tropical North Rainforests are a haven of life and diversity. The lush densely green rainforests are some of the world's oldest tropical rainforests, surviving since the Jurassic period. With incredible waterfalls, plants you couldn't even imagine and a more biodiverse ecosystem than the Galapagos, the wet tropics should be on the itinerary of any nature lovers.
Probably the most popular way to explore the country and have fun is to hike and backpack through it. Although backpacking and hiking does require a certain level of fitness, there are trails ranging from the very short and simple to the fiendishly complex. If you're looking for a real challenge, buy a cheap tent and pack up for an overnight hike. There are hundreds of world-famous trails all over australia that'll get you closer to nature and give you a close up look at some of the extraordinary wildlife. If long hikes and air mattresses don't really appeal to you, there's always the option of renting a car or motor home for the night to spend a few nights under the stars and expand your exploration horizons.
Road trips aren't just for the states, Australia has some of the most scenic road trips routes in the world, with The Great Ocean Road being just one of many. Lot's of tourists are now taking to converting vans or buying pre-converted campers to take longer roadtrips spanning huge stretches of coastline. Not only does staying in a camper save you a lot of money on accommodation, you also have a mode of transport and therefore a lot more freedom to explore places that you may not have been able to previously. Many beaches in Australia now allow you to park on the beach itself, so you can fall asleep and literally wake up on the beach.
Volunteering is an excellent option for any solo travellers looking to meet new people and potentially find very cheap or free accommodation. Sites like workaway.com link up willing volunteers with families or businesses that are looking for help. It might be childcare, working on an animal sanctuary, building houses or growing food - the opportunities are vast. Generally the host's include food and accommodation so you can save money and socialise. Plus, there's no better way to understand a country and its culture than by working there.
While Australia itself is not known for its cuisine, (with fairy bread probably being it's most iconic dish) the mass immigration and subsequent cultural diversity it's acquired over the years has has a huge influence on the food available, especially in the big cities. Melbourne and Sydney in particular are known for their rich variety of incredible foods, as well as some of the world's best coffee.
Australia has some of the most incredible oceans in the world, and right off it's north-easterly shore lies the great barrier reef, so it's understandable why the country attracts so many marine biologists. As a result, there is plenty of tourist opportunities available to explore the ocean, from snorkelling to scuba-diving to whale watching. There are opportunities for discovery available off the australian coast that aren't offered anywhere else in the world, so it's definitely worth a look.
Australia is a huge country, so getting around can be difficult, especially if you're staying in rural areas or hopping from city to city.
Public transport is an option when you're within a city, but it's not so reliable when you're travelling cross-country. The railway network is expensive and not particularly comprehensive. If you can't drive however, buses are always an option. The most popular option is the greyhound bus service, which offers cheap cross-country travel to most places you'd want to visit. If you're only intending on city-hopping, you may want to look at using public transport and simply taking a flight to wherever you need to go, although this can be costly.
If you can drive and you're looking to stay in Australia for an extended period of time, renting a car or even buying a car is recommended. This is ultimately the most versatile and affordable option if you're staying for more than a month, and you want to be able to travel wherever you want.
Where you stay when visiting australia will totally depend on how long you're staying, your budget, and what kind of holiday you're looking to have. Lot's of solo backpackers choose backpacking hostels as their primary source of accomodation. These provide cheap accomodation in popular areas and are a great way to meet new people as you travel.
If you're really looking to save money, there are many jobs for tourists on a working holday visa that offer room and board for the duration of your time working there. This is an excellent option for anyone looking to save money, as you essentially bypass the majority of the cost of living and can start spending your money on what's really important to you.
If money is no worry and you'd like to sleep somewhere a bit more comfortable and private, hotels and AirBnB's are the way to go. They might be a bit pricier, but ultimately you get the best quality.
Australia is one of the few countries in the world that offers a working holiday visa - essentially a visa that allows you to live and work in australia as a tourist for up to two years, provided that you meet certain conditions. The working holiday visa allows you to extend your stay in australia and work while you're there, so you can really explore the country to it's fullest. It's great for full-time travellers or backpackers who want to stay a little longer or save up money during their trip.
However, if you're looking to visit australia solely as a tourist, and not for long, then a working holiday visa isn't for you and you should be able to apply for a regular tourist visa.