Backpacking for not quite grey nomad
December 9, 2012 2:43 PM   Subscribe

Backpacking in Australia with $20k in savings. Suppose I throw caution to the wind and runaway from everything, what do I, a relatively inexperienced traveller need to know?

I'm Australian so no language / cultural difficulties, 45, female with no ties. What do I need to know/own in order to be itinerant for a year?
What should I pack? How do I save photos if I don't take a laptop with? What should I be aware of? Anything you can think of (eg do a barriers course before leaving, always carry a baseball bat, never sleep in a garbage bin, whatever).

Bonus points for international backpacking tips.
posted by b33j to Travel & Transportation around Australia (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Take a smart phone and back up charger, use cloud storage....and schedule metafilter meet ups in every town.

(Also...use a roller suitcase, not a big backpack. People will treat you nicer and your back will thank you)
posted by taff at 3:02 PM on December 9, 2012

My 30ish friend from the US visited Australia and New Zealand for several weeks for fun and self-discovery, and she stretched her savings by WWOOFing (laboring on organic farms in exchange for room and board). She had a lot of fun, meeting fellow travelers and seeing beautiful scenery she wouldn't have found otherwise. I wouldn't recommend it to somebody young/life-inexperienced who might not know to leave immediately if the hosts start treating you badly (this happened to a different friend), but it might work for you.
posted by dreamyshade at 3:10 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some of this will depend on how remote you are planning on going - eg if you are camping in the bush think about getting some non-disposable period junk eg divacup

If you are ridesharing, text the vehicle registration to a friend at the start of the trip and let the driver know in a casual way that's what you are doing. There are lots and lots of rideshare websites and people commonly post lifts on too

Get a YHA card for the discounts - bus tickets, hostels etc

You can pretty much get paid to drive campervans around the country. They will pay for your fuel (or subsidise it) and give you a week's use of a campervan. Search 'campervan relocation.'

Take note of whacky provincial festivals and make a point of going to some. It gives you a mission and people are strange.... eg Merbein Vanilla Slice Festival, Ceduna Oyster Festival, Boulia Camel Races.

Where is your physical mail going? Direct it to a friend's house that you trust to open it and scan+email the important stuff to you.

Pack very little - if you need it you can buy it on the road.

Take me with you (please).
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:10 PM on December 9, 2012 [7 favorites]

When I was travelling, I would backup photos onto CDs. It is easily done at any store with a printing booth for digital photos. I would also mail them home because it doesn't cost much and I don't risk breaking the CD before I get home.

I am going to disagree with taff regarding the roller suitcases. Unless you are going to be in fancy hotels and taxi-ed everywhere you go, the backpack is far more suitable and easy to move around with. Moreover, with a good backpack that is properly fastened, your back shouldn't hurt at all. I don't know how many times I laughed at people rolling their suitcases over cobblestones and being really glad that I had a backpack.

Also, I found it helpful to carry around a container and some utensils to carry lunches around or to take leftovers in. I didn't have it during the beginning of my trip and I think it would have helped a lot.
posted by cyml at 3:15 PM on December 9, 2012

Handguns legal in Oz? I don't mean this as an advocacy thing, but a single woman alone in the wilderness (and a wilderness with real threats aside from humans), not a bad idea. Failing that, at least carry pepper spray (note that it only really works on mammals, for the most part - Birds and reptiles don't feel it the same way we do).

Other than that, I'd say make sure you have good topo maps that including flash-flood zones, and always know where you'll get your next meal (I'll assume if you've even considered this, you know the importance of having sources of potable water).

For photos, if you don't mind the tether of a smart phone (not a bad idea, as a backup in an emergency), you can save an awfully lot of pictures on a 32GB card (and if it fills, mail the old one to a relative and you can get a new 32GB card fairly cheap).
posted by pla at 3:18 PM on December 9, 2012

This summer, I backpacked through central america for three months. Some notes:

I brought a travel bag, which is a backpack with another smaller daybag that you can zip into it. It's easily convertable into a carry bag you can carry instead of wear on your back, and that was how I usually carried it -- daybag on the back, carrying the larger backpack with one arm. I can't say a single thing bad about it, and I will say that if you use rolling luggage will have problems if you're at all roughing it. I found myself staying in places with dirt roads and uneven sidewalks quite often, and it would have been nightmarish with a rolling bag.

I don't know what the hostel situation is like in Australia, but I highly recommend staying at hostels, if you can. Look for ones that have common areas--- a tv and kitchen, etc.. Those were great for meeting people when I was lonely and wanted someone to travel with for a while. The other great way to meet people is to go on small guided tours.

Get a copy of Lonely Planet-- their recommendations for hostels and eating are generally great for budget travellers, and you will find other people who also have Lonely Planet, who tend to be very outgoing, adventurous and friendly types. Also, read trip advisor reviews -- the few times Lonely Planet steered me wrong, generally trip advisor reviews mentioned the problems that I found.

As far as photos/internet I took an ipad with me, but honestly if I were doing it in Australia, I'd take a laptop. Just lock it up in hotels, because backpackers can have sticky fingers, especially in dorms.

20k will probably go a lot further in South or Southeast Asia or Central or South America though. I ran into tons of Aussies at hostels in Central America.

What you should bring:

Less than you think. You can buy essentials anywhere -- toilet paper, toothbrush, batteries, etc-- unless you're going camping, don't bring anything you can just run down to the store to get. Bring a decent LED flashlight you can put on a keychain, a water bottle, a bottle opener/can opener. More socks than you'd think you'd need. A decent pair of sneakers with grippy soles, some dress clothes just in case you want to go somewhere nice. Clothes you'd feel comfortable sleeping in in front of strangers, a parka in case it rains-- if you're roughing it, a silk sleeping bag liner can be a life saver if you're stuck in a gross hostel. A small pillow, a warm blanket.

If you stay at hostels, cook for yourself, if they have a kitchen you can use.
posted by empath at 3:19 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

And just general advice for the right state of mind on the road:

Don't plan too much. Be willing to take chances doing things that might suck. Talk to other travellers and tag along on their adventures if they invite you. Hell, just invite yourself if you hear people talking about something that sounds fun. I ended up hopping on a bus to El Salvador from Guatemala on the spur of the moment after running into a backpacker on the street that I had gotten drunk with in a hostel bar a month before, and ended up having the best week of my trip just chilling on the pacific ocean at a great hostel full of Aussie and Israeli backpackers and failing to learn to surf -- something that I had no plans at all of doing before I got there.

Obviously as a single women you have to be cautious-- just don't fall into the trap of writing down a bucket list and systematically going through it. Say yes to randomness, when it shows up.
posted by empath at 3:35 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Australian here.

First up, decide what kind of backpacking experience you want: urban or rural? If urban, you can travel around the capital cities and major regional centres quite well using a combination of busses and flights. If rural, for god's sake hire a car or get familiar with busses and trains. Do not hitchhike - there really isn't a hitch hiking culture here anymore and you'll be putting yourself at risk. If this is your first time in Australia then I'd suggest going for the urban option and then hire a car/ bus to nearby regional centres. Or do the WWOOFing and festival circuit. If you plan ahead you can get into many festivals for free by volunteering.

Handguns and pepper spray are both illegal. As a solo traveller you really shouldn't be going bush on your own. You don't know the country yet so spend at least the first six months sticking to the well travelled routes. Another data point is that this coming summer is meant to be a damn hot one, with high bushfire danger so plan accordingly.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 3:57 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Warning: this is NSW-centric.

If you're coming inland, stay in pub rooms. You can get a good deal if you stay for a few nights, and you get to know the owners and regulars. (We don't have hostels in smaller, IMO-more-interesting, inland destinations.)

I can't remember exactly what I paid to stay at the Cessnock Hotel over last New Years Eve, but it was something like $70 for four nights, when a single night was around $45. I had somewhere to leave my stuff during the day while I wandered around, and I had a balcony overlooking a hectic intersection which provided much entertainment. Then at night I'd wander down to the bar, meet some people, watch some really bad karaoke, then take my drink back up to my room for a nightcap.

Couch-surf. I know someone in Mudgee who'd be happy to have you drop by!

Train travel through the interior is pathetic (in NSW, at least) - we had our local train line upgraded about a decade ago at a cost of $1 million, but we still don't have trains. When you travel alone long-distance by bus, sit up the front and chat to the driver. Keeps the creeps away.

Car hire is ridiculously stupidly expensive if you don't return the car to the place you hired it from. I'd be all about public transport, if I were you. And you meet people, and get to people-watch the people you don't want to meet, and it's so much more interesting than sitting in a Camry watching the ever-changing speed-limit signs.

Thanks to the mining boom (which is now busting out here), laundromats are in every small town, everywhere. But you can always wash by hand, or drop into a caravan park and ask if you could use their coin-operated laundry to do a wash.

Hint: Mudgee Wine Festival is held in September. A Day On The Green music festival is usually held in November. The Gulgong Folk Festival is held in January. The Rylstone Street Feast is held in November.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:27 PM on December 9, 2012

OP: I'm Australian so no language / cultural difficulties,
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:35 PM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ooops, sorry, didn't see that you were Australian too (not enough coffee this morning, apparently!).

Since you're based here already, what's your car situation? If you can set yourself up with a reliable vehicle then the world is your's to explore! I know plenty of people who have left Sydney and Melbourne and gone to live up in Darwin or far North Queensland. Have you considered going up there and travelling around the broader region? Otherwise, have you thought about taking off to live on one of Australia's islands and working there for a year (e.g. King Island? Norfolk?)? I'd suggest staying away from the hostel scene and making use of pub accommodation and house-sitting gigs. Sounds like a brilliant adventure!
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 5:25 PM on December 9, 2012

Do not rely on Apple maps
posted by Trivia Newton John at 5:34 PM on December 9, 2012

I wouldn't bother with saving photos on anything but two upload sites, personally. A find a couple of thumb drives very useful wherever I go, though.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:40 PM on December 9, 2012

Hmmm...I'll have to think on this one. No advice right now, except: do it! Oh, and check for couchsurfing/short-term accommodation options.

For starters, I'm a single woman living in Perth with a spare room - memail me if you make it over this way, and there's a free bed for you for a few nights. :)
posted by Salamander at 6:18 PM on December 9, 2012

No car, no license. Eye issue. I was thinking public transport, buses, trains, greyhound.
posted by b33j at 7:32 PM on December 9, 2012

Greyhound kilometre passes let you pre purchase distance rather than particular routes. You will get additional kms on your pass for being a YHA card holder or member of other traveller groups.

Seconding couchsurfing, even if you don't want to stay with people you can use it to meet folks in town or find other travellers to have a drink with.

I've personally had good experiences with ridesharing but I understand everyone's comfort with strangers is different.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 7:41 PM on December 9, 2012

I backpacked through parts of Australia in my late 20s (I am Australian). While it was fantastic to see some amazing sights in my own country, it was a surprisingly lonely experience on the whole. I found it much harder to make friends with the other (mostly international) travelers in the hostels, something I never have trouble with overseas.

Do you have an agenda? Are you traveling for a 'purpose' or to runaway as an adventure? (As Douglas Adams said: there is no problem so big it can't be run away from). Traveling with a purpose (plastic penguin collecting would do) can often make the trip more serendipitous.

Australia is hard work without a car unless you are just interested in the cities. I think you would have more fun if you decided to backpack around the USA and/or Canada for a few months. It's pretty easy to get around, it's comparatively cheap, the landscapes are funkin' awesome and everything will be a novelty, including you. Visas for both are a cinch.
posted by Kerasia at 7:54 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

The movie A Map for Saturday documents one guy's travels for a year. Including Australia. I'd recommend it.

I too burned photos to DVD and mailed them home. I also uploaded to Flickr whenever I could.

You'll be older in hostels, but there willbe others your age, and age didn't seem to be a huge factor in fitting in.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:34 PM on December 9, 2012

Handguns legal in Oz? I don't mean this as an advocacy thing, but a single woman alone in the wilderness (and a wilderness with real threats aside from humans), not a bad idea. Failing that, at least carry pepper spray (note that it only really works on mammals, for the most part - Birds and reptiles don't feel it the same way we do).

I know the OP is an Aussie, but for anyone else reading: NO. Neither of these are legal in Australia.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:59 PM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Chiming in on weapons: almost every weapon you can think of is illegal, and it would be a really bad idea for a visitor to be caught with one. Even things which you don't think are weapons (e.g., a screwdriver) but which could be used as a weapon may only be carried for lawful purposes.

So if you're going camping a pocketknife would be a reasonable thing to carry (although a machete is explicitly illegal even if you intend to cut brush), but if it was found on you in a different context, e.g. during a frisk if you were arrested for being drunk, you might very well find yourself being asked some serious questions and possibly end up being deported.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:48 AM on December 10, 2012

Oops, missed that you're Australian. OK, no deportation. But carrying weapons is still a very bad idea.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:49 AM on December 10, 2012

The way your question is phrased it sounds like $20K is all the savings you have in the world and you're going to blow it all backpacking. If that's a risk you want to take, fine, but if you have no spouse or family to bail you out, you need to save a few thousand for "reentry" to settled life; getting an apartment again, emergency expenses, etc.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:26 AM on December 10, 2012

Is it specifically your own Australia you want to see? Because if what you actually want is to see the world but you think you lack the funds, I just want to assure you that you can see a lot of world for 20K. With some planning you could do a great year.

PS: I am not generally a giant chicken but the remoteness of Australia terrifies me. Also, I think it would be lonely because you are a native. When you pitch up abroad there are other travellers and a natural (though transitory) bond. I don't think you get that at home.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:47 AM on December 10, 2012

If you're not looking to travel alone all the time, it might be worthwhile joining an organised tour early on (or whenever you get lonely) that caters to backpackers. I travelled up the centre of Australia on one such tour with about twenty other people (I was the only Australian) and for a few months after I returned home had a little array of international friends popping through visiting just because you bond with people very quickly when you're together 24/7 for a couple of weeks. These are people who are already on the road and apparently it's not unusual to keep bumping into the same people at hostels. Could ease the potential loneliness factor if this is a concern.
posted by springbound at 12:45 PM on December 10, 2012

Get yourself a Leatherman Wave or other mutlitool. Most useful thing you could have while backpacking.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:36 PM on December 11, 2012

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