A year to plan my first international trip. Starting in Sydney. Help.
July 14, 2013 8:29 AM   Subscribe

On May 31st, 2014, I'll be flying from NYC into Sydney, Australia. The group I'm going with (which is mainly family, and currently buying tickets) intend to be there for two weeks or so, and then head back into the United States. I've never really traveled outside of the United States, much less for an extended period, and want to take advantage of the opportunity to travel for 1, 2, maybe 3 months. I'm not sure where to start, and need help even wrapping my head around the options.

Some context: I'm a US citizen, will be 29 then, a few months away from turning 30 in August. Main travel has been a few days here and there in Canada, a short trip to Venezuela to see relatives when I was kid, and a few days in Israel about 10 years back. (Long story.) Have never been to Europe, Africa, the vast swath of Asia and Latin America - I'm acutely aware of all that lack of experience, and am considering taking a few months before my 20's end to see some small sliver of the world.

So, my question is: how do I plan this, and what's the most sensical place to head from Sydney? Some considerations:

FLIGHT: The rest of my group will be heading back after two weeks, but I will possibly be able get a flight around that time from Sydney to wherever I head next - but I might not get that financial support. (I guess I *might* be able to ask them to purchase a ticket heading back to the United States 1-3 months later from some location I intend to be by that time, but betting not.) Would be a huge help to have that flight already paid for. Speaking of which...

MONEY: How much do I really, absolutely need to have saved? Which I guess hinges on...

WHAT'S REALISTIC: If I am out from May 31st to, say, July 15th, what's realistic to plan for? What if I'm out until August 1st? What if I decide to spend my 30th birthday abroad and come back early September?

So, to break it down into a few super-concrete options:

1. Should I ask the group to get a ticket for me from some other location into the United States, or ask the group for a ticket from Sydney to somewhere else to begin the first leg of my trip and figure out the getting-back-to-the-United-States part later?

2. What would you make sure to do/see if you were me?

Sorry that this is so open-ended: I feel myself like I'm entering a huge house where I can't see the shape of the walls and doors clearly, and any answers/recommendations you give me hold the promise of illuminating much more clearly what exact situation I find myself in.
posted by Ash3000 to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
One big obvious thing, the simple 5 minute online Australia tourist Visa that you must buy online before the trip is only good for up to 90 days. Beyond that, you'll need to apply for something more formal.
posted by mathowie at 9:14 AM on July 14, 2013

Back in the day, you could get an "around the world" airline ticket. (A quick Google suggests that's still the case.) The way it worked, more or less, was you could take any flight you wanted, on one or a cooperating group of airlines, during a fixed period of time, as long as you were always advancing east-to-west or west-to-east. So:

0) See if that's a possibility
1) Figure out the price difference and decide if you can afford it
2) Get out a globe. Go wherever you want, and can figure out a unidirectional flight plan (or you can take independent, separately-purchased side trips).

My wife & I did this, sort of for a honeymoon: we went from Japan to Canada to Europe to Morocco and back to Japan. It was a lot of fun, but would've been better if we'd been able to spend more time and stop more places.
posted by spacewrench at 9:18 AM on July 14, 2013

Get an "under 30's" work visa and you can stay for up to a year (or up to two, given certain other conditions) and do a little work to supplement your travels. Hook up with others doing the same thing (you would meet them at the temp-gigs) and see where your travels take you. I have numerous friends who have spent a year bumming around with no previous work experience.

You sound a little more nervous about this than you need to be. You should try and see to it that your return ticket is open return, that gives you the security of being able to leave any time you feel done (and can make it back to the airport).
posted by Iteki at 10:05 AM on July 14, 2013

How long do you want to stay in Australia? Will you be just in Sydney or do you want to travel around the country? That alone could take up weeks if not months. As Iteki says, you could do the work&travel thing in Australia. It will be fall/beginning of winter there though, right?

You could head into Asia and travel around there. There are budget airlines and also travel by bus and train works well. Especially in south-east Asia there are several small(er) countries close together so that you could visit several countries on this tour. Keep in mind monsoon season though.

As for money: once you know in which country/countries you want to stay and for how long you can begin to estimate a budget. There are cheaper countries and more expensive ones, we have no way to tell you how much you'd need.
Things that you'd need to factor in anyway: transportation, housing, food, travel/health insurance, entrance fees/entertainment, visa(s), emergency money.

As for the return ticket: I don't quite understand why someone else would have to pay for you.
But if this is the deal in your family/group ask them if it would be alright with them to put the money they would spend for your return flight towards your onwards travel(s). Maybe in form of a voucher you could redeem as you see fit?
posted by travelwithcats at 10:22 AM on July 14, 2013

I don't think this is a good idea.

Traveling abroad can be pretty exhausting your first time (or, frankly, any time). And your first two weeks sound like they're going to be a family vacation in a big group, which can also be exhausting. It is extremely likely that, at the end of two weeks of this, you're going to be ready to go home.

And there's nothing wrong with that. Traveling isn't a contest to see who can withstand the toughest conditions, see the largest number of countries, come down with the most obscure illnesses, and be the most miserable. You should definitely travel at a pace and in a style that works for you, not for some kind of glamorous image of being a Traveler.

OK, naysaying aside, here's what I'd do.

I'd do the two weeks in Australia with family, and then I'd add on one other country/region to spend another two weeks in. Which is easy to reach from Australia and also easy, rewarding, accessible, etc. I would do that leg as a solo trip, or maybe with one or maximum two people.


New Zealand

ONE Southeast Asian country. Maybe two if you want to make a quick jaunt from Vietnam into Laos or something. But definitely don't try to see the entire region.

Japan (assuming you could fly open jaw from Oz to Japan to the US)

A Pacific Island or two (assuming you can fly open jaw from Oz to there to the US)

None of this "vast swathes of Asia and Africa" nonsense.


Book an open jaw trip from the US to Australia to your additional country of choice and back to the US. This is easy to do on any airline website. You usually select "multiple cities" as a search option, up there by the round trip/one way toggle. It's probably easiest to do this on one airline, but start out on Kayak and see what the options are to do the trip you want.

Financially, if you can't afford to buy tickets to take this trip, you can't afford to do this, sorry.


There are cheaper and more expensive countries to visit, and traveling from Australia rather than the US may change the metrics on that. For on the ground costs, go to a bookstore, pull guidebooks to a bunch of countries that interest you, and see what the price ranges and budgets look like. Guidebooks are frequently not accurate to the penny, but you'll definitely see the difference between Japan and Cambodia in those pages.

Trying to do this on any kind of budget means that your idea of a three month international roving awesomefest is probably not realistic. Seriously, if you don't have a ton of money pick one country to visit, not the entire planet.

What's Realistic?

That depends on the logistics of your life. Unless you're very wealthy, you probably can't afford to indefinitely postpone your life and wander around the Pacific for months on a whim. If you're on any kind of budget at all, you're going to have to set a start and end date for this trip. Similarly, do you have a job or a life back home? You're going to want to think about that. I would say that, in your situation, what's realistic is an extra two weeks on top of the main Australian trip, to a predetermined destination of your choice.
posted by Sara C. at 10:39 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I personally like getting to know a country/region well at a slower pace, so this is my suggestion:

Since you're flying into Australia, you could spend a week or so based in each major city, and that would take up a good two months in one country alone. For example, you could simply move around the country anti-clockwise, going from Sydney to Brisbane, then Cairns for a bit of diving/snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef (Northern Australia isn't going to be freezing in the winter), and the Northern Territory (Darwin, Alice Springs, Uluru--but don't climb the rock even though lots of tourists do.). After that, head to Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne, from which you can take a ferry to Tasmania and spend a few days there, before returning to Sydney for your return flight. It will be fall/winter in Australia, but the weather should be fairly mild, except for Melbourne and Tasmania.

Alternatively, split your time between Australia and New Zealand. Or travel north from Australia to South East Asia--Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam--or Hong Kong/Taiwan/China. These are extremely popular travel destinations, and you should be able to plan out things to do on Trip Advisor alone.

If you want to explore Australia/New Zealand, I'd just get an open return ticket. If you want to take the opportunity to sample the rest of Asia, I'd look into getting a multi-stop ticket from an Asian airline. I'm a bit confused by your ticket question--if you're saving up for this trip, why would you not have financial support by the time you wish to travel from Sydney to wherever? Why not secure tickets for both legs of the journey (from and to the US) before you leave?
posted by peripathetic at 10:39 AM on July 14, 2013

On complete failure to preview, I also agree that doing the Australian working visa scheme could be an option if you don't so much want to TRAVEL ALL THE TRAVELS as get a deeper experience of a different part of the world.
posted by Sara C. at 10:41 AM on July 14, 2013

A big question is cost -- choose a per-day budget for your trip, based on what you can comfortably afford. A cheap option is to stay in hostels (see hostelworld.com for listings/reviews). A lot of the people in hostels will be in their early 20's and like to party, and most hostels organize day trips to the big sites and evening trips to bars. Hardly anyone else will be from the US. If this sounds like fun (or at least something you can put up with) then you could travel for less than $50/day (plus airfare), less in low-cost areas, but do look at details of where you'd like to stay/visit/eat.
posted by sninctown at 5:02 PM on July 14, 2013

I would take advantage of being in Australia and see more of the country than Sydney. I mean, Sydney's ok and has its charms, but there's a lot more to the country than that! There's distinct advantages—we mostly speak the same language, our countries have pretty good relations—but it's also quite different from the US, especially once you get outside the cities. I definitely recommend Tasmania and Melbourne/country Victoria. I still haven't seen as much of the country as I would like, but definitely go to the desert (Alice Springs/Uluru) and WA and the Great Barrier Reef before all the coral is bleached... Canberra, our nation's capital, also has a lot of really amazing culture, museums and such, but that may be less interesting to you.

Melbourne isn't that cold in May, Tassie will be a bit colder because it's further south, but to put it in perspective, it generally doesn't snow in Australia apart from in the mountains. peripathetic's suggestion above is good, but you could go the other way to do the cooler bits (Melbourne and Tasmania) while the weather is generally warmer, then work your way up north again. (Sydney - Canberra - Melbourne - Tasmania - Adelaide - Perth - Alice - Uluru - Darwin - Cairns - Brisbane - Sydney.) In terms of getting around, there are some trains/buses that are cheaper than flying, but don't take the ferry to Tasmania as it's actually more expensive than a flight. You might also want to consider renting a car, since public transport is very good within the cities but not as much outside, and a lot of what's amazing about Australia is outside the cities. We do drive on the wrong side of the road though—I'm wrestling with the prospect of driving in the US when I go later this year. Scary!

A lot of the casual work in Australia tends to be seasonal—fruit picking in the summer, etc. I don't know what your skills are but your best chances of finding work would probably be cafes or maybe telemarketing. But it's pretty competitive and would mean you'd need to stay put rather than move around, so I don't know how workable that would be. Check out mycareer.com.au and seek.com.au for a general sense of what's out there. You want to put "casual" as a search term or look for that in the results.

Ultimately, where you spend your extra time and how much extra time you spend depends on what you want, what interests you. Have you always longed to see Vietnam or Cambodia? Does the idea of spending time in countries that are kind of familiar but different appeal? Try Australia and/or New Zealand. Do you want the island paradise? Try Bali, New Caledonia, Noumea. Do a bit more research into the possibilities and you'll probably find things intriguing you, I'd let that guide you. Although generally speaking, less developed countries will be cheaper to stay in than more developed ones. Try Lonely Planet, I always find they're a good starting point, and for the weird and wonderful try Atlas Obscura.

Have fun planning!
posted by Athanassiel at 5:32 PM on July 14, 2013

how do I plan this
There is something to be said for buying an open ticket and seeing where the road takes you. If you talk to enough travellers, you'll find some who will literally decide their next destination based on a random late night bar chat with other backpackers who were glowing with enthusiasm about that country. From your question, I don't think this style of travel is for you (this time).

So this is what I would do: Figure out what you want from this experience. A little bit over everything around the world is going to look different to a deeper exploration of one or two countries. There is no right or wrong answer here, but one or the other might work better with your personality and budget.

Athanassiel has good advice if you want to see Australia. Once you have narrowed down regions/countries/cities, you'll have a much better idea of the flights you need to book, and then you can think about accommodation and what you want to see. I would personally book all flights and at least the first night of accommodation in each place before leaving home. But you'll have do decide for yourself where you fall on the spectrum of maximum flexibility vs knowing where you'll be sleeping. If you're travelling anywhere near peak season, you'll probably want to book more things rather than less. If you're bad with budgeting, definitely pre-book and prepay as much as you can. Then all of your spending money is fun money! Speaking of which...

MONEY: How much do I really, absolutely need to have saved?
As much as possible. You will never regret having more money rather than less. It will just give you more options, like a night in a hotel once in a while, rather than having to always stay in dorms. Or you can take the helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef. Or buy that souvenir shot glass. Or whatever would appeal to you, and which would be annoying to have to turn down after travelling all this way, because you can't afford it.

Travel is always going to end up being more expensive than you think. You might have to buy things that you would otherwise just have lying around at home. You won't (necessarily) be able to get things on sale or know about the "cheap night" at "that place around the corner". You'll probably be doing touristy things in touristy places and the prices will reflect that. Australia in particular is more expensive than the US for general cost of living expenses - food, drinks, transport etc. Although at least the sales tax is included in the quoted price, so you don't get a surprise at the checkout.

Like others have said, you can't really budget until you know where you're going. But once you've got that figured out - still save more money than you think you need.
posted by pianissimo at 7:54 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

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