Four Thoughts on Australia

Australian Outback

In August we traveled to Australia as a result of a Twitter contest I won through the Northern Territory. We decided to extend the trip into a vacation and spent almost two weeks exploring as much of Australia as we could. Given the grotesque size of the continent, that meant we actually saw only a tiny fraction of the country. I spent enough time there though to emerge with a few take-aways on the land down under.

Australia expensive

1. Expensive – I don’t want to be a whiny traveler, BUT Australia is currently very expensive to visit, especially for Americans. I know it’s all about the current exchange rates and that ten years ago it was a completely different story, but I didn’t travel there ten years ago, I traveled a few months ago and it was pricey as hell. Australia is a large, somewhat barren island, I understand that, and as such I would expect some things to be more expensive than in other areas of the world. It wasn’t just one or two things though, everything in Australia was bizarrely expensive. Entrance fees to museums, meals, even cans of soda were almost laughably high. There’s nothing the tourist can do of course, except to sigh and open the wallet even wider, but after a while it got very annoying. I don’t think it’s necessarily just my view as an American traveling there either, my Australian friends complain about the excessive costs as well. It seems that no matter what anyone does, there is no way to avoid the cost. So when you plan your trip, take a look at the current exchange rate and plan accordingly.

Australia Outback

2. Big – When I first started planning our trip through the Red Centre and elsewhere, I remember thinking I could probably just drive from Alice Springs to Adelaide and over to Melbourne in a few days. Then I looked at a map. Then I consulted MapQuest. Then I dramatically altered our travel schedule. Australia is large, deceptively so, although I’m not sure why it surprised me as much as it did. It is, after all, a continent, but the fact that it’s on the far bottom of maps and atlases forces it out of view many times. I also never really thought I’d actually ever visit Australia. Whenever Americans are asked for their top travel wish list destinations, Australia is almost always at the top of the list. Australia has a certain ability to capture our imaginations and we have built it into a great mythical place of koalas, kangaroos and Crocodile Dundee. As such, not many people, myself included, actually plan realistic trips to the dusty continent. Having driven through several thousands kilometers of it though, I can attest to its endless and inspiring size.

Giant echidna

3. Quirky – Being as far removed as it is from, well just about everything, has helped develop a very unique Australian personality. To form a gross generalization, Australians are outgoing, gregarious, lovers of life and a little quirky. I’m not sure if they started out quirky, or if the land made them that way, but the result is the same. The quirkiness is realized in a number of ways: the incomprehensible rhyming slang, propensity to create giant statues of Echidnas or other fantastical creatures, and their oftentimes outrageous sense of humor. This quirkiness forms a pan-Australian sense of welcome, enjoyment and taking life for what it is and makes any trip there an adventure.


4. Overwhelming – All of these qualities combine to a certain feeling of being overwhelmed. As a traveler who wants to do and see as much as possible, it’s hard to go into a trip knowing that I won’t be able to even scratch the surface of a new destination. Australia is big in size, in spirit and in expectations and it’s hard to reconcile all that. It would take years of travel through Australia to see its width and breadth and to walk away feeling like I truly know and understand the country. It’s a good lesson for me to come to grips with the fact that many times travel gives us unique opportunities, but that those experiences are only the start and not the end to our education.

These are just a few things I took away from my trip to Australia. Have you ever been? What did you take away?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

22 thoughts on “Four Thoughts on Australia”

  1. Gidday Matt
    Good little yarn there bloke! Yeah Aussie is a flamin big place and “quirky” hahahhaha love that one!
    But having been over to your land a couple of years back I sorta left thinkin Id wander from coast to coast in a couple of months you know “do the USA” sorta thing? Well I arrived at JFK in New York and freaked out for the next week or so!! Im a bushy from Broome in the far north of West Aus and for me to step out of that airport and into the insanity that is New York peak hour traffic blew my mind… totally!!!

    But I began my journey in Connecticut and hocky puked my way through 16 states in 2 months… and saw VERY LITTLE!!!… incredible place!!! The mountains were spectacular and where I spent a fair bit of time driving around… Shannendoah, Blue Ridge, Smokey Mountains and the Natchez Trace… loved every minute of the mountains… then there were the cities! Insane places with more roads than an echidna has spines all leading somewhere with a million people on them going nowhere and worst for me? they were ALL on the wrong side of the road AND the wrong side of the car!!! SCAREY STUFF DUDE!

    Anyway mate… just wanted to say well done on the above come back again (note bring more $$ cause it IS Bloody expensive here!… and yep we know it hence most Aussies going outside of Aussie for holidays!) But remember the USA is a bloody big place with incredible diversity and beauty

    Cheers mate

    1. Shane, Thanks for the comment, I appreciate it! And yes, without a doubt the US is huge and it would take a lifetime to fully explore every nook and cranny. Maybe that’s why I don’t try. :) Seriously though, I guess it is all a matter of perspective, and the driving scared the hell out of me too.

  2. Ha, Shane’s comment above cracked me up! We haven’t made it to Australia yet, and one of the main reasons is because of the expense. It’s so hard to leave a place like SE Asia (where I can get a delicious meal for $1) and head down under.

    I’ve also heard that the internet is terrible, and that REALLY freaks me out. We’d never be able to get any work done!

    Despite all this, we definitely still want to visit. Maybe just for a week or two, though, instead of the month or two we typically devote to one place…

    1. Hi Christy,

      I think a lot of travellers spend way too much money on eating out and drinking alcohol when they’re in Australia (no Matt, I don’t mean you).

      It’s not that expensive to cook for yourself.

      Goodness, I can feed my family on less than $20 a night if I cook at home.

      So self-catering is the real trick to Australia (along with NOT staying in 4 Star anything – especially away from the cities).

      Th secret for eating out cheaply in Australia: clubs.

      Look for RSL clubs, sports clubs, memorial clubs – you can even find $1 (yes you read that right) dinner deals if you know where to look and what days to turn up for dinner.

      As for internet: the internet is slower than the US but it is NOT terrible. I run an internet business AND I live in outback Australia.

      My partner and son play online internet shoot-em-up games, no trouble whatsoever.

      And if you come to Alice Springs, please look us up!

      1. Yes, Matt. Maybe I will.

        There are so many tricks and tips that clever Aussie families have been using here for well over 40 years, which never seem to make it into the broader backpacker/traveller literature – and for the life of me, I don’t know why.

        Eating out at local clubs and self catering are just a couple of tricks I’d start start with.

        On this note – right now, it’s only $165 to fly from Sydney to Uluru and accommodation in the 4 Star Desert Gardens is less than half price!

        Try flying to Bali or Thailand from Sydney for $165.

        Ok I better get off my soapbox!

      2. LOL, I stayed at the Desert Gardens actually and was really blown away by how nice it was. And I had heard of the clubs before, but ONLY from Bill Bryson.

    2. Targeted travel might be a good idea, as would hiring a campervan for a few weeks. As far as internet goes, we used a mobile hotspot that we rented for the trip and loved it. We didn’t get connectivity in most of the Outback, but we anticipated that and it wasn’t a bother. Otherwise you’re right, the service is slow and expensive.

  3. You’re right travelling or even just living in Australia can be expensive but I think that changes if you’re working here; it’s all relative. I came here on a working holiday visa in June 2010 and have been travelling around Australia ever since working a little bit along the way (sometimes for 4-6 months at a time and settling somewhere for a while) and, even though I still don’t splash my cash on things, it’s much easier and makes everything seem a little bit more affordable when you’re actually earning Australia dollars.

    Australia’s quirkyness is one thing I absolutely love about this country – Australia people have a great sense of humour and don’t take themselves too seriously :-)

  4. You went to the biggest continent-island in the world for 2 weeks and realised it was expensive (island) and hard to see in 2 weeks (big)? Big deal.
    Take a month off, hire a van, camp, don’t eat out and lose yourself in the stunning unique beauty of Australian landscapes and you’ll have the trip of a lifetime.

    1. Sadly I have a job and can’t take a month off, but believe me I did lose myself in the stunning landscapes. Truly a gorgeous place. Thanks for the comment!

  5. We just moved to Australia! We are planning to stay in Brisbane and work for 4 – 6 months to rebuild some money reserves before going to travel Oz. Hopefully this gives us enough time to actually figure out all the stuff we want to do!

  6. Oh, I’ve been dying to go to Australia, but SO not prepared to deal with the vastness of that country. I also don’t want to do the cliches either. I think traveling to Australia is best reserved for people with ample time–at least a month there, maybe? It’s hard going anywhere that far for just a week. But koalas rule, no?

    1. Well we were there for two weeks, since we are both gainfully employed. Two weeks is a good amount of time, but you have to really focus your trip. Australia takes many visits to explore. Some would say we did too much in the amount of time we were there, but it worked for us.

  7. Some interesting stuff! You always write in such a great and engaging way… when I grow up I hope I write like you. =) Australia hasn’t been at the very top of my list, but it’s a place I definitely want to visit at some point in my life! Incredibly, most of the other travelers I’ve met on this trip have been from Australia, which even further motivates me to get down there and catch up with them!

  8. I thought New Zealand was expensive, even with the favorable exchange rate. When I voiced that to a Kiwi, she told me I should try going to Australia. She said that it’s cheaper for Aussies to fly to Queenstown and ski than it is to ski in Australia. I was shocked. I better start adding more money to my Australia piggy bank!

    1. Yeah you should LOL NZ actually wasn’t that bad I thought. You really have to figure in the exchange rate. But your friend is right, you will be shocked in Australia. And it’s for things that have nothing to do with the fact that they are an island, like $35 entrance fees to sites, etc.

  9. I talk about all these points all the time! Australia is very expensive… I mean just take a look at the price of soda or a bottle of water! Outrageous! I’ve been living here for almost 3 years, and while I’m used to the cost, it still hurts, and I still haven’t traveled here enough, and I still get excited at the prospects of traveling overseas instead because I can do it for cheaper. sigh.

    But still, Australia is amazing and extremely beautiful. There is a different vibe in this country that I think suits me more than living in America, but damn… I still miss home ;)

  10. Oh, it’s ridiculously expensive, and as an Aussie you realise this anytime you leave and happen to buy anything anywhere else! Which is probably why this non-shopping Aussie always seems to buy a shedload of clothes, etc when I am away, A killer for excess luggage!

    Oh my, where is the giant Echidna!!!??? I don’t think he has been on my radar of the Aussie Big Things!

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