Thoughts on Australia

Over the course of the last five years, I’ve been able to explore more of Australia than most Australians have. I’ve been to every Australian state and territory and have driven over 20,000km throughout the country. My recent trips to New South Wales and Victoria this year have given me a new opportunity to see Australia and reflect on some of the changes I’ve seen over the last 4 years since my first visit.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Australia is expensive

Without question, Australia has become one of the most expensive places I’ve visited. It is up there with Switzerland and Ireland in terms of cost of visiting for places I’ve been in the last year. The cost of a bottle of Diet Coke at a 7-11 was A$3.50. The primary reason for the rise in prices is due to a relatively strong Australian economy coupled with a relatively weak US dollar/Euro/Pound. Even people I met from the UK and Europe thought that prices were high. To give you an idea how expensive it has gotten, in late 2008 it took US$0.60 to buy 1 A$1. Today it costs US$1.02 to buy the same Australian Dollar.

Australia has the best budget tourism industry in the world

The silver lining to the cost of traveling in Australia is that fact that probably has one of the best infrastructures for backpacking and budget travel in the world. Despite the size of Australia, most of the country is empty so there are only so many places you can visit. There are well-established routes, especially on the east coast, with affordable hostels and bus routes. Much of the infrastructure built for budget travel in Australia also extends to New Zealand and Fiji. For example, the place I stayed in Melbourne, Nomads Hostel, is a chain with 27 locations in Australia. There are other chains in Australia where you can literally book rooms or beds in the next place you will be before leaving your current location.

Australia has a lot in common with the United States

If you were to draw a line between the US and the UK as endpoints, I think Australia would be somewhere in the middle. The similarities to the UK are obvious (cricket, the Queen, and meat pies come to mind). The similarities with the US are a bit more subtle. I think that Americans and Australians share a similar attitude which stems from having a large frontier. They both have neighboring, English speaking countries who often feel overshadowed (Canada and New Zealand).

Australia is a very sporting country

I think that Australia might be one of the most sports-crazy countries in the world. Their primary sports, however, Aussie Football (AFL) and Rugby League (NRL), are really only played in Australia. The amazing thing is that unlike most other countries, the sports aren’t popular in the same parts of the country. NRL is popular in NSW and Queensland, whereas AFL is popular in Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia. Not only that, but there are NINE AFL teams in the greater Melbourne area, all of which can get up to 30,000 people to attend a game! Even though Australia has only 2/3 the population of Canada, they still bring home more Olympic medals every year.

Australia is empty

I’ve driven from Melbourne to Cairns and from Darwin to Perth. I’ve also taken a bus from Adelaide to Darwin. I’ve covered a good chunk of the country by land. Until you have actually been there, it is hard to grasp not just how big Australia is, but how empty it is. It is the size of the continental United States with slightly more than half the population of California. The vast majority of the country isn’t fit for growing anything which is why almost everyone lives on the coasts. Despite its large size, it will have a hard time sustaining population growth because so much of the land is arid.

I don’t know if I’ll be back to Australia in 2012, but it is one of those places I’ll always be returning to. I look forward to my next visit.

22 thoughts on “Thoughts on Australia”

  1. Yes i agree that Australia is expensive. I travelled to Australia through travel company Cox and Kings. The trip was amazing but the extra expence was more than I expected. Peole over there are friendly but never understood why they charge so high.

  2. It is very evident that Australia is one of the most promising country because of its beautiful places as well as a sporty location. It’s such a great experience to be there. You had a great adventure there because the way you present is really credible.

  3. I agree, most Australians do not realize how expensive it is to live there because they are making Aussie money. It is the same with Americans. We do not think about it being expensive to live in America, but if you ask someone from Mexico if they think it is expensive they would probably say yes. That is why many people from Mexico work here and send their money back home.

  4. Like many of you I’m both Australian and have travelled a lot overseas.

    Even living in OZ I find the price of living atrocious and agree with Gary that its one of the most expensive places on earth.

    But I challenge you to remember just how much you spent on your last holiday. Do you recall? Possibly not, but I reckon you’d remember the fun times you had, great place you visited and fascinating people you met.

    I can’t imagine life without travel. Whatever the price.

  5. Australia is my home. It really is “the lucky country”. Perfect observations Gary, I think your travel experience allows you to get to know the nuances of a country faster than most people.

    Especially the “empty” part. It is so empty, it’s absurd. I just dont’ think many people understand just how unpopulated, and vast, Australia actually is.

    If anyone wants to understand how big it is – go to Perth (my home) and then drive to the nearest city. I gurantee it will be the biggest road trip of your life, just getting to another city…

  6. I can’t wait to get to Australia! I’ve always known it was expensive, so it’s good to know there is a thriving budget tourist industry :)

  7. Couldn’t have said it better myself. We’ve spent about six months in Australia over the last year and find it incredibly expensive. It gets more and more like the US – in both good and bad ways. We’ve mostly been in Queensland and find the people here very open and friendly. I love that everyone is so fit. We go out walking with the stroller in the morning and evening and there are hundreds of people out walking, running and swimming in the sea. They’re more image conscious than us Kiwis.

    I find the food in Queensland atrocious. It’s very “basic” and they’re obsessed with chicken parma (breaded chicken schnitzel). I guess they can eat it when they’re doing such a good job of keeping fit.

    As a Kiwi, I see more similarities between NZ and the UK than I do with NZ and Australia. We’re becoming quite different than one another culturally where we used to be so similar. Australia is definitely shifting towards a US frame of mind.

  8. Well, I’m a local and there’s no way in the world I would ever give up my Australian citizenship. And yes, it’s expensive, even for the locals! The cost of living here has increased a lot over he past decade. But we’re a friendly mob, so come over and say hi and it will be beer o’clock! A pretty close to the mark review.

  9. I’ve never been to Australia but I would love to go someday. I never knew how ’empty’ Australia is – so interesting. Obviously if I ever get to go I’ll have a lot of learning to do before I get there. Thanks for the interesting post.

  10. Australia is one of those places I know I will visit someday, but unfortunately my husband I felt like it would just be too much of a budget drain on our upcoming RTW trip. We figure that both Japan and England will give us our fill on expensive island nations this time around so we’ll save Australia for a trip of its own. Maybe one of these days the USD will have enough strength to hold up against those A$3.50 soda prices…

  11. Interesting stuff! I’m floored about the population. Half the population of California?? That’s crazy for such a big country.

  12. I’m Australian and I have never thought of Australia as expensive at all, it is so strange to hear an outsiders perspective.

    The good thing though is we have good wage laws to ensure a fair pay level so there is not much tipping. Having recently visited the US, tipping can get quite expensive

    • That is because you are earning money in Australian Dollars. As the Aussie dollar has gone up relative to other currencies, you’d notice it as everywhere else getting cheaper.

      There has been a big spike in Australian tourists visiting the US in the last few years because the rise of the Australian Dollar has made it cheap.

      5 years ago it was exactly the opposite.

  13. I agree with everything except the comment regarding the Olympic medal count. Canada destroys Australia in the winter games. We’re a Nordic country, not a summer one. The AIS has helped Australia dominate the summer games, but things are quite different when the temperature drops.

      • In theory. Explain to me why I had 10 inches of snow here this morning. :)

        Most of Canada’s summer medals come from athletes that live and train in countries with extended amounts of warm weather. Ironically, Simon Whitfield, a Canadian triathlete who won gold in the Sydney Olympics, lived and trained with the AIS athletes. As a competitive cyclist, my racing season hasn’t even started yet. Most European cyclists already have two months of racing done. We’ve cut our losses and focus on the winter games.

        Things will be different for Australia in future winter games. The OWIA now has nice training facilities in Melbourne.

    • In the last Summers Olympics, Canada won 18 medals and Australia won 46.

      In the last Winter Olympics, Canada won 26 and Australia won 3.

      Not bad considering Australia doesn’t even have winter.

  14. I as an Aussie that has traveled overseas found that it was very expensive for us to travel the cost of food in the Uk was bad fish and chips was 5-8 pound but at the time we were there in 2008 and the pound was 48p to our dollar hence to us that fish and chips cost us between $10 and $16 so was very expensive and now the tables have turned what used to be a weak economy is now a strong one and tourists are finding that their dollar does not go as far but when u boil it down it is where you live that makes the cost seem reasonable. Yes food in Canada was cheap but when we added taxes and Tips on to it it was nearly as expensive as back home that is what gets the tourist is all our taxes are added on and we have a cheap GST compared to other countries of only 10%, and we are a arid country slowly we are taking back that desert and barren landscape so in the near future you will see crops being grown where they were not previously grown. Plus our laid back lifestyle is second to none so come down to Australia and enjoy it

  15. I agree with everything you have said about Australia, as I sit here on my 7th visit to the country.
    I agree that it is crazy expensive and one other thing that I have noticed when you compare it to the US/Canada is that I find here the healthier food is cheaper than the junk food where in US/Canada that is the opposite.

  16. I love Australia.. well it’s my home. I’ve moved off to London and I never really noticed how expensive Sydney was because well.. I was getting paid for our standard of living. Now in London, I can really tell how expensive Sydney is. It’s ridiculous really when looking at basic necessities!

    You’re post made me miss my sports crazy, smaller population hence slower paced home.

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