Becoming a backpacker: My first budget trip in Australia

When I interviewed Laura recently about how her travel plans for her first big trip have changed from a long-term trip starting in Asia to a short-term trip close to home (which, for her, is Europe – lucky thing!) her comment about being a first time traveller reminded me of my first independent travel experience. I’d almost forgotten that I didn’t just launch right into travelling anywhere I felt like – instead, I actually did a backpacking trip by figuring out the train and bus schedules to get around the eastern states of Australia.

Flinders Street Station, Melbourne

Most people from Perth would fly to either Melbourne or Sydney and spend a week or two in the one city, exploring the sights, wining and dining, if they were taking a holiday “over east” (as we call it here!). When my boyfriend of the time and I decided to “go backpacking” to the east coast, we got a few funny looks. But it was a really interesting experience and completely different to any of my subsequent trips to Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

We flew into Melbourne and had no bookings or plans other than to fly out of Sydney three weeks later. The Melbourne hostel we stayed in was my first experience of a hostel and it was fine, apart from the midnight wakings: on the first night, a fire alarm went off in the middle of the night and we all staggered out into the corridors to be told it was a false alarm. The same thing happened on the second night. On the third night, we managed to sleep through the night and expressed surprise to the staff the next morning, and one of them told us that the alarm system had been recently installed as a government requirement, but that steam from the showers was setting it off. “So nobody had a shower last night?” I asked. “Yes, but we just turned off the whole alarm system.” Very safe!

After the best part of a week exploring Melbourne, we caught a bus up to Albury-Wodonga and stayed on the Victorian side of this twin town, Wodonga. It was off-peak season and the gorgeous youth hostel we stayed in was nearly empty, and the owner offered us free use of bikes to explore the river and other areas. From there we bussed up to Canberra (with a bonus bus stop at Gundagai, the second time I got to see the dog on the tuckerbox) and stayed in a fantastic hostel there, full of foreigners – in fact, someone told me they never encouraged Australians to stay there because they drink too much! I’ve always loved visiting Canberra for its flurry of “national” activities like the National Gallery, War Memorial and Parliament House (old and new), and getting around it on public transport was no big drama.

Looking over Lake Burley Griffin to old and new Parliament House, Canberra

The next bus trip was fast – an express up to Sydney, arriving late at night and just in time to find a fairly dingy (but cheap) hotel room close to the bus station. I hadn’t been to Sydney as an adult and gazed in wonder at the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, probably the beginning of my continued wonder at seeing famous places and tourist icons “in the flesh”.

View from Sydney Tower

I loved this trip – I loved carrying everything I needed in my own backpack, I loved being able to decide spontaneously that today was the day to move on to the next stop, I loved not knowing where I would stay that night. It was easy, of course, to be doing it in my home country with no language barriers, the same currency, and no big surprises, but I still loved it. Although I was a young professional with a high disposable income, and could have probably done any kind of trip I liked (luxury skiing holidays were popular amongst us “grew up without snow” types at the time), I got a real thrill out of doing it on the cheap and it made me realise I could travel longer that way.

Have you ever backpacked in your backyard?


  1. Sounds like a wonderful trip you had 🙂 We often backpack in our backyard at weekends (south west australia) but now it’s more like glampacking because we do it in our own car – and set out with our little two man tent. In 1983 (oh yes, I was just a CHILD!) I backpacked seriously around Asia and Australia – I can fully relate to your feelings about just being able to pack up and move on at a whim.

    • Ha ha, yes, I’m sure you were just a child in 1983 Jo 🙂 but in fact I’m a little envious, I think backpacking in Asia in those days would have been much more fun – before it was so easy to find out all about places before you arrived – it would have been more like a proper adventure.

  2. I’m actually quite envious of backbackers! It’s something I never did as a young traveller but I love the idea of making spontaneous decisions and just doing it, changing plans if you meet people on the way.The freedom it gives must be exciting.Smart move learning the ropes in Australia!

    • I do really love the spontaneity of unplanned trips, and miss it (not so ideal with a toddler in tow!). Give him a few years though and we can be at it again.

  3. Next time do the road trip with other travellers as well! You can find backpackers from the rideshare section of gumtree or backpacker rideshare sites like LiftSurfer

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