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Between beautiful beaches, the Outback, interesting cities, and, of course, the accents and the animals, Australia is the ultimate bucket list destination. But if you're going to fly across the world to go somewhere, make sure you do your homework first. Here are all the tips you need to know before you go.
1. Yes, the flight is long. But if you prepare, it's totally manageable. If you don't want cankles, compression socks are your friend. Wear layers and something stretchy, and pack an eye mask and some kind of neck pillow. Take regular stretch and walk breaks to keep the blood flowing. And don't forget to keep essentials like medicines, toothbrush, face wipes, moisturizer, and lip balm handy to stay comfortable.
2. The time difference will blow your mind. At 14 or so hours ahead of the East Coast, things start to get confusing. We left on a Friday night and arrived in Sydney first thing on Sunday. How can you just lose a full day like that?! If you can plan to land in the morning and schedule a few activities right away, it'll help normalize your routine and get you on track. Just be prepared to feel sleepy extra early for the first few days.
3. Australia's a big country, to say the least. If you wouldn't tell someone to visit Florida, New York City, the Grand Canyon, and Mexico in a two-week trip to the US, you probably shouldn't expect to see all of Australia, either. Between the cities (like Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, and Brisbane), the beaches, the Outback, and much more, you could stay for months and still have plenty left to see. And while it makes sense for a lot of people to check out New Zealand while you're on that side of the globe, keep in mind it'll limit what you can see and do in Australia. On my trip, we decided to stick to Australia and save the Kiwis for next time.
4. Airbnb is probably your best bet if you're searching for accommodations. Australia isn't the cheapest place to travel, but you can usually find a room or house (depending if you're solo, coupled, or in a group) for $50 or less per person. Plus, you can save by cooking meals yourself. It was fun to check out some of the local supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths to see how people shop in other places.
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5. The coffee is delicious. But this isn't your local coffee shop — so don't think you can just order a drip coffee. Save yourself (and your barista) some confusion and place an Australia-appropriate order. If you want something simple, a long black is the closest you'll get to a plain cup of coffee. It's like an Americano, but even stronger. A flat white is like a latte, but extra delicious. Your hotels and Airbnbs will likely have a French press, so if you don't know how to use one, take a few minutes to YouTube it in advance. And unless you want a scoop of ice cream in your coffee, don't order an iced coffee.
6. Wondering what to eat? They take their breakfast seriously and have lots of cute cafes. You'll also find fish and chips at most restaurants and great local seafood options, like barramundi. Want drunk food? Look for a kebab shop. Interestingly, they put beets (or "beetroot") on burgers and sandwiches, and pumpkin is also a common salad ingredient. Most importantly — don't forget to try TimTams. They're a chocolate cookie, or biscuit, often used for dipping in coffee. They'll change your life (and make great souvenirs).
7. There's no tipping in Australia. It feels uncomfortable coming from the US, but no matter who you ask, you'll find that it's just not a common practice and most employees are usually compensated differently than in our service industry. Australia also has what's called a "goods and services tax" that's included in the sale price of a lot of store-bought items, as well as at restaurants. This means what you see listed is the total you owe — no need to estimate or factor in a tip.
8. Wine > beer in Australia. The system is pretty complicated, but essentially beer and liquor are taxed at a higher rate, making the cost for a case of cheap beer or a bottle of wine more than what we're used to in the US. But don't worry — the wine more than makes up for it. If you're looking for cheap booze, "goon" refers to boxed wine, and it's surprisingly not bad (although any box wine comes with the risk of a low-grade hangover). If you swore off boxed wine after college, you can try some unique local varieties like Shiraz and Semillion. As an added bonus, all of their wine has screw tops, which is great for traveling. Book a tour through the Hunter Valley wine region outside Sydney if you want to spend a beautiful day tasting and learning about Aussie wines.
9. Most places you'll visit accept credit cards. Thus, you shouldn't need to worry about exchanging a ton of cash. But they use contactless, or "tap and go" credit and debit card systems, in Australia, and since your card may not be set up for this, you'll generally need to sign your receipts. Make sure you also sign the back of your credit card in advance or have an ID with your signature to verify — some merchants may request to see it.
10. Want to take a flight within the country? Scoot (previously Tigerair) and Jetstar are essentially the RyanAir of Australia. Flights are reasonably priced — and essential if you're hoping to move around the country quickly. But like most budget airlines, you won't receive any extras like checked bags or meals unless you pay for it. Both generally let you carry on two small bags, however, they have a weight limit of around 7 kg (or 15 pounds). Then, you can pay for additional checked baggage. Typically this covers you up to 15-20 kg (or 30-44 pounds), so make sure to keep a close eye on your baggage weight or else you may end up paying a fee.
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11. Planning a road trip is a fun way to explore the country . . . as long as you leave plenty of time for spontaneous stops and adventures. But as if driving on the other side of the road isn't daunting enough, car insurance is handled differently in Australia. Most rentals will include base-level insurance, however, it doesn't always cover any damage that's done to the car in the event of an accident. Excess reduction coverage is additional, and the company you get your rental from may charge quite a bit for it. Third-party options are available online, though, and are less expensive and well worth the peace of mind.
12. If you have enough time, applying for Global Entry is worth the expense. It lasts years and can cut your time in customs significantly. Because the last thing you want to do after flying for 15 hours is to stand in more lines.
13. Want to hold a koala? Of course you do. Check out Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, the world's first and largest koala sanctuary. You can hold one, plus see more than 100 koalas of all ages throughout the park. You'll also get to pet kangaroos, wallabies, and emus and see other rare species you'll only see in Australia. Only a few states in Australia let you actually hold a koala, so if this is on your bucket list, make sure to visit a sanctuary or reserve in Queensland (like Lone Pine), Western Australia, or Southern Australia.
14. If you're planning to snorkel or scuba dive, consider heading to Cairns. It's one of the top places to see the Great Barrier Reef, and there are plenty of tour companies that will rent you equipment and guide your trip to make sure you see the best spots. Despite the sad reports of extensive damage to the reef, it truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see one of the most beautiful and amazing wonders of the world.
15. Don't forget their seasons are opposite of ours. While it's generally pretty nice there year-round, some months lend themselves better to certain activities. And their Summer (our Winter) can get brutally hot — so you may be better off planning a Fall or Spring trip instead.