Travel Tips

A Guide for Backpackers on a Working Holiday Visa

From the owner and day to day manager of Cronulla Beach Backpackers

Who knows everything about travelling – not me! But what I want to share with you is my knowledge as a born and reared Aussie.  The fact that I have owned and operated the Backpackers at Cronulla Beach in Sydney New South Wales since July 2000 has given me loads of experiences and lessons on the do’s, don’ts and “Why not’s!?” of travelling.

Over this time I have had thousands of travellers share their experiences with me, and I with them.  As a small hostel operator I can usually spend some time chatting with and getting to know my guests, especially the ones who obtain work in the local area and stay a while.

If you’re reading this before you’ve left home or you’ve just arrived in Australia, and like all of us have thousands of questions you want answered about the great unknown, I hope reading this will answer some of them and help make your backpacking trip a success.

Australia in the last few years has become pretty expensive ( even though the $AUD has dropped recently), so gone are the days of being a beach bum most of the time and working  little of the time. I suggest that you don’t plan an extensive itinerary for your travels but I think having some general dates and guides are more important now than ever before. Maintaining a budget will hopefully prevent you from having to leave a place you love to find work or hauling off to a farm skint and a bit desperate.  It’s about being in the right place at the right time, not wasting money, and getting it right. 

Budget Basics:

I said Australia has got pretty expensive,  when the Pound and Euro hit an all time low in 2012 a pint of beer at our local pub hit 5 Pounds and our wages on conversion nearly made it double from what was being offered in Europe for the same job. It has dropped back a bit but get your calculator out for this:

If you’re staying in a hostel and meet some people why not all pitch in and cook something. Cooking for 4 is cheaper than for 1. What a way to meet people and have some fun. Why this doesn’t happen more often amazes me! For many young travellers it’s close to being their first time cooking and away from home – so they have no idea! If this is you learn some basic cooking skills before you come over, you never know, you might make a successful impression on somebody. The Italians and the Asians in my opinion win “the best cooks award”. pick_fruit

Plan for seasonality of weather and fruit picking seasons:

Plan for local holidays that might affect work opportunities:

Plan for the numbers of travellers entering Australia searching for work:

Getting a job in Australia isn’t as easy as it was a few years ago, however there are work opportunities everywhere but you must remember this, you must bring something to your employer, they really don’t want to train you. Let’s face it, you only have a short visa and could piss off the next day if a good offer came about, so get some skills before you come over or pay and get them upon arrival.

For example:

Travelling around:

In the big cities (down town) use public transport, don’t buy/rent a car or camper van until you are leaving to travel.

Going large distances fly one way and do the bus, train, car or campervan on the return or vice versa.

Flying has never been so affordable so investigate it to travel big distances, comparing flights to the Grey Hound can be very worth your while. Many of my guests who are casually working often ask their boss to take short breaks like a 4 day long weekend to Melbourne.  Other short breaks are ideal to Tasmania and Alice Springs. The experience made all that sweeter since you have a job to come back to. Live it up – why not!

Buying verses renting a vehicle:

IMG_0403Buying a car or van can be the best or worst thing you’ll ever do. Just remember a vehicle worth below $3000 is at the very bottom end of the market and can be fraught with hidden expensive repairs. Can you believe most travellers won’t even pay for a proper inspection! No wonder I have heard loads of stories about “the van I just bought needs a $1,000 repair + more work later to get it reregistered”, ”Where am I going to get the money for that” this is the quickest way I know to rip up thousands very quickly. Selling a vehicle can also be difficult especially depending on the time of the year. Fresh arriving travellers in summer will pay silly money for a bomb and in winter it’s a real struggle.

Reliability is the key when you are travelling thousands of Km’s so maybe that shit backpackers campervan isn’t the best buy. Probably that old man’s car that was looked after since brand new is the one you should be buying.  There are many ways to find vehicles for sale when you get here, so I recommend you touch and feel a lot before you make a decision, and get the one you like checked out professionally!  Knowing how long the brake pads have to go before replacement, the condition of hoses, radiator, oils and gearbox is invaluable. Breaking down on a freeway or outback place needing a tow will make you cry. Lots of travellers just leave their vehicle there or reluctantly spend the money get it repaired. I wonder how many travellers end up spending double or triple what they paid for the vehicle on repairs, then sell it for less than the bought it for – a lot! Some of the smart ones however can buy the right vehicle, travel all over and sell it for the same amount or even more than what they paid for it. It’s all in the initial research!


If you’re going one way up/down the coast to your end destination and have only a few weeks or a month to do it, you are much better off to rent a camper van. IMG_0450Essentially you are getting a $50,000 vehicle for $80 per day. Now you have all the modern working appliances and trouble free travelling. Check out relocation vans they always need drivers. Ask for a few extra days and strike a deal.

Having your own wheels is a nice way to travel. Seeing small out of the way places, deserted beaches or rainforests and doing it at your own pace – perfect! This luxury only comes with money so if you’re skimping on everything before you start just catch the Greyhound and have no hassles.

Random stuff:

Work like a maniac at home and save as much as you can before coming out. Having a good float is peace of mind and opens up more opportunities for example a vehicle deal; an unexpected road trip with the new love of your life, adventure sports or educational courses to help you get that great job- it just makes good sense when your currency is often better than ours. Normally a big backpacking trip is not thought about on a Monday and you’re flying on Friday, so you have time to get your act together – make good use of that time and save and train.

Do a budget to get an idea of how much float you might like to have (1, 2,or3 months living expenses)and also how many work hours you will need to do in OZ per week to break even.  I’m thinking to stay alive living in a hostel is about $300 per week and about $500 for a pretty good time. I know doing this might sound daggy but it’s better than having no idea and running short. Believe me I have seen and heard all the stories and still cannot believe what situations travellers put themselves in.

Practice saving at home and you if you can’t do it there you won’t do it here, especially where every night is potentially a Saturday night. Get rid of all your outgoings – sell your car or random stuff that you won’t need or use, don’t go partying every weekend, work weekends, pay your credit card off in full and don’t use it again, dare I say move back home or don’t move out. Basically whatever it takes to get into a good position.

Stop off in Asia on the way down – this has become hugely popular and I say it is really a must do. Having a 2-3-4 month holiday before you get to OZ means that working hard when you get here is no big deal. Allow about $1,500 per month for the time of your life, and easily double it if you’re a bar pig and like ocean front bungalows. Do Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia down through Malaysia to Singapore. Fly to Bali then make your way to OZ – Perfect!

Renting a flat verses Hostel:

As a hostel owner sure I might be bias but I will try to lay the case out fairly for both:

Flat Life:

99% of all flats are unfurnished except for the cooker, so you will have to buy or rent everything to kit it out. Also you will have to come up with 4 weeks rent as bond and two weeks rent in advance and leases are six monthly. Most travellers are not in for such a long haul and big commitment. If you are then you could get flat mates in and charge them a premium so your rent becomes very cheap. Then after 6 months or so you could do a deal and sell all the furniture and assign the lease to your flat mates – commitment paid off!

Finding a share flat is probably the best way to go where the existing tenant  will have the flat fully furnished. You still pay a bond and rent in advance. This can be cheaper than a hostel but far more boring. How many times have travellers done this and all they seem to do is come back to the hostel to socialise – no way! You rented 4 walls in a foreign country, with no local friends – enjoy! Flat shares are probably best for couples/besties or the serious work- a-holics or shift workers like a nurse.

Hostel life:

Share rooms are probably a first for many people and it does take some getting used to. However there are always fellow travellers to talk too, party with, travel with and dare I say maybe hook up with. There have been countless friendships made at our hostel and probably a dozen or so marriages. Your social life in a fun hostel is never boring! Sometimes staying away from the fun and party times is more of the challenge.

Staying in hostels also gives you complete flexibility, you can check out and go whenever you want. There are no bonds and lengthy leases plus the information the manager and reception staff have ( plus other travellers) can be invaluable to making your backpacking trip a success. For eg We help travellers get work, how you may ask? By marketing to every business in the region since 2000 promoting that we have travellers with visas wanting casual work.  All you have to do is ask reception if any work came in today? I’m sure this happens all over the country to varying degrees; find out what a hostel has to offer

Tip – try and speak with the hostel prior to making a booking especially if you are a small group or need help getting work or have a special request. The personal touch can sometimes give much greater rewards than what is simply publicised on the web.

Travel light – How much do you really need? Don’t pack too much it’s a hassle to carry around, costs more to launder and looks a bit stupid. Usually it’s the girls (sorry girls)- just the other day I had a girl turn up with a 30kg solid wheeler suite case plus a fully packed oversized day pack plus her handbag.  Less is best!

IMG_0400Language – If you’re just going to be a tourist who cares if you can speak the English language at all, but if you’re thinking of working it matters a lot ( unless you’re fruit picking) Aussie employers won’t mother you and go out of their way to try and understand you. This is especially so for hospitality and labouring jobs. If you cannot understand the boss or customers or safety aspects of a job site you have vertically no hope. So practice your English before you come, it might be worth $1,000’s to you.

The Second year visa:

What a great scheme – if you hadn’t thought about it have a rethink. Checkout the government website for conditions to make sure you do it right. The great thing I like about it is that it can be used at any time up until the age of 30 years. I tell my guests that after 12 months in Australia leave and do a trip to Asia/ New Zealand or Fiji and then ignite it upon your return to Australia several months later. What a perfect way to extend your adventure and get the most out of your travels. Even if you are 19 – 20 years old now and want to go back to college, do so and use the second year as a reward when you are finished.

Then if your real keen at the end of the second year with the money you have saved head over to South and North America on the way home – round the world trip complete!

In Summary

You’re backpacking adventure

Success or Failure or not as good as it should have been, I wish I did it that way, is really what it all comes down too. I don’t mean winners and losers as there will always be them, but rather how a little bit of preparation / attitude and decision making can make a big difference on what you get out of your Backpacking Adventure. Remember that for most people (possibly you- I hope not) that this is probably a once in a life time adventure – so make the most of it!