Australian Dollar to U.S. Dollar, 2007 to now
Somewhere, somehow, people got it into their head that Australia was a cheap place to go backpacking for a while and like a conspiracy theory that refuses to die, people keep getting on a plane believing it.
As I mentioned in this earlier post, different takes on the cheapest places to travel, you often can’t trust the “travel bargains” round-ups you see in the glossy magazines. That story is often written in an editor’s head before anyone starts the interview process and if a “hot” country has taken out a big special advertising section recently, lo and behold the editor finds some reason to make sure that destination gets on lots of lists. As one freelancer interviewing me for one of these articles once said, “The editor wants popular places in here, not really the ones that are the best deal. I just have to find some justification for each one.”
Nomadic Matt has a great rundown on how Australia causes violent sticker shock for backpackers, even those coming from sky-high Europe. If you’re coming from the U.S., how do you feel about $14 six-packs of beer, for a start?
While I was in Australia this year, I spent $3,400 USD in 33 days. That total includes all my day to day expenses, flights, transport, tours, and anything I bought. If it wasn’t for my friends and the discounts I got, I would have spent about $150 USD per day.
There are several factors causing this. It is an island after all, and one on which not much grows well. In the book Collapse, author Jared Diamond compared Australia to a giant potted plant, a big swath of land where nothing edible would grow in any quantity without the massive amounts of fertilizer added to the soil each year. A huge amount of what’s used and consumed must be imported. The distances between cities are great, adding to transportation costs. It is one of the world’s economic powers though, which means it’s priced at first-world levels and above for everything from a cab ride to a soda.
On top of all this, the Aussie dollar has gotten a lot stronger in recent years, now at relative parity against the greenback and much stronger against the euro. Look at that chart at the top and you’ll see that friends who went a year and a half ago didn’t feel nearly as much pain.
Matt estimates you’ll pay $20-$25 a night for a hostel bed in some parts, but $27-$35 in the densely populated areas. (You can get a very nice private room for that in almost any of The World’s Cheapest Destinations.) You’ll pay $15-20 for a meal—or $8 for a McDonald’s value meal. Flights are expensive but the buses aren’t much better. A Cairns to Melbourne bus pass is $485. For a bus! You can fly all around Southeast Asia for less than that, hitting three or four countries.
Matt gives some advice on how to cut down on expenses, but they’re trims around the edges rather than radical cuts. Unless you’ve got a job lined up ahead of time, skip Australia for now if you’re on a budget. See the full post here: Cost of traveling Oz.