Australia can be a pretty expensive country, especially for young travellers. Looking at a map, you might think that the cities on either coast are relatively close to each other. But appearances can be deceiving: Melbourne to Sydney alone is 878 kilometers. Unless you’ve planned your itinerary months ahead of time, flight prices can easily climb into the hundreds. Train and bus tickets are more affordable, but can still be pricey for the average backpacker. And renting a car isn’t always feasible depending on your age and your budget. So you might consider hitchhiking in Australia; it’s free, it’s flexible, and you have the opportunity to make connections and see places you never thought possible.
There are several things to consider when hitchhiking, so I’ll go through the pros and cons and some safety tips, as well as some alternatives to hitchhiking.
Tips for hitchhiking in Australia
- The best time of day to hitchhike in/near the cities is anytime except the morning/evening rush hours. The busier the roads, the less chance you have of getting picked up. Everyone is just trying to get to work or get home.
- An interesting fact about Australia is that you can’t actually wait in the road or any related area there, including the shoulder or the median. You will get approached by the cops if they see you doing this, though this is definitely more enforced in the cities.
- Make a sign and write your destination in huge letters so anyone approaching can read it.
- Take care of your appearance. People are more likely to pick you up if you look clean and presentable, not dirty and weird.
- Take as much water as you can carry. You’ll need it, trust us, especially if you are waiting for a ride in the outback.
- Truck stops are a great place to find rides, especially when you need to cross long distances of relatively empty outback. Be respectful if they say no. If someone does take you, don’t hesitate to buy their coffee or meal at the next truck stop if you can.
- Depending on the time of year, make sure to carry any combination of; sunscreen, a scarf/hat to cover up from the sun, a windbreaker, a raincoat…
Pros and cons of hitchhiking in Australia
- It’s free, free, free! You’ll save hundreds by avoiding flights, buses, and trains.
- You get to meet locals up close and personal. You’ll be surprised to find how many different perspectives you’ll encounter about anything and everything. And the insider information you’ll gain about Australia is worth its weight in gold for any traveler.
- Your plans are your own. With no impending flights to catch or trains to rush to, you’ll find yourself relaxing and taking in so much more than you would otherwise.
- You’ll get to see places you never thought you would. Small out-of-the-way towns, hidden beach coves, towns hidden in the Outback – the possibilities are endless.
- It’s not legal everywhere. Hitchhiking in Australia can be geographically limiting, as it’s actually illegal to hitchhike in two provinces: Queensland and Victoria.
- You might get tired of saying the same stories over and over again. Although you’ll be eternally grateful to anyone who picks you up, you might get tired of hearing them talk, too.
- Options become fewer and fewer the darker it gets, especially in rural areas. If you weren’t lucky enough to find a ride during the day, it’s possible you’ll find yourself camping out somewhere until dawn.
- You might struggle getting a phone signal. Cellphone coverage in the Outback exists of course, but only if you have certain carriers (namely, Telstra) – and even then it can be pretty unreliable depending on where you are.
Safety while hitchhiking in Australia
Though Australians are generally friendly and welcoming, don’t forget to keep your wits about you when hitchhiking. There have been reports in recent memory of backpackers being attacked and other violent incidents. Fear-mongering isn’t what I’m here for, but it never hurts to be aware. Keep track of the news as much as you can, and try to avoid hitchhiking – or at least exercise great caution – in areas that have seen trouble recently.
Always, always, always follow your gut instinct. If someone seems even slightly off, don’t climb into their vehicle. Keep your backpack at your feet or on your lap. Ask to take pictures of the vehicle and the license plate. If you have a signal, text these pictures, the driver’s name, and the locations you’re coming from/going to to multiple family members and friends.
Other cheap ways to travel Australia
Maybe you read all the way through only to realise that hitchhiking just isn’t your thing. No need to worry, though. Here are some other budget-friendly ways to travel around Australia:
Rent/buy a camper van: If you fancy travelling with a group, one of the best ways to get around Australia on the cheap is to pool your money, rent a camper van, and wheel around. You’ll save on accommodation, too. If you find it’s too expensive to rent, consider buying a cheap used van from a local and then selling it off again when you leave. Check out GumTree to browse used cars around the country.
Rideshare: Generally more organised and reliable than hitchhiking, ride-sharing is a highly popular way of travelling Australia. You usually have to pay, of course, but its cheaper than the average bus or train ride. Check your hostel bulletin board or ask around to find your ride. There are several sites you can keep an eye on, too: ShareYourRide and Coseats are two of the most popular.
Take the Bus: There are loads of bus options depending on what you want to do or how quickly you need to get somewhere. Check out Greyhound, Stray Travel, Oz Experience for some of the most popular options. Although this is the most expensive option on this list, the Oz Experience’s variety of backpacker travel packages and tours offer pretty good value for the money. There’s something for everyone, and if you only have a few days or weeks to explore Australia this might be the best option for you to get the most out of your trip.
Plane: It’s possible to get some really cheap airfares. Keep your eye out for special offers!
Author: Karolina Klesta is a full time traveler, blogger, happy mom and wife. She is running a Lazy Travel Blog with his husband Patryk, where they are sharing their non-adventurous tips on how to get the most of visiting new places without getting too tired.