Most round-the-world tickets will stop in Australia, or at least Sydney, at some point. If you’ve spent a fair bit of time backpacking in Europe or America, then there are a few things worth knowing before you head off to the unusual land of Oz. So let’s take a closer look at 8 confusing things for backpackers in Australia.
1. It’s massive. Sounds obvious, but if you’re used to American or European travel, then the sheer size of the country will hurt your head.
2. Animals are everywhere. Kangaroos dart in front of cars, penguins cross the road, and bulls charge into pretty much anything. The signs aren’t just for fun.
3. Aussies love Big Things. The country is littered with over 150 oversized versions of small things. Designed as tourist traps, they’re now a cult phenomenon. Two highlights are the Big Banana (13m wide) in Coffs Harbour and the Big Pheasant (17m high) in Tynong.
4. Cadbury’s chocolate. Despite the heat, Australia has what appears to be the largest selection of Cadbury’s chocolate anywhere in the world. Orange, mint, crazy bubbles… not to mention the Cherry Ripe. Why these awesome flavors are unique to Australia is a mystery.
5. Eye masks are acceptable bed wear. Hostels are fun, big and noisy. You’ll probably have a torch already but earplugs are essential. Wear an eye mask and you’ll be the subject of envy (and possibly theft). Another great tip is to go sapphire mining in Australia’s Gemfields of Queensland, a quite extraordinary experience.
6. Australia isn’t cheap anymore. Thanks to a cast-iron economy, Australia is now on par with Western Europe in terms of living cost. Good for the Aussies, not so good for us backpackers. Get yourself an up-to-date guidebook and save hard before you go. Don’t be afraid to scour the internet for cheap deals on hotels when you’re staying in bigger cities.
7. There are no decent clothes shops. Anywhere. Ask any Aussie who’s left the country at any point and they’ll agree with you: their clothes shops suck. At the opening of the first Zara store in Sydney a few years back, people camped out overnight and queued for several hours just to grab a bit of high street European fashion.
8. They have their own lingo. It’s not quite English. Any words containing more than three syllables are chopped in half and an ‘o’ is added on the end i.e. afternoon becomes ‘arvo’, going for a cigarette is a ‘smoko’. Backpackers with English as a second language may be scratching their heads during many conversations. Just smile and head for the bar.
There are some things you might have known about Australia before you get there, but, in general, just get your fill of culture and history while you’re in Europe and enjoy the simple joys of Australia: sunshine, scenery and good times.
5 Items You can’t go Backpacking Without
You don’t have to pack the kitchen sink, but there are a few items that your rucksack shouldn’t be without.
1. Plastic ziplock bags (those clear sandwich bags) are fantastically useful. Think of them as ‘mobile quarantine stations’ and you’ll get the point. Stinking socks, a wet bikini, anything of an unsavory nature that you don’t want to contaminate the rest of your stuff… the ziplock bag is the answer. They’re also great for storing little things that can get easily lost, like earrings and small jewelry.
2. Everyone takes a torch in their backpack. Essential for creeping into your dorm late at night, jungle trekking, trying to find something really tiny at the bottom of your bag (‘I KNOW it’s in there’)… endless uses. The best kind of torch to take is one where the end is designed to screw off, leaving you with just an exposed bulb.
You can stand the torch on its end and lo and behold, you have a candle. Sounds crazy but it’s actually extremely useful. Especially if you need light in a situation where you’ve got your hands full… (cough).
3. Even if you have absolutely no intention of ever washing your own clothes, it’s a good idea to carry a bar of laundry soap. It takes up no room and if you do end up washing your underwear in a hostel sink (which you will at some point, there’s no getting around it) then it knocks spots off that gimmicky travel gel they sell in camping stores.
If you’ve got some half-decent underwear (I’m thinking delicate lady things here) then always wash it yourself. It’ll get ‘lost’ or destroyed by overzealous laundry ladies within the first few weeks of traveling.
4. Unless you’re sailing the med and dining at the Captain’s table every night, you’ll probably end up cooking for yourself a few times while you’re on the road. Having your own cutlery set is brilliant. Watch as others in your hostel kitchen are forced to eat their pasta with chopsticks or a serving spoon. Fact: hostel kitchens never have enough of anything.
Don’t buy really cheap cutlery or it’ll rust up quickly, which is a nightmare to scrub off. My boyfriend had a flashy set where each item folded in half. They lasted for ages and I was always very jealous as I sat there shoveling food into my mouth with my rusty fork.
5. A travel washing line might seem like a nerdy thing to take with you but it’s more useful than you might think. It’s essentially a slim bungee cord, with the hooks at the end and everything. Handy in all kinds of temporary-fix situations.