Adjusting to Backpacker Life in Australia

Imagine for a second. You’re catching your third bus this week, after just about ramming the zip on your backpack shut in the dim morning light of your hostel dorm. After lugging it 15 minutes up the street to the bus stop, you’re finally on board and it’ll only take you 8 HOURS to reach your next destination! Then after more backpack lugging in 30-degree heat, you’ll arrive at yet another hostel and pray to find a bottom bunk waiting for you in your dorm and – friendly roomies wouldn’t go a-miss eh?

It was at around the 3-month point in my travels that I suddenly started to feel a wee bit exhausted. I’d packed in a lot in those first 3 months on Australia’s East Coast and as I started thinking about everything that goes into this amazing but bizarre life of a backpacker forever on the move, I figured I could combine it all – from the hostels, the people, the costs, the climate, the exhaustion and the emotions – into something that shows one’s life as it is lived from the insides of a backpack. A life that is far from your life at home. A life that is continuously on the move. A life that transforms you into one of Australia’s many, many, many backpackers…

Compact Living

Are you ready to leave the comforts and luxuries of your home behind to carry around your entire life in a backpack? Honestly you’ll probably adapt to this one really fast and then you’ll sit around one day and think of something that you miss. We really do take for granted the luxury of having our clothes and ‘things’ laid out in cupboards and drawers, everything neatly organised for us and easily identifiable without rummaging through rolled up, squashed and creased clothes just to find that one t-shirt we fancy wearing today.

Honestly if you find yourself alone in a spacious dorm room once in a while, take the opportunity to totally empty your bag, spray it and re-pack it. We also take for granted NOT carrying our lives on our backs every few days to move somewhere new. And when it’s essentially your life on your back, it can get preeeetty heavy.

Hostels

Definitely one of the most daunting aspects of solo travel for me before I left home was thinking about hostel life. Would I deal with it? Would I be happy? Would I meet people? The idea of hostels is weird, yeah – sleeping in dorm rooms with a bunch of strangers you’ve never met before?! – but I think once you accept them for what they are, which is a place to eat and sleep and be safe while you travel (and to socialise if you like) then the worries soon go out the window!

There’s all sorts of hostels to suit everyone. As you go along, you’ll know exactly what to look out for and what to avoid when booking your hostels. I played it safe for the first two months with YHA. They are known to be the more ‘chilled’ of the hostel chains, although some would call them boring. Most of those people are staying at party hostels, which are considered to be Nomads and Base hostels in a lot of big towns and cities, with plenty of other independent hostels usually advertising their onsite bars and clubs.

And what if you want a bit of both? Well those hostels exist too, you just have to do your research. Hostelworld is a popular website but some can be dubious about their ‘refundable deposit’, I booked direct a lot of the time or checked for discounts on booking.com.

Check out my guide on hostel living for even more tips if you’re travelling long-term and dreading hostel life!

Cost

Keeping costs low is always going to be a struggle when travelling. I can only speak for Australia when I say that CRIKEY, it’s expensive! Everyone comes out with a different budget and different plans in mind. Thrill-seekers will surely spend the most because all adventure tours and activities cost anywhere between $100-$1000.

I considered myself lucky that a) I’m not a HUGE thrill-seeker and b) when it comes to alcohol, I can either take it or leave it and most of the time, I leave it. So there’s where most of my money gets saved. Most of it however gets spent – on food.

As for supermarkets, there’s plenty of offers so I’d always shop for them and try to make the money stretch as far as it’d go when buying food for a few days to a week in a hostel. There’s also heaps of Australian stores that backpackers LOVE to shop in for their bargains including; K-Mart, The Reject Shop (personal fave), Chemist Warehouse and Big W to name quite a few! It’s usually smaller towns you might spend the most on food and drink because those sort of stores don’t always exist.

Travel Agencies

Shocking expense aside, lets face it. You’re in Australia to travel and do some awesome things. From climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge, taking a 4WD tour on Fraser Island, to an overnight sailing trip to the Whitsunday Islands and a bungy jump in Cairns, Australia is ACTIVITY-PACKED. And you’re gonna wanna get involved!

If you don’t want to book all of your tours and activities by yourself, you’re in luck because Australia is also packed with travel agencies who can help you – even if you don’t want them to (some can be very persuasive!) Whatever you do, just take your time and don’t let agents push you into a sale you’re not 100% about.

If it’s transport or overnight tours you’re booking, nine times out of ten it’s a good idea to book direct with the company and not through an external agent, just in case you need to change dates or cancel it’s easier to communicate with the company themselves.

People

Australia is FULL of backpackers. Mostly in the big cities and all the popular areas along the East Coast. So you’ll never be short of people to talk to, make friends with or just pick up traveling tips from. The kind of people you bond with or choose to spend time with is all going to depend on the kind of person you are. If you’re extremely confident, outgoing and open to starting conversations with absolutely anyone, you’re going to meet a lot of people. If you’re more reserved or feel like it’s more natural to bond with people over a few days than a few minutes, then you might meet less or will only be drawn to certain types of people.

Again, hostels play a huge part in meeting others so I would say if you are a little shy but want to meet people, look for hostels that organise lots of weekly events so you can go along and force yourself to mingle! Trust me, I know it can be nerve-wracking, but it’s one of the only ways. I personally believe that we meet a lot of people during travel – some that we love, some that we can’t wait to leave behind – and we may even make a lot of Facebook friends but it is a rare thing to find actual friends.

Of course without all the focus being on making friends, it’s important to consider all the different types and ages and nationalities of people you’re going to be around – and sleeping in dorm rooms with. Be kind and open to conversation but remember that not everyone will be your type, not everyone will want to speak or even look at you! Don’t take it personal.

Health

You’re waking up at stupid o’clock to catch buses and trains and planes. You’re losing out on sleep with nights out, uncomfortable overnight journeys and hot and stuffy rooms. And when you do sleep, you’re packed into dorm rooms with up to 30 other bodies (worse case scenario) and an air con unit airing all of your bacteria around the room. You’re using communal bathrooms and kitchens where utensils are rarely cleaned properly and that same soggy tea towel has passed the hands of a hundred backpackers in the last 3 days.

It’s true backpacking can be a little detrimental to your health so just take care of yourself. Have fun, of course have fun! But take time to chill out and rest your body too. Drink loads of water, take vitamins, do exercise, eat healthy (although this is a toughie with so much food to try and so many snacking opportunities on long journeys!)

Emotions

Although most of your experience is going to resemble an amazing holiday, being a backpacker can be both physically and mentally exhausting. It requires all of your brain power to organise each day and get yourself from A to B, whilst taking a whole bunch of factors into consideration all the time. It also puts you in positions that leave you alone and can pose situations where those alone times can become lonely times or simply give you too much time to think and we all know that no good comes from over-thinking!

That said, there are so many travel-related things to think about so in your quiet moments, this is probably what you’ll be doing. I found that the few low moments I had were towards the beginning of my travels when the degree of ‘adjusting’ is the highest it will be. Whenever I’ve been in these sort of positions, I try to take myself for a walk because walking is always good for clearing your head and spotting things on route to distract your mind. Or I pick up the phone and speak to my family and friends who of course I miss a lot and it’s always reassuring knowing I can have the same silly conversations with them to cheer me up!

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Uluru, Northern Territory

Climate Change

I guess this really depends on where you’re from and what climate you’re already accustomed to, so for some it won’t be too much of an adjustment at all. But if you’re a Brit like myself, you might just notice a rather large difference in the climate. You might.

Heat is a big thing in Australia. I enjoy the heat a lot, I feel like I can spend a long amount of time in it without too much bother but that’s always been from my experience in countries across Europe. The sun in Australia is a whole new level of intense! If you’re used to going on beach holidays and slapping on SPF 10 or 15, wave those days goodbye because the stores in Australia rarely sell any sun block below SPF 30, and that’s exactly what your body is going to need! I was struck down in Alice Springs with what I’m assuming was a little too much time in the heat and nowhere near enough water (slap on the wrist Lucy), resulting in me feeling very sick and weak for a good couple of days. STAY HYDRATED PEOPLE.

Worst case scenario, you could even encounter natural disasters. This doesn’t always have to mean sheer devastation and danger to lives but it can mean delays and closures where transport is concerned so always keep that in mind if you hear news on the weather getting a little crazy in a destination you might be heading towards.

Wildlife

Soooo, Australia is home to a wide array of living creatures that most of us aren’t used to seeing on a casual afternoon stroll or swim at home (if we have the luxury of swimming). I remember my first bushwalk, jumping at every single rustle in the trees and staring at the floor for snakes then remembering to look up too in case one just happened to fall from a tree and strangle me. But after a while, I could walk through bush trails, hear noises around me and hardly flinch. I did of course wonder what the noise was and then proceed to walk as fast as I could to meet the end of the trail.

The ocean is another story. We’ve all seen and heard horror stories involving sharks, but it’s not a reason to completely put you off stepping into the sea everywhere in Australia. All that’s needed really is common sense and a safely guarded beach. In very rural areas, such as parts of the Outback crocs do exist – so don’t just plunge into a lake or a waterfall because you don’t know what’s lurking underneath. If you spot snakes or gigantic spiders on bushwalks, just don’t go anywhere near them! Firstly, WHY would you want to?! And secondly… just don’t be silly now.

Time-zones

Again, a lot of us backpackers will come from a completely different time-zone to Australia. So it takes some getting used to, from adjusting to your initial jetlag to knowing what time of the day you can chat to friends and family at home (I had a dual-clock on my phone the whole year, which really helped). But also, Australia’s time-zones do change per state and even more so during daylight savings.

So let’s say you’re backpacking Australia in the peak Summer season, anywhere between October and April, if you’re crossing from New South Wales into Queensland, the clock will go back an hour, and if you hop all the way over to Western Australia, the clocks will go back a further 2 hours! They’ll then jump forward another 2 and a half hours if you venture over to South Australia! I’m not gonna go on, but you catch my drift.

Slang

Yeah Nah or Nah Yeah? That is the question. Doesn’t make sense? I know! There’s plenty of Aussie slang that you’ll get used to hearing on a daily basis. Basically, Aussie’s take commonly used words and shorten them down, often adding an ‘O’ or an ‘A’ to the end.

The list is exhaustive but you’ll for sure hear plenty of arvo, avo, servo, bottle-O, defo, devo, smoko, vego. And it’s true, Australian’s really do say G’Day/G’Day Mate ALL THE TIME. They also say ‘how ya goin?’ to ask how you are.

My personal favourites are, ‘no wuckas’, (worries), ‘in the middle of woop woop’ (in the middle of nowhere) and ‘ON YA SONYA!’ (good job!)

And after just one year living in Oz, I’ve sometimes found myself throwing out a ‘heaps’ instead of ‘lots of’ when writing posts or texts, as well as adding an ‘ay’ to the end of a sentence, e.g. ‘it’s really hot ay’. Since ‘ay’ can pretty much be added to the end of any sentence – not just questions – it’s impossible to prevent yourself from doing it!

The ‘Aussie Way’

And finally, you will eventually and inevitably adjust to the ‘Aussie way’ of living. You’ll meet a bunch of backpackers from all over the world but with a bit of luck, you will meet some crazy Australians too! They’re a fun mix of people, they love their wildlife and their coastlines, they love to surf – from the toddlers to the oldies, they walk around barefoot and speak the most amazing slang, they enjoy a good beer (or 10) and I believe they’re immensely proud of their country. So, amongst all the backpackers you’re going to be surrounded by, if you get a chance to hang out with a REAL Australian, take it!

YAMBA SURFER
Yamba, New South Wales

1 thought on “Adjusting to Backpacker Life in Australia”

  1. This was a great post! It gave me a good picture of your experience. Your photos were great too! Thanks for posting!

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