Planning a trip to Australia and don’t know what to pack? Use this list of everything I found useful during my own Australian visits. There’s also plenty of tips about what to bring and what you can leave at home
Sydney Opera House © Bernard Spragg. NZ
Australia looks like it was forged by the gods – the electric colours of Uluru, Queensland’s Wet Tropics, and the natural wonder of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a place for great adventures. The quality of life is top-notch, with great cities, great food, and some of the best wine in the world, not to mention 11,000 incredible beaches. For most, though, it’s the unique outlook of the people themselves that make Australia a special place. Here’s a comprehensive packing list to help you get the most from your stay in Australia.
Preparing For Your Trip To Australia
These are the essentials to sort well before you are due to depart.
- Flight Ticket – Be sure to book outward and return flights well in advance. You may be asked to show a return ticket at check-in, so print copies of all documentation. You’ll get the best value if you book flights about three months in advance. Compare prices with a site like Skyscanner.
- Train and Bus Tickets – One of the best ways to see Australia is from the comfort of a train, but the coach is a compelling option too. You can make significant savings by booking domestic transport ahead of travel.
- You can book an epic journey from International Rail, whilst ACP Rail offers some east coast rail passes. There’s also a list of regional rail operators from The Man In Seat 61, which are worth checking for special offers.
- Greyhound Australia offers an extensive network of coaches, with a splendid range of ticket options, including the KM Pass to really clock up some mileage. A 12-hour journey might sound unappealing, but the coaches are comfortable and a bit of preparation can make this a fine way to see the country.
- Accommodation – Prices change according to a number of factors but, like transportation, costs will be cheaper if you book at least three months in advance. Find the best prices at Booking.com.
- Passport – Make sure you have a passport with lots of blank pages, valid for at least six months. A passport cover is a handy place to keep tickets and vital documents, whilst protecting everything from damage.
- Do I Need A Visa For Australia? – Yes. All non-Australian or New Zealand nationalities will need to a visa before leaving home. The process is generally very quick and easy. Europeans can apply for a free eVisitor visa – allowing for multiple three-month visits, over a 12-month period. Most others will need a Electronic Visa Authority (ETA), which has a processing fee of $20 (AUD). For more information, and to apply, see the Visa, Customs and Quarantine FAQ.
What Do You Need To Pack For Australia?
Don’t be afraid to pack less. The shops are stocked with pretty much everything you’d expect to buy in the UK or USA, and the cost of living is comparable. You can get all your toiletries when you arrive and avoid all the bother at the airport. Same with condoms, loo roll, tampons, and razors. Big supermarket chains like Coles are usually open to 10pm or midnight.
- What Not To Bring – Australia is highly protective of its unique ecosystem and guards against invasive species – remember that Simpsons episode where Bart smuggles a bullfrog into the country? Consequently, you shouldn’t try to bring in food, muddy camping gear, items made of wood, or anything else that might contain seeds, disease, or some other potentially detrimental lifeforms.
What Clothes To Pack For Australia
Australia is a vast place with four seasons across its eight states. The north follows a tropical pattern of wet and dry seasons. Sydney winters are cool but not cold. Darwin is hot all year round with a lot of rain in summer. Canberra winters are properly cold. You’ll need to be strategic and pack according to where you’re going and when. Consult Australia.com for an overview of weather for key cities.
You can travel light by only packing for five days and doing the laundry twice a week. Budget a small reserve for clothes for if the weather doesn’t match what you’ve brought in your bag.
- Upper body – Keep casual and cool with Under Armor t-shirts on the baggier side. These are light and stay relatively dry. Include a long-sleeved version and a hoodie for unexpected dips in temperature.
- Lower Body – Pack quality, lightweight shorts and skirts, that are durable enough for travel and frequent washing. Dress less during November to April, and cover up your limbs during the other six months of the year.
- Clubbing is a big part of nightlife in most big cities, so you may also want to pack something classy for night out.
- Underwear – Unless you’re going to go commando, you need underwear that works in the heat. Though pricey, Under Armor is great for keeping cool and also keeping chafing at bay, if you’re walking around a lot.
- Putting KY Jelly on your vulnerable bits is also a wise protection against crippling soreness.
- Footwear – Good footwear will keep your feet comfortable and in good condition. Look for men’s walking shoes and women’s on Amazon, or some breathable, lightweight Keen CNX hiking shoes.
- Accessories – A decent pair of shades are essential to screen out harmful rays. Amazon has quality sunglasses at reasonable prices. A hat or cap is also vital for keeping cool, keeping dry, and for protection from the sun.
- Beachwear – If you’re planning to spend time on one of Australia’s iconic beaches, this might be all you need to pack! It’s important to get quality swimwear that fits well. Bring a couple of pairs – bikinis, boardshorts and the like – so you can leave one set to rinse out. And don’t forget to protect yourself against the sun!
Health And Grooming Items To Pack For Australia
- Quick Dry Towel – A fresh supply of towels will probably be part of your accommodation, but bring your own if you’re in a hostel or spending time at the beach. Sunland sells great towels that are a real godsend for travelling light.
- Refillable Water Bottle – Australia sets a high benchmark for tap water, so there’s no need to buy it bottled. It’s particularly important to stay hydrated in the heat. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and fill it up whenever you get the opportunity. The Nalgene OTF is an excellent choice.
- Sunscreen and Insect Repellent – This is non-negotiable – make sure you put on sunscreen before you go out and top up regularly. We recommend Neutrogena SPF 45 Drytouch Sunscreen, which is water resistant for up to 80 minutes and absorbs into your skin instantly. You might find you’re more comfortable using some kind of insect repellent once you get there, and a mosquito net if you’re headed to the bush.
- Tissues – These come to the rescue in a variety of little disasters, so keep a pack in easy reach. Hand sanitiser is also handy.
- Antihistamine tablets – Popping an antihistamine before a long flight stops symptoms brought on by cabin air. Otherwise, they guard against pollen allergies and can help those with a sensitive nose. They are cheap and available without prescription.
- Moisturiser – Moisturising your face during travel can really boost your composure at the end of a long day. My partner got me into fancy brands like CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion and Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream, and I can genuinely feel the difference over cheaper moisturisers.
- Ear Plugs – Ear plugs are essential for journeys or if you’re sharing a room. Moldex ear plugs are excellent and very cheap as well.
Electronic Devices To Pack For Australia
- Plug Adaptors – All I need to power is at the end of a USB cable, so the Australian version of IKEA’s marvellous Koppla 3-port USB charger does the trick nicely. Many big cities have a branch, so check to see if there’s one where you’re staying. You can get a cheap lunch and use the wifi while you’re there.
- Australia uses the ‘Type I’ plug, also found in China. It has two flat pins in a V-shape and, usually, a grounding pin. There are plenty of suitable adaptors on the market or you could buy a universal power adaptor, preferably with surge protection.
- Cellphone – See below for using your phone in Australia. Here are a few other things to consider before you go:
- Make sure your phone is well protected. Otterbox build the excellent Defender case which can render your cellphone invincible.
- You’re less likely to be around a wall socket as you travel, so take a power bank. My latest favourite travel gadget is RAVPower’s insanely clever FileHub Plus. This little device acts as an external battery, a wifi signal booster, and a kind of media or file server (with an SD card or USB drive connected).
- Make sure your travel insurance covers your cellphone as a specific item. World Nomads let’s you pay a little extra to insure expensive items to their full value. Check the policy carefully as a lot of travel insurance, by default, only pays out a certain limit for high ticket items.
- The most valuable thing about a phone is what’s stored on it. Google and Apple both offer backup for your photos and data. If you’re taking a laptop, regularly backup to that.
- Don’t forget your phone charger! You can probably buy or borrow one, but it’s an inconvenience when you could be doing more interesting stuff.
- If your current handset is still locked to a provider, buy a cheap phone for the trip.
- Noise-cancelling headphones – These are more expensive than normal earbuds but definitely worth it on a long flight or bus journey for blocking out your surrounds.
- Camera – Despite the quality of image taken by mobile phones, you should still consider a standalone camera. I’d recommend the Canon Powershot range which are super compact, easy to use and quite cheap.
- A popular travel alternative is a GoPro – a tiny, rugged, waterproof camera great for recording first-person viewpoints while you’re doing adventure activities like climbing and kayaking.
- Whatever you use, bring plenty of memory cards to store all the images. These can be flaky, so you should change them regularly and backup images as soon as possible.
- Kindle – If you’re stuck at the airport with a delayed flight, a Kindle reader can save your sanity. They’re lightweight, kind to your eyes, last for days, and you can store thousands of books. There’s a lot of great writing from Australia to stock up on. Don’t forget your charger and cable to power up.
Other Documents To Prepare For A Visit To Australia
- Student Card – If you’re a student, under 30, or a teacher, get yourself an International Student Identity Card. This will entitle you to all sorts of discounts, including guidebooks, STA travel, and cheap entry to galleries and museums.
- Driving Licence – Visitors can use a current, foreign licence in Australia, although some states require an international licence in addition. Make sure you have a formal English translation if your original licence is in a different language.
- Document Scans – Use an phone app to take scans – or just take photos – of all your important documents, such as passport, credit cards, and insurance information. Save them to an online email account like Gmail. If you lose anything, you will then have copies available both on your phone or anywhere with an internet connection. Also keep a list on your phone and in your email account of the contact details of banks and other agencies that you may need to get in touch with in an emergency.
Luggage For A Visit To Australia
- Backpack or Suitcase – Invest in a decent backpack like Osprey that can comfortably handle all your belongings without crippling you. The harness needs to support the weight you’re carrying, which should be supported on your hips and not your shoulders. Search Amazon for bargain priced backpacks.
- Travel Cubes – Travel cubes will save you time and hassle. These group your clothes into three or four units, so you can quickly pack and unpack, rather than dumping everything on the floor. You can do the same with Ziplocs, if you’re trying to save money, or even carrier bags. Get different colours to tell them apart.
- Wash Bag – A sturdy, waterproof pack is essential for storing all your toiletries. Choose a smart one that opens up to access just what you need, and is also durable enough to contain leaks and spillages. The Magictodoor travel kit is a well-made and inexpensive brand.
- Most airlines have a 100 mL limit on liquids, so put large bottles into your hold luggage or decant the contents into smaller containers before you pack your cabin bag.
- Luggage Locks – Investing in these is worthwhile to keep your luggage firmly away from opportunistic mischief. Make sure they are TSA-approved locks, if you are travelling to and from the USA.
- Travel Wallet – A good quality travel wallet will keep cash, credit cards, and documents safe and secure. The Lewis N. Clark RFID Security Wallet is large enough for your passport, money, and other essentials, but still small enough to stash comfortably beneath your shirt.
Preparing Your Cellphone For Australia
Australia has three main providers of SIM-only mobile deals – Telstra, Vodafone, and Optus – plus a bunch of resellers like Amaysim, who hop onto the main networks. Just bring (or buy) an unlocked phone, hook yourself up with a plan, and activate the SIM.
The process is quick and easy, and is best done in-store, where you can discuss the best deal and get everything set up to your satisfaction. They’ll also make sure you get the right SIM for your phone. The main providers are easy to find – all three have presence at Sydney Airport, for example. Don’t forget your passport, as you will need it to get registered.
The difference here is Amaysim, which doesn’t have its own stores – see below.
All things considered, Optus is the best choice for travellers, with a balance of coverage, price, and flexibility. At time of writing, Optus offered a 28-day SIM Starter Kit for $30 AUD, including just under 9GB data, unlimited talk and text, plus $5 extra credit for calling overseas. Note, prices rise after the first month, so factor in the length of your stay.
You can use WhatsApp and the like to call home, so also do some calculation as to what will end up the most cost effective. If you’re clear about your likely usage at point of purchase, they should help you get the most appropriate deal. You can keep track of your account and top up through the Optus app.
The other option for travellers is cut-price reseller Amaysim, which piggy-backs on the Optus network. For $30 AUD, they offer 5GB, and unlimited talk and text, including calls to UK, USA, and eight other countries. Amaysim don’t have their own stores, but you can get their SIMs in post offices and supermarkets, then register online.
Though Amaysim’s pricing is more flexible – and ultimately cheaper – this may come at a cost and customers are often highly critical of the dropped connections, irregular billing, and poor customer service. You get what you pay for, it seems.
The situation with public wifi – free or otherwise – is improving in Australia. You can rely on a branch of Starbucks or McDonald’s in most areas. Here’s a handy list of locations offering wifi, though you should verify they still exist before heading over!
Travel Insurance For Australia
Boring but essential! It is absolutely vital to buy travel insurance with comprehensive health coverage, as well as any valuable bits of hardware you take on your trip. Also consider what activities you are intend to take part in, whether it be shark cage diving or driving through the Outback. Lonely Planet recommends World Nomads travel insurance, which can be bought online immediately.
Health Considerations For A Visit To Australia
Healthcare is very good in Australia but you need a few precautions in place to ensure a safe trip that doesn’t end up costing more than expected.
- Medical Insurance – Make sure your insurance includes comprehensive medical cover.
- Keep the contact details for your insurance provider (such as World Nomads) within easy reach and understand what they require of you before leaving for Australia. Contact them as soon as possible for advice and keep any receipts to claim against.
- UK residents, travelling on a British passport, can get limited Medicare for necessary medical treatment while visiting Australia. Take your passport and NHS number. Full details on Reciprocal Health Care Agreements here.
- For medical emergencies, call 000 and ask for an ambulance.
- Vaccinations – Australia is largely safe, so make sure you are up to date with your routine vaccinations and a recent flu shot. Get your doctor or nurse to give you the all clear about six weeks before travelling. Also check the Travel Health Pro website for specific advice and the most up-to-date health news.
- Prescription Medicines – Bring a full supply of any prescription medicines you need in your hand luggage, in the original packaging with prescription label, and written documentation in English from your doctor. Full details on travelling with medicines are available from the Department of Health.
- Non-Prescription Medicines – You can get over-the-counter medication, such as paracetamol or cold remedies, from any pharmacy or supermarket.
Money For Visiting Australia
Australia uses the Australian Dollar, symbolised with the same $ as the US but often abbreviated as AUD. The currency is widely available in exchange bureaux around the world. However, the best advice is to bring an emergency stash of cash with you and use ATMs – which exchange money at the market rate – once you arrive. Changing money in Australia will often end up costing more.
Inform your bank before you leave and confirm your cards work overseas. They can also tell you whether your bank is partnered with a Australian equivalent, as these shouldn’t charge you a local withdrawal fee. Take out large sums to reduce the amount of extra overhead. You can also use debit and credit cards to pay for things as you would at home.
ATMs are widespread in cities and smaller towns, and you shouldn’t have any problems finding a Visa or MasterCard compatible machine. Stick to banks, if possible, as they won’t add rip-off fees. You’ll need a four-digit PIN. Local variations on MasterCard are Cirrus and Maestro, whilst Visa is branded as Plus. Look for the logo on your card. If you’re having problems, try a few different banks, then call the number on the back of the card to get it unfrozen. It’s also wise to carry a back-up from a different account. Don’t rely on a credit card.
The Best Time To Visit Australia
Bearing in mind Australia’s huge landmass and regional variation, the best times to visit are still probably spring (September to November) and autumn (March to May). At these points, the temperature is either rising or falling but not at the blistering heat of summer.
Factor in the cheapest airline prices and you’re probably looking at May or September. At this point, the temperatures are around 68ºF in Sydney and 5-6 degrees cooler in Melbourne, but still in the low-80s in the north of the country.
If you’re travelling to the tropical north, a spring visit avoids the wet season. September is Sydney’s driest part of the year as well.
Planning What To Do And Where To Go In Australia
- Australia Guidebook – A guidebook is still the most convenient way to get an overview of all the options available to you. If you get one a few months before your trip, you can really dig in and highlight what interests you.
- ’Lonely Planet Australia’ would be my personal preference, but there are numerous others for different cities and regions. I make notes in the margins about where I’ve been and what I’ve discovered for myself. These can be useful to lend to friends.
- Australian Maps – You can usually get free street maps from where you’re staying and tourist information centres. Pick up a few, as each is likely to be selective.