Take the stress out of planning for a vacation in Australia with our comprehensive packing list of what to take and what you can leave behind. There’s plenty of tips and tricks to help ensure you have a good time.
Sydney Opera House © Bernard Spragg. NZ
If you’re looking for great quality of life or a big adventure, Australia has something to offer. Great food and some of the best wine in the world. And 11,000 beaches to enjoy them on. There are the stunning landscapes of Queensland’s tropics, Uluru, and the Great Barrier Reef. This packing list to help you get the most from your Australian vacation.
Preparing For A Vacation In Australia
These are the essentials to organize a few months before you’re due to depart.
- Flights – You’ll get a better deal if you book all flight tickets about three months before you want to travel. Find the best prices with Skyscanner or an equivalent flight comparison site. Travelers are sometimes required to show a return ticket on arrival, so print copies of all documentation and keep all tickets handy.
- Accommodation – As with airplane tickets, the cost of a bed will fluctuate, but prices are cheaper if you book at least three months in advance. Booking.com allows you to tailor your search to match your budget and ideal location.
- Passport – Make sure your passport has a lot of blank pages and is valid for at least six months. A passport cover will protect it from getting damaged and is a useful place to organize tickets and documents.
- Do I Need A Visa For Australia? – Yes. All non-Australian (or New Zealand) nationalities need to obtain a visa before leaving home. 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. The process is generally fast but there’s no harm in getting it sorted early.
- Face mask – COVID is still very active in many countries and you may be required to wear an SFP2 facemask on the plane and in some indoor spaces. It’s also a good idea to carry a small bottle of hand sanitiser when you travel.
- Other Transport – You can also save a fair bit of cash by booking other forms of transport in advance. A cross-country trip by train is a fantastic way to see Australia, and busses are a compelling (and cheaper) option too.
- Both International Rail and ACP Rail offer some pretty stunning journeys. See The Man In Seat 61 for a list of regional rail operators, which are worth checking for offers.
- Greyhound Australia offers a range of passes for their extensive network of busses. The vehicles are pretty comfortable and a bit of preparation can make this a great way to see Australia.
Travel Insurance For Australia
Considering travel insurance for your trip? World Nomads offers coverage for more than 150 adventure activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more.
Other Documents To Prepare For An Australia Vacation
- Document Scans – Use your phone to take photos or scans of all your important travel documents, cards, and passport, then store them in an online account like Gmail or Dropbox. You will then have easy access to copies if you end up losing anything valuable or get into trouble. Also keep a list of emergency contacts at banks and other agencies, such as your insurance, with any account or policy numbers.
- Student Card – If you’re in education or under 30, get 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 License – Visitors can use a current, foreign license in Australia, although some states require an international license in addition.
What To Pack For Australia?
Always pack less where possible. The stores sell everything you’d expect to buy at home, and the cost of living is comparable to the US. Big supermarket chains like Coles are usually open to 10pm or midnight. Get toiletries, condoms, toilet roll, tampons, and razors when you arrive. This will help you pack light and save a lot of bother at the airport.
- What To Leave Behind – Australia is rightly protective of its unique ecosystem and guards against invasive species – remember that Simpsons episode where Bart smuggles a bullfrog into the country? Consequently, you don’t bring in food, items made of wood, or anything else that might contain seeds, disease, or some other potentially detrimental lifeforms.
Luggage For An Australian Vacation
- Backpack or Suitcase – Invest in a reliable backpack like Osprey that will keep you comfortable but still handle all your belongings. Search Amazon for bargain priced backpacks. The harness needs to support the weight you’re carrying, which should be supported on your hips and not your shoulders.
- Alternatively, go for some high-quality luggage. Pick something large enough for all your packing with some extra space for souvenirs.
- Travel Cubes – If you’ve never used them before, you might be surprised by how much easier travel cubes make managing luggage. You can group your clothes into different units, so you can quickly find your socks or t-shirts, without dumping everything on the bed. Get different colors to tell them apart.
- Wash Bag – A sturdy, waterproof wash bag is essential for managing your toiletries. The Magictodoor travel kit is well-made and inexpensive. Choose one that gives you access to only what you need, and is durable enough to contain leaks and spillages.
- Airports have a 100 mL limit on liquids, so put large bottles into hold luggage or decant the contents into smaller containers for your cabin bag.
- A daypack is useful for day-to-day items.
- Travel Billfold – A good quality travel billfold keeps cash, credit cards, and documents 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.
- Luggage Locks – Investing in these is worthwhile to keep the contents of your luggage as it should be. Make sure they are TSA-approved locks, if you are traveling to and from the USA.
The Best Time To Visit Australia
Australia is a vast country with four seasons across its eight states. Winter in Sydney is cool, whereas Canberra winters are properly cold. Darwin is hot all year with a lot of rain during the summer. The north follows a tropical pattern of wet and dry seasons. You can get an overview of these different seasons for the key cities at Australia.com.
Despite the huge landmass and regional variation, the best times to visit are still probably spring (September to November) and autumn (March to May), when temperatures are either rising or falling but not at the blistering heat of summer.
If you’re traveling to the tropical area in the north, a spring visit avoids the wet season. September is usually the driest month in Sydney, as well.
Factor in the cheapest airline prices and May or September become the best months to travel. 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.
What Clothes To Pack For Australia
Travel light by packing for five days and doing the laundry twice a week. Don’t assume that the weather will behave as predicted. Instead, keep a small reserve of clothes in case of unexpected rain or chilly temperatures.
- Upper body – Under Armor t-shirts are light and are designed to stay dry. Pack a long-sleeved version and a hoodie for chillier temperatures.
- If you’re traveling during the cooler months, take a waterproof jacket. You can wear it on the airplane to cut down on luggage space.
- For the tropical north, it’s worth carrying a lightweight ‘cag in a bag’. It will offer some basic protection if you get caught in a sudden downpour.
- Lower Body – Pack quality, lightweight shorts and skirts, that are durable enough for travel and frequent washing. You can wear less from November to April, and cover up your arms and legs during the hotter months.
- Sturdy zipper pockets on shorts will keep valuables safe when you’re out and about.
- Take a pair of light-weight pants and pack at least one pair of jeans for the winter months.
- Consider something simple but classy if you expect to go out clubbing.
- Underwear – You’ll need underwear that works in the heat. Under Armor is great for keeping cool and will help stop chafing if you’re walking around a lot. Rubbing KY Jelly on vulnerable areas will also help if your clothes are rubbing against your skin.
- Footwear – Good footwear is essential to avoid problems with your feet. See what men’s walking shoes and women’s footwear are on offer at Amazon, or consider some breathable, lightweight Keen CNX hiking shoes.
- If you’re wearing sneakers, make sure they are well-ventilated to guard against blisters, heat rashes, and smelliness.
- Sunglasses – 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, dry, and safe from the sun.
- Beachwear – If you’re planning to spend all your time on one of Australia’s iconic beaches, this might be all you need to pack! Bring a couple of pairs of 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
- Sunscreen and Insect Repellent – This is non-negotiable! Make sure you slather on a lot of sunscreen before you go out and replenish regularly. We recommend Neutrogena SPF 45 Drytouch Sunscreen, which is water resistant for up to 80 minutes. Get some kind of insect repellent once you arrive and a mosquito net if you’re headed to the bush.
- Refillable Water Bottle – 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. Australia sets a high benchmark for faucet water, so there’s no need to buy it bottled. The Nalgene OTF is an excellent choice.
- Moisturizer – Moisturizing your face during travel can really boost your composure at the end of a long day. CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion and Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream will revitalize your skin after a day in the sun.
- Ear Plugs – Ear plugs are essential for journeys or if you’re sharing a room. Moldex ear plugs are excellent and very cheap.
- Quick Dry Towel – A fresh supply of towels may well 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 traveling light.
- Tissues – These come to the rescue in a variety of little disasters, so keep a pack in easy reach. Hand sanitizer 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.
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 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 with 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.
- Cell phone – See below for using your phone in Australia. Here are a few other things to consider before you go:
- If your current handset is still locked to a provider, buy a cheap phone for the trip.
- 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.
- Make sure your phone is well protected. Otterbox make the excellent Defender case which can render your cell phone all but invincible.
- You’re less likely to be around a wall socket as you travel, and your battery will drain faster, especially if you’re taking lots of photos. A power bank with lots of capacity is essential.
- Noise-canceling headphones – More expensive than standard headphones but definitely worth the investment on a long flight or bus journey.
- Camera – Despite the excellent image quality of most cell phones these days, there are still reasons to consider a standalone camera. I’d recommend the Canon Powershot range which are compact, easy to use and pretty cheap.
- If you’re taking part in adventure activities, a GoPro is probably the better alternative. This tiny, rugged, waterproof camera is great for recording first-person viewpoints while you’re climbing and kayaking.
- Bring plenty of memory cards to store all the images. These can be flaky, so 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. Don’t forget your charger and cable to power up!
Preparing Your Cell Phone For Australia
Australia has three main providers of SIM-only cell-phone 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. You will need your passport to get registered. 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.
Optus is the probably best choice for travelers, with a balance of coverage, price, and flexibility. Prices rise after the first month, so factor in the length of your stay.
You can use WhatsApp to call home, and often piggyback off free wifi. So calculate 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 thru the Optus app.
The situation with public wifi 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!
The other option for travelers is cut-price reseller Amaysim, which uses 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.
Planning What To Do And Where To Go In Australia
- Australia Guidebook – Despite the internet, a well-curated guidebook is still the most convenient way to get an overview of the best 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 directly in the margins and add what I’ve discovered for myself.
- Australian Maps – You can find free street maps from where you’re staying and tourist information centers. Pick up a few, as each is likely to be selective.
- Check out Stanfords’ comprehensive selection of maps and guides for Australia.
- It’s a good idea to download Google maps in advance, to save on data use once you’ve arrived.
Money For Visiting Australia
Australia uses the Australian Dollar, symbolized with the same $ as the US but abbreviated as AUD. The currency is widely available in exchange bureaux around the world. The best advice is to bring an emergency stash of cash with you and use ATMs once you arrive. These will usually dispense money at the market rate. Changing money in Australia will often end up costing more.
Inform your bank before you leave and confirm your cards will work overseas. Your bank can also tell you whether your bank is partnered with a Australian equivalent, as these will often drop any local withdrawal fees. Take out large sums to reduce the amount of overall charges. 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 won’t have any problems finding a Visa- or MasterCard-compatible machine. Stick to banks and post offices, 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.
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 just credit cards. Make sure you also take a debit card.
Health Considerations For A Visit To Australia
Healthcare is very good in Australia but you need a few precautions to ensure your vacation doesn’t end up costing more than expected.
- If you have travel insurance, make sure you understand what your provider requires of you and keep their contact details within easy reach. Contact them as soon as possible for advice and keep any receipts to claim against.
- 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. Get your doctor or nurse to sign you off about six weeks before traveling. 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 traveling 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 drugstore or supermarket.