Working Holiday: Explore Australia While Saving Money

How to take advantage of a little-known opportunity for long-term travel

After spending a year working and adventuring in Australia, I had saved about $8000 AUD. After my second 2/3 of a year (during which time I spent a lot and worked a little) I still had slightly more than $8000 AUD, which I used to travel in Asia for 7 months.

How did I manage to get permission to work in Australia?! you may ask. Simple: People under the age of 31 who come from USA, most of Europe, and a lot of other countries as well are eligible for a 1 or 2 year work visa in Australia. (USA: visa scheme is called “Work and Holiday”. Europe: It’s called “Working Holiday”.) Typically, people work for a year or two and then spend some months traveling, either in Australia or South Asia. (Even if you’re not eligible for the visa, fear not! There are a lot of ways to travel long-term with very little money.)

And how did I save so much?! you might also ask. Well, it’s pretty rare to find a job in Australia that pays less than $20 AUD. If you live frugally, you can save a lot.

Here are my top 6 tips for saving money while having a grand ol’ time in Australia.

1. Live in a sharehouse

A sharehouse usually refers to living with roommates. For backpackers, though, the term has a slightly more communal implication. Many working holidaymakers will live together in sometimes-crowded but festive conditions, sometimes even sharing rooms, sometimes paying $50 per week to park their campervan outside of a house (more on that later).

For me, this was the absolute most fun part of the working holiday. I lived in “Crusty House”, a 3-bedroom place where we had anywhere between 7–12 people from all over the world living there at a time. Three people shared one bedroom sometimes. I had a roommate with whom I shared my room, and we had a few people living the campervan life — sleeping in their vehicle and using the house during the day.

We cooked together, ate together, rolled joints together, went out together…it felt like a family. Sometimes we even went dumpster diving in the middle of the night and managed to feed the whole house for a week. Living like this enabled us to save a good proportion of our paychecks.

2. Move to a remote area

If you’re having trouble finding work in the big cities, you might do well with a change of scenery. You can…

  • Visit an agency in the city which helps people find FIFO jobs in mine sites out in the bush. These jobs generally involve cleaning, around 12 hours per day, $20+ per hour, and working 2 weeks on, 1 week off, or a similar schedule.
  • Move to Alice Springs, a town in the center of Australia which is the jumping-off point for popular destinations like Ayers Rock and King’s Canyon. There is a lot of work for backpackers here and it pays a bit higher on average than elsewhere. There are a variety of positions available at the casino, or you can work in a backpacker’s hostel, or you can try Alice Palms Resort (cleaning or reception), Mercure Alice Springs Resort, or Montes or another bar.
  • Move to a mining town, such as Karratha, where two friends of mine were compensated $23 per hour for working at Subway. And that was some years ago; probably the wage is higher now.

3. Start your own gardening business

Starting a business in Australia is laughably easy. All you have to do is fill out an online application for an ABN (Australian Business Number)…then you’re good to go, mate!

A friend and I started a small gardening business in the southern suburbs of Perth. We charged $40 per hour (for each of us, so $80 total per hour, if we were both working) and that was a bit below the average market rate. We mowed and edged lawns, helped people design and implement landscapes for houses and businesses, pulled weeds, planted, pruned, cut hedges, and more. My friend is a trained gardener; that helped. Sometimes he needed to cut hedges in aesthetically pleasing, symmetrical shapes. That said, the majority of what we had to do could be done by anyone with a hard work ethic and common sense.

Because we were making so much per hour, we got REALLY lazy. We didn’t actually work a lot. We didn’t need to. But if you do work a lot, you can save a LOT this way! But I recommend doing it around Perth, because a lot of our clients worked in the mining industry. Meaning they were a. rich and b. needed someone to maintain their gardens for them since they’re out of town so much.

4. Skimpy Bartending

If you’re female and relatively attractive and have no ethical qualms, you can work as skimpy bartender — something very popular in western Australia. As a skimpy, you need to wear a bikini or lingerie while bartending, and you make around $30-$35 AUD plus tips. If you’re interested in this, contact Natalie with Perth’s Best Girls for details.

5. Vanlife!

For around $3000–$6000, sometimes less, you can get a reliable van. A simple low-tech conversion with milk crates and a mattress will set you back as little as $50 AUD. Here’s an example of what one such campervan might look like…

Expect to pay around $60-$80 per week in rent to park your campervan at a sharehouse somewhere — a rate far lower than actually sleeping inside a sharehouse. Also you will probably have more privacy this way. If you’re from Europe, you’ll probably find gas prices in Australia to be outrageously cheap.

6. Check the Verge!

In Australia, people leave the things they don’t want anyone outside on the verge (the curb) for the city to collect. There are a few collection times every year for each neighborhood, and in wealthy neighborhoods you can find a lot of treasures. We’re talking barely-used expensive furniture, mattresses, and all sorts of home items. Look at the schedule and drive around the neighborhoods scheduled for pickup in the days leading up to the pickup. Especially the wealthier neighborhoods.

So, there you have it! 6 ways to save money while having a great time exploring Australia. And there are a lot of other ways to travel long-term for free or cheap, too. If you’re like me and you feel that burning desire for the novelty of travel but you’re scared to take the leap or busy making excuses, you can ask me anything in the comments. I’ve been living the nomad life for most of the past 8 years (often with verrryyyyy little money) and love lending a hand to those who want to do the same.