To travel to a dream destination is one thing. To do it cheaply is another. Having had the chance to travel to Sydney on a small budget was the highlight of my travels in 2015. For less than PHP 35,000 per person, I was able to enjoy the offerings of this famous city with my family for 6 days and 5 nights. The total expenses are INCLUSIVE of visa application fees, airfare, ground transportation, accommodation, food, tours, and even some souvenir shopping. I am sure that other Filipinos can do it cheaper, especially those who have relatives who reside in Australia. On the other hand, this post is for those who would wish to travel to Sydney who have no other choice but to fund their own trip.
I got our flight tickets at PHP 4,800 each during a seat sale and added check-in baggage both ways making the total airfare PHP 6,600 roundtrip per person. It was an unplanned booking as I was supposed to book flights to Osaka. It turned out that the fares to Osaka were not within our allotted budget. I checked flights to Sydney instead, without any intention of booking because I knew the fare would obviously be higher than the fare to Osaka. I was surprised to see how cheap the fare was and without thinking further, we booked the flights even if none of us had a valid visa to Australia yet during that time. We took the risk since we thought that we wouldn’t lose that much if ever our visa applications get denied. Besides, one can re-apply for a visitor visa immediately after an application has been denied. We agreed that we would try to re-apply only once should our first application gets denied. Thank God we all got approved on our first try.
Tip: I guess most of you guys already know the drill on how to score the lowest fares. If not, just go the website of your airline/s of interest, sign up for notifications so that you will be sent emails regarding seat sales and other promotions. Make sure to also check out and follow their social media accounts for updates.
We applied for a Visitor Visa 3 months before our trip. The application fee was AUD 135 and the application process was all made online through the Australian Government DIBP website. It was a hassle-free process that I will share in another post. We chose a single entry visa, fearing that we might get denied for some reason if we select multiple entry. My application got approved two weeks after I applied, while the rest of my family had theirs approved after a month.
TIP: In submitting documents to support your application, just always be truthful and consistent. I think that the Australian government has become more lenient in processing visa applications in recent years. In 2014, the approval rate for Filipinos applying for a visitor visa is around 86%.
We found traveling within and around Sydney, and in some parts of New South Wales (NSW) for that matter, very convenient and inexpensive because of the Opal Card. Through this card, a person can travel through extensive routes in NSW at no more than AUD 60 in one week. It’s quite long to explain the perks one by one, but just find comfort in the fact that you won’t have to spend more than the said amount for every week of travel. The opal card may be used in most buses, trains, light rail, and even ferries. Each of us actually topped up AUD 100 in our Opal cards, but only spent around AUD 60 (for usual fares and airport station access fee). For visitors, I think it is not possible to get a refund of the remaining amount in the card so plan carefully to determine just how much you need to store in the card. Since we are planning to return to Sydney this year, we could still use the remaining balance (according to the Opal website, the remaining balance may be used up to 9 years after the top-up date).
Tips: In planning your trip, schedule your farthest destination or your transpo-heavy itinerary on a Sunday, because there is a AUD 2.50 cap for Sunday travel. This means that no matter how far you go or how many times you ride public transportation on a Sunday, your Opal card will be charged AUD 2.50 only ONCE. This will keep your total transportation expenses way lower than AUD 60. Also, upon finalizing your itinerary, check if the places you’ll visit is within the Opal-serviced routes to know whether you need to shell out additional cash for transportation. Aside from the Opal card website, the Public Transport Information website for Sydney and NSW is a useful online resource for transportation-related concerns during your trip.
Accommodations in Sydney are quite pricey, especially those within and near the Central Business District. It was quite difficult to find hostels within the AUD 20-30 range per person. If you are travelling alone, allot somewhere between AUD 30-40 per night for a dorm bed, inclusive of basic breakfast. On the other hand, my family and I booked a family room at Big Hostel for 5 nights in Sydney and paid a total of AUD 775. The room was good for a maximum of four people. The hostel serves breakfast in the common kitchen and dining area. The hostel was walking distance to the Central Station as well as Chinatown.
If you have an Opal card, it doesn’t really matter whether you stay within the city center or not, because as I have mentioned earlier, transportation was convenient and inexpensive. What’s important is that your hotel must be near a bus stop or a train station to avoid long walks. One minor consideration in staying at a hostel far from the city center would be the travel time.
I am quite thrifty when it comes to spending for food not only while on travel but on any given day in general. When traveling, I can easily satisfy my hunger with supermarket-bought food or fast food. Surprisingly in Sydney, one doesn’t have to depend on supermarket-bought food to keep expenses low, especially when travelling with a group, because food is generally affordable and the servings are huge. Of course, fine dining restos are excluded from the affordable list. 🙂
We took advantage of the complimentary breakfast at the hostel–bread, butter, jam, cereals, fresh fruits, milk and coffee–so we won’t have to eat so much during lunch. For all other meals, we kept our expenses at about AUD 10-15 per person per meal. There’s no need to starve yourself because there are a wide variety of affordable food choices in Sydney and you will surely find one that will satisfy your craving without breaking the bank. During our entire stay, we sampled Australian, American, Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, and Malaysian food. The entire world is literally in Sydney in terms of food!
We also had two meals that were sponsored by my mom’s friends in Sydney, but I still incorporated full daily expenses for food in my computation below.
Tip: Typically, Filipinos are not big eaters. You can ask restaurant crew how big servings are before you place your order because some single-serve entrees are actually large enough for 2-3 people. Also, cut on costs and stay healthier by having a bottle of water in your bag everyday. A liter of water is only about 2 dollars at the supermarket. In Paddy’s Market in Chinatown, though, 6 dollars will get you a dozen of half-liter bottled water! Flavored drinks in restaurants are expensive and may significantly contribute to your total expenses if you get yourself one every mealtime.
Take advantage of free travel guides available at the airport arrival hall and in the hostel. I found them very helpful and useful in navigating through the city. The iconic Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge are both free to check out, except if you want to do the exhilarating Bridge Climb or the luxurious Sydney Opera Tour, both of which entail costs. We went to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Darling Harbor, Chinatown, Hyde Park, Bondi Beach, Queen Victoria Building, The Rocks, and The Gap at Watson’s Bay–and they’re all free to explore! Exploring these and other free attractions will already take 2-3 days and with all the wonderful photography opportunities, you might need an extra day or two for taking pictures. Also, check out various websites for special events that might be held in Sydney during your travel dates. The annual Sculptures by the Sea was still on display when we went to Bondi Beach on the first week of November.
We paid AUD 63 for a 4-attraction pass which allowed us a single entry to the Sydney Aquarium, Wildlife Sydney Zoo, Sydney Tower Eye, and Madame Tussauds. The pass is valid for 30 days from first entry.
Tip: Buy the pass online to save more. I booked ours at the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium website. Other combinations of attractions are available. I highly recommend this pass not only because of its affordability, but because the attractions were worth visiting, especially if you are bringing kids with you. Seeing a koala up close at the zoo was my favorite part.
We also went to Katoomba to see the Blue Mountains National Park and experience the rides at Scenic World. The Blue Mountains is free to explore, but the unlimited discovery day pass at Scenic World costs AUD 35 and includes unlimited rides to the railway, skyway, and cableway, and unlimited access to the walkway. I highly recommend both as they offer nature and adventure at the same time.
The following table summarizes the per person cost for the entire trip:
Conversion Rate: 1AUD = 34 PHP except for Visa Fee
|Visitor Visa Fee||
|Includes 15 kilos check-in baggage, roundtrip; exclusive of on-board meals|
|Card is free, the 60 AUD top up is fully consumable|
|Cost per person in a Family Room for 4||
|Big Hostel; 5 nights accommodation|
|5 .5 days, 30 AUD per day||
|The sixth day was considered half day because only lunch was bought|
|4 Attractions Pass||
|Sydney Aquarium, Wildlife Sydney Zoo, Sydney Tower Eye, Madame Tussauds,|
|Scenic World Unlimited Day Pass||
|Entrance to the park plus unlimited rides on the scenic railway, cableway and skyway|
|Bought stuff like keychains, ref magnets, coasters, decors, shirts, etc.|
|Terminal fee + Travel tax||
The airfare was paid 9 months before the trip, while the visa application fee was paid 3 months before the trip. If you don’t intend to go souvenir shopping and then cut down on some other expenses, you can just prepare PHP 20,000 for the actual trip.
So, if you happen to come across dirt-cheap fares to Sydney but do not have a valid visa yet, take the risk, book that flight, apply for a visa, and PRAY HARD that your application gets approved. I think that the agony of waiting for the result of the visa application is harder than the thought of saving 20,000 pesos for the trip. I wish you well on your Aussie adventure, mate!