A 22-Year-Old Intern Takes A $2,010, 10-Day Trip To Australia

Welcome to Away Game, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real millennial women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week's travel diary: A 22-year-old grad student who meets up with a former roommate for an adventure in Australia.
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Age: 22
Occupation: Intern, City Government
Salary: $15/hr
Hometown: Greenville, South Carolina
Trip Location: Australia
Annual Number Of Vacation Days: n/a (I’m an intern for the summer then back to grad school for my final year!)
Trip Length: 10 days
Travel Companion: Met my friend there
Flight: $1,252.88
My friend’s place: woohoo free
Two hostels: $168 for my half, but my friend paid for them because I bought her snorkeling day trip
Total: $0
Pre-Vacation Spending
Swimsuit: $20.80
Travel pillow: $15.67
Snacks for the plane (granola bars, apples, Jif to Go cups, instant oatmeal, and I made two veggie burritos as I knew I would be in airports at lunch and dinner time and didn’t want to buy food in them because it’s always overpriced): $18.89
Visa - $16.01
Snorkeling excursion (for both of us): $291.57
Total: $362.94
Post-Vacation Spending
Hotel: $151.43
(I landed at 11:30 p.m. and knew I would be exhausted and jet lagged. I also needed to park my car for the whole time I would be gone. I booked a hotel through ParkSleepFly so I could keep my car at the hotel my whole trip and spend the night when I got in after my flight! It ended up only being about $25 more than if I had just parked my car at a lot.)

Day One

10 a.m. — After 3 flights and 28 hours of traveling I finally land in Sydney! I surprisingly feel okay — probably because I was extremely lucky and got a whole row to myself on the longest flight, so I was able to lay down and sleep. I get through customs and text my friend, J., but she’s still on her way as she didn’t expect me to get off the plane and through customs so quickly. I wait inside the airport near the exit for trains because J. told me she had gotten an Opal card for me already (which I need to exit the airport onto the train platform and is used for all the trains throughout the country). I see her and she rushes through the turnstile to give me a ginormous hug. We lived together all through college so being apart the last 10 months has been super weird and I’m ecstatic to see her!
10:45 a.m. — We take the train from the airport to central station and get off to go get some food. I’m very excited to not be eating airport food or snacks. It’s still a breakfast menu, but I had pancakes on the plane so I just get an apple cinnamon muffin ($5) and J. gets a chocolate croissant. J offers to pay and I gratefully accept since I haven’t had time to get cash.
4:30 p.m. — After eating we get back on a train and arrive in Newcastle 2 1/2 hours later. (I love mass transit, and I wish America was as up on its train game as Australia — it’s so nice!) Her host mom picks us up and we drive the 15 minutes to her house (J. is a live in au pair and watches a 9-month-old and a 4-year-old). We get home and I declare if I sit down I will never get back up, so we walk down to the beach which is just beautiful. Then we walk around her neighborhood and start chatting about all the important things: our families, work, the royal wedding, school.
6:30 p.m. — We get home and happily play with the kids for a bit; this trip is definitely going to give me my baby fix! We all eat together and I’m happy to see her host parents are super nice and easy going. I crash at 7 p.m. in the guest room.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

8 a.m. — Wake up. I only woke up once in the middle of the night but luckily I was able to fall back asleep. Sydney is 16 hours ahead but I am determined to beat jet lag. I eat some peanut butter and jelly toast for breakfast, and we hang out with the kids for the morning. Then she has the day off! We head to downtown Newcastle and browse the shops on Darby Street: The fact that I only brought a carry-on restricts what I can buy (which is definitely a good thing).
12:30pm – We get hungry and J. takes me to her favorite Thai restaurant. We have a mutual love for Thai food — it is always our go to. The restaurant is in a mall but it is outside and super pretty with all open air sides. The food is delicious. I really needed something that felt healthy after all the traveling. I stopped and pulled out cash (to avoid constant foreign transaction credit card fees) so I’m able to pay for it. $8.95
1:30pm – We head to Lake Macquarie which is nearby and has one of J.’s favorite cafes (she’s been trying a different one at least once a week!), Q and Co, right across the street from the lake. I’m not hungry after lunch so I just order a juice. The waitress comes over to tell me they’re out of the one I ordered. Nothing else originally sounded appealing but I’m thirsty so I take a swing and get one that mainly seems to be orange and pineapple. It turns out to be really good! We sit by the lake for about two hours talking (I'm trying to convince her to move near me next) before heading home so J. can start working $4.51
4:30pm – I get in some baby cuddles before having tacos for dinner. Eating with these kids is crazy and reaffirms the fact I’m nowhere near ready to have kids! The food is good and I’m thankful for another free meal. I’m in bed by 7 p.m. again.
Daily Total: $13.46

Day Three

7 a.m. — Wake up and I’m convinced I have beat jet lag, I only woke up once, briefly. I lay in bed and read until J. texts me she’s in the kitchen. Even though her host family is super nice I would feel awkward being up by myself or just with them. Peanut butter toast and an apple for breakfast!
9 a.m – J. is working most the day today so I take the opportunity to Facetime my boyfriend and mom, since this is the brief window of awake time overlap. I show them the amazing views from the house (you can see the beach) and tell them about my travels so far, our plans, and about the cute kids. It’s nice to just be able to relax and catch up with J. without that ‘I need to be out soaking up everything feeling’ that I tend to get on vacation.
5 p.m – After hanging out at home watching the kids and doing some household chores J.’s shift is over. We head to a brewery to meet one of her friends who is also an au pair. Australia is weird in the fact that all its cafes have 5-10 menu items I would classify as “dinner” but close at 3pm. Their actual dinner restaurants are a bit pricier than we would usually spend, so a brewery is a good option even though J. hates beer and I’m very picky about it. We go to Foghorn Brewhouse and I get a falafel burger, fries, and a stout (the only beer I’ll drink). It’s all super good, the fries especially are amazing! $19.92
7:30 pmAfter dinner J’s friend suggests Popolo gelato. I’m lactose intolerant but happily tag along. We get there and they have an amazing selection of vegan gelato options! I’m super pumped as usually the non-dairy options are just fruit flavors. After taste testing a bunch I get a giant scoop of crème brûlée and it is easily the best gelato I have ever had in my life! I text my mom because I’m so excited about it; I’m in heaven! $4.80
8:00pm – Get home and head straight to bed, and take some Pepto pills because nothing dairy free has ever tasted that good and I’m skeptical and don’t want to get a stomachache.
Daily Total: $24.72

Day Four

7 a.m. — This seems to be my wake up time here. I didn’t get sick last night so you can bet there is more gelato in my future on this trip. It’s my last day in Newcastle and I’m excited to go somewhere new tomorrow. It’s been great here but the next leg is what I am looking to the most.
8 a.m. – After breakfast we head to a nearby hike. Along the way I proclaim that it sounds like we're at the Rainforest Café, which I will likely be mocked about for the rest of my life because, duh, we were in an actual rainforest. The hike is gorgeous and ends at a beach where we see surfers and a bunch of dolphins in the water! I immediately freak out about the dolphins. If there was any question whether I was a local, that just made it very clear that no, no I am not. This easily becomes my favorite part of the trip so far.
11:30 a.m. – We head to a nearby grocery store, Coles, to pick up groceries for her host family. I grab some apples and instant oatmeal for plane snacks and breakfasts ($4.44) at the hostels for the remainder of the trip (I always have instant oatmeal when I travel, it has saved me many times). Afterwards we go back to Darby Street and hang out at a café for a bit where I get an iced Chai Tea ($5.40). It's super good but I’m clearly used to American proportions because everything here seems very small to me. $9.84
12:30 p.m. – Get home and have leftovers for lunch while hanging out with the kids. I spend far too long trying to get the 4-year-old to talk to me on video to send to my family and boyfriend cause her accent is the cutest thing I’ve ever heard. But she is not having it and I only get a few words.
4:00 p.m. – Walk to the neighborhood park with the kids while the mom makes dinner. There are a bunch of boys practicing rugby which feels very Australian to me!
5:30 p.m. – Have our last dinner, tonight is burgers with beets which is apparently a very Australian thing to add to burgers. No complaints here! I chat with the parents for a bit and give them a small thank you present for letting me stay with them and eat their food, it has seriously saved me so much money on this trip and was part of the reason I was able to afford coming! In bed and asleep by 8pm.
Daily Total: $9.84

Day Five

7 a.m. — Wake up excited because we head to Cairns today! I have toast and an apple for breakfast, but then spy Vegemite in the pantry. I can’t leave Australia without trying it and don’t think I’ll want to buy it anywhere, so I ask to try it. The host mom insists that there’s a right way to try it the first time so you don’t get grossed out which is a lot of butter and just a bit of Vegemite. J. hasn’t tried it either so we try together, she’s disgusted but I don’t think it’s too bad, though I can see how it’s an acquired taste – its super salty!
9 a.m. – Take the train into Sydney to go to the airport. J. booked the tickets, when I ask her how much I owe her she says Venmo doesn’t work in Australia so I’ll pay her back later. Since it’s a budget airline my wheeled carry-on won’t fit, but luckily checking it is free!
12 p.m. - We breeze through baggage check and security, only to find our flight has been delayed. Womp, womp. We have three hours to kill. We start with lunch, I get a chicken avocado sandwich and J gets a turkey sandwich and a donut. We hang out and eat then go find our gate where she naps and I read. $7.44
3 p.m. – Load on to our plane, we’re near the back and this planes loads from the rear and front which I’ve never seen before, we get to our seats quickly, I take a Dramamine and intermittently read and sleep on the flight.
7:30 p.m. – Land in Cairns, and step off the plane into pure humidity. This will be the hottest leg of our trip (high 80s), even though it is transitioning into winter here. We get in a taxi and head to our hostel, Globetrotters International, to check-in ($190, J. pays). We had a bad experience traveling in Europe previously with hostels so J. did a lot of research and we made sure to get our own room. It feels like we're in dorms again with two twin beds in a tiny room, but its clean and quiet and has a shared kitchen down the hall so I’m happy! $10.40
8:00 – We’re both tired and a bit hangry so we head to a near-by “fast-food” place, Muddy’s. I get a smoothie and J. gets fried calamari and fries. Either we’re just hungry or it’s really good, I can’t tell, either way I wish fast food would be like this in America! $4.14
9:00 p.m. – We have an early day tomorrow, so we both head to bed.
Daily Total: $21.98

Day Six

6:30 a.m. — Up early because we have to be at the dock by 7:30 to check in. I heat up some instant oatmeal in the microwave, J. grabs cereal from the free breakfast downstairs and we head out. Our hostel is only about 2 blocks from the Esplanade so we walk along the waterfront all the way to the docks and get to watch the sunrise, a beautiful start to our morning!
5 p.m. – Back on land after a day out on the water! It was AMAZING! The Great Barrier Reef is as cool as one would expect with its bright coral and huge fish, plus we saw Nemo so we were happy! It’s crazy to see the waves break in the middle of the ocean when you wouldn’t expect anything to be that near the surface! We snorkeled at two different locations for about 1.5 hours each, one before and one after lunch. Everything was included in the package we bought, which includes gear rental as well as a morning and afternoon tea with muffins, fruit, and biscuits (a.k.a. shortbread cookies which we made sure to get our money’s worth of). We also got a super good lunch of chicken stir fry, pasta, two salads, rolls, and fruit. We both had two huge helpings – swimming for hours really wears you out! We both sleep on the two hour boat ride back to shore.
5:30 p.m.- We’re both tired from being under the sun and swimming, plus we’re in swimsuits and our hair is going to take at least one bottle of conditioner each to detangle. So really looking our best. We want something easy so we opt for Muddy’s again, you just can’t beat that outdoor café feel right by the beach! We both get fried calamari and fries with a passion fruit, mango, and orange juice. Then we head back to the hostel, plan out the next day and are asleep by 9 p.m. $12.41
Daily Total: $12.41

Day Seven

8 a.m. — Eat some more instant oatmeal then head out to rent a car. Before I left, one of my friends suggested when we were in Cairns that we visit Port Douglas. We looked it up last night and decided to drive there today. I pay for the car since my credit card has rental car insurance. J. drives though, because she’s used to driving on the left whereas I constantly think we’re going to be hit. $45.99
10:00 a.m. – Our first stop is Kuranda Village, which is a little hippie town on the way that’s supposed to have a cute market. It's dead when we get there so we go on a little hike to a waterfall, which is beautiful. We see a bunch of wild turkey or chickens or a mashup between the two, which are very weird and look like they descended straight from dinosaurs. We walk through the markets, but it’s not really our vibe, so we leave and I snack on a granola bar I brought.
12:00 p.m. – We arrive in Port Douglas. The drive was beautiful. It’s all along the coast and very scenic, we stop at a couple pull offs to get some pictures and play in the sand. Once we get into the city, the road is lined with resorts, we get the feeling this is a more ritzy tourist destination. A lot of the menus agree with that assessment, after reading a bunch as we walk through town we settle on a little café next to a bookshop and I get a turkey cranberry sandwich. The bread tastes very fresh and good quality so I’m happy with our choice! $11.65
1:00 p.m. – We wander to the end of downtown where there is a big park with a bunch of vendors, we wander through the stalls but a lot of them seem to be closing for the day. We go into the park and find a place in the shade under a palm tree with a view of the ocean, I text my mom and read while J. takes a nap. Ultimate vacay vibes. After about two hours we decide to head back so we can have dinner in Cairns.
5:00 p.m. – We arrive back in Cairns after an eventful drive in which we stopped on the side of a highway because there was a field full of at least 100 wallabies and I freaked out. How can you go to Australia and not at least see a wallaby or kangaroo?! J. pays to fill up the tank since I paid for the rental then we drop off the car and head back to the hostel.
6:00 p.m. – We look up some places to eat in the binder in our room. Since it's our last night we want some good food. We settle on The Cotton Club, which is a bar/restaurant. We sit outside and enjoy the live music, I get calamari with a baked potato and steamed veggies, J. gets lamb chops and a Greek salad. Everything is delicious, and this meal is free for us! J.’s mom sent me a few things to bring J. from home and included some money as well for us to have a nice dinner because she was so excited I was visiting J. (I text her thank you and repay her by starting a group message with both our moms and sending them a million pictures a day!)
8:00 – Ahhhh gelato, I knew we’d meet again. I get coconut this time and we wander the night market, but very it’s very touristy, so we opt to walk along the water instead while we eat our treat. $3.61
8:00 p.m. – Marveling at how clean these showers are. And very happy that have quiet hours here they begin enforcing at 10 p.m. because we have an early start tomorrow.
Daily Total: $61.25

Day Eight

5:30 a.m. — Instant oatmeal for me, I’m someone who always has to eat breakfast no matter what time I get up. We call an Uber (J. pays) and head to the airport.
10:00 a.m. – Land in Sydney, J. walks through the turnstile, but it won’t let me through because my Opal card is overdrawn. I refill it and we get on the train to go to the neighborhood our hostel is in. $22.56
11:00 a.m. - When we get to the hostel we find out check-in isn’t until 2 p.m. So we drop our stuff get a recommendation for food from the front desk and head out to a nearby Greek place where we both get Gyros. I use an ATM to withdraw more cash for the rest of the trip, then we walk around the university campus that’s right across the street from our hostel until we can check in $7.52
2:00 p.m. We check in at Mad MonkeysBackpackers, and go decompress in the room for a bit. This room is smaller than our last and we’re in a bunk bed that is super creaky, so that should be fun to try to sleep on. Eventually I get bored so I suggest going to a place I see on Google Maps — Sappho Books& Café, two of my favorite things! I am in love with this place and wish I could spend every day here. We browse the stacks for a while then go order from the café. I get a chai tea with almond milk and a vegan raspberry chocolate brownie, I am pleasantly surprised when they bring me a whole teapot! Best bang for my buck I’ve gotten here. We savor our food and take lots of pictures of the cute café. $8.27
4:00 p.m. — We continue walking to the nearby waterfront area, Darling Harbor. We walk past the fish markets and hurry back to the hostel before the sun sets all the way because I’ve seen Taken, I’m not being the dumb girl out at night in a deserted-feeling residential area.
6:30 p.m. - We take advantage of the free Wi-Fi at the hostel to find nearby dinner and pick Thai food! We joke that we're a bit obsessed since we’ve now eaten Thai food together on three different continents. It’s delicious as always. After eating we walk back to the hostel. I realize I am not going to find a birthday present for my boyfriend here, so I text my dad and ask him to order my back up gift for him using his prime account so it will be at my apartment when I get home. I’ll Venmo him when I get it. Then I read before falling asleep around 10 p.m. $12.33
Daily Total: $50.68

Day Nine

8 a.m. — Today is our day to explore Sydney, and boy do we. After grabbing breakfast, more instant oatmeal for me and J. takes advantage of the free bread and spreads for Nutella toast, we head out. It’s about a 50 minute walk to the Hyde Park which is our first destination, but we stop half way through and J. gets a coffee and I get a cronut. We picked this place specifically because I saw the cronut on Pinterest and have pretty much been dreaming about it since. Mine is cinnamon sugar with caramel drizzle on the top, it’s divine. We go through Hyde Park, wander the Botanical Gardens and get a picture at Mrs. Macquaries Chair, which is a rock outcropping with an amazing backdrop of the opera house, bridge, and harbor. Then we walk over to the opera house before deciding we’re hungry. $5.45
12:00 p.m. – J. has been to Sydney a couple times so she suggests we go to The Rocks neighborhood for lunch. I follow along and we choose Ribs and Burgers where I get a lemon chicken sandwich and fight off seagulls from getting too close to our outdoor table. $9.77
1:30 p.m. – We browse nearby shops we can’t afford (which I can tell immediately because they’re so sparse – a sure sign if there’s like five shirts to a rack) then go into a more touristy underground mall area. I have yet to get a souvenir, the typical “Australian” souvenirs like UGGs or a boomerang or a didgeridoo I don’t particularly feel the need for. So I opt for a boomerang magnet. My parents always get a magnet every time the visit somewhere new and I’m starting to pick up the habit. It’s an affordable, easy to travel with, and easy to display souvenir! $2.75
3 p.m. — We go through the very ritzy three-level shopping mall, and hang out in Hyde Park for a while, but it's windy and the sun is going down so we’re a bit chilly (and tired) so we start walking back. Both our phones are low on battery and we’re slightly worried they may die and we’d be lost, but we make it. J. definitely needs a break, I tend to be a go-go-go traveler and she needs her downtime so we try to compromise on the level of activity every day, but today I definitely dragged her around more than usual.
6:00 p.m. – Before we left Newcastle J.’s host mom said we absolutely have to get Vietnamese food in Sydney. So we saved it for our last night’s meal. We find a restaurant that ends up being across the street from the Thai place we went the night before, but this area is cute so we don’t mind. We grab a window seat to people watch. J. gets pho and I get curry, but we eat some of each other’s because they’re both so good! $13.53
7:30 p.m. – We stop by Cole’s so I can grab some snacks for the plane, I get protein bars and trail mix. $7.44
8:00 p.m. – Head back. I’m trying to stay up late so that I sleep on the plane tomorrow, but walking so much today tired me out. I make it until 10:30 p.m.
Daily Total: $39.03

Day Ten

7 a.m. — Get up and immediately shower, I like to braid my hair when its wet when I’m traveling because it takes forever to dry and just makes me feel less greasy. I’m happy with the cleanliness level of this hostel too, though there are no quiet hours so we had to endure karaoke night last night till about 11:30, I’m very thankful I remembered ear plugs because Adele was not amongst the singers. I eat instant oatmeal and take advantage of the free breakfast to make myself a PB&J sandwich for the flight.
8:00 a.m. – Walk the 2o minutes to the train and ride to the airport. We say a sad goodbye, but luckily I’ll see her for a whole week this summer when she comes home, so it’s not as hard of a goodbye!
10:00 a.m. – I use the rest of my Australian money to buy one last tropical fruit juice as well as a Mediterranean wrap for the flight. Then I’m off for the 28 hours of traveling to get home, thinking about how weird it is I’ll be traveling for more than a day but it will be Wednesday when I leave AUS and arrive in the US. $9.92
Daily Total: $9.92
How did you prepare for this trip?
My friend who I’m visiting has lived there for about 5 months, and knew I was busy with moving, my first year of grad school, and work so she planned pretty much everything! My contributions mostly consisted of sending her posts of places I wanted to eat.
Did you use credit card points or miles to pay for parts of this trip?
Nope, relied on my tax refund and my savings. I knew the second my friend decided she was going to move to Australia that I was going to visit. So I had about a year to save up! I wish I had gotten a travel credit card before booking though, in retrospect I could have gotten a lot of points using it, and avoided foreign transaction fees my current one has.
When did you book your flight? Do you think you got a good deal?
I booked about 4 months out. I don’t think I got a good deal. I was planning on going earlier and had been watching prices for a while but when I went to book it the prices shot up. So I changed my date (which ended up being for the better since I was out of school and could stay longer) and kept watching prices until they fell a bit to what seemed to be “normal” and jumped on the first price I saw below $1,300.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
The absolute best part of the trip was the Great Barrier Reef day tour in Cairns. The snorkeling locations were awesome, the lunch provided delicious, and the crew was super friendly. I really liked the company we booked through, Passions of Paradise, as it was an eco-friendly, local company. I would 100% recommend it to anyone going.
Is there a tourist trap you wish you had avoided?
The Kuranda Village. It’s listed as such a cool thing to do, and the water fall was pretty but I think there are better ones. The market just felt like it was for tourists not an authentic staple market (like Portland’s Saturday Market, for example). There is a sky train that you can take that takes you up to it and you take a gondola back down that is supposed to have gorgeous views, but I was glad we rented a car instead since it was actually cheaper and gave us more freedom.
Would you stay at your hotels again?
I would definitely stay at both my hostels again. They were clean, a good size, both great locations and had friendly staff.
Where were you located specifically and would you recommend staying in that part of town?
In Sydney we were located next to the University, this was nice because it was quiet and there were a lot of good “college” (see: cheaper) restaurants, rather than tourist trap ones. But, it was a 50 minute walk to the heart of Sydney; staying more downtown would have been nice. It’s a big give and take depending on what type of vibe you’re going for and your willingness to walk or pay for transportation.
Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time? Would you have come home sooner or stayed longer given the chance?
Yes, the overall length of time I was there was perfect. I would have loved one more day in Cairns and one less in Newcastle as I think there was more to explore there.
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