My tips on staying cheap in Sydney

It’s no surprise to anyone who has followed my journey so far that Australia is expensive, I knew that coming over, and I still can’t believe how expensive it is sometimes. I found Sydney to be even worse than Melbourne in terms of high prices, and I came away after a week of trial and error spending much more than I had originally intended. To prevent this happening to future travelers, and even as a reminder to myself when I go back, here are my tips for staying cheap in the popular city that is Sydney.

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Use discount airlines or Greyhound if traveling within Australia

Tigerair and Jetstar are two of the most popular budget airlines when traveling within Australia, just make sure to check your luggage weight before arriving at the airport. Because the tickets are so cheap, they usually get you with additional baggage fees. They also weigh your carry-on luggage, so look on their websites and see what the restrictions are. My friend had to pay more than what her ticket was worth because she was over the weight limit for her checked baggage. Also, budget airlines don’t tend to serve free meals onboard, so make sure to pack a lunch to avoid inflated airplane food prices.

Greyhound is another viable option depending on where you’re traveling to within Australia – especially if you’re traveling up the East Coast. From Melbourne to Sydney it’s about a 12-hour bus ride, and the prices are usually slightly cheaper than flying. And on the plus side, the luggage restrictions are a lot more lax, you can check two pieces, and also have two carry-ons.

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Couchsurfing

It was my first time truly couchsurfing my week in Sydney, that is, staying at a complete stranger’s house whom I had never met before, and it turned out to be a great experience. I felt a lot more comfortable, at least for my first time, doing it with a friend, and my couchsurfing host, Chris, turned out to be one of the friendliest and most helpful people I met in Sydney. Although he lived a bit outside the city, it was only a 25 minute bus ride, and once we got the bus schedule down it was super simple to get to and from the city.

We had our own room, he let us borrow his towels for the beach, he was always a phone call away if we got lost, he even went out with us and made us breakfast one morning. I’ll definitely be looking into doing more couchsurfing when I’m traveling from now on, it’s a great way to stay within budget when accommodations are so expensive, and also a great way to meet people along your travels.

Buy a bus pass or walk everywhere

Whether you buy a bus pass or decide to walk really depends on where you’re staying in Sydney. Clearly, living a 25 minute bus ride outside the city, walking wasn’t a viable option for me. However, if I had been right in the CBD I probably wouldn’t have even bought a bus pass (except to maybe go to the beaches and surrounding neighborhoods), because I found the Sydney CBD actually more manageable than the one in Melbourne. Of course, I’m a huge walker and walk everywhere in general whether I’m home or abroad, so it may not be the most efficient way to get around for others.

Transportation is a bit expensive in Sydney, but taking a bus around the city is the best way to go, and you really can’t justify using taxis when there are so many bus options to get you to where you need to go. Also, the buses run a lot later than most other cities I’ve been to.

For my week in Sydney, I bought the MyBus2 TravelTen for $28.80 which gives you 10 rides around the CBD and the further zones such as where I was staying – it’s cheaper if you just get one that takes you around the main parts of the CBD (only $17.60). Because I was commuting so much in and out of the city, I bought 2 of these passes for the week I was there, coming out to a total of $57 .60.

There are monthly passes for the MyMulti Pass (buses, trains, light rail, ferries, you name it), so that is a more viable option if you’re staying longterm in Sydney. Again, it just takes a bit of research to figure of the transportation system in Sydney, but once you do, it’s not too bad for getting around.

Stick to cheaper food options around the city

Chinatown dumplings are a great cheap meal to start out your time in Sydney, and most of the Asian restaurants in the city are BYO. So, if you’re looking for a big night out on the town and you want to save money, head to your local discount liquor store (my choice is BWS), and buy a $5-$10 bottle of wine to have with your feast. I also was able to find some of the most delicious Thai and Malaysian food around the city for about AUS$10, which is pretty good for going out for dinner in Australia.

Other than Asian food, I would recommend grabbing some groceries at discount bulk stores like Aldi, to make your own lunches for the week, or dinner (I made some bomb risotto for Chris and our other housemate).

Another option is to check out the must read Cheap Eats book when you get to Australia, the Melbourne one was my bible for my first month in the city when I was broke, and I believe they have a Sydney edition as well. It gives you affordable recommendations for any cuisine, in every neighborhood around the city.

Take advantage of the free outdoor activities

One of my favorite experiences was doing the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk. What better way to see the beauty of Sydney and its beaches on a nice day, as well as get some fresh air and outdoor exercise?

Other free activities at your fingertips are checking out all the markets around town, there are more than a few. I only had time to check out the Paddington Markets during my stay, but it was a great way to peruse some merchandise and see a new neighborhood I would’ve otherwise probably not explored.

And of course, why not just spend a day at Circular Quay walking around the Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or exploring the Rocks with its cool little boutique shops and gelato places. Circular Quay, although overly touristy at times, is still a lovely way to spend an afternoon in Sydney.

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The Royal Botanic Gardens, as in Melbourne are also worth exploring, and they’re right next to Circular Quay so it’s a perfect place to grab a book and unwind from all the tourists.

Go to the beach!

Sydney has some of the best beaches in the world, I had the pleasure of seeing quite a few due to the nice weather throughout my whole week. Catch a bus to Bondi, Bronte, or Coogee, or a relatively cheap ferry to Manly, and spend a day soaking up the sunshine and waves. The ferry to Manly is also a gorgeous way to see the Sydney harbor up close and personal, without paying for one of the extortionate harbor cruises, and it gives one of the best views of the Sydney skyline.

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Free Museums

Although I didn’t have a chance to visit these museums myself while I was there due to time constraints, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Sydney Observatory, and the NSW National Art Gallery are all free admission, and they’re all located around the same area in the Rocks. To get an idea of even more free museums around the city, I would recommend checking out this website.

Of course these are my tips after only spending a week in the city, so any other recommendations are more than appreciated from any of you Sydneysiders or expats!

Sydney is also known for having a great many free festivals in the summer which I plan on taking full advantage of. No matter if you’re staying cheap or you’re on a more cushy budget, it’s hard not to have a good time in Sydney.

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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