Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sydney on a budget???

How far this DOESN'T go...
It’s pretty hard to write the words "Sydney" and "budget" in the same sentence. Not just because the Australian dollar is relatively strong compared to the U.S. dollar right now, but because Sydney is an expensive city overall. All amounts mentioned in this post are in Australian dollars.

Lodging = $275
To save money on lodging, we stayed in a hostel, Eva’s Backpacker’s, for the four nights we were actually in the city. We did our accommodations research on,,, and other websites. We also searched on but couldn’t find anyone in the city center that could host us. I chose Eva’s for their location in Kings Cross, about a 20 minute walk from downtown Sydney, with plenty of public transportation options, shops, restaurants, etc. nearby. A bunk bed in a shared dorm room was about $25 per person per night and a private double room was $75 per room per night, both with shared baths. Comparable hostels in the city center were over $100 per night for a private room. We had booked a private room for the three nights we originally planned to be in the city, and when we arrived a day early, we settled for one night in dorm beds as that’s all that was available.
cheap local beer - doesn't have much flavor but it was only $8 for this pitcher!
Food & Drink = $140
As is common in most hostels, we had full use of the kitchen facilities at Eva’s so we could buy groceries and cook/eat in to save money. On our arrival day in Sydney, upon perusing the menus at various Kings Cross restaurants, we discovered even fast food cost over $7 and the average dinner entrée was over $20. We ended up eating Thai food for lunch; the “specials” were all $8.50 so the meal cost us $17. We went to the grocery (Woolworths) afterwards and were able to purchase the store brand loaf of wheat bread, peanut butter & jelly, along with a box (12 packets) of instant oatmeal, a few bananas, some rice crackers for snacking, and a pre-made sandwich and container of soup to share for dinner. The total bill was $9 for the dinner items and $16 for everything else. We ate oatmeal and shared a banana for breakfast each morning, plus supplemented that with any freebies that other backpackers had left behind in the community food pile when they checked out of the hostel. I made pb&j sandwiches to carry in our daybags for lunch along with the rice crackers and our Katadyn water bottles. Our splurges were for two beers and a hot lunch at the Pyrmont Hotel Bar ($5/pint + $10 for a shared lamb shank & mashed potato entrée), a dozen oysters from Claudios Seafood at the Sydney Fish Market ($11.90) and a pitcher of beer at O’Malley’s ($8) on Day 2; and four beers at the Lord Nelson Brewery ($4.30 for about 285mL or a “half pint”), two beers at The Australian Hotel Bar ($6.80/pint) and a pizza from the shop around the corner from the hostel ($17 for a large/4 slices each) on Day 3. I cooked pasta at the hostel ($7 for 2 people) one night and we bought cheap wine at the liquor store ($5/750mL bottle) since bottled beer was so expensive (over $16 for a 6-pack). On the day we ate lunch out, we had pbj sandwiches for dinner.
a pbj picnic
Transportation = $17
Our airport transfer was provided free by the hostel but involved waiting at the designated airport meeting point for over 30 minutes, then walking outside the airport terminal about 5 minutes to reach the shuttle van, sitting in the van for over 10 minutes waiting for other potential passengers from the international terminal, then driving around to the domestic terminal to pick up a passenger there. Total time from arrival at airport meeting point to arrival at our hostel: 1.5 hours. The cheapest alternative if we had booked the transfer on our own was $12 per person. We quickly learned that public transportation is not really affordable. I had hoped to take the ferry to Manly just as a sightseeing excursion, but at $13 per person round trip that got nixed. We then planned to take the public bus to Bondi Beach and when I looked it up online, I thought the fare was $2 per person one way. Totally reasonable! However when we bought the tickets from a drugstore at Circular Quay, they were actually $4.25 per person one way. We had already planned our afternoon around that little side trip, so we handed over the money, but that eliminated our budget for food & drinks somewhere near the beach. This was our solution (followed by a trip to the grocery for the ingredients for a pasta dinner to be cooked at the hostel later that evening):

Entertainment = $0
I could only find a few sights in Sydney that were actually free. The National Maritime Museum offers free entrance every day, but you do have to pay extra to have a look around the boats docked in the harbor. However, it is totally free to roam around the city on foot, and I think Greg & I walked about 10 miles per day to see the better part of the city. On our first full day we covered Hyde Park, Pyrmont Bridge, Sydney Fish Market, Market City, and Chinatown. Day 2 included St. Mary’s Cathedral, Millers Point, Sydney Observatory, walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, The Rocks, Sydney Cove, and the Opera House. Day 3 saw us in the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Customs House, and at Bondi Beach.

Miscellaneous = $17
The laundry facilities at the hostel were limited to one working washer (out of three) and two dryers and were not particularly cheap ($3 per wash, $3 per dry, $1 for detergent). We packed enough clothes to only have to do laundry every five days and that’s if we only wear each outfit one time. I crammed all our dirty stuff into one load but, of course, it didn’t get completely dry so we had to use our expandable clotheslines to hang everything up in our tiny room. The hostel did have free wireless internet but the connection was so poor we could barely read our email. Still, it allowed us to let everyone know we made it safely and were doing fine the first few days of the trip. One minor thing we did have to purchase was an Australia/New Zealand plug adapter ($10) because even though I thought our multi-adaptor sets covered the entire world, the outlets here are different.

Total = $449 (or about $225 per person)
How could we have saved even more money? Obviously by drinking less beer and never eating out, but also by staying in a dorm instead of private room. However, we sacrificed about as much as we were willing these first few days of our trip and our overall experience did not suffer one bit as a result. As an aside, I am writing this post from a farmhouse in Horsely Park, about 30 miles outside of Sydney, where we’ve been couchsurfing with a wonderful host for the past few nights. I’ll update again soon with a brief comparison of our costs for these past few days versus our time in Sydney. You will notice a marked difference!

P.S. The link to all of my Sydney pictures is embedded in the title of this post. Just click the title and my Picasa web album will open.

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