8 mins

How to make dollars go further in Australia

After the affordability of SE Asia, the high cost of Australia comes as a shock to Wander Woman Marie Javins. Here's how she coped...

Car and tent, Western Australia (Marie Javins)

A squealing woke me up. I looked out the window high over Bangkok’s Soi Rambuttri, as I did every morning. Ah, just a group of leftover partiers, up too late. Or too early.

A monk in his orange robe was asking for alms. A woman was sweeping away the leaves in the gutter, as she always did. The middle-aged heavy coconut seller with a mohawk was there, completely dressed in red as he is every day. He prepared his coconut cart with a bored look, a cigarette dangling from his lips.

The skies were blue, the sun was out, but other than that, there had been no change from last night, aside from the spa worker no longer knitting on a bench, and the busker who sings American Pie no longer going on about levees being dry.

I packed up and left my bags at Sakul House hotel reception.

I took one last walk down Khao San Road. Such an ill-mannered place, I thought, full of beer and drunk tourists and cagey fortune-tellers and fried things on sticks. After a few days here, it's easy to wonder why exactly you're there. But I knew. I was in Khao San for the ease – the cheap laundry and plentiful street food, the competitive hotel prices, the overwhelming number of people who would massage my feet for an hour in exchange for seven bucks.

I can't say that I love Khao San – sometimes it's just plain annoying, like when I heard Hotel California three times in one morning. And sometimes watching all these tourists partying raucously with their friends inspired self-pity in me, the solo traveller. But I do love the convenience and the prices.

I had a last pad Thai – I wouldn’t be back here for another 14 months, as it turned out, as a stopover on the way home to New York from a holiday in Burma – and got one final massage before heading to the airport.

The shuttle I’d booked didn’t show up, so I hailed a taxi to the airport train, and left the same way I’d come in. I’d departed Bangkok twice before on this edition of MariesWorldTour.com, once for China and Bhutan and once for Singapore, Borneo, and Bali. But this was for good. I was moving regions, heading on via my frequent-flyer-point round-the-world ticket.

When I thought back to when I’d first arrived several months ago, I laughed at how excited I’d been by a modern, clean room and cheap street food. Small things had struck me as delightful on my first day in Thailand after my Morocco-to-Cape Town journey. I'd been excited by free bottled water and iced coffee. And of course, the chance to get my traveller-parasites checked out.

Due to the partnerships and routings of the partners in Star Alliance, I couldn’t fly into Perth from Bangkok – or else I’d have to fly via Singapore to get to Sydney later. So I’d be flying into and out of Sydney for the Australia leg of my trip, and had purchased budget-airline tickets for the domestic flights. I’d be flying into Sydney tomorrow morning, then catching a connecting flight back west to Perth.

The last time I’d been in Australia in 2003, the exchange rate had been in my favour. Things had changed. A lot.

As I flew out of Thailand and South-East Asia, I steeled myself for some sticker shock.

And I got what I expected on arrival in Perth. I’d taken Virgin Australia across the country – which used to be Virgin Blue, because it’s red, and that makes sense in Australia – and arrived in early evening. And yow! The costs of hotels and food were shockers after the cheap prices in Bangkok and Bali.

I checked in and hurried over to a camping and outdoors surplus store – I’d decided to hire a car and camp to save money – but had only managed a few purchases before the shop’s closing time. I made it back to my budget hotel room just before rain kicked in. No matter. I was too tired to go anywhere.

In the morning, I caught a free local bus from my hotel to the car hire agency.

In the rain.

That was unfortunate – rain isn’t good for camping. But it couldn’t be helped. 

I had a $34 imitation Thermarest as well as my regular luggage. It’s what I’d picked up yesterday at the surplus store. I'm not a fan of cheap sleeping pads as they lack insulating layers, but given this wasn't going home with me and I already had two Thermarests at home, this didn't seem like the place for a splurge. And during the camping trip my Aussie ex and I had taken across the States in 2002, his cheapie had held up well. Until it melted one day. But I only needed mine to last for 11 days and then through my friend Amanda's trip next month. We were doing tag-team Oz and she was taking my camping gear after I moved on.

The guy at the rental car agency tried not to laugh at me when I asked him a dozen questions about how to not hit kangaroos on the road. I was only joking, of course. I had lived in Australia on and off for two years. I knew I was as likely to hit a 'roo here as I was a deer at home. That is to say, likely.

"Drive left, drive left," I reminded myself as I drove through the rain, making my windshield wipers go faster every time I tried to use the turn signals. I'd get used to the signals and wipers being reversed right about the time I had to return the car, I figured.

I had mapped out my route carefully back in my Bangkok hotel room. I headed up Mitchell Freeway to Ray's Outdoors, a huge outdoors-gear chain. I'd called ahead to make sure they had my tent.

There were other tents – cheaper tents. But another thing I'd learned from camping with my Aussie ex is that I hate when the tent drips on me during rainstorms. So I splurged on the $50 tent. Which was still silly-cheap. Even though restaurants were pricey in Perth, at least the tents were bargain-priced.

I picked up a $30 sleeping bag, then headed to IKEA, where I bought the cheapest pot, pillow, candle, tea towel, regular towel, mug, plate, bowl, and a tiny stuffed blue dog as mascot.

My former almost-sister-in-law, an Australian, named the dog immediately by email. He became, in the spirit of Oz, named "Red."

Then I drove out in the rain two exits up the freeway to the commercial campground I'd picked for its location near Perth. I didn't want to try to do too much in one day.

I set up my tent and headed right back out to a nearby mall.

My first stop was KMart, where I picked up a $5 folding outdoors chair and $4 torch (I was sad to realise I’d lost my mini-torch, which I’d bought in Singapore during the first MariesWorldTour in 2001). I was tempted by the $15 camp stove but most commercial campgrounds had camper kitchens, so I left it.

Then it was off to Coles and Woolworths for some groceries.

I was pretty worn out by now but had two last things to get. I needed a long extension cord for my campsite to have power and I needed a way to make coffee.

Tired, I gave up before finding the extension cord.

But a discount shop had a $3.99 coffee press.


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