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Australia isn’t the first destination that comes to mind when you think “budget vacation.” But it’s certainly a destination where you can make some unforgettable family memories. Guest author Beth Graham shares why a family vacation to Australia is worth the splurge and a great family vacation destination. She’ll share the really important must-see activities and offer some budget-friendly options for transportation and dining.
When my college-aged son announced he wanted to study abroad in Australia, my first thought was, “Cool! Now I have an excuse to visit!” I quickly took out that bucket list and prepared to cross off another item.
But as I began planning the trip, two things hit me like a ton of bricks: My 16-hour direct flight from the West Coast (I’m not a fan of long-hauls) and the cost. Sydney is one of the world’s most expensive cities, even beyond the cost of airfare to get there. Originally, I thought perhaps I would just go alone to save money. But my husband decided he’d bypass the budget and join me. Then, realizing that this might be my 18-year old daughter’s only chance to go, I decided it was a great opportunity to splurge and take the entire family.
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I began tackling my travel planning, looking at ways to indulge in the once-in-a-lifetime experiences (like diving the Great Barrier Reef). I decided that, for my family, we could scrimp a bit on accommodations and food.
Plan a Family Vacation to Australia
Chances are your flight to Australia will be long, so you’ll want to plan ahead, especially for younger children. Be prepared to keep them entertained for up to 15 hours.
Set aside a day prior to your trip to prep using these great tips for taking long flights with kids.
Choose the Right Location to Base Yourself in Sydney
I’ve learned over the years my family travels best when we have access to a kitchen. My daughter is a hard-core vegan and my husband is a carnivore. So finding restaurants to suit everyone has always been a challenge. I prefer to use Airbnb or VRBO to find condos or private homes where we can prepare our own meals. We get to eat what we choose, plus it’s a great way to stretch your budget. Those $20 per person hotel breakfasts add up. I selected a private condo in the city center which proved to be a good choice both in terms of space and location.
Tip: When choosing where to stay in Sydney, look for two things: proximity to the city’s main walking districts (the Quay, the Rocks, Sydney Harbour) and also proximity to public transportation.
Visit These Family Attractions in and around Sydney
Sydney just might be one of the most family friendly cities in the world. It’s walkable, clean, safe and has a slew of free attractions.
The Quay is the downtown harbour area and one of the most beautiful city waterfronts. Lined with shops and restaurants, it’s where ferry boats take off for excursions. A short walk from the harbor, the Opera House, Sydney’s most iconic attraction, hosts a number of kid-friendly tours and attractions. When I travel, I love to find the local park or gardens to just chill for a bit between sightseeing. Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden is the perfect spot to sit in the cool grass and rest your feet while the kids work off some energy.
Tip: Pick up sandwiches at one of the delis along the harbour and enjoy a picnic in the gardens. It’s a great mid-day break from sightseeing.
There’s so much to see in and around Sydney; be sure to check out these hidden gems.
Take These Day Trips from Sydney
(this is where public transport comes in handy)
As my daughter put it, “Featherdale Wildlife Park was a life-changing experience.” And that means a lot coming from an 18-year old! An easy train and bus ride from downtown Sydney, this is a place where kids can get up close and personal with the indigenous animals of the region. You can pet koalas and kangaroos, and see a number of animals in their natural settings including wombats, dingos, bats, and reptiles. Park guides offer educational talks throughout the day. Plan at least a half day trip to the park. Picnic in the park or visit the cafe.
Catch a bus from downtown Sydney for a 45-minute ride to Bondi Beach, a beautiful white sand beach surrounded by rocky cliffs and luxury homes. There’s a boardwalk opposite the beach with plenty of places to taste the local favorite, fish n’ chips. If your kids are up for a walk, take the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, a two-hour walk along the cliffs that offers some of the most stunning ocean views.
Tip: Wear comfortable shoes and take plenty of sunscreen. You’ll also want to fill your water bottles at filling stations along the walk.
Dive and Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
This overnight trip is probably best reserved for families with pre-teens and older. Although you can dive or snorkel, the boat trip alone is worth it to see the largest living thing on Earth. Even visible from outer space, the Great Barrier Reef is made up of over 2900 individual reefs, 600 continental islands and 300 coral cays. You’ll need to take a quick 3-hour flight from Sydney to Cairns to catch boats out to the reef. We opted for a budget resort knowing we’d only be there one night and most of our time would be spent out on the reef.
Don’t worry if you’re not certified to dive. Most tour operators will offer a quick course in diving and have a dedicated guide where safety is a priority. After a lot of research, I chose to take our trip with Silverswift and it was a great experience. At the time of our trip, the entire day trip including snorkeling equipment was $220 for adults and $164 for children ages 4-14. Diving cost an additional $80 per dive (you can do up to two) including all the gear.
Group Snorkeling at Great Barrier Reef
My daughter chose to go snorkeling with a small group while I dove with my husband and son. In the afternoon, I snorkeled with my daughter and will tell you that snorkeling is just as exhilarating as diving. You’ll see so many colorful fish, sea creatures and turtles.
Obviously, you’ll be taking a boat out to the reef, about a 45-minute trip, so if you or anyone in the family is prone to seasickness, take medication beforehand or skip the trip. We had a perfectly smooth trip out to the reef but a rather rocky one on the return home.
Tip: If you’re planning to dive and have any health issues, ensure you get a doctor’s note from home. If you simply want to snorkel, no medical clearances are required.
Take the Family Out to Dinner at These Spots in Sydney
Don’t be turned off by the word “mall.” This centrally-located shopping mecca has a huge food court so it’s an inexpensive place to grab a bite to eat mid-day. There are a few high end restaurants as well.
Tip: Stop in a local McDonald’s to order custom burgers – with ingredients like beets and spinach – via a touchscreen.
If you’re looking for budget-friendly dining, head to where the college kids hang out. King Street is lined with local street food storefronts and vendors.
Tip: Treat the kids to some sweets at the uber-popular Doughnut Time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Having young kids didn’t deter Beth from pursuing her culinary adventures. When her kids were just 7 and 9 years old, she moved them to Italy. She wanted to inspire them to want to explore the world. Today, her kids are young adults with an incredible sense of wanderlust. She tries to take an adventurous trip with the family at least once a year. Most recently, they visited Australia to dive the Great Barrier Reef. Beth embarks from her home in Los Angeles in search of unique food and wine adventures as MomUncorked.