How to Be a Five-Star Tourist on a Backpacker Budget

Taylor tries her hand at stand-up paddleboarding. Richy Ainsworth

Written by  November 5, 2014

Make the most of your time abroad with Taylor's budget travel tips.

Travelling on a working holiday visa and having a tight purse most always go hand-in-hand. Even if you’ve saved for months prior to your trip abroad, the whole moving from temporary job to temporary job doesn’t usually leave room for too much indulgence.

Living in the high-end resort town of Port Douglas, Australia, where many visitors are fashionable holidaymakers from Sydney and Melbourne in town for a little R&R, or even just middle class families who have saved their pennies for one grand week of vacation, I sometimes felt like, compared to them, I wasn’t taking enough advantage of our beautiful surroundings.  

But if you get a little creative there are plenty of ways to live within your means and also play tourist. Below are five solutions for seeing the sights without blowing your backpacker budget:

Find a job with benefits.

If you live in a resort town, a great option is to find employment with the tour operator. Even if you aren’t a trained scuba instructor or kayak guide, those businesses are always looking for support staff and your office skills or labouring experience may be exactly what they’re looking for. I’ve had several friends find these positions, and while your first priority for employment shouldn’t be “getting free stuff,” a wonderful benefit of working for a tour company is going on their trips, and often getting heavily discounted prices for many other tours in town.

Through my own gig at the Port Douglas Yacht Club, I began to attend the free Wednesday night sails, a community event where members of the club would invite groups of people on their boat for an evening cruise. The event was open to the public, but through my job I became friendly with many of the “yachties,” which made it easier to get a spot for the very popular event. A free trip out on the water, followed by a nice meal and good conversation with your boat mates back at the yacht club, seemed to me an authentic Port Douglas experience.

A co-worker of mine at that same job also worked as a kite boarding and stand-up paddleboard instructor. One day, I passed his spot on the beach and he invited my boyfriend and me to take some SUP boards out, free of charge. I had always wanted to try the sport, and what better spot to paddle around then at the front step of the Great Barrier Reef? He pointed out spots of reef just off the beach and we splashed around for an hour on the turquoise waiter, with hills of tropical rainforest providing a stunning backdrop to our spontaneous excursion.

Be your own tour guide.

First off, buy a bike! If you’re living in a small town where most everything is in walking distance, a bike will expand the area you can explore on your own that much more.

During my short stay in Far North Queensland, I never made it up to Cape Tribulation or took a boat trip out to the Low Isles, just off the coast. While there are a few things I wish I had had the time and money to see, I did manage to get around to a few scenic spots that probably don’t make the average tourist’s list. Having bikes allowed us to spend a day cycling out to Spring Creek, nestled into the rainforest hills off a string of back roads, and hiking the two hours through the creek to the reward of a string of hidden waterfalls and empty swimming holes at the top.

A different day, we decided to hike around the headlands at the tip of Port Douglas. It wasn’t an exhausting activity, it’s not something they advertise at the info centres, but it offered a little excitement, a beautiful ocean view all to ourselves, and cost nothing more than the beer we bought as a reward.

Find the discounts.

A general tip for backpackers not wanting to pay full price for their fun is to book off-season. In Australia this means avoiding school holidays, when the populations of resort towns like Port Douglas balloon by extreme proportions.

Another good move is to use discount sites when booking tourist activities. If you’re in Australia, become best friends with bookme.com.au. The site offers heavily reduced fares to a number of activities in your location of interest, whether it’s a food or wine tour, a spa retreat, or an adrenalin boost you’re after. In the four months I spent in Port Douglas, friends and I purchased tickets for a Daintree River cruise through the heart of the National Park, tickets to wakeboard at a cable ski park in Cairns, and best of all, a two day “live aboard” snorkel trip on the Great Barrier Reef. We saved that trip, which cost us $100 less than the other guests on board, for our very last two days in North Queensland and it was one of the greatest highlights of my time in the Far North.

Take a detour on your way from Point A to Point B.

To get a bus from Port Douglas to Cairns where we needed to catch our flight would have cost almost the same as renting a car for the day. So we vetoed the bus, split the cost of a rental between four friends, and used the freedom of having our own wheels to sightsee a little before heading south. A trip inland through a section of the Tablelands and the rainforest village of Kuranda provided one last opportunity to check a few things off the bucket list before having to say a fond farewell to Tropical North Queensland.

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Taylor St. John

Taylor St. John is a freelance journalist who has spent the last four years working, travelling and blogging for Verge about her adventures through New Zealand, Australia, Southeast Asia and Scotland. An advocate of long-term travel, she's currently based in her home state of New Jersey and planning the next big adventure.

Website: www.theoutroads.com

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