Travel Notes: The Cheapest Way to See Australia

When I decided to visit Australia a few months ago, I knew that getting to see a large portion of the country was going to be difficult. Australia is about the same size as the continental United States in land area and having lived in the US for 28 years and only scratching the surface of the country, I knew that traveling around Australia was not going to be easy.

Putting aside the sheer size of Australia, the other issue I worried about was the cost. My research told me that Australia was going to be at least, if not more, expensive than the United States and one of the primary reasons I haven’t explored more of the US is because it’s so damn expensive.

While getting to the country itself is quite an expense, once you’re here traveling around doesn’t need to cost a fortune.

For the past week, I've been on the train in Australia, hopping from one long-distance train to another as I make my way from the northern city of Darwin down through the center to Adelaide, then across to Sydney, then up to Brisbane, and finally all the way up to Cairns, a total traveled distance of 6,883km / 4,277mi.

While one certainly needs to get used to sleeping in recliner chairs, showering in small bathrooms, and sitting next to strangers (that is unless you dish out more money for the higher class sleeper rooms), this mode of travel is incredibly rewarding if your intention is to actually see the Australian landscape. 

You’ll wake up to sunrises and watch sunsets from your seat, see endless sheep and cattle, and even catch a glimpse of a few kangaroos and emus. It’s like your own Australian safari, except when the train stops at its destination you can get out and explore even more.

In the United States, train travel is quite expensive. A one-way, 2,400km/1,500mi journey will cost you at least $250 USD. (On the other hand, the same journey by air will only cost you $90 USD; air travel has been heavily subsidized by the US Government, so it’s a lot cheaper.)

Now compare that to the cost my recent one-week train journey here in Australia, which will be ending in just a few hours. The travel itself only cost me $58 for the entire week. That’s $58 for traveling 6,883km / 4,277mi!

For less than it costs to take a train from Boston to New York, I’m traveling across the Australian continent not once, but twice.

This isn’t to say the cost of living in Australia is cheap. It’s not. In fact, the past few months have taught me that living here is actually more expensive than living in the US (especially the cost of food; however hotels, air travel, and apartments are about the same price).

So how is travel by train so cheap here? Well, there’s a catch. If you don’t have a non-Australian passport, travel by train is almost as expensive as the United States. However, if you do have a non-Australian passport, you can purchase one of several different a rail passes.

The most expensive pass, the Ausrail Pass, will give you unlimited travel on all of Australia’s long-distance trains for 3 to 6 months, costing you $750 or $950 respectively.

I did the math on what the journey this week actually cost me and it came to just $58 (my $750 3-month Ausrail Pass, divided by 90 days, times 7 days = $58). 

By the end of my travels here in Australia, I estimate that I will have traveled roughly 21,000km/13,000mi by train, bringing the total cost per mile down to about $0.04/km ($0.06/mi). That’s about the same cost per mile as traveling by train in India!

So there you have it. If you’re thinking of visiting Australia for a few weeks and you want to get around the country cheaply, definitely consider picking up one of their rail passes.

Think Sustainable

My mouse hovered over the "Confirm Order" button as I glanced back at the order total: $112.02 with shipping. I took another look at the item description, reading it over and over as if waiting for a voice to start reassuring me that this is what I needed.

The pressure between my finger and the mouse increased. Should I press it? Will I regret spending this money? How will I justify this purchase when I do my monthly expense report?

Relaxing my finger, I looked up from the laptop and stared at the trees outside. What would be the sustainable choice? What would be the responsible choice?

If I replicated my choice across all seven billion people on the planet and then amplified those seven billion choices by several generations, would I be left with something sustainable or something that contributed to an unsustainable future? Continue reading

Discovering Sandals Made of Gold and the Link Between Frugality and Gratefulness

Sandals Made of Gold

It was my first day in Gokarna, a small beach town on the west coast of India. Getting here had been an all-day adventure of trains, buses with flat tires, and a sketchy taxi driver who had us switch cars halfway to the hotel (he told me his driver was picking us up... I thought he was the driver!). However, after spending several months away from any large bodies of water, I was looking forward to enjoying the beach. Continue reading

My First $100 in India and a Message of Thanks

It's been almost one month since I arrived in India (26 days to be exact) and I have finally spent my first $100 USD (that's approximately 4,500 Rupees).

In fact, it was less than $100 because I got ripped off twice: The first time was with a $28 currency exchange fee when I changed a $100 bill for rupees during my layover at the Heathrow Airport in London.

The second time was when I stopped in a small town near Mangalore to refill my local Airtel SIM card: I gave the agent Rs.300, but when I was finally able to check the balance, it only showed Rs.1 (as I later learned, my unlocked iPhone didn't work with the local SIM, so I couldn't check the balance until I purchased a basic Nokia phone a few days later).

So, where exactly did those 2,940 Rupees go? Continue reading

How to Sell Anything in 6 Hours

I'm leaving for India in exactly one week and I'm determined not to leave any major possessions behind that would be a burden on anyone.

The last major possession was my truck. I expected it would take at least a few days to sell. After all, it's not like there's anything special about my 11 year-old gas guzzling pickup truck with 215,000 miles on it, right? Everyone I talked to about selling it said I might get $1,000.

Within 30 minutes of listing the truck on CraigsList, I had half-a-dozen emails from people who said they had cash and wanted it right now... for $1,200! When I exchanged the title 6 hours later for $1,400 in cash, I had almost fifty emails in my inbox from people who wanted to buy it.

I've sold several other things in a similar fashion. Several boxes of bathroom tiles that were left over from when I owned rental properties a few years ago sold for $50 in 3 hours. Continue reading