Ten years ago I took my first international trip—six months studying abroad in Australia. My parents were reluctant but I was insistent. I wanted to see the world and this was the trip to kick it off. I’m so happy I went as it was one of the best experiences of my life.
It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago, but as I spent two weeks there with my husband over Thanksgiving playing tour guide, I realized that my memories from my time there were very fond, but also very distant.
Australia has been at the top of his list for places to travel to in the world, so when we decided it would be one of our next international trips, I set my alerts on all my favorite travel apps and found a deal of a lifetime: $550 round trip from Seattle to Sydney on United.
W A T ? ? ? I know.
Even when I studied abroad the price was quadruple. The secret? Set travel alerts on Hopper for optional dates and set low fare alerts on Kayak for desired places to go. You’ll get notifications when they’re extremely low and when to buy. When I received the 5am push notification from Hopper a week after we had booked Paris, I freaked. Trevor thought I was ridiculous and was reluctant at first. It was going to be too much travel at the end of the year. But wow was it worth it. He fell in love and it was our best trip yet.
I always hoped to find someone who wanted to experience life just as much as I did, and feel so lucky because Trevor is that someone. We’re having so much fun as a married couple. We have our home, we have our little family with Smalls, and we have freedom. We’ll be settling soon, but until then, these two are living like Ja Rule does, and livin’ it up!
So we took a two week “holiday” down under. A two-week vacation for an American is a great thing, right? That’s like a honeymoon. It’s funny how the Aussies laughed when we’d tell them how long we were spending time in their country for. They’re used to six weeks off from work for holiday. Though it wasn’t a month as they suggested, we made the most of our 15 days.
For those of you wanting to visit Australia for the first time, I wanted to share with you the itinerary I planned for my husband and I. It’s jam packed, full of fun and I think it did the job of winning hiIm over. We now have new retirement goals ;).
Two Week Holiday Down Under
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- Visa. You must have a Visa to visit Australia. The good news is they make it easy for you and you can have one issued in 20 minutes time from your mobile at the airport. I recommend doing this ahead of time just in case, but as my husband and I like to make mistakes and learn from them when we travel, I’m sharing this tip ;).
- Tipping. Aussies don’t tip. They get paid well and because of that they do their job well. If you really feel the need to give a little extra because of incredible customer service, no one will stop you. Just know they’ll likely react saying it’s too generous.
- Allergies. If you’re allergy prone at home, don’t forget your meds. Especially if you visit Melbourne. Due to their extreme changes in weather (think four seasons in one day), it’s one of the worst places in the world for allergies. My husband can attest to this.
- Cold Weather. Speaking of Melbourne weather—it’s pretty cold. A cool city indeed but the air can be too cool. I made the mistake of only bringing yoga pants and a jean jacket, so that was no fun. At least their shopping is 100%!
- Food. People will tell you the food in Australia is not very good. This statement makes me laugh because you can definitely find amazing food that suits your taste when traveling through Australia. At least on the east coast. Sure, try the vegemite and meat pies to say you have, but be sure to indulge on their fresh fruit and muesli, modern Australian cuisine and craft beers / local wines. We live by Eater and Conde Naste Traveler for trusted sources when we travel and these were $$$.
Two Days of Travel
Fly out of LAX or SFO to SYD. Expect a 16-hour flight. Pack it with lots of movies or finish those last minute work items before you unplug. Don’t forget, you’re time traveling, losing an entire day here. We scheduled this trip Nov 16 – 30, Weds – Weds with Thanksgiving week in the middle which worked out great as many people were out for vacation as well.
3-Day Weekend in Sydney
When you look out the window as you fly into Sydney, you’ll get butterflies. Seeing the Sydney Harbour in real life is incredible. We thought we had three days in this city, but because we didn’t account for the day lost, we had two. Oops! Husband and I on a role per usual with travel mishaps. Makes it fun ;).
- Drop your bags off at your hotel near the Circular Quay – we stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel and loved the room, view and location! Once you’re refreshed, step out to get your bearings of this amazing city. Walk through the beautiful Botanical Gardens, Visit the Opera House and take pictures of the landmark with the Harbor Bridge in the background from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.
- After your done taking photos, grab a drink at the Opera Bar to get a feel for the Aussie scene, ask your cute bartender a few questions only to hear him/her speak with their accent, and sip your cocktail in the sun.
- With your swimmers, grab an Uber or hop on the bus to Bondi Beach for your first beach day as it’s one of the top 10 in Australia – culturally the most beautiful and famous. Grab a fresh juice from The Bondi Juice Company and soak up the rays alongside the locals. Don’t be afraid to go topless too – tan lines are overrated in Australia.
- After you’ve bronzed like a sun goddess, grab drinks and a bite on the uber vibrant and lively Bucket List bar. Think local scene with lots of good looking people hot beats and a beach view.
- Head back to Sydney for dinner on The Rocks. Enjoy the street performers after dinner while eating gelato.
- Set your alarm for as early as possible, order a long black with the fresh fruit and muesli from room service for brekky so you can get out and start your first adventure day. Head to the train station at Circular Quay and hop on the first train to Central Station so you can jump on the Blue Mountain line. Bring a book for the +2 hour ride or admire the countryside as you leave the city.
- Arrive at Katoomba station and begin your walk towards Echo Point, where you’ll land in a sea of tourists exploring the Three Sisters viewpoint. Pop in the visitors center where someone will be able to suggest a bushwalking route for you at your desired length and level of difficulty. We did a 4-5 hour “hard walk”which was an incredible way to ditch the crowd, get a sweat on and explore the rainforests within the Blue Mountain Valley: Echo Point > Prince Henry Cliff Walk > Gordon Falls > Leura Falls > Leura Cascade Loops > Giant Staircase. Keep your ears and eyes peeled for wildlife! You’ll run into a variety of birds and lizards. We had a pretty large Gooana cross our path.
- Head back to the city for well deserved cocktails at the Shangri-Li’s top floor Blue Bar on 36 with an incredible view of the city. Head to your reservation at Sydney Cove Oyster Bar with view of the Harbor and blankets to keep you warm if it’s windy.
Extra day recs:
- Sleep in a little since you’ll likely be sore from your hike, then grab brunch at the Grounds of Alexandria. Take lots of pics.
- Then catch a ferry to Manly Beach from Circular Quay. Explore the markets.
Two Days in the Whitsunday Islands
We booked all domestic flights in the mornings so we could make the most of our time. I recommend flights between the hours of 9am – noon. This way you can get in a good amount of sleep, snooze a little extra on the plane, and be ready to go in your new location. Jetstar operated by Qantas has many cheap options and is a great carrier.
Okay. The Whitsunday islands are a MUST. Our favorite part of the whole trip. Think white sand beaches and clear turquoise water. It was awesome to have this type of island vacation a few days into the trip.
- Fly Sydney to Hamilton Island in the morning. Purchase tickets through Cruise Whitsundays to Arlie Beach, one of the main hubs of the islands. Check into your ocean suite at the Coral Sea Resort and be prepared to be wowed. Your balcony includes a private hot tub and hammock with views of the ocean filled with sailboats and catamarans.
- Walk the Bicentennial Walk to town where you can grab lunch at Mr Bones for pizza or on the terrace of the Whitsunday Sailing Club for views.
- Get your bronze on at the Lagoon in town – perfectly manicured and man made, but safe from stingers (it’s the busy season).
- If you’re up for some late night island fun, head to Magnums Hotel for local beers and a local DJ, guaranteed to make you move. We got into some pitchers of the Lazy Yak pale ale.
- Wake up early for your second excursion – sailing the Whitsundays with Providence Sailing. Meet your fun Aussie crew and other guests from all over the world. Be sure to bring a sweatshirt as it could get windy. The crew has rain coats on board and they serve brekky, coffee/tea and lunch. This 10 hour day trip includes sailing through several islands, snorkeling in Dumbo Bay, visiting Sea Turtles in a mating sanctuary and exploring the famous and picturesque Whitehaven Beach. Watch out for spiders above in the trees. We walked under a huge Golden Orb – harmless, but huge! Take all the pics!
- Get cleaned up for dinner at Coral Sea Resort or Sorrento Restaurant and Bar
- Sip champagne from your hot tub and cheers to one hell of a day.
Extra day recs:
- Spend one day on Hamilton Island. We loved flying into there because the ferry through the islands was gorgeous from there to Arlie, but wish we could have explored the island before having to go. It’s said to be very beautiful. You can also check out Daydream Island too. Look out for kangaroos!
Two Days in Noosa Heads
- Fly from Prosperine Airport (Whitsunday Island’s mainland airport) to Brisbane in the morning, where you’ll rent a car and get to experience driving on the wrong side of the road down under. Remember just stay left ;). Drive 2-3 hours north along the coast to Noosa Heads – an incredible resort town along the waters.
- Stop along the drive to one of the many beach towns for brunch. We ate in Caloundra and visited Dicky Beach.
- Check into your hotel in Noosa. We stayed at Peppers Resort and Villas which was a pretty cool experience as it was literally in the rainforest and within walking distance to the main beach strip full of shops and restaurants. I recommend a suite or villa with a view.
- Head to the beach for rays, grab a smoothie or gelato to keep you cool. The beach is perfect for swimming (low jellies), which is why you’ll find many families splashing around the water.
- Grab a pre-dinner cocktail at the Sofitel Bar. Mingle with other out of towners decked out in resort wear.
- Have dinner at Locale – a contemporary rest with black decor and Italian food to die for (we flock to Italian… warning: doesn’t help the beach diet).
- Get up early for a walk or run along the Coastal Walk to Alexandria Bay. It’s hilly and scenic so be prepared to stop along the way. It’s a 1-2 hour adventure with amazing views of bays full of surfers and incredible views. Tea Tree Bay is known for its special healing powers with all of the surrounding eucalyptus trees. Hell’s Gate is one incredible view and Alexandria Bay is yours to sun in along with other nudies.
- Grab brunch at Café le Monde. Try their Juno kombucha. Order the avocado toast and the healthy but hearty kale chicken salad. This spot was my FAVE.
- Walk the strip and shop the shops! I fell in love with Seed, Kookai, Witchery and anywhere that carried Seafolly swimming suits, a popular Aussie brand. Pick up a new bikini as a souvey!
- Grab dinner and drinks at El Capitano – an awesome spot for organic pizza and yummy wine.
- Nightcap at Miss Moneypenny’s – because you’re on vacay, mate!
Extra day recs:
- Book and excursion or rent a car to visit Frasier Island – the world’s largest sand island. Hike to Indian Head Lookout for a view of sharks, stingrays and turtles. Lookout for dingos roaming the island. Check out the incredible Lake Mackenzie. We tried to cram this in but just couldn’t do it without an extra day.
Two Days in Byron Bay
Byron Bay is where hippie paradise meets hipster paradise. It’s just the definition of cool. It’s home to the most easterly point of Australia and many surfers. It’s eclectic and fun. A must visit.
- Drive south from Noosa and head to Byron Bay. Watch out for Kangaroos! If you’re feeling adventurous, tack on an extra couple of hours to visit the interesting town of Nimbin. Grab a cappuccino and vegan scone at the Rainbow Café. Pay a visit to the alchemist for some “ParTea Potion”, an herbal elixir guaranteed to make you dance. Don’t be shocked if a not so inviting looking woman asks you if you’d like to buy a cookie on the side of the road for $10. They’re special, and well, you’re on vacation. Just start with half ;).
- Make your way into beautiful Byron Bay. Stay at Aabi’s in Byron – a small resort meets Airbnb with gracious hosts and a beautiful property walking distance to everything.
- Walk down Jonson street to explore the quirky town. Grab a ginger margarita and chips and guac at Miss Margarita. Pop into Sportsgirl or Cotton On for some beach attire or circular towel (#trending).
- Head to the beach where you have many options for swimming, surfing or laying out. You may join the other topless babes here.
- Grab dinner at St Elmo Dining Room & Bar for tapas – it will be the perfect meal before your early morning hike and beach day tomorrow.
Wake up uber early and start walking towards the Byron Bay Lighthouse to catch the sunrise. Be prepared for a 45-1hr walk with hills, worth the morning exercise. Cuddle your loved one at the James Cook lookout to avoid the crowd and then be sure to snap photos at the most easterly point of Australia.
- Grab brekky along the water at Fish heads Byron Bay for relaxed dining, views of the water and people watching.
- Take a little snooze on the beach and work more on your tan. You’ll want the rest for some dancing tonight.
- Put your name down for bubbly, oysters and dinner at Balcony. It’s a lively spot in town with views of all the action.
- Head to The Great Northern to join locals for drinks and a little easy dancing. The DJ here on Friday likes to play disco. Don’t forget your “par-tea” elixir.
- Head to Sticky Wicket to hear local DJs play and get your dancing on.
Extra day recs:
- Learn how to surf at Mojo Surfcamp! This team of awesome surfers will get you standing up and skulling beer late night – true Aussie style. Don’t forget your rashy and your party pants (and tea).
Extended 4-Day Weekend in Melbourne
We loved that we started in the city and ended in the city with this trip. Melbourne is super cool – in more ways than one. We fell in love with the laneways and cafes, but definitely wish we would have packed better for the weather. A bit of a prep for cold weather at home.
- Drive to Ballina where you’ll return your rental car and fly to Melbourne. Arrive to your Airbnb in the CBD. Grab coffee at Kinfolk. I opted throughout the trip for cappuccinos and long blacks. Grab a light bite from here – they have such yummy food!
- Start walking along Southbank where you’ll find restaurants and bars galore. The scene is incredibly vibrant along the Yarra River. Have fun hopping around from spot to spot here.
- Grab drinks at the Arbory – cool music, packed with locals and a great cocktail list. Their espresso martini is amazing.
- Eat dinner at one of the many restaurants. We chose Breslin Bar & Grill for its outdoor seating and meat on the menu (Trevor was craving a burger!) but there are options to suit all of your flavors.
- Check out views of the city in the evening at Eureka Sky Deck. Don’t do “The Edge” – it’s an extra cost and a pretty big tourist trap.
- Put your name down for brunch at The Hardware Societé, an incredible French hot spot. Sit at the counter to awe over every dish being created by the chefs.
- Walk off brunch down Collins ave, enjoying the mix of Victorian buildings within the city. Stroll through Hosier Lane for some cool street art.
- SHOP til you DROP! There are a ton of hidden malls all in a row. Just walk down Bourke St and drop into the many MASSIVE shopping centers. At first we wondered where all the people were in the CBD on Sunday… they were here: Galleria Shopping Plaza, Bourke Street Mall, The Strand Melbourne, Melbourne’s GPO, Emporium Melbourne, Roay Arcade and Melbourne Central. Dear LORD right?! I was overwhelmed and in heaven (and wishing my poor husband didn’t have to sit while I shopped). I fell in love with Cos, Bardot, C/MEO Collective, Super Glue Store, Camila and Marc, Tony Bianco, Sheiko, Tallulah… and was told Brunswick street is great for boutiques (though I didn’t have enough time!!!).
- Grab lunch at one of the many cafes on Degraves Street – so reminded me of Paris!
- Rent another car for a day excursion along the Great Ocean Road – only 3 hours away. Grab snacks at a local mart (we loved The Pantry) for your long journey. Note: you want the entire day to do this. Get up as early as possible so you can get on the road ASAP! We stopped at nearly every viewpoint and by the time we got home, it was nearly midnight.
- Stop off for lunch in Apollo Bay – lots of cute beachside cafes and rests for you to grab a sammy or fish and chips!
- Visit Split Point @ Aireys, Cape Otway for a lighthouse tour, koalas and kangaroos, Gibson Steps and the famous 12 Apostles. A great turnaround point is Port Campbell and you can cut up directly to Melbourne on the M1.
- Call it an early night, you have your final and very early morning excursion tomorrow!
- Book a hot air balloon adventure during sunrise through Global Ballooning Company. It was seriously the most amazing experience we’ve had.
- Wine taste in the Yarra Valley. You can book through a wine tour company or find a private driver (recommended). We visited Bawlgownie, Yering Estate, Yarrow and Chandon – awesome way to end with bubbles and a beautiful property to enjoy with your travel mate :).
- Head back to the city for dinner at Meatball & Wine Bar. To die for! Cool vibes, hip beats, and incredible food. Order some Italian wine, burrata to share and go to town on a make your own meatball bowl. Perfect for post wine tour goodness. I’m literally still dreaming of this place. Old you we always default on Italian!
Extra day recs:
- Penguin parade at Frasier island – this has been said to be one of the wildest experiences. We tried to do it on our trip to the Great Ocean Road but just didn’t have enough time!
- Shop!!! I could have spent days exploring all of the hidden gems.
One Day of Travel Home
Fly out of MEL back to LAX or SFO. Expect a shorter flight than the way there, around 13 hours. Pack it with more movies, more wine, and eating the unhealthy meals your airline gives you. After all, diet starts the day after vacation, right?
Hope you found this post enjoyable and helpful in planning your first Australian adventure! There’s a whole lot more where that came from, so please comment or email me with any questions!
// cb ✌🏻