How to travel like a boss but spend like a backpacker

Let’s be honest – if you’re anything like me, your dreams are bigger than your budget. You fantasise about travelling to the most amazing destinations, doing everything imaginable and eating (not even going to mention drinking) until you’re close to bursting.

Sometimes you even manage to do all of that before looking at your credit card balance and wondering if you can actually sell non-vital organs on the black market.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Take it from someone who has learned the hard way one too many times (I once spent $400 on dinner but then spent the following days living off the free breakfast in my hostel), you can do cheap travel (no, seriously, you can).

And better still, it doesn’t mean you have to travel dull, as Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson once proclaimed – the best things in life are free (or close to it). Let these tips be your guide.

Tip 1: Camping is your best friend

Camping | How to travel like a boss on a backpacker budgetI get it, we all wish we could stay in the hotels we see in magazines or on Insty but for many, travel is all about the destination, which is where camping comes into play.

Imagine setting up camp on a coral cay in the Great Barrier Reef or under the Milky Way with no light pollution in Outback Queensland. Ironically, camping opens the door to many experiences that won’t break the bank.

North Stradbroke Island is the perfect example of why camping is king. Known as Minjerribah to the traditional owners (the Quandamooka People) North Straddie is perfect for wildlife spotting (it’s a hot-spot during whale season), surfing the sand dunes and taking in unbelievable scenery everywhere you look.

And how can you do it? Like this:

  • Travel to and from the island on the vehicle ferry for $10 return and then catch a bus to your campground for another $10 return.
  • A camp site at Adder Rock campground fits six people and will only set you back $32 per night in the off-season (the season for budget travellers, amiright?)

In total, you can enjoy a culturally-rich three-night camping trip on this legendary sand island for only $66. Thanks, camping!

Tip 2: It’s all about location, location, location

Lady Musgrave Island | How to travel like a boss on a backpacker budgetPicture this; you wake up, enjoy a cuppa looking out over the ocean (which, mind you, is only metres from your tent), stretch your legs and walk straight off the beach into the Great Barrier Reef.

Here you spend hours snorkelling and exploring the island’s protected lagoon, akin to the world’s largest swimming pool, looking out for green and loggerhead turtles, leopard and white tip reef sharks and clown fish.

This isn’t a dream, this is Lady Musgrave Island located off the coast of Gladstone in the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

This fair lady is the perfect example of why location is everything when planning a cheap holiday (paired with our new best friend, camping, of course). When your days are spent snorkelling with hundreds of marine species and your nights watching green turtles nesting (during November to March), you don’t need much else.

Getting to Lady Musgrave Island will take up most of your budget at $440 return (please don’t choke on your Weet-Bix when reading this!). BUT, camping is only $5.95 per night and you can stay a maximum of 21 nights.

For a seven-night stay on a coral atoll in the Great Barrier Reef where you spend your days admiring a myriad of marine life, you’ll only pay $481.65. Plus, all food is BYO, so load up on snags, bread and onions and you’ll be set.

Tip 3: Go a little Gilligan

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday IslandWorking to supplement your spendthrift tendencies is far from a new concept but if you’re going to work while on holidays, an island is a pretty great place to earn some coin.

Every two weeks, Palm Bay Resort on Long Island, the closest of The Whitsundays’ 74 islands to the mainland, welcomes a group of up to eight volunteers from all corners of the globe to work for around four hours per day in return for free accommodation and use of the resorts facilities.

Just in case you missed that, I’ll repeat – Free. Accommodation. In. The. Whitsundays. This is not a drill. After you’ve worked your shift, iconic locations including Whitehaven Beach and fringe-reef dive spots are just a short sail away. If all of that’s too much, a good book under a palm tree will suffice.

Tip 4: Sign up for volunteer programs (sorry they aren’t all on islands)

Staying on the voluntourism train, there are a range of volunteer projects you can take part in that offer free perks, including accommodation.

Better still, the projects offer diverse experiences in incredible locations such as Carnarvon Gorge and the Great Sandy National Park (campground hosting in return for free camping) or working with koalas, wombats and turtles through a range of rehabilitation programs (note: some programs require qualifications).

If you prefer life’s little luxuries, Gwinganna, a lifestyle retreat nestled in the lush Gold Coast Hinterland offers three to six-week packages where you can stay on-site and enjoy gourmet organic meals and access to their extensive facilities in return for 40 hours work a week. If you complete the full six-week program, the seventh week is yours to enjoy with no rostered shifts.

Tip 5: And a couple more for good luck

Glass House Mountains | How to travel like a boss on a backpacker budget

Travelling cheap is really about travelling smart. This list could nearly be endless but some of my simple tips include:

  1. Plan your holiday months in advance – you know it’s cheaper when you do this
  2. Keep an eye out for travel deals, especially flights
  3. Have a firm budget that you only stray from on the odd occasion. Sometimes you will have to make a sacrifice but think about the bigger picture
  4. Bring your own water bottle – Queensland’s water is safe to drink (unless signed otherwise) and it’s good for the environment. A metal water bottle is best as it’ll keep your fluids cool during the hottest summer days
  5. Be au naturel, and by that I mean check out as many iconic beaches, walking tracks and mountain hikes you can (please keep your clothes on). A picnic on top of a mountain overlooking the region is a perfectly cheap way to rest up before your descent
  6. Set big goals but look for cheaper alternatives. We all want to sail The Whitsundays on a luxury yacht but did you know you can kayak the same path on a seven-day tour for a fraction of the price?
  7. Book accommodation that has a kitchen and fridge and visit the local supermarkets like Woolworths (pronounced wool-eees), Coles, IGA or independent chains to purchase the bulk of your food
  8. Attend free events. There are plenty of events you can check out without opening the wallet including Regional Flavours in Brisbane, Quiksilver Pro on the Gold Coast and the Noosa Longboard Festival

Keep these tips in mind when planning your next adventure and you’re sure to save a couple of dollars to put towards a future Queensland holiday.

After all, isn’t more travel the reason why we’re trying to save money in the first place?