Australia - Planning and Preparing for Your Trip

Good preparation increases the chances of having a trouble-free and enjoyable trip

Planning and Preparing for your trip to

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This page covers the following topics:

Visas are required of foreigners to enter Australia. In most cases, travel agents, airlines, or other third party agencies can do this on behalf of the end consumers thereby making this process almost invisible to them. There are three main Visa types to apply for as well as other special ones for specific functions. The three main ones listed below are:
  • ETA (Visitor) (subclass 976): This is an electronic visa for passport-holding tourists wishing to stay for up to three months.
  • Tourist Visa (subclass 676): This is for longer-term visits of 3-6 months with up to 12 months granted depending on what the circumstances are.
  • Sponsored Family Visitor Visa (subclass 679): If you've got family in the country, you can get them to sponsor your trip into the country.
For more details of the whole Visa process (there's certainly much more to this than I'm stating here), visit the Australian Government's website for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

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There are no mandatory vaccination requirements, but you may be required to undergo a medical examination depending on how your Visa application is assessed. The country is quite clean and free of disease (relative to the rest of the world) so you won't need to vaccinate yourself to protect against diseases prior to arrival. However, the authorities are more concerned about you bringing diseases into the country, which is why they have a process for health screenings especially if you come from a country with a perceived "high risk."

In addition to diseases, they are also concerned about what might be carried into the country via your belongings. So there are strict customs searches randomly conducted to try to keep you from bringing in agricultural threats, invasive species, narcotics, etc.

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Be prepared for the Australia's varied terrainIn order to ensure a relatively safe and hassle-free trip (especially considering Australia's tremendously diverse climate regions and emphasis on outdoor activities), here are a few things you might want to consider packing for your trip in addition to your basic toiletries and clothes.

  • Passport - everyone needs this so this is a no-brainer.
  • Comfortable Shoes - much of the country's activities revolve around participating in the great outdoors. This means you'll be doing lots of walking and tramping (hiking). At the very minimum, comfortable walking shoes are a must, but hiking boots are probably better especially if you're going into the bush. They can also be additional layers of protection against the off chance of getting bit on the foot by some of the most toxic organisms in the world.
  • Hat - don't take for granted the dangers of UV radiation. You will bake down here whether you're in the desert outback regions, tropical north, or even the windswept south. A hat will at least keep your scalp from getting severely burned (especially since the country isn't all that far from the ozone hole in Antarctica). If you're wearing a broad-rimmed hiking hat, it could also help protect your neck, ears, and face.
  • Sunscreen - again, given the sun's harmful UV rays, it's a good idea to protect other exposed parts of your skin from sunburn.
  • Sunglasses - prevents cataracts or other harmful effects of prolonged exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays on your eyes
  • Bug Repellant - this can be controversial because the chemicals contained in these things can be harmful to the environment. However, getting eaten alive by mosquitos is not desirable either (especially if there's always that potential of getting some mosquito-born disease, which is certainly probable in the tropical north). In any case, the most effective repellants contain DEET, but they're smelly and toxic if used excessively. The better way to go environmentally, though not necessarily a comfortable one, is to cover your skin with long sleeves and pants.
  • Layered Clothing - this means wearing multiple layers of jackets, sweats, or shirts and taking them off/on depending on the conditions. This is very important to be able to adapt to the variable weather and climate in the country. It can easily go from freezing cold to scorching hot and back in a day. This will at least protect you from exposure to hypothermia or even heat stroke.
  • Rain Coat - this will keep you and your equipment dry for the most part (with a rain poncho covering the pack in addition to the body). Sudden downpours can occur in Australia and this will at least keep you sane under such conditions (not to mention limit your exposure to hypothermia).
  • First-Aid Kit - this often-overlooked necessity allows you to disinfect and close wounds or tape up a sprained ankle. You never know when Murphy's Law strikes and having this kit will at least put you in a situation to deal with the consequences rather than letting circumstances degenerate into something more life-threatening than it has to be.

Hiking sticks can help you stay dry in stream crossings like thisSome other things worth bringing to enhance your experience include...

  • Hiking Sticks/Trekking Poles - this is useful for longer and more involved tramping excursions (especially multi-day or very long day hikes). They provide you at 1 or 2 extra "legs" to maintain your balance on stream crossings or alleviate shock to your knees if you're carrying a pack
  • Lots of Memory or Film or Portable Hard Drive - the first and third items are for digital photographers. In any case, you'll be taking heaps of photos and you'll want to make sure you can bring all your photos home

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A leech that managed to draw some of my blood during a muddy Tasmanian hikeEven though Australia is a relatively safe and friendly country, don't be naive about crime. It does occur so do not draw unnecessary attention to how much money you have. A money pouch is good for this purpose as are TSA locks if you have to leave stuff in your accommodation while out during the day.

Perhaps a greater nuissance is theft and break-ins, especially at trailheads or car parks out in nature. To counteract this, pay attention to your surroundings where you're parking your car and leave nothing valuable in the car as you're out and about away from it.

Finally, nature is inherently dangerous and unforgiving, and since Australia is best enjoyed in the outdoors, you need to be cognizant of these dangers. Below is a list of things you need to be aware of to stay safe in the outdoors...

  • Getting lost - always stay on the tracks and heed the signs. Bring a topo map as well as a compass with you if you're on a more involved hike where it's easier to lose the track.
  • Hypothermia - given the amount of high elevation adventures or desert extremes, the danger is very real. Always pay attention to the weather reports before undertaking any tramp that exposes you to the elements. Bring a rain coat to avoid getting wet and losing heat that way.
  • Streams and Rivers - while many popular walks have bridges, other more difficult walks involve crossing unbridged streams and rivers. Use your hiking stick to gauge depth and do not cross if it has been flash flooded or you can't see the bottom. Generally waters thigh-deep or higher are very dangerous for crossing.
  • Poisonous Wildlife - Australia is home to some of the most poisonous organisms on earth. This includes snakes (e.g. death adder and taipan), spiders (e.g. funnel web spiders), marine life (e.g. box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, stonefish, etc.), predators (e.g. great white sharks and estuarine crocodiles), invasive species (e.g. the cane toad), etc. You need not be paranoid of being in the same habitat as some of these creatures if you respect them and keep to the tracks (or designated diving spots if you're in a tour group) with proper equipment. However, cane toads are considered pests and it's encouraged you report them. If you try to kill them on your own, be careful of their toxic secretions squirting into an orifice (like your eyes).
  • Harassment of Wildlife - while organisms like kangaroos, dingos, tasmanian devils, etc. seem docile, they won't be if you feed them or harass them. Believe it or not, they can kill. Basically, leave them be if you see them in the wild and you should be fine.
  • Roadkill - this is actually a more common problem than you think and it has the potentially of getting you into a fatal car crash! I've personally hit a kangaroo and almost hit an emu so I can certainly appreciate the danger Australian wildlife presents on the road. The best way to minimize your chances of an accident is to not drive between dawn and dusk (though some 'roos, emus, etc. can still cross roads even in broad daylight). Also, just slow down even though some Outback roads have no speed limits. Finally, aim high in case you see large roadkill laying in the middle of the road probably killed by truckers doing their routes at night.
  • Road Fatigue - given the vast distances you have to drive to get around Australia, you'll need to be wary of this. To prevent falling asleep behind the wheel or losing your focus, try to switch drivers periodically or at least utilize some of the roadhouses to recharge.

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The Australian Dollar is the currency of Australia. It tends to be a little bit stronger than the New Zealand Dollar (by a few cents) but weaker than the US Dollar. As of November 2006, the exchange rate was around 1.3 AUD for every American Dollar. However, given our continued irresponsible monetary policy, the exchange rate is now about 1.08 AUD for every American Dollar as of November 2007. This is highly variable so check these rates on websites such as

It's pretty straight forward to change money. Some local banks at home (Los Angeles) can do this. You can also do it at the airport and even domestic banks in Australia. You generally get the best exchange rates when charging by credit card, but foreign transaction fees can offset saving there. Some businesses, however, only take cash or credit cards with pins.

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Giving yourself plenty of time increases your chances of experiencing special moments like thisHow much time should you spend in Australia?

The smart-ass answer is probably as long as possible, but seriously if you really want to see the country, you've got to focus on a particular part of the country then give it at least three weeks. Trying to see the whole country within a month is not even reasonable (unless you want to spend all your time in an airplane and in the car). Even more laughable is trying to see the country in two weeks, which is what most Americans try to do as that's usually all the vacation time most of us get.

To give you an idea of how we've managed to slice and dice Australia in multiple trips, we managed (or planned) to do the following...

We managed to mix up flying with driving, which obviously isn't the most economical way to do things, but it does maximize our time spent there. You'll have to assess your own situation when making the trade between time and money.

When budgeting your time in the country, keep in mind that if you're flying across the Pacific Ocean, you will cross the International Date Line and lose a day. However, you will go back in time when returning home (back across the Pacific).

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