Australia - what does it cost to travel?

It's a misconception that it's expensive to travel in Australia. It's something we often here but it isn't borne out by the evidence from trips we've put together. In this edition, we look at the cost of a range of tours across the continent and beyond, asking the question, what does it REALLY cost to travel? 

  • It's more expensive to travel to destinations with higher populations and more demand than supply. Places like Namibia, Uganda, Ecuador, Galapagos, Northern India etc. 
  • Australia generally has reasonably low-priced accommodation options everywhere. 
  • Most packaged tours you see online are priced with a wide array of exclusions.
  • The majority of travellers are looking for 'tailored' tour value at 'packaged tour' prices (which is sometimes, but not always, possible).  

Published by Simon Mustoe

If you’re familiar with our previous articles you’ll know how travel is priced and that the margins made by suppliers are slim. There is also a limit to the number of places to stay and things to do in any area and a theoretical ceiling on the cost of guides, transport and so on. So it is hardly surprising to find that once you categorise travel, the variation in price per day isn’t that great. Knowing this, however, will help you budget your next trip. 

Inclusions and Exclusions

The first thing you should check when booking any trip are the inclusions and exclusions. The only real justification for excluding something from a price, is to provide what the customer wants. So for example,a self-drive holiday would include car hire but no guide. A B&B holiday allows the traveller to source their own lunch and evening meals … and so forth. 

These days, with so many online booking systems vying for the cheapest possible deals, it’s common to find exclusions hidden. 

We prefer to be upfront about our costs and inclusions, to make your decision on cost as transparent as possible. In fact, we commonly tell our guests what to expect in terms of a daily food budget. We did this recently for families on Heron Island. We estimated a $ per day budget for them and they came in a bit below that. 

Doing this means trips can appear higher priced than ‘deals’ online but what it ends up costing may not be that different once everything is included.That’s not to say you can’t find something 'cheaper' but as we’ve discussed previously, you are also paying for value, so it’s a matter of us knowing what you want - and tailoring tours to suit. 

What is a tailored tour?

With the enormous variety of choice available online, everyone wants to book their own holiday. We very often do itineraries where the guest books their own flights or hire car. It's their prerogative. However, people are also looking for 'non touristy' options that aren't like the 'packaged tours'.  

As experts we find it difficult enough to put these together. It can take months, even years, of experience to develop these options. 

Reliable tours tend to be tourist-known. Less reliable 'experiences' can be had but may need to be tailored e.g. with an accompanying guide (to provide the reliability). There are plenty of hidden gems we and our local guides know about but you won't find them on the internet.  

We think it's wonderful that travellers are seeking out alternatives but even we seek expert advice when putting these trips together. If you're looking for affordable, high value experiences, we all have to seek advice. The price of this advice? It may surprise you to discover it's not necessarily less affordable than the DIY option. 

Variable pricing of tailored tours 

We’ve reviewed over 40 of the Australian tour products we’ve priced recently and placed them in categories as follows:

  • Self-drive
  • Small group touring
  • Mixture of above
  • Fully escorted 
  • Luxury
  • Liveaboard vessel

These trips are activity-rich, with options every day but range in cost, depending on whether you’re driving yourself (self-drive), fully escorted (with guide and drive), a mixture of both, or the standard of accommodation. These are all based on only TWO people travelling. For the guided options, price can drop by as much as 10-20% when you increase from two to four travellers, as you are sharing vehicles, guides, accommodation etc. Similarly, family prices per person decrease because there are children's rates on many activities. 

PRICE per person per day (most of the self-drive and small group touring options apply mid-range accommodation)

AVERAGE (range)             TYPE OF TOUR

280     (205 - 340)           Self-drive

440     (322 - 537)           Small group touring

404     (394 - 425)           Mixture of above

710     (460 - 890)           Fully escorted 

880     (830 - 930)           Luxury

680     (600 - 740)           Liveaboard vessel

We’ve just completed an 8-day itinerary for Far North Queensland. These stay in beautiful accommodation and include a Daintree boat tour, guided walks in the World Heritage Area, a Aboriginal cultural experience or Great Barrier Reef visit and Skyrail pass. We’re not scrimping at all on activities. 

We have initially priced this in three categories. The self-drive option is B&B, where you have a hire car. The activities are included and you stay in places with experts that can point you to destinations to visit casually each day. The fully-escorted version is private guided with a vehicle and all expenses paid. The semi-guided version allows you to dip your toe in and join a guide for a couple of days to get that initial immersion, before heading off on your own.  


7 nights, 8 days ex Cairns

  • $2,300      Self-drive (2 pax)
  • $2,170      Self-drive (4 pax)
  • $3,390      Semi-guided (2 pax)
  • $2,740      Semi-guided (4 pax)
  • $6,200      Fully-escorted (2 pax)
  • $4,910      Fully-escorted (4 pax)

This equates to a daily budget of:

  • $310 - 329  Self-drive
  • $701 - 886  Fully-escorted
  • $391 - 484  Semi-guided

This trip is mid-range accommodation designed mostly for travelling adults looking for comfort and premium places to stay. If we factored in cabin accommodation for families, the cost per person would be significantly reduced.

If, for example, we receive an enquiry from you and you are a family, there are other accommodation options at a lower price and we can always tailor the options to suit a budget if you give us the time to work with you. Alternatively, if you want the height of luxury, we can do that too!

We find increasingly is the price point of Australia isn’t that different to overseas. Certainly many of the major attractions are now priced quite similarly.

For instance, a moderately priced 12 day group tour of Africa may be $6,500 for ground costs alone. Our Tonga Whale Swims are $4,100 for 8 days all inclusive ($512 per day) and our Raja Ampat trip (Indonesia) is about $640 a day for a liveaboard. These are all about the same cost as equivalent Australian trips.  

So while we hear people say Australia is expensive, the figures don’t support this.

When compared to overseas, Australia represents great value for money. However, bear in mind if you’re looking for a 'tailored' tour (the sort of assistance we offer), where the experience value is high, it's not so much the money as the time we need to work with you, to get the budget and experience to balance.

Give us a chance and we'll show you how you can maximise the experience and create an affordable trip with great value for money.     

Read more:

Wildiaries • September 2016