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What to Pack for Australia: Exploring the Land Down Under

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When you step off the plane in Australia, there’s nowhere else you could be. Even if you blindfolded me and stuck me on a flight without telling me my destination, as soon as I drank in my first breaths of Australian air I’d know exactly where I was (although I’d probably have an inkling once I’d been on the plane for the best part of 24 hours). The allure is in the combination of a scent in the air that you can’t quite put your finger on, like when you first detect a whiff of spring, and the sounds that greet you, as Australian birds make sounds that, to the ear of any non-Aussie, are indescribably exotic.

Packing for New Zealand and packing for Australia are not as alike as you’d think. Being an island the size of a continent and the 6th largest country in the world (Europe would fit inside it, if that helps you to fathom its magnitude), it should come as no surprise that the climates and landscapes will vary hugely. From ski slopes and Uluru (Ayers Rock), to paradise beaches, tropical rainforests and humming metropolises, Australia has it all.

This means that you’re going to need to pack according to the climate zones you’ll be encountering on your trip, with a nod to the time of year you’ll be traveling. What you pack it all in matters too. Not all backpacks are created equal. You need to find the right one for your adventures.

Basic Australian Packing List

Let’s start with the basics. No matter where you’re going Down Under, these should be in your bag:

Electronics & Necessities

  • Passport & photocopies – keep one photocopy on you and one tucked away in your bag
  • Credit card & debit card – or two – with the spare kept separately
  • Insurance details & photocopies or digital files
  • Guidebook or app
  • Camera
  • Phone – preferably with SIM that can be used in Australia
  • Chargers & Power banks for all devices
  • Adaptor(s)
  • Headphones
  • Tablet/Kindle – or a good old paperback
  • UV Sunglasses

Clothes

The following is your basic clothing packing list for Australia. Tweak and add to it to tailor it to the specific regions you’re visiting.

  • 3-4 Tank tops or t-shirts
  • 1 Dressier shirt or blouse
  • 2 Over shirts- keep the sun off or add a layer
  • Hoodie or light sweater
  • 3 Pairs trousers – 1 dressier pair
  • 3 Shorts or skirts
  • 1 Dressier outfit
  • 1 Sundress
  • 4-5 Pairs of underwear
  • 5 Pairs of socks
  • Jacket – ideally waterproof and windproof
  • Hat
  • Swimwear
  • Travel towels- one for daily use and one for the beach

Shoes

Shoes take up a lot of room in your bag. Consider your particular trip carefully and choose shoes that can do double duty. Remember to wear the bulkiest pair on the plane and pack the lighter pairs in your bag.

  • Flip flops – or ‘thongs’ in the local lingo – no, I’m not kidding
  • 1 Pair flats for women, dressier shoes for men – consider boat shoes
  • Solid walking shoes (no need for hiking boots unless you’re doing a real trek)
  • Comfy, casual shoes (these might be able to do double duty as your walking shoes)

Toiletries

Everything you need in the toiletry department can be purchased in Australia. Unless you have an allergy or are brand specific pack only enough to get you through the first day or two.

  • Shampoo
  • Coconut oil – doubles as a conditioner, moisturizer, deodorant, aftersun, you name it, just make sure the lid is on tight
  • Cotton pads
  • Toothpaste & toothbrush
  • Floss
  • Soap
  • Mini first aid kit – antiseptic, plasters, pain killers etc.
  • Sunscreen – at all times!

Choosing a Backpack

This can get a little tricky. Unlike many countries, Australia has a whole suite of diverse activities on offer which may lead you into thinking that you might need to outline a massive long-term backpacking checklist and use a massive 60+ litre backpack or rucksack. What’s actually a necessity is quite the opposite. While a larger backpack can help in some instances it can also weigh you down.

You can easily travel with either the 35L or 45L Outbreaker travel backpack. Australia has tons of cheap flights with many destinations also within drivable distance of the cities. Most people use the cities as a base to exploring the whole continent. Which means the lighter & more compact your backpack is, the easier moving through the changing environment will be.

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty:

If you’re headed for Oz, you’ll probably be spending some time in one of its big urban centres and using it as your base for discovering Australia’s wild side. Depending on the activities you have in mind, how much time you’re actually planning to spend in the city, and the regions and climates you’re planning to visit, you’ll then need to tweak the contents of your backpack. Use the basic packing list above as your skeleton, then add in some the items suggested below depending on where you’re planning on ending up on your Australian adventure.

In the City

Australia’s cities are buzzing cultural centers with a huge amount to do and see, packed with restaurants, bars, and cafes. This means there’s also a chance to dress up. You can trot out your one dressy outfit here, but if you’re staying a few days in the city, consider throwing in:

  • An extra smart top/shirt
  • A second smart pair of trousers or jeans
  • A pair of comfortable but dressier shoes for men or heels for women (optional)

As many of Australia’s cities are beach cities, they’re fairly informal, but women could add in a pair of comfortable heels if they feel like dressing. If not, no worries, heels are highly optional. When I was given a ticket to the iconic Sydney Opera House while backpacking, I had to go in some roughed up jeans and Converse and sit next to people in opera gowns & pristine suits. No one batted an eyelid.

Most of Australia’s cities see fairly similar weather, warm all year round and hot in summer, although it can get a little colder in Sydney and Adelaide during the winter months, so if you’re visiting at that time of year throw in a scarf.

Then there’s Melbourne, which is a special case. Famous for its changeable weather, it’s “all four seasons in a day” territory. I can testify to that, having been on the beach in glorious sunshine only to experience the most dramatic thunderstorm of my life, when the temperature plummeted and I was left shivering. When packing your daypack for a day out in Melbourne, prepare for all eventualities. A travel umbrella is highly recommended!

In the Mountains

There are a few spots in Australia that mountain-lovers should make a beeline for. The Blue Mountains, so called for the blue haze produced by the eucalyptus trees, aren’t far from Sydney, and offer incredible scenery, like the Three Sisters rock formation. This is prime bushwalking country, so if you’re planning to pay it a visit make sure you’ve got:

  • A solid pair of hiking boots that you’ve broken in in advance
  • A pair of travel pants, the hiking kind

In the winter months, you’ll also need:

  • A warm, breathable jacket
  • Layers, for cold nights and hot days

Another breathtaking mountain range is the Grampians in the state of Victoria. People usually head here from either Melbourne or Adelaide, taking in the Great Ocean Road at the same time. The Grampians are famous for the multi-day hiking trails, one of the most famous leading you to The Fortress, a campsite in a cave with incredible views.

If an adventure like this is on the cards, pack a lightweight but warm sleeping bag, or make like an Aussie and buy yourself a ‘swag’ once you’ve touched down, a canvas with a thin mattress inside that you roll up and carry on your back, used by locals for centuries. Oh, and don’t go anywhere without a good map, as you don’t want to inadvertently end up ‘going walkabout’ in the bush.

Tip: There are a couple of skiing spots in New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania in the southern hemisphere winter, but if you do decide to hit the slopes it’s best to hire the gear there rather than packing cold-weather clothing around with you that you won’t use anywhere else.

On the Beach

All the hype about Australia’s beaches is true. The entire continent is ringed with idyllic stretches of sand, some attracting pro surfers and some attracting sun seekers who appreciate crystal clear water. If you’re after some tranquil beach time, the Whitsunday Islands are home to some of Australia’s best beaches.

If you’ll be spending most of your time on the beach:

  • Exchange your smarter shoes for a nice pair of sandals or “thongs” as they call them
  • Women – an extra sundress
  • A bikini for women & a pair of boardshorts for the men or even ‘budgie smugglers’ (Australian talk for speedos!)
  • Sarong*

*Tip: Utilizing a sarong can be a space saving travel hack. A sarong can double up a multitude of things for both men and women and can be used as a towel, sunshade or even a picnic blanket.

Guys don’t really need extra board shorts as these are usually quick dry and dry almost instantly after your swim. When it comes to toiletries, you will need to bring extra sunscreen if you’re planning on sun-worshipping. However, the Great Barrier Reef, which you can access from the Whitsundays, is an extremely fragile environment and doesn’t need any extra pollution, so invest in some natural sun screen which won’t do any damage to marine life.

In the Jungle

…the mighty jungle (sing with me!) Or rainforest, technically. And, thankfully, there are no lions in Australia. Instead it’s the crocodiles you want to worry about. Australia’s stunning rainforest can be found in the top right-hand corner, in the state of Queensland, north of the city of Cairns, which you can fly into. The Daintree is an incredibly rich ecosystem and is where the rainforest meets the ocean, with white sand beaches fringed by thick jungle.

If you’re headed for this tropical paradise, you’ll need to prepare for what paradise brings with it. Namely, the bugs. Remember that this is called the rainforest for a reason, that reason being that it rains a fair bit and can be extremely hot and humid. Bear in mind that the wet season is in February, March and April, so you’ll be able to enjoy the verdant landscape at its best, but will have to contend with more rain than at other times of year.

No matter what time of year you visit, you’ll need:

  • Mosquito repellent
  • Lightweight rain jacket or plastic poncho
  • Light, long trousers & long sleeved shirts

An adventure through the jungle on horseback, complete with a ride on the beach and a stop at a swimming hole, is extremely popular here, in which case you will need:

  • Jeans
  • A pair of shoes with a low heel, running shoes that lace up tight are a good choice

In the Middle of Nowhere

There are parts of Australia where you can drive for days without seeing a soul. The red centre is an otherworldly place to visit, with mining towns such as Coober Pedy, where you can stay in an underground hostel, and the unmistakable monolith of Uluru.

A trip into the red centre is a trip into the desert, and the sun beats down hard so you’ll want to come prepared.

You’ll definitely need:

  • A wide-brimmed hat – with corks hanging off it if you really want to get into the spirit of things
  • Long, lightweight trousers
  • Long sleeved shirts
  • Warm layers for the evenings – the temperature drops dramatically at night, especially in winter

Hot & Cold: Two Last Tips

Australia can be a land of extremes. In winter, it’s possible to snow ski, and yet the northern fringe of the country is solidly tropical and home to the Great Barrier Reef. Take that into consideration when you’re planning your trip.

Australia Colder Than You Think

No offence at all intended to the Australians here, whom I love dearly, but many of them seem to be in denial that they experience such a thing as winter. My aunt and uncle live just outside Sydney, and when we visited during the Australian winter there was frost on the ground in the mornings, but did they have central heating? Of course not. They didn’t seem to think the cold snaps they had in winter warranted investing in a heating system when the rest of the year was so scorching.

The moral of the story? If you’re visiting in winter and visiting any of the southern states (New South Wales, Victoria, or South Australia) be sure to pack:

  • Warm clothes for the evenings
  • A pair of fluffy bed socks to keep your toes warm

Beware the Australian Sun

Australia is one of the places on earth where the sun is strongest. I discovered this in the first week of my extended solo trip to Australia, when I went swimming in one of Sydney’s beaches salt water pools on a cloudy day and then lay out on my towel for a while. Despite applying sunscreen I ended up with some fierce burns, making a long bus ride down to Melbourne that night extremely uncomfortable.

The moral of the story? Stay out of the sun when you can and cover up when you can’t.

Don’t Go Anywhere Without:

  • A decent hat
  • Plenty of sun screen (preferably SPF 30+)
  • A pair of sunglasses, or ‘sunnies’ to the Aussies

TL;DR

You’ll find all climates in Australia – you’ll need the same basics, but pack according to your destinations and the season you’re traveling in.

  • Australia’s cities are fairly casual
  • Prepare for all weathers in Melbourne
  • A pair of trusty hiking boots will serve you well
  • Beach bum? Bring an extra bikini or budgie smuggler
  • In the jungle, don’t forget mosquito repellent and a rain jacket
  • The desert gets chilly at night in the red centre all year round, and in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia during the winter (May to July)
  • Respect the sun- hat, sun screen, sunglasses at all times

Have you spent time in Australia? What are the must have items on your Australia packing list?

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