Tips for traveling in the Land Down Under.

Planning a trip to Australia?  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1.       If you are planning to bring any electronic gadgets (lap top, iPad, iPod, etc) that has a transformer (that’s the big thing on the end that always takes up too much room) the only thing you will need is a plug converter.  Double check the VERY fine print on your device, but it should say something about an input of 100v-240v 50/60Hz.  This means it WILL work with the 220 volt system found in Australia (and many other parts of the world) WITHOUT an additional transformer.  However, like I said, you WILL need the plug adapter.  If, however, you are bringing a gadget that does not have a transformer on it (like a radio or hair drier or anything that DOES NOT have that big honkin thing on the plug) you will need BOTH a transformer (big bucks) and a plug adapter (little bucks).  By-the-way, if for whatever reason you cannot find or do not have time to find an adapter prior to departure, they are a VERY common item in grocery stores here as well as the air port and many other places, they cost around $20.  No worries.

2.       If you are traveling around April/May, keep in mind that Easter is a national holiday.  This includes Good Friday thru Monday.  All government and bank offices will be closed.  Trains and buses are still running, but on modified timetables.  The New South Wales public transportation service has a fantastic web site where you can find everything you need for train, bus and ferry transport.  You can even plan your trip.

3.       There is another national holiday, ANZAC Day, on April 25th

Similar to US’s Memorial Day or Veterans Day.   This is an honored holiday, not just an excuse for a shopping day.  There will be parades, church services and a city wide moment of silence.  Once again, the people of Australia and New Zealand take this day VERY seriously.

4.       The subway trips are expensive if purchased individually, so be sure to purchase a pass (in the subway stations) for the time you’ll be here.  There are several levels of access available; from train only, to all public transport.  In addition, passes are available in weekly intervals.  If in doubt, get a one week unlimited pass.  If you are here for longer, you can always purchase a modified pass for the remainder of the time that you are here.   Of course, if you are only here for a week or less, you’ll have to decide where you plan to go and how you plan to get there.  The transportation web site will help you plan.

5.       Bring good walking shoes.  You’ll do a lot of walking in Sydney.

6.       You can avoid jet lag if you really do sleep on the plane out of LA.  You land in Sydney in the morning around 9 a.m., and should plan to try to stay up that whole day.  If you do, you can get ‘on cycle’ really fast.

7.       If you have the option, and can book at least 2 weeks out, aim to use Qantas Airlines for the US/Sydney flight.  It’s 13 hours out of LA, and Qantas has seats with good leg room, plenty of very professional and friendly crew, plenty of oxygen in the cabin, and they feed you a decent meal twice without additional cost.

8.   If you do take Qantas, be sure to pay the $20 to reserve a specific seat if that matters to you.  This is a big deal, especially if you are traveling with someone.  Failing to do this could result in you being seated separately, then again, that may be a good thing.

9.   Travelling to Australia, you will need an electronic visa.  This is a very simple, but very important process.  It can be done on the Qantas web site or thru the Australian Government Electronic Travel Authority System

10.   Be sure to verify that your cell phone has GSM network capabilities or it won’t work here.  Then, if it does, you may still need to purchase a ‘global service plan’ from your carrier.  Or you can purchase a “throw phone” from a kiosk in the Sydney airport; 150 minutes for $30.  Use Skype to phone home, use the throw phones to keep in touch with other people you are traveling with, while in Australia.

11.   Sydney is the world’s third most expensive city.  The food is expensive, drinks are expensive, sights are expensive.  A six pack of beer from the bottle store (can’t buy alcohol in grocery stores) cost $20.  It’s just the way it is, even outside of Sydney.  If possible, use grocery stores and get items for breakfast and perhaps dinner in your room if you have kitchen facilities.  Also, before you leave, sign up for Groupon Australia, you can get some real savings vouchers there.  There’s loads of stuff to see and do in Sydney for little or no money:

Do your home work and plan.  You do NOT (for example) have to pay $250 to get a great view of Sydney Harbour by climbing the bridge.  You can walk across the bridge (20-30 minutes at a very leisurely pace) for free or pay only $11 to walk up one of the pylons (Sydney side, east pylon) and the view is just as magnificent.

12.  Australia is HUGE.  Do NOT think that you are going to come to Sydney and take a “day trip” to the Great Barrier Reef, Melbourne, or Ayers Rock.  Ain’t gonna happen.  Those places require DAYS of travel unless you fly.  Sydney and the surrounding areas (Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley, Bondi beach) have plenty to see.  If you were here for a month, you couldn’t see it all.  Take your time, take in the sights and just see Sydney, don’t try to see the whole country.  Imagine you were coming to the US for the first time (this is directed to my US readers, my apologies to my international followers) and you landed in New York.  Just focus on New York, don’t try to see Washington DC, Boston, Gettysburg, St. Louis, Chicago and LA!  It ain’t gonna happen.

13.   Money and credit cards.  DO NOT change a bunch of US currency into Aussie bucks.  It’s completely unnecessary and besides, the money changers in county are a total rip off charging high fees and offering poor exchange rates.  Bring your debit card and us the ATM’s.  Yes, you will pay a fee, so withdraw enough cash to make it worth while (no more than a few hundred MAX unless you have a specific reason for needing more), but you will get a much better exchange rate, and the fee is much lower.  As for credit cards.  They are pretty well accepted (including taxis) though some places require a minimum purchase (usually $20-$30), so be prepared for that.  Also, if you have not signed the back of your card, you will need identification with you.  A word of warning.  In Australia, if the back of the card is signed, the store will only compare the signature on the back of the card to the signature on the receipt.  So if your unsigned card is lost or stolen, the thief need only sign your name on the back of the card and he’s off to the races.  Given this, it may be better to go ahead and sign your card before leaving home.  One more thing.  When Aussies use their credit cards here (I’m talking credit, not debit) they are asked a series of questions.  First they are asked if they wish to charge the bill amount.  In essence, they are give the opportunity to either  pay the bill partially in cash, or at the other end of the spectrum, if they wish for cash back.  Next, they are asked if they wish to enter their PIN or sign their name.  If you know the PIN number to your credit card, by all means, use it.  This is a very fast and secure way to complete your transaction.  Otherwise you will need to sign the receipt.

The Aussies are wonderful people and they love visitors, provided the visitors respect their country the same as you would expect from a visitor to your country.  Like any big town, Sydney has it’s dark side, but it’s easy to avoid.  Be smart, there’s no need to be any more vigilant here that you would be back home, but that doesn’t mean doing something foolish.

Enjoy mates!

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