It’s been five years since my first real experience backpacking in Australia, and though many of the memories may have faded, one that certainly will never diminish in my mind is the food… and not for reasons you would expect. Of course, Australia abounds with the best BBQ food you can get your hands on, as well as, erm, ‘delicacies’ like crocodile jerky, kangaroo steak and the infamous witchetty grub that, that may look disgusting but are supposed to be delicious. Or at least edible. As a vegetarian, however, I didn’t get to tuck in to the wealth of meatiness available. And neither did I have the budget.
The latter is why I remember the food of Australia so vividly. It wasn’t the fact that I couldn’t eat anything due to my vegetarianism, it was the fact that I couldn’t eat anything, well, at all. (A slight exaggeration maybe, but what’s life without some dramatic elaboration?)
The reason is a standard travel error: we absolutely underestimated how much money travelling across Australia would take. The result? We had to make some severe cutbacks, and seeing as scrapping some of our tours and trips was out of the question (We’re not really going to go to Australia and NOT snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, sail in the Whitsundays or hike around Uluru), we had to decide how we were going to make our limited funds stretch much further than we anticipated.
“Easy,” we thought. “Food is a big cost, and one that we’re going to have to cut.” The idea was to make a plan of what we were going to consume every day… you know, cook in the hostel, have a meal out every now and again. The reality? Food in Australia is expensive. Even in supermarkets, it’s expensive. Due to our restricted budget, the facilities in our hostel weren’t always up to scratch either, so we had to formulate a plan to spend a collective budget of $4 a day on food without the use of an oven, microwave and sometimes a hob.
This took some reconsideration of our original restricted yet do-able original plan. We quickly realised that most hostels had ‘free’ bread… or, rather, bread that our more lucrative fellow backpackers couldn’t be bothered to take along with them to their next destination. Usually there was also some kind of spread to go with said bread… butter, maybe jam, maybe peanut butter if we were having a good day. Some hostels even had free tea and coffee – Lo and Behold! – something in which as English people we took advantage of to the fullest.
So, this was our diet for at least 5 weeks of the trip:
- Breakfast: ‘Free’ bread, stale or fresh, it didn’t matter, with free tea and coffee. A real party in my mouth.
- Snack: Half – yes, I repeat – HALF a cereal bar. 25 cents each.
- Lunch: Instant packet noodles with one Cup-a-Soup. Bought in packets of four, this came to a total of 50 cents each.
- Dinner: With the majority of our budget left over, we ‘splashed out’ on the cheapest pasta you could find, and a makeshift salad of lettuce and possibly paprikas – dependent on the supermarket. At a push, we also bought cheese. So, basically, a lame pasta salad costing around $3 each. Every. Night.
Looking back on this situation now, I literally cannot believe that we lived like this for the majority of our trip. We were STARVING on a daily basis, and unashamedly the first to queue up to the free lunches provided on several of our tours. Piling our plates high, we literally just couldn’t give a crap. All we cared about was the food in front of us, and getting as much as it as possible into our mouths.
Regardless of hunger pangs and non-dramatic weight loss, we survived, and we had such a great time everywhere we went. We were hungry throughout our trip, but we managed to get by, laughing through our stomach rumbles (sometimes), and reminiscing about our idiocy even today.
For me, this ability to make the best of a bad situation is the best thing about travel: even when life gives you lemons – or maybe not in our case – it’s still easy to laugh about it. If I was at home and ran out of money for food, I’d think it was the worst thing in the world, enviously eyeing up the rows of food in the supermarket and cursing my luck as I tucked into another sub-standard pasta salad. But on the road, you’re away from the confines of stability and real life, and it makes you more adaptable.
Saying this, I wouldn’t recommend our Australian diet. So, my advice for travelling Australia on a budget? Well, you could of course adopt my $4 a day 2 person gourmet menu but, realistically? Just take more money.