Australia Travel Tips: What NOT to Do When Visiting Oz
Are you travelling to Australia for the first time and feeling a little bit worried about what you’ll encounter? Well, you’ve certainly come to the right place.
It would be near impossible to travel to a new country and get everything right first go.
Personally, I always leave thinking I definitely haven’t seen all there is to see (and I usually discover just what I missed shortly upon my return back home, much to my own dismay).
I’m also generally filled with certainty that I’ve committed some terrible social faux pas at some point in my trip. It’s what usually happens when you let words fly out your mouth, before you have time to process them in your head.
At least in Australia, I feel at ease. Coming from here, it’s easy to have a solid grip of accepted social etiquette and I figure I hopefully have a lifetime to squeeze in all the sights I wish to see.
This is obviously not the case for many who travel to Oz. It’s generally ridiculously far away from everywhere else in the world and for most people, a once in a lifetime sort of trip. And despite its popularity, there are many things to know when visiting Australia, which you may not have yet considered.
So, here’s some do’s and don’ts when travelling to Australia. Well, more don’t than do’s, as the title may suggest.
Australia for first timers – the Golden Rules
Do not leave your rubbish lying around
Australia has traditionally been a relatively clean place, when it comes to litter and trash.
The practice of recycling has been hammered into the residents of Oz since I were a wee nipper and there are strong fines put into place for anyone caught littering. “Don’t be a tosser!” is plastered across billboards, a catch-phrase that features in government funded ads on the tellybox, as surely you’d have to be a tosser to toss your trash on any available surface.
THAT BEING SAID, I have noticed that Australia has become somewhat dirtier in the years that I have been abroad. Or, maybe I just care more now, than I did three years ago.
Either way, please help in keeping Australia beautiful, by disposing of your rubbish in a thoughtful manner. It won’t go unappreciated. I’ll be there in spirit, silently applauding you.
Don’t compare Sydney and Melbourne
When I first moved abroad, I used to have the following conversation with anyone I met who had been to Oz.
Them: “Where in Australia are you from?
Me: “Sydney, originally.”
Them: “Oh, okay.” Pause. “Melbourne’s a lot nicer though, don’t you think?”
Well – no. That’s not what I think. Yes, I live in Melbourne now, a decision that I have zero regrets in making. Yes, I wander around the city with a smile on my face and yes, I’d probably be reluctant to ever live in Sydney again, unless someone wanted to give me a house in the Inner-West for free and a high-paying job to boot, so I could actually enjoy life in the city as inflation has intended.
That being said, I do love Sydney, yet not in the same way because they are very different places. It’s like comparing chalk and cheese. Or Los Angeles and New York. Edinburgh and London. Beijing to Shanghai (okay, I’ve never been to China, but I’m trying to be culturally inclusive here).
And frankly, I feel a little bit insulted when people diss my home town. It’s like thinking back on your first love – it may not have worked out then, but you’ll always have fond memories of the times you spent together.
So, if you prefer one city over the other – then great! Please keep it to yourself and certainly don’t start harping on about it to the people who have SPENT HALF OF THEIR LIVES LIVING IN THE ONE YOU LIKE SLIGHTLY LESS.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Sydney? I recommend the YHA at the Rocks, which provides travellers with million dollar views, within an affordable budget. Click here for current availability and prices.
Alternatively, you can check out other hotel prices here.
Don’t leave a tip (at this point in time)
Australia doesn’t traditionally have a tipping culture. This is because our minimum wage is currently quite high – $17.70 per hour, with 25% extra loading for casual employees, which covers most hospitality staff. Throw in the generous penalty rates for morning, nighttime and weekend work and you can actually have a pretty good life on a hospo wage.
I have long discouraged visitors from overseas to leave a tip, in the fear that it will lead to similar practices of other countries, where the onus is left on the customer to make up the wage of the staff. It should be up to the business owner to pay their staff properly.
Edit: The “Fair Work Commission” has slashed penalty rates for low paid workers, a move that is backed by the current government. This could have a backward affect on Australian culture, as tips may become mandatory to ensure the survival of hospo workers. It’s wrong, but it could happen.
As it stands now, I sometimes do leave a tip of a few gold coins, if the meal and service is exceptional (it would be a particularly nice thing to do this on a weekend). At least that way you can be somewhat sure that it’s going back to the staff.
Also worth noting is the fact that very few Australian establishments split bills, which is ridiculous because it takes like, two seconds. I can assure you, this aggravates locals just as much as visitors. It’s lazy, but it isn’t changing anytime soon. So if you’re dining in a group, make sure you have cash on hand or someone who is willing to front the bill with their card and let everyone pay them back electronically. Fun times!
Do NOT climb Uluru
There are stacks of reasons why you should visit Australia’s Red Centre – I would list my trip there as one of my all-time favourites.
If you do go, I beg of you – please, please do not climb Uluru. Not only is it dangerous, it’s considered to be extremely disrespectful to the indigenous Anangu people.
Dickheads will be dickheads, but please don’t be one of them. There are plenty of other ways to experience Uluru and all of them are very rewarding.
I recommend the three hour Base Walk around the rock – you won’t be left disappointed.
Related: What it’s Like to Walk Around Uluru
Don’t harass the local wildlife
Speaking of Uluru, my fella recently journeyed out there and came back to tell me a story about something that had happened at his hotel.
A tourist had found a Red-Backed Spider in the building – a highly venomous arachnid that is only found in Australia. The staff came out with cups and paper, in order to capture the spider and move it elsewhere, where it wouldn’t be of harm to any of their patrons (or vice versa).
The man however insisted they wait, so that he could take some photos of the spider. It was startled by the commotion around it and ran into a nearby pillar. As it is a spider whose bite can be potentially fatal, the staff had no choice but to spray the pillar with insecticide and it quite needlessly died.
Most of the “deadly” wildlife in Australia are happy to do their own thing – leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone too, to go along with their own business.
Australians are sadly just as guilty of this. I spent a few years living in the countryside, where we had chickens, whose feed attracted mice and rats, who in turn attracted brown snakes or mulgas. The bite of this snake could kill a fully grown adult male in less than an hour.
We would call up my Tae Kwon Do instructor, who was perhaps one of the coolest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in my life. He’d appear in his singlet top and footy shorts, his shoulder tattoo of the Superman emblem on display. After about a half hour of snake charming, he’d pin the creature down, put it in a bag and throw it over the fence of a paddock, far enough away from our farm, so it could continue its life without hurting anyone.
Others weren’t so decent. A neighbour had seen one crossing road in the middle of nowhere and had deliberately run over it. He’d then grabbed the dying creature by the tail, DRAGGED IT ALONG ON THE ROAD TO OUR PROPERTY to show it to our family like some sort of perverted trophy. My parents were pretty much like: “What the hell is wrong with you?” He shrugged and chucked it over a fence, leaving it there to die. He was a real, top-notch person, as I’m sure you can imagine.
His actions were not only barbaric, they were illegal. It is an offence to kill, injure or take snakes from the wild.
As I said – leave them along and they’ll leave you alone. They’re leaving, breathing creatures that aren’t actually there for anyone’s entertainment.
Have a healthy respect for the force of the ocean waves
Australian rip-tides are a force to be reckoned with. If you plan on taking a dip at any major beach, you’d do best to swim between the flags. These are set up by lifeguards – professionals who know what they are doing. It will also ensure that if you do run, or swim as it were into any trouble, you’ll be within their peripheral and will be able to signal for help.
With 10,000-odd beaches, you may often find yourself at one that is completely deserted. I make sure to never wade more than knee deep in, when I find myself in this circumstance. I’m too scared of the raw power of the ocean and it’s led me to not die even once.
Australia’s oceans are so deadly that we had a Prime Minister disappear in the late 1960s, presumably drowned. He went swimming most days, so what chance do the rest of us have?
Australia is HUGE. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to get to places
I think this is a concept that is hard for people who aren’t from large countries to understand.
Driving from coast to coast in Oz is roughly the equivalent of driving from the West Coast of Ireland, across Europe and into Russia (whilst keeping in mind that there isn’t a road that goes straight through the centre of the country, anyway).
Don’t believe me? Go have a play on this website. I’ll see you in a few hours.
That was fun, wasn’t it?
Anyway, I’ve heard of some pretty overly ambitious itineraries for travel around Australia. My favourite so far has been some family friends from the UK who thought they’d take two weeks out of their lives to drive the entire way around Australia.
Honestly, you’d be lucky to make it from Sydney to the tip of Queensland and that’s not taking jetlag into accord.Look, we’ve all been the victims of wild ambitions. I flew home from the UK last year after travelling around Europe for two weeks, had a day in Newcastle and then drove four hours to a town in regional New South Wales called Orange, for a friend’s wedding the next day. It actually ended up taking six hours, because I hadn’t driven properly for around a year and was scared to go over 80 on our frankly quite dangerous country roads (WHERE DOES THE ROAD TAX GO, I ASK?!).
And then I drove to Dubbo, to spend the night at the zoo. It was fun, but I was pretty exhausted by the time I arrived back home.
I’ve heard and roughly agree that it would take minimum three months to do a road trip around Australia properly. So, unless you have a lot of time and money up your sleeve, plan smart and accordingly.
Don’t joke about “putting another shrimp on the barbie” (or make any other references to Crocodile Dundee)
Crocodile Dundee was written with American audiences in mind.
A “shrimp” in Australia is a short person. We call the actual animal “prawns”. Don’t make this joke. We’ve all heard it before and have done so for the last forty years. Let that dead horse that you’re so keen to flog have its dignity, please.
Don’t ask questions about the absence of Fosters
It’s rarely drunk here and hardly anyone likes it. End of story.
Don’t make quips about Australia’s colonial background
This is far less tolerable to many Australians.
Australia’s modern history is bloody. Disturbing. And recent.
As most will know, Australia was already inhabited by a race when the English laid claim to the land in 1788 – the Aboriginal Indigenous people, whose language, customs and overall identity was mercilessly obliterated. The repercussions of this are still very much evident today.
Not to mention that the country has an identity that is built on immigration. Yes, there will be descendants of the first few settlers still knocking about the place. There are also people like my family – ten pound “Poms” and Irish folk who travelled here of their own violition, in search of a better life, or presumably just a bit of sunshine every now and then.
Then there are the Chinese who arrived during the 1850s gold rush, the Italians and Greeks who moved here during the 1950s, or those who continue to flock to the shores of the “Lucky Country” to this day (often being denied entry, but that’s another sad and irritating story).
Underestimate the raw power of the Australian sun
The Australian sun has an incredible bite to it, which I believe is due to the hole in the Ozone layer and sciences that I don’t quite understand, due to not being a scientist myself.
As a result, Australia has a high rate of skin cancer, with two out of three Aussies being diagnosed with it by the time they are 70. Scary stuff.
Try your darnedest to stay out of the sun at its strongest moments – between 11am-2pm. Wear protective clothing and a hat. Slap on sunscreen if necessary (a non toxic one is preferable, if you’re braving the water). Getting sunburnt may very well ruin your holiday.
Don’t stick to the cities or the East Coast
One of the things I love most about my country, is the diversity in its cities, towns and overall landscape.
You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you stuck to the well-worn tourist path of Melbourne-Sydney-Cairns, for sure. There are so many different and varied places you can visit in this country. And who doesn’t love getting off the beaten path?
Want some ideas? You can pinch them off me, if you like. Here’s my list of Australian travel goals for this year and also the rest of my life. For a destination that’s not too far off the beaten path, I recommend the coastal city of Newcastle. (If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Newy, the Crown Plaza is great if you’ve got a bit of cash. The Harbour Terraces are good for a mid-range budget and Backpackers Newcastle are in a really fun area of the city. Can’t go wrong there, really).
Everyone coming to Oz should try to get out to the Red Centre too (that’s where Uluru is located).
Or, you can click here to compare hotel prices in Melbourne. Or if you want to stay somewhere funky, check out my review of NOTEL in Melbourne – airstream trailers you can stay in right in the middle of the city.
Enjoy your time in the Land Down Under! There’s nowhere else like it on earth.
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