As an an Australian living abroad, I get asked three things regularly:
- Aren’t there a lot of things that can kill you?
- What should we see in Australia? and
- What do we need to pack for our trip to Australia?
The answer to the first question is inevitably, “It’s the things you don’t expect that will get you (like wombats).” I tend to answer the second question with a question: “How much time do you have?” The third we will look at here. So here is our master list of “What to pack for your trip to Australia”.
What to pack for your trip to Australia: the essential question first
More than possibly any other country, the answer to the question of what to pack for your trip to Australia depends on where you are planning to go.
Australia is large. Very large. It is the sixth-largest country in the world. If you lay Australia on top of the USA, from east to west it would stretch from San Francisco to Washington DC. If you lay Australia over Europe, it would stretch from Ireland and Portugal to Russia and Turkey. Yes, it is big. It is therefore unlikely that you will see everything on one trip (there are lots of parts of Australia that I have not seen yet).
Australia’s size and location also have a big impact on the weather. Australia enjoys both temperate climates as well as tropical climates. Compared to North America, Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth would be somewhere around Washington DC, Philadelphia and San Francisco, while the north of Australia would be in Honduras – at least comparing distance from the equator.
Australia is also famous for its deserts, the most famous of which is effectively named after a washing machine. Some of the most popular sites are in the middle of those deserts (though they have dropped a little in popularity since the Uluru climb was closed). The desserts are hottest from October through March, with average temperatures 36°c or above and maximums over 45°c, often accompanied by strong winds. March is the wettest month and the dry period runs from April to October.
What to pack therefore definitely depends on where and when you are going.
Some brief clarifications
A couple of brief notes before we get to the actual list of what to pack for your trip to Australia:
- I won’t go into detail about the travel documents you will need and assume that you will think to pack toiletries and any medication. If you need more information about what first aid to pack, check out this post.
- With a couple of exceptions, this is not a list that tells you what clothing to pack. Your personal style will affect which clothing you should take. We also assume that you will include clothing to suit your planned activities.
- This list only looks at what to pack for your trip to Australia. For tips on how to pack to have your clothes looking their best and your other contents safe, check out this post.
What to pack for your trip to Australia
1. Your luggage
This is one of the things that will depend on where you are going. Quite simply, suitcases do not roll well in the desert sand. Surprising, huh? If you are planning to go to the desert, you might want to consider taking a backpack or duffel bag instead. Just remember, you will have to carry it. Suitcases are fine in big cities.
If you are planning to go to the desert or even a beach resort, you might also like to consider a hard-shell suitcase or line your bag with a large garbage bag to stop sand getting in all your things. Take ziplock bags or garbage bags for your shoes, bathing suit and towel, too.
Think also of the souvenirs you plan to buy and leave some space in your bag. The toy koala for your baby niece? The Vegemite to give your colleagues as a joke? The Tim tams to enjoy with your coffee? The didgeridoo or Aboriginal art that will need to be transported in your hand luggage? Leave some space to fit them in.
2. A day pack
Typically, your day pack will be a backpack or messenger bag that you can also use as your carry on during your flight. It should be lightweight and waterproof and, if possible, have zipped or concealed inside pockets. It should also be big enough to carry everything that you will need each day, especially a couple of bottles of water and your sunscreen.
3. Comfortable shoes
While Australia does not have that many cobblestones, we have cliff stairs, dusty wildlife parks, caves with stalactites and stalagmites, or the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, for example, that you will want to see and that require closed shoes. Pack some comfortable, rubber-soled lace-up shoes.
If you are planning on visiting the desert, going to see the rainforests in the north of Queensland or the waterfalls in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney or walking some of the Heysen Trail, you might want to consider packing hiking boots. These will make climbing and hiking safer, but will also help protect your feet from snake bites. Make sure you pack good socks to wear with your hiking boots.
Make sure you pack a spare pair of shoes, too, in case you get blisters or the shoes get wet. Pack band-aids too.
The quintessential Australian footwear in summer is the thong, known to most of the rest of the world as the flip flop. These are great for the beach, for showering at camp sites or youth hostels and for lazy days where you are not planning to walk much.
There are still bars or restaurants that will refuse you entry if you are wearing thongs. Make sure you have another pair of suitable shoes with you.
Clothing and style are personal choices. However, when you are trying to work out what to pack for your trip to Australia, pack clothes that will do at least double-duty. This will help keep your luggage to a minimum. You can always buy some clothes there if you find you have not packed enough.
Check the weather where you will be going and pack accordingly. It does get very cold in the desert at night. It can be very humid in Australia in summer. Our sun is also scorching, so pack clothes that will help you avoid sunburn. Canberra is close to the Australian snowfields, so you will need a coat in winter. Most places in Australia do not have central heating. Pack accordingly.
5. Necessary accessories
These are accessories you should take for a purpose other than just to look good.
It often rains in Australia, even in Summer. Melbourne has always been known for rain in Summer and Winter and is now known for sudden temperature drops – nearly 40°c one day and 20°c cooler with rain the day after. Such strange weather has become a topic of many a meme. And it is no coincidence that one of the most famous songs of Melbourne-based band Crowded House is “Four Seasons in One Day”.
Even if you are going to Australia in Summer, take a raincoat. It should preferably be one that breathes well as it is likely to be quite warm and humid at the same time.
Hat and sunglasses
Australian primary school kids must wear a hat when playing in the yard during lunch or recess breaks. No hat, no play. Even in winter. Take a leaf out of their books and take a hat.
As most of the capital cities are on or near water and because Australia is closer to the equator than Europe or the USA, glare is a problem. Pack your sunglasses, especially if you need prescription lenses.
Swimsuit and towel
Australia has some of the best beaches the world! Depending on where you are going, you are likely to have a number of possibilities to go swimming, or snorkling. Pack your swimsuit.
You will also need a towel. I would suggest something lightweight and not too bulky. A microfibre towel or Turkish Hamman towel works well.
Take a large ziploc bag to put any wet towels or sandy bathing suits in.
6. Sun and stings
Sunscreen and aftersun
As I explained above, the Australian sun can be very harsh, especially to pale skin. It is not without reason that Australia has one of the worst skin cancer rates in the world: in 2018 it had the highest rate of melanoma in the world. Take and wear sunscreen, even if you will be in Australia in Winter.
Alternatively, sunscreen in Europe often has “Australian standards” to show what level of protection it offers. You might find it just as easy to visit a supermarket or pharmacy (called chemists in Australia) to get some sunscreen when you reach Australia. I buy ours at the supermarket when we visit (I like the Banana Boat sensitive because my skin reacts badly to some sunscreens). Get some aftersun lotion too.
Sadly, most Australian insects don’t care about insect repellant. They will bug you anyway. You might get some relief from mosquitos from a good insect repellant – buy some in Australia or bring it with you. For flies, which are particularly bad in the centre of Australia, a fly net might help. it is probably easiest to find one in Australia.
A lot of Australia’s insects tend to bite or sting. Bring or buy some bite relief with you. We have just purchased a little electronic bite wand, which alleviates the pain of any bite or sting without chemicals (it uses heat). I haven’t tried it yet, but it has very good reviews. I have never seen one in Australia, either, so if you have one that you like to use, take it with you.
7. Sleep stuff
Most people should not have much trouble with noises where they sleep in Australia – except for the birds that may wake you up in the morning with their screeching. My Dad has a large flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos living in trees on his property. Each morning at sunrise they squawk their way over the house to trees on the other side of the road (and back again later in the day).
There are a number of fantastic camping or glamping tours, particularly in central Australia. If you are lucky enough to take one of these, you may have the opportunity to sleep under the stars. It gets very dark though: take a small torch and put it somewhere easy to access in the dark.
I won’t detail the electronic equipment you might like to take. I am not ready to provide a list of preferred camera equipment: most of our shots until now have been taken using my iPhone; I have a DSLR camera that I am slowly getting back to using. This is only an abbreviated list: check out our What to pack for your trip to Europe list for more details.
- Mobile phone, with a sim card that will work in Australia
- Headphones – remember the jack if you plan to use them on the plane
- A camera: for Australia, I do actually recommend bringing a separate camera unless you know how to use your phone camera well. Think of all the little animals you will want to photograph…. don’t forget an extra memory card (unless you are uploading straight to a cloud – though many places in Australia still do not have decent wifi).
- An extra battery pack (or two) for your phone. Battery packs must be in your carry-on for flights and may not be too powerful.
- All the cables and plugs needed to recharge your camera and phone (and kindle and tablet). If these are longer than 1.2 metres (4 foot), do NOT put them in your hand luggage.
- Adapters. Australian electricity is 240 volts. The plug looks like an equilateral triangle, only the third (bottom) side is vertical, not horizontal (Type I).
Australia uses dollars. They are quite colourful and pretty and are actually made of plastic.
Almost everything now can be purchased with a credit card. Visa card is the most prevalent card, followed by Mastercard. Australia uses pay wave, which means the card does not even have to be presented for payment but just be close by, however, this has not yet been activated for foreign cards. Apple pay is slowly becoming more popular, too.
Australians are also moving to a paperless system. At most small boutiques, you will be asked whether you would like your receipt emailed to you (they no longer print them).
Most places in Australia will no longer accept traveller’s cheques.
10. Travel guide and maps
Pack a guide book. Alternatively, load a guidebook or two onto your kindle or phone, or bookmark any helpful websites, such as Tea with Mum!
Some apps also allow you to save tickets, hotel bookings, maps and websites all in one place. If you have any recommendations, let me know!
Depending on where you are going, you might need a printed map. Unless you would like one for the inner city, it is probably better to buy one in Australia if needed.
Have a system for keeping notes on your trip. What was the name of that ghost town you passed through with the gorgeous landscapes? Which animals did we see at the wildlife park? When did the buses return? Yeah, I don’t remember either. Take notes. Whether you want to take a notebook or use Evernote or another app on your phone, it does not really matter.
Take a pen, too. You can write notes or postcards, jot down information when you are on the phone and complete the entry or departure cards required by immigration. Pack it in your carry-on.
11. Carry bags and water bottles
Australian supermarkets and some smaller shops charge for store bags. Not only can plastic bags be used to carry your shopping, but they can also be used to corral dirty clothes or keep dirty shoe soles away from the rest of your suitcase. If you don’t like using plastic, net bags work wonderfully too – except for the dirty shoe soles. Ziploc bags are useful for any shampoo or other bottles that might leak or to keep hair accessories or jewellery together. They are also needed for any liquids in your hand luggage.
Take a water bottle, too, especially a collapsible one. The temperatures in Australia just make you want to drink. While Australia has wonderful wine and coffee, it is not recommended that you drink it all day. Take a water bottle that you can refill.
With the exception of a few remote areas, the water in Australia is safe to drink.
Extra, if you are travelling with a small child: take a stroller.
What to pack for your trip to Australia
Now that you have a better idea of what you should be packing for your trip to Australia, take care and enjoy your trip!