How to Skip the Gate Fee and Get to the Sydney Airport for Cheap!

Chances are, if you are visiting Australia (or even New Zealand really) you will be flying in/out of the Sydney airport. Dan and I flew into and out of Sydney 6 times while we were traveling in Australia and New Zealand. Australia’s biggest city also has the country’s biggest and busiest airport. But what’s the best way to get to and from Sydney’s airport when you are traveling on a budget?

The only options for getting to or from this airport are a taxi (expensive), the train, or the only city bus that goes to the airport, bus #400 from Bondi Junction. The bus is definitely the cheapest option, but it only really works if you are coming from Bondi Junction. If you happen to be staying around there, by all means take the bus, but for everyone else, going all the way out to Bondi Junction to get on a bus for over an hour just seems crazy. Plus there is a better way to save yourself some money while getting to the airport.

In my opinion, the most obvious travel option to the airport is the train. It is definitely fast; only 15 minutes from the center of Sydney. But there is a catch when traveling by train to Sydney’s airport. There is a special gate fee for exiting at both the domestic and international terminal train stations. The story goes that the reason for these fees is because before the 2000 olympics, the government wanted to add an easier way to get to the airport than the bus. They hired a private company to build the airport link – a 4-stop detour on the green line – and the private company decided to charge gate fees on all 4 of it’s stations to recoup their investment. I’m going to assume that the local community complained about their suburban stations costing substantially more than nearby stations, because eventually the extra charges were removed from the suburban stations. But not from the 2 airport train stations!

Additional fees to get to the airport aren’t new. You find them at most major airports. Here in New York City you can get to JFK International Airport on the subway – it will only cost you $2.50 – but to actually get to the terminals you have to pay to take the AirTrain. That will set you back an additional $5. So $7.50 total to get from anywhere in NYC to any terminal at JFK International. The gate fee to exit at Sydney’s airport terminals is $12.60 AUD ($11.42 USD). That’s on top of the $3.80 to $4.60 AUD ($3.44 to $4.17 USD) that the train trip out to that neck of the woods costs. This means that to get off of the train the stop before the domestic terminal costs $3.80 AUD ($3.44 USD) from city center, but to get off at the domestic airport terminal costs $16.40 AUD ($14.86 USD). The international terminal is a bit farther away (Sydney prices their stops by distance), so from city center it will cost you $16.40 to $17.20 AUD ($14.86 to $15.59 USD). And to get to the stop after the international terminal? That only costs $3.80 to $4.60 AUD ($3.44 to $4.17 USD). Dan and I weren’t having that so we thought let’s see if we can circumnavigate the system.

Crossing the bridge to the International Terminal.

Crossing the bridge to the International Terminal.

Turns out, it isn’t really that hard. Both trips are flat and right around a mile from the train station to the terminal. This is the beauty of traveling light. Throughout the trip I kept saying that we have time but not so much money. Well if you are in the same boat, I highly recommend walking!

To get to the Domestic Terminal:

Get off the train at Mascot. This will cost you $3.80 AUD from Sydney CBD. Walk south on Bourke Road. Continue south on O’Riordan Street. The entrance to the domestic terminal will be obvious! This walk is more straight forward than the walk to the international terminal. This is really easy! Totally worth doing if you have an extra 20 minutes and aren’t dragging a big, heavy rolling bag behind you.

Follow that sign!

Follow that sign!

To get to the International Terminal:

This one is a bit more complicated, but there is at least one sign (see above)! Take the train to Wolli Creek. This will cost you $3.80 to $4.60 AUD from Sydney CBD. When you exit, walk down Brodie Spark Drive. At the end of the drive you will see a park along a river’s edge across the street. Cross the street and walk in the park along the river’s edge. Stay along the river’s edge until you have to bear right to make sure you can get on the walkway along the bridge that crosses the river. Cross the river. On the other side you will see the sign in the picture above. Follow the sign and cross under the overpass. Keep to the left for a few minutes until you see the international terminal on your right. This walk includes a park! Totally worth it before a long international flight.

I hope this tutorial will encourage you, brave readers, to consider sticking it to the man and saving yourselves a few bucks before your flight out of Sydney. Travel safely!

Hiking Cinque Terre

Hiking Cinque Terre was a beautiful experience that Molly and I will never forget. If you have read articles about Cinque Terre, such as this article from The New York Times, you may even be ready to buy your plane ticket right now. I can confirm that it is a tranquil and relaxing place and that you should keep it on your travel-destination radar. Read below if you want to know your show before you go. The obsession with Cinque Terre is fairly straightforward as far as travel destinations come. You have five stunning towns whose yellow, pink and blue buildings pop out of a lush mountain landscape overlooking the Mediterranean. You will quickly fill up your SD card snapping photos of just about everything you see. What you will also learn is that the best views you will get are from high up in the mountains on the many hiking trails.

Riomaggiore Cinque Terre

A view of Riomaggiore – the southernmost village in Cinque Terre and our starting point

The most famous trail to travel through is actually part of the National Park of Cinque Terre and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This trail is by the sea and has an incredible vantage point – if you get the chance to take it. The path was closed during our stay due structural weakness on the path from recent rain. Mountains help create this dramatic landscape, but have caused difficulties and dangers for residents for years. When heavy rains hit bad things can happen as we saw in 2011. The devastation from this storm can still be seen to this day. One portion of the seaside trail is still closed after the damage inflicted by the 2011 floods. When we visited, the seaside trail was entirely closed due to recent rain so we began began hiking one of the higher paths. The mountain paths are well marked and there are a number of options to choose from, but they are steeper and definitely a better workout than the seaside options. There is enough trail variety to keep you busy for several days. Midway through our hike, a portion of the trail near the edge gave way under my foot. So a word to the wise – be careful and take rain-closed trails (and the resulting landslides) seriously. Also, don’t copy me and stay clear from the edge! With this in mind you can safely enjoy the incredible views.

Cinque Terre Village

Looking down on Corniglia (the middle of the five towns) from up the mountain

Oh, and be prepared for plenty of vineyards and olive groves too.

Cinque Terre Village

A view from the walking trail

Hiking will take you off the tourist trail and allow you to experience smaller nearby towns, historic architecture and a little bit of everyday life. One of my favorite moments – seeing a gardener leaving fresh vegetables and greens on his neighbor’s doorstep. There is a slightly more leisurely feel to life than we are used to in New York. If hiking isn’t your thing, there is another great way to take in the sights of Cinque Terre. There is a ferry service that runs between the five villages. You can see the details of the ferry here. You can take the ferry to and from all of the villages except Corniglia which does not have water access, due to being located on the cliff edge. In addition to the transport, you get a great tour of the coast!

Italy Cinque Terre Dock

Leaving the dock.

Italy Cinque Terre

From the water.

Italy Cinque Terre Coast

Back on the coast.

We highly recommend the ferry. It’s functional, practical and beautiful. The train is also a fine way to get from village to village – just don’t expect it to come on time. Cinque Terre has a lot to offer. It’s a great vacation spot to relax and take in the sights, sounds and pleasures of the Mediterranean. There is plenty of hiking and exploring to do and it is also ideal for drinking wine by the water. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Cinque Terre Italy Sunset

Make sure you get down to the water around sunset!

On the practical side, you can expect to pay more for lodging and food in Cinque Terre than most other Italian destinations. There are simply fewer options to accommodate all the tourists who want to visit. It was the most expensive place we stayed on our entire trip – save for the Great Barrier Reef. You wont find many listings on AirBnB there! Vegan food options may also be limited in the restaurants. However, we found a number of great pizza places that made us vegan pizza in Riomaggiore. Just remember vegans – senza formaggio!

Travel Cost Breakdown From Our Time in Europe

“I really want to travel around Europe, but it’s so expensive!”

We have heard this comment many times since we have been traveling the world. Yes, Europe is expensive but we are here to help you learn what kind of hit your wallet should actually expect.

Dan and I wrote down every penny we spent (converted from Euros to pennies using this app), put together a kick-butt spreadsheet, and are here to break it all down for you.

Molly examining trip expenses in our travel notebook

Calculating trip expenses in our travel notebook

We spent a total of 72 days in continental Europe. Our average cost per day was $140.58. That’s $70.29 per person. A totally reasonable amount, if I do say so myself. Here is how it all breaks down:

Europe Expenses Graph

Europe Expenses Pie Chart

In Europe, our biggest expense was lodging. (Just like it was in the UK and Ireland!) Housing came out to an average of $49.68 per night. We almost exclusively used AirBnB in Europe and had a private room every night. For a couple, AirBnB is a very effective cost saving strategy since the price is usually per room and not per person like it is at hostels. Also since most AirBnB listings are in someone’s actual home, you get the added bonus of access to a kitchen.

Dinner time!

Dinner time!

We usually went out to eat for lunch, but cooked most of our own dinners. This is a fabulous way to save money as groceries are definitely cheaper than meals at restaurants. By eating out for lunch we still got a chance to try all of the fabulous vegan restaurants around Europe at lunchtime prices. This is how we got our food expenses down to $39.35 per day (total for both of us) while eating out about once a day.

The next biggest expense we had in Europe was transportation between locations. One thing we did to bring down the cost of travel around Europe was to buy a Eurail Pass here in the US before traveling to Europe. It’s important to think long and hard about what kind of pass you will need before making a purchase, though, as unused trips are just wasted money. We went with a Benelux-Germeny pass of 10 trips over a two month period. We did spend over a month in the rail pass area, but it turned out that we mostly used the pass in Germany. Germany is probably one of the most expensive countries to travel by train in Europe, so the pass worked out well for us. We loved seeing Germany by train, but you could probably get around Germany for even cheaper by taking buses or using car-sharing websites.

If you are interested in traveling Europe by rail and are headed to Italy, be aware that trains are pretty darn cheap in Italy. Don’t waste your money on a rail pass in Italy! Just buy the tickets as you go. In Italy, the prices for all non-highspeed trains remain the same even as the travel date approaches.

We did not fly once while we were in Europe. We avoided flying by taking a city-to-city approach to Europe. We started in Paris and we knew that we were flying out of Europe from Rome so we planned between those two dates. If you are planning to hop around Europe, though, there are many cheap airlines available. Our favorite site for comparing flights in Europe and around the world was SkyScanner, but we cross-checked all prices with Kayak to make sure we were getting the best price.

Our “entertainment” section covered mostly museums while we were in Europe. Again, we kept the cost of museums down by checking if a museum has a free or pay-what-you-wish day online before heading anywhere, and by using our student ID cards. We also took free walking tours all over Europe and enjoyed every single one of them. Be sure to tip your guide! They are all so fantastic and live off of the tips they earn.

The miscellaneous section is always our smallest, as we had no room for souvenirs in our bags, but every so often we would mail a postcard or gift, or buy some painkillers. (Ibuprofen is SO cheap in the UK compared to Europe or anywhere else we have been. Just a tip!) As a result, this makes up the last 4% of our Europe expenses pie chart.

I hope this has been informative and helps you plan your trip to Europe. Please let us know if we left out any information you would find useful in the comments section below!

Also, check out the post Dan wrote about our cost breakdown from our time in the UK and Ireland! If you are having trouble deciding what to pack for your trip, check out my post on packing light for long term travel!

Why We Travel: Penguins!

Melbourne was our favorite city in Australia. It doesn’t get as much hype as Sydney, Australia’s largest city, but we loved this artsy, diverse and walkable city. Melbourne has many draws and a big one for us was the beach suburb of St. Kilda. We aren’t really beach people, so there must be something really special about a beach to make us trek out there. St. Kilda has several things going for it – including being a home for penguins! Let’s walk through the day so you can see what makes this hour-long trip on the tram worth it:

St. Kilda beach. Beautiful and (on the day we were there) empty!

St. Kilda beach. Beautiful and (on the day we were there) empty!

The beach is big and beautiful. When we got there in the afternoon the beach was deserted. It was a bit chilly, yes, but it was deserted mostly because it was super windy! We were being whipped by sand, which is even less pleasant than you are imagining. We just a quick walk along the water’s edge then we got the heck away from there!

Luna Park

Luna Park

Melbourne has it’s very own Luna Park! After doing some research, the Luna Parks around the world are not actually related and the name was simply borrowed. This Luna Park originally opened in 1912! Like the Luna Park in Coney Island, it has a wooden roller coaster.

Making funny faces (Dan didn't get the memo) in the crazy mirrors.

Making funny faces (Dan didn’t get the memo) in the crazy mirrors.

We wandered the park for a while, made some silly faces and had some fun. No rides for us as many were actually closed for the afternoon because of the strong winds!

After our Luna Park fun, it was time to head to dinner. Lucky for us vegans, there is at least one excellent option in St. Kilda for dinner: Lentil as Anything. Lentil as Anything is a vegetarian (mostly vegan) not-for-profit restaurant with an awesome concept. It is pay what you wish. The St. Kilda location has been surviving on this concept ever since it opened in 2001. Beautiful! And the food:

Savory vegan pancakes.

Savory vegan pancakes.

Pumpkin curry on the left, dal on the right.

Pumpkin curry on the left, dal on the right.

Beautiful, healthy, homely, and tasty. I love the Lentil as Anything concept and was really happy to support them and enjoy their tasty food. There was a wait, as I assume there almost always is, but it wasn’t too long and we made some friends while waiting!

After dinner it was time for the main event! The reason we traveled an hour by tram from Melbourne’s central business district: Penguins! Little (or Fairy) Penguins, to be precise.

Luna Park and the Palais Theatre at sunset.

Luna Park and the Palais Theatre at sunset.

The penguins don’t come back to dry land until it is getting dark to avoid predators, so we started walking out to the St. Kilda breakwater, where the colony lives, at sunset.

Sunset off of the St. Kilda breakwater.

Sunset off of the St. Kilda breakwater.

Then it was penguin time!

Little (Fairy) Penguin #1.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #1.

At St. Kilda, they smartly built a little walkway for humans that takes you right next to the penguins without allowing you to walk on their breakwater home. This way the penguins are safe to inhabit their home but the humans can get within 4 feet of them! It was amazing how close we were.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #2.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #2.

These cuties are the world’s smallest penguins, only growing to 13 inches high and 3 lbs! They have excellent vision, hence the strict orders to not use flash photography. So, sorry for the slightly dark photos. We were just protecting their eyes!

Little (Fairy) Penguin #3.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #3.

At the St. Kilda breakwater, there is a trained volunteer working there every night, available to answer any questions you have about these adorable penguins. We would have stuck around longer and pestered her with a million questions (and stared at the penguins for hours, obviously), but it was still insanely windy and the waves were crashing over the breakwater and drenching us!

So, if you are ever in Melbourne, we highly recommend taking a little side trip to St. Kilda for a day of beach fun, awesome vegan food, a beautiful sunset, and penguins! Just choose a nicer day than we did!

Why We Travel: Featuring Baby Turtles!

Sometimes it’s hard to even pull yourself away from your desk for lunch. However, when you do have the opportunity to travel, you can truly be blown away by what you see. There was one destination we visited that had more unique and diverse wildlife than any other; The Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Australia Lady Elliot Island Coral Cay

Lady Elliot Island on the Great Barrier Reef

Lady Elliot Island is situated on the southernmost end of the Great Barrier Reef. It is a small island known as a coral cay built slowly over thousands of years as coral breaks off and collects in shallow water. It is remote and the only human inhabitants come from the small “eco-resort” that hosts about 150 guests at a time. Humans are greatly outnumbered on and around the island by birds, tropical fish, manta rays and endangered turtles.

For this post we will focus on the celebrities of the island: endangered sea turtles. We were fortunate to be on the island during hatching season. Hatchlings usually come out at night. Even during hatching season you still need to be in the right place at the right time before the baby sea turtles race to the water. It was only our second day on the island when we heard shouting coming from the beach. We rushed over and arrived in time to see this little green sea turtle making a break for the ocean.

It’s a rare sight to see a baby sea turtle during broad daylight as they usually wait for the cooler temperatures after the sun sets so they can navigate to the water under cover of darkness to protect themselves from predators. Fortunately, this turtle had no trouble making for the open water with the protection of his 40 or so human guides.

When a turtle hatches, it heads for the brightest light, which without electricity would be the moon and the stars reflecting off of the ocean. One reason sea turtles are so threatened is the presence of artificial light. While Lady Elliot Island has relatively few inhabitants at any one time, there is still ample light to distract the turtles. Over the next few nights we saw even more hatchlings come up out of the sand and move immediately toward the brightly lit bar area. It took a team of flashlight-equipped employees and vacationing volunteers (us!) to help navigate the turtles one by one back toward the ocean.

Sea Turtle swimming in ocean

Sea turtle swimming in coral lagoon

The sad reality is that these animals are endangered and there are very few places where you can still see them in their natural environment. They say only one in a thousand sea turtles make it back to its birthplace to nest thirty years after hatching.

We were fortunate to see so many of these elegant creatures. In fact, we got to experience the entire life cycle of the sea turtles. We saw turtles nesting, hatching and swimming free in the lagoon next to the island. Once in a lifetime experiences like this are why we travel. We did everything we could to help guide those turtles to the ocean with the hope that future generations will enjoy the same opportunity we did.