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!