First Published in Grainews
Australia is a country that should be on every farmer’s bucket list to visit. Nowhere in the world can you find farming, (and farmers) that most imitate what we see in our own Prairie towns yet with a unique British flair.
Careful planning and research will make for a safe, enjoyable and rewarding trip. And remember, Google is your friend.
First, decide what are must-see places on your checklist. Sydney’s big-city experiences are easy, as you will need a few days to acclimatize and get over jet lag when first arriving.
Is it worthwhile to see Ayer’s Rock in the middle of the continent versus spending time on the Great Barrier Reef? Taking the SkyRail in the tropics of Cairns versus the Great Ocean Road drive from Adelaide? Distances are very far apart and while air travel is quite civilized you still need to give yourself ample days to rest and enjoy the country instead of trying to check off as many items on the list as possible.
It seems almost everyone has a friend who has connections to someone in that country. Quiz these people on what to see and maybe they will set you up with someone to visit when you get there.
Another great resource would be to actively communicate with Australian farmers on Twitter, and search Google for farm tours in different parts of the country. There is no better way to experience sugar cane farming, huge cotton farms, or dairies that operate without supply management.
It’s a long way to get from the Prairies to Australia. Depending on your connections you can expect at least 17 hours of actual time in the air. Start your planning with Google Flights which gives you all the available options and filters, but once you have chosen an itinerary it will track the pricing and alert you when the price drops for a short-notice sale. It’s amazing how much it can vary over short periods of time, so be ready with your credit card.
You will need a tourist visa to enter Australia, which is available quickly and easily on the Australia Government website at https://www.eta.homeaffairs.gov.au. If you are considering going to work in Australia for a period of time, be sure to have your work visa in place, which seems to be easy to acquire if coming from a fellow Commonwealth country.
First, remember you are driving on the other side of the road.
Since most of the time you will be following traffic, you quickly get used to the idea of how you should be driving around the traffic circle, that is actually the best traffic control device ever invented and you’ll wonder why there is ever a need for a traffic light.
Rental car companies are plentiful, most of the same brands we are accustomed to in North America. Be advised that if you don’t buy their extra insurance, you will be responsible for a deductible of up to $5,000 on your rental car and they may place a hold on your credit card of that amount until the car is returned with no damage. An alternative is coverage from a third party such as RentalCover.com. If you are depending on your travel credit card to cover your extra insurance, be sure to read the fine print. Also, be sure to ask the questions from any coverage provider if you are covered if you get a stone chip, or hit a kangaroo.
And don’t be in a hurry to book your vehicles. My trip had all the rental car companies’ rates drop in half approximately two weeks before departure. They also have reasonable fees for renting in one city and dropping off in another.
Keeping connected to friends, family and Facebook has never been easier than it is today. Your local mobile phone provider can sell you a roaming package to cover your time away.
But if you want to have a holiday and be disconnected from the usual distractions while saving money, consider getting a local SIM card. We all have old phones in the drawer, and as long as they are unlocked you can pop in a local SIM card and be instantly connected to phone and data.
Before leaving home forward all your phone numbers to a web-based service that sends your voice mails to you in an email. My preference is Kall8.com for many reasons, but there are others out there as well. Apple users can log in to IMessage on your travel phone and get all your text messages. The key thing is to leave your regular phone at home, turned on and plugged in, then it will never accidently connect and roam you into a huge surprise phone bill when on holidays.
Data from a reputable mobile provider with good coverage is important, since you will become very dependent on your mapping app of choice. Google Maps allows you to download trips in advance.
Getting a good night’s sleep
Unlike North America where every town seems to have a new Holiday Inn Express on the outskirts, rural Australia still has an abundance of motor hotels. Without any consistent hotel chains, you’ll have to book directly with each one or use Expedia.com, Booking.com or look at Google Maps for the next town to see what’s available.
A popular option is to combine your vehicle with your accommodation and rent a campervan, which can be a great money saver.
Getting a good meal
Skip the chains, skip the Yelp reviews. Go directly to the nearest pub, visit with some locals and have the best meal in town. No matter where you travel in the world, follow the locals. Need a quick lunch? Grab a meat pie or a spring roll from the first bakery you see on the street.
While the food prices may seem high, don’t forget the sales tax is included in the pricing, and tipping is not expected.
Also, rather than promoting parallel parking as Canada has, angle parking is the norm to maximize spaces, even including angle parking in the centre of the street.
After making the most of your trip of a lifetime, it’s a long trip home. With the time change, date line, and jet lag, the journey home seems like a 40-hour day — because it is! With the 16-hour time change you will likely take longer to get back to normal at home than you did when arriving in Australia.