So you’re considering a trip to Australia, yeah? Great! It’s a bit daunting, I know, but once you make it here, you’re bound to have a fantastic time. Hopefully this guide can help answer most of the questions and concerns you might have about making the trip.
Make no mistake about it, Australia is a long way away from, well, almost everything. A flight from Sydney to New Zealand is at least 3 hours, Tokyo is 10 hours and Los Angeles is 14 hours.
Most itineraries from the US will route through either LAX or San Francisco (SFO), and, depending on your preferred airline, you can probably fly to one of those cities directly (United, American and Delta fly direct to LAX from their major and some minor hubs). Depending on your time and airline preference, you also can fly non-stop from Vancouver on Air Canada or, starting in May, you can fly non-stop from Dallas on Quantas, although the DFW-SYD flight stops in Brisbane first.
I’ll use LAX as my example, since that’s what we did. Flights from ORD-LAX are about 3.5 hours; JFK-LAX is about 5. You’ll probably want to give yourself some extra time prior to your international flight, since that gives you a buffer for delays and should increase the chances that your bags will make it.
As I mentioned, LAX-SYD is about 14 hours. Flights usually leave between 9-11pm and land at around 6am two days later. We left on January 6th and landed on January 8th, so I’m sure something interesting happened on January 7th, but I wasn’t there for it! Of course, you regain that lost day on the way back (you land the same day as you take off). You’ll be flying on a large plane, probably a 747, so there will be movies and other entertainment available.
It’s not a fun flight, but if you’ve been on other red-eyes, it doesn’t feel that much different. I personally didn’t really notice much of a difference compared to my flights to Brazil and Chile (10 hours apiece). You leave at night and arrive in the morning, so a few hours here and there don’t really make much of a difference. Just hope that you can get a bit of sleep on the plane, although it probably won’t make your first day in Australia much easier.
As you might imagine, flights are expensive. Expect to pay at least $1500-$2000 per person for a round trip ticket, depending on when you book and when you want to visit. You can attempt to book with points, but Australia is difficult to obtain using award travel, so you’ll need to be flexible with your itinerary and diligent about calling the airlines for availability.
Fortunately, with each ticket comes two free checked bags on most US carriers, which you’ll want to stick to, since both additional and overweight (>50 lbs) bags cost around $200 apiece each way. Australia is a pretty casual place, so pack light and weigh your bags before you leave home. More information is here, depending on your airline: United - American - Delta.
Once you arrive, you’ll be dealing with an actual time change of around +16 hours (SYD – US EST), though the impact on you is actually only 8 hours (Sydney is 8 hours behind and 1 day ahead of the US East Coast). Based on the rule of thumb that it takes about 1 day per hour of adjustment, it’ll probably take a week before you’re fully adjusted, though you’ll probably feel good enough to stay out all day by your 2nd or 3rd day. I’ve heard that the adjustment during the trip back is more difficult, although I haven’t experienced it yet.
Once you arrive, there are plenty of places to stay, and from what we’ve heard the hotels are pretty good. We haven’t stayed in any of them though, so definitely check out reviews online and see what is available, especially if you have a particular award program affinity.
Sydney is a very walkable city, so I’d recommend booking a hotel that’s reasonably centrally located. If you look near downtown Sydney, known as the CBD (central business district), you’ll probably want to find a hotel bounded by the water on the north and west sides, Elizabeth Street on the east side and Liverpool street on the south side. This will ensure that you’re no more than a 20 minute walk to restaurants, shopping, nightlife and major train, bus and ferry stations.
You can also look for hotels near the beaches (there are some) or use something like VRBO if you want to rent a house. I wouldn’t recommend going too far outside of the city so as to keep your transportation options open, so no farther south than Maroubra or farther north than Dee Why.
Unless you’re planning a trip significantly outside of the city, don’t rent a car. You can get just about anywhere by ferry, bus or train, which is much cheaper, almost as convenient and a better way to experience the city. For day trips, you can usually organize something through a tour company, although the light rail system around Sydney is pretty extensive. Sydney also has car sharing through GoGet and they allow drivers with foreign licenses, so that’s an option for longer stays.
Regarding trip duration, I’d recommend staying for at least 9-10 days, since it’s a long flight to get here and you’ll need at least a day or two in Australia before you’ve adjusted enough to the time change. While there’s plenty to do in Sydney, you also might consider using it as a jumping point to visit other cities/states in Australia (Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Cairns, Perth, Tasmania), other locations (Uluru [Ayers Rock], Great Barrier Reef), or other countries in the neighborhood (New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore). Wikipedia has a great article on Australian landmarks to help you get started.
In short, come visit! As a trip, it’s a significant undertaking, but you won’t regret it, promise