Sydney travel tips



When ate Koku and I decided to push through with our trip to Sydney, there were a lot of things we planned for and some we didn’t take into account. If you’re going to Sydney, I hope this guide helps!

Budget

After the wine tasting at Capercaille

The strength of the Australian dollar against the Philippine peso meant we had to budget carefully. We set a budget for P150,000.00 (approximately AUD 3,600), and we cannot go any higher than that – even if we wanted to go shopping. This amount also included the visa fee, travel insurance, and airport tax.

Our expected cost was just a few hundreds shy of this amount. I had an Excel spreadsheet to track every penny, and I obsessively used Sydney’s Transport NSW website to track every bus or train journey we had to take. Ate Koku and I coordinated our plans, ideas, and notes through a shared OneNote notebook.

I also scoured Google for several weeks searching for deals. We used Experience OZ+NZ and Bookme. While Klook* also has deals in Sydney, the ones we got via Experience (zoo and aquarium tickets) and Bookme (Hunter Valley wine tour) were cheaper. There are food deals via Groupon but the app and website were so confusing for me so we didn’t use it anymore.

I computed how much we already paid, how much we still need to pay (hostels, activities), and how much we had to use daily, so I knew exactly how much AUD we needed to bring. However, we still bought extra money in case of emergencies.

We ended up saving a lot of money on food, so we had a bit of leeway to shop at the end of our trip in Sydney, or not feel guilty about purchasing a $4 cup of coffee or hot chocolate.

Tired but happy at the WILD Life Sydney Zoo!

Plane fare

This was our biggest expense because we ended up getting one-way tickets from Manila to Sydney, Sydney to Cairns, and Cairns to Manila. PAL used to offer flights to Cairns, but they stopped serving that route late last year. We try not to use Cebu Pacific for very long flights because their seat isn’t very comfortable for our backs and, after weighing pros and cons, we decided being comfortable through four flights was worth the cost.

Ate Mako didn’t want to go back and forth from Sydney either, as flights take up a huge chunk of our limited time, so we didn’t book a roundtrip ticket from Sydney and Cairns. As our parents’ Christmas gift to us, they paid P10,000 each off our plane fare from Sydney to Cairns. This was a huge help. 🙂

We ended up booking Singapore Airlines for our Manila-Sydney-Manila trips, with a layover in Singapore back and forth. For Sydney to Cairns, we booked via Virgin Australia. It was already the second week of November, so we just bought the flights without waiting for any seat sales. I was very excited to try Singapore Airlines, which is consistently ranked the top airline in the world. I wrote about our flight experiences on these three airlines here.

Activities

The super steep Scenic Railway in Blue Mountains had our hearts thundering in a good way!

We chose activities that fit our budget. We listed down the things we wanted to do and ranked them by priority, ready to strike out anything that, after updating our Excel file, will make us exceed our budget.

Thankfully, almost all of ate Koku’s chosen activities were free, while all but one of mine had a fee. Since it was our vacation, it was important that we were both going to make room for each other’s choices, which meant agreeing to walking 10 kilometres under the scorching sun or going to another zoo even if you just want to stay in bed. We’ve travelled together so often, we both knew that, unless we’re going to Mactan I’ll cram our itinerary with activities by the hour, but I’ll also put in scheduled breaks or days we can sleep in like ate Koku prefers.

When we go to another country, we always think that it’s our first and last time to visit that place so we have to make the most out of it. We have a limited budget so we prefer going to new countries instead of revisiting a country, except for very specific reasons.

If you’re reading this and wondering if we ever take a vacation to just relax, sure we do – within the Philippines, and we consider staycations as real vacations. I just don’t understand why I have to stay in the hotel or Airbnb if there’s a museum or building or monument I haven’t seen yet when I’m in a new place.

I told ate Koku she can choose any activity she wanted since she already agreed to go to Cairns. You may wonder why we just don’t go our separate ways, but I insist on a buddy system and I’ll just worry about her a lot if we’re not together.

After she gave me her list of activities, I put everything in the Excel file to check them against our budget including the transportation cost to each attraction. Since we still had room in our budget, I started adding things I liked such as the National Library of NSW, the Wild Life Sydney Zoo, and Sea Life aquarium. This way, our trip was both win-win. 🙂

Fort Denison is one of the places we wanted to see but didn’t go to.

Basic necessities

I know some people promote packing light and just buying necessities (like toiletries) upon arrival. However, that seems expensive to me so I pack everything I need; I only buy whatever I forget to bring. Having everything on hand when I need them gives me peace of mind and also lets me know how many souvenirs I can fit in my luggage.

Since we have plans to keep travelling in the future, before we left I bought a portable luggage scanner (from Lazada) and packed it in my carry-on. I had experienced panicking in the airport on my way to Kuala Lumpur because my bag was overweight by two kilos, I didn’t have check-in allowance, and I didn’t want to pay for excess luggage. P499 was a small price to pay to avoid this scenario from happening again.

It’s important to put your liquids – in bottle containers only up to 100ml – in a ziplock bag. There are some airports where they really ask you to take out the liquids and put them on the tray – and if they’re not in a plastic container, they’ll be thrown away. I say plastic container because ate Koku passed through one airport security – right before the boarding gate – and she didn’t have a ziplock bag but she had put her liquid containers in her plastic water bottle, so that’s what she placed on the tray. The security just shrugged and let them through. To be on the safe side though, just put your liquids in a clear ziplock, and the total content must only be up to 1Li.

Unafraid of the hot Sydney sun last summer because I always brought two essentials: drinking water and sunscreen!

Ate Koku and I prepared a lot of extra money for bathrooms and water because we racked up huge expenses in those two while we were in Europe. However, we had almost no bathroom trouble whatsoever in Sydney because they have a lot of clean bathrooms even in their free parks, along the Bondi-Coogee coastal walk, and in camping areas. Even the bathrooms at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair were clean, I wanted to shout for joy.

Sydney’s tap water is potable, and they usually have free water fountains all over the parks (we didn’t get from the bathroom taps). In our Airbnb, we got water from the kitchen tap. When we went to museums, we still had access to water because there were fountains. Restaurants had a separate tap or serve free water. This means if you bring a refillable plastic bottle, you won’t need to buy water at all. The only time we had to buy was after walking to the Opera House in Circular Quay because there was no fountain and we ran out of water in our bottles.

This was our first time to bring a water bottle on trips, and I didn’t see any definitive answers online, but yes, you can bring a refillable plastic water bottle in your carry-on bag. However, it must be completely empty. I’m not sure if there’s a size restriction; ate Mako brought a 1Li water bottle and had no problems. I went through the airport security in Manila, Singapore, Sydney, Cairns, and Hong Kong (different trip), and had no trouble. I also didn’t need to take it out of my bag. I brought a water bottle not just to save cost during the trip but because I get very dehydrated in airplanes and I don’t like to constantly call the flight attendant for more water (CebPac doesn’t serve water, but they sell a small bottle for Php 40). If you need constant hydration like me and your flight won’t be for another couple of hours, the trick is to only refill your water when you’ve passed through all the security gates.

A quick water fountain guide in airports:

Manila – NAIA 3: For international flights, the water fountain is outside the bathroom across Gate 110.

Singapore – Changi 2 & 3: You will have no problem looking for water fountain stations. They’re usually outside the bathrooms (I’m unsure for terminals 1 & 4). However, they have another security check for each boarding gate so you have to consume your water before entering the boarding gate. The great part is they have a water fountain inside the boarding gate so you can refill it again.

Sydney – Virgin Australia domestic: The fountain’s a bit of a walk from the boarding gates so just refill your water bottle once you pass through security.

Cairns (international): There’s a water fountain on the right side of the cafeteria, outside the bathroom.

Kuala Lumpur: In the terminal from KL to Manila (I’m not sure which), water is not allowed, and even the cafes by the boarding gate cannot sell it. I have not passed through Malaysian immigration with a water bottle.

Hong Kong: I did not see a water fountain in the terminal from HK to Manila.

There are only a few bathrooms at the Blue Mountains, but it’s so hot, and if you’re walking up and down the tracks, you’re more likely to need to drink water than have the urge to pee.

Skincare

The Sydney sun was so drying for my Filipina skin, but I was prepared for this. I brought my trusty Philosophy moisturizer I use for daytime, then topped it with a constant reapplication of Biore’s UV Perfect Milk SPF 50+ PA++++ throughout the day. (I talk about the importance of using sunscreen and why your beauty products that contain spf are not enough in this post.)

At night, I made sure to wash my face, apply toner, apply BHA, and end with Estee Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair. On nights when my face felt too dry, I applied sheet masks (which I had brought from Manila). Skincare products were more expensive in Sydney, so I’m glad I didn’t leave these behind. We also used the Berry Bliss Human Nature lotion for arms and legs.

Sunscreen is a must – not just in Australia!

Aside from the Biore sunscreen, we also bought three bottles of sunscreen for our bodies. We each had a Nivea SPF 50 PA++++ at 75ml in our carry-on while the Hawaiian Tropic SPA 50 PA++++ was in Ate Koku’s checked-in luggage. We reapplied sunscreen  every two to three hours, and this saved us from painful sunburns and protected us from the very high UV rays in Australia. Australia is one of the countries with high rates of skin cancer because of the thinning ozone layer, and everyone is highly recommended to put on sunscreen. It’s expensive, I know, but it’s much cheaper than getting skin cancer. They have sunscreen on sale in their grocery stores, but we wanted to be protected as soon as our plane touched down in Sydney.

One bottle of the Nivea sunscreen lasted me for a week in Sydney. We used the Hawaiian Tropic while in Cairns.

Food

One beef burger and 4 pieces of chicken wings cost us approx Php 920.

From the Philippine Peso-AUD ratio point of view, eating out in Sydney & Cairns is very expensive. Based on our research of menus, we allotted $20 per meal. One meal per person usually cost us a minimum of $13 – not including drinks. Your basic cup of coffee is $3.50. However, the food’s portion sizes are bigger than in Manila, so in more expensive places, ate Koku and I ordered two dishes and shared the cost. If you’re staying in an Airbnb, I highly recommend booking one with a microwave because there are plenty of inexpensive microwaveable dishes you can buy from Coles, and these can last for up to three meals – at least in terms of Filipino food portions.

Fish and chips from a kiosk in the main street of Manly cost us $15 or approx P595. Portion sizing was so big, we could just have shared one order, but we didn’t know it was going to be so filling.

Sydney is a hotbed of international cuisines, but I noticed they don’t have a lot of places that serve a mix of cuisines. If in the Philippines I can enter a restaurant and be able to order Filipino and American/Italian/Japanese or Chinese-Korean-Japanese dishes, in Sydney, if they serve American food, they only serve American food. Not all pizza places serve pasta dishes, which was very surprising to me because a pizza restaurant without at least one pasta dish is unheard of in the Philippines. You can bet I made up for my pasta craving when I got home in Manila.

I asked our local Airbnb host what Australian cuisine is, and she said there’s not really an Australian cuisine unless you’re game for kangaroo or crocodile meat. Errr, that’s not really up to my taste so I didn’t eat anything like that. But one popular dish is fish and chips, which ate Koku really made a point to try. There are plenty of places in Sydney where you can buy this, but Lianne recommended that we try the one in Watson’s Bay harbour. However, we just had a very heavy lunch and we didn’t have room for more food. Next time, right, ate Koku?

Transportation

Getting around Sydney is sooo convenient. The train stations are well-labelled, bus stops are easy to spot, and the Opal app has navigational instructions so you’ll know exactly where to go – even if you’re coming from your Airbnb!

Detailed navigation from our Airbnb to Manly Wharf

We bought an Opal card because of the travel capping, cheaper fare (compared to per ticket rates), and convenience of not needing to buy a ticket every time we went to the train station. You can buy a ticket from the bus driver when you get on board, but there are some routes where you need to have an Opal card (marked as pre-pay) and cannot buy from the driver. The transpo rates change, depending on the time of day (peak hours, off-peak, Sunday).

The only thing I didn’t like about the Opal card is that they have no tourist option where you can refund any leftover amount if you returned the Opal card or cashed in through their machine (there’s a refund if you bought online or through the app). Because of an unexpected trip to Watson’s Bay, we had to reload our card (minimum of $10), and we had already reached our week’s cap, so we both went home with $4 in our Opal cards. That’s Php 150 I cannot get back unless I travel back to Sydney within nine years.

Getting around Sydney is so easy.

What happens if you tap off, the scanner flashes an error and prompts you to try again, and when you re-tap, it is counted as a tap on? This happened to me in Cockatoo Island! However, I think there’s a window/number of hours before they count it as you not tapping off, and I was not charged twice even though I tapped off after 2 hours.

You need to tap off because they will charge you with the farthest point from the point you rode the train/bus, instead of the correct amount. For example, you ride a train that is going from Point A to Point D, but you’re only going down at Point C. If you don’t tap off, they will charge you from Point A to Point D, instead of the correct and cheaper fare from Point A to Point C.

Checking your balance and history is easy with the app if you have an NFC-enabled phone. You just need to put the card against your phone, and your balance will be updated in the Opal app.

There are two ferry services in Sydney: the fast craft and the Opal-serviced ferries. If you avail the fast craft, you will need to buy a separate ticket. Make sure to check with the Opal app or Transport NSW website. We made sure that all transportation costs were covered by our Opal card.

If you don’t want to take the train or bus, you can also ride an Uber, rent a bike or walk Sydney’s pretty streets.

You can even cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge itself – for free!

Internet

There are plenty of places in Sydney where you can have free wifi (malls, the Library of NSW, McDonalds, airports), but since we wanted to be constantly connected for navigational purposes, we bought an Optus sim card. There are several stores selling sim cards right before you go out the door in Sydney’s Terminal 1.

I checked the rates online, and I had two choices: Vodafone’s $21 rate that will give me 12.5gb data for one month or Optus’ Ultimate Plus at $30, that will give me 10gb for one month. We were supposed to go with Vodafone’s, but when we arrived at the airport, we bought Optus because they were offering a $15 sim with 10gb of data plus 10gb Netflix/Spotify allocation. Ate Koku had so much fun watching Netflix while waiting for the train or while at the airports.

Buying a sim card was a way cheaper option than buying an overseas wifi rental device that will cost me Php 450 a day. We also shared the cost of the sim so we only spent approxiately Php 298 per pax on mobile data for our whole trip. My phone is open line so I have no trouble swapping out sim cards and networks, and I can turn on mobile hotspot for my sister. However, I do have a portable wifi router but I forgot to bring it on our trip.

Bonus: where to nap in Sydney

This was initially a joke between me and ate Koku, but it turned out that locals really do love to take naps outside because they have so many clean parks and they like to get a tan.

The first time we took a nap was at the Royal Botanic Gardens on our first day. We didn’t take a moment to rest after our flight before setting out to explore, and we didn’t realize how tired we were until we were at the Gardens, and it was 4pm, and we couldn’t keep our eyes open and just wanted to faint.

We realized it was okay to nap on the ground when we saw people lying on the grounds or in benches when we passed by to and from the Calyx. And everytime we went to parks, we saw people just casually lying on the ground. It’s clean in Sydney that you can literally just sit on the grass and not worry about dog poop.

We chose a shaded spot outside the Calyx where there were other groups napping. Because the grass was be sharp, we put travel pamphlets behind our backs as we laid on the grass. When we woke up, an hour had already passed – but we were re-energized for the rest of the day!

Just outside The Calyx

 

 

I realized traveling can really take a toll, and if it’s free and okay to nap in the parks, then why not? I just made sure to secure my bags to my body just in case. If you find yourself in need of a nap during the day (I don’t think it’s okay at night), other places I saw you can use for a power nap are:

  • Sydney Observatory (there’s a nice huge tree, or the gazebo if no one’s using it, or on the benches)
  • Waverley Oval in Bondi
  • Park outside MCA in Circular Quay (although it can be noisy)
  • Watson’s Bay just after the port

I know it’s not allowed because sleeping in libraries is a huge no-no, but I could barely walk from tiredness. We were about to leave but I insisted on taking pictures from the second floor by the main entrance of the National Library of NSW. I found two very comfortable leather seats. I sat down and quickly dozed off for about five minutes. My sister woke me up because the guard kept checking on us, but that close-my-eyes-for-a-second helped me for the rest of the day.

Sydney now ranks as one of my favorite cities in the world – all the green places, the cleanliness, the safety, and the friendliness of people, plus the fact that it’s so family-friendly. I loved seeing teenage children going to the park with their parents, or groups of parents with their friends and their children playing in the park. It’s a vibrant economy yet serves a laid-back atmosphere that really de-stresses you at the end of the day. I thought one week was enough to explore this city, but now I totally understand why people keep coming back for more. Red Heart on Google Android 8.1

Read my other Australia travel posts!

See you, Sydney!

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