Trip To Australia: The Money Stuff

20140422-195757.jpgIt’s 3:16am and I’m wide awake. Mr PoP was too until he popped a couple of Benadryl and headed back to bed. It’s the first time either of us have experienced jet lag of such epic proportions. But we have a good excuse. We just got back from Australia a few days ago and it was a whopping 14 hour time difference from Florida. So now you know why it’s now 3:18am and I’m still wide awake.

But since I’m awake, I figured I may as well share some of the trip and what we learned while we were there.

First, the Money

This is a personal finance blog, of course.

Australia seems like a super extravagant trip for two folks as concerned with investing as we are, and it absolutely would have been if we had been the ones who paid for the whole thing. Instead, most of this trip was paid for through non-monetary compensation that Mr PoP earned through his job. Often called a sales incentive trip, it’s a pretty common performance incentive in many different commission sales environments. My sister has earned multiple sales incentive trips in the hotel industry, and when I was in elementary school, my dad (working in insurance sales at the time) earned one that sent my parents to Hawaii.

Non-monetary compensation doesn’t mean it’s entirely without cost to us, though. Since non-monetary compensation is taxable like wages, our overall tax bill will be higher, but his company is generous and provides an offset for part of the tax burden. However, we don’t know the values of the non-monetary compensation or the tax assistance until late in the year, so we end up withholding extra just in case. Realistically, we do end up paying some taxes on the value of the trip, but it’s hard to really grasp exactly how much until taxes will be done (and by then the trip will have been almost a year ago, so we won’t care much).

This year’s non-monetary compensation package paid for our plane tickets to Australia, 4 nights in an expensive hotel, a number of activities, and plenty of food and drink for 5 days. Based on previous values of non-monetary compensation for similar trips, our best guess is that the non-monetary compensation for all of this will be over $10K, quite possibly more. Definitely not the kind of money we want to spend on a 5 day trip.

You’re Kidding! How Much??

For those keeping track at home, that’s over $1K per person per day. Ouch!

On travel we pay for, the goal is 1/10th of that – $100 per person, per day – a goal that Mama PoP told me about years ago and I’ve always thought was really useful.

Increasing Our Bang For The Buck

To us, it seems a little silly to travel all the way to Australia and leave after 5 days (after all it took more than 20 hours in airplanes to get there, not to mention layover time in airports). So we extended the trip and added another 5 days – hoping to reach the $100 per person per day rule for those five days. We ran into some travel difficulties in the form of a cyclone (that’s what they call hurricanes down there), and had to cancel our original itinerary for the second half of our trip and make some last minute plans.

We are still waiting to see what reimbursements we’ll get on about $400 in prepaid expenses for services that we couldn’t use. But if all those reimbursements come through as expected, we’ll have spent ~$1,230 for a last minute extra 5.5 days (that’s $112 per person per day on average) in one of the most expensive cities in the world – Sydney. While I’m sure it’s possible to go even cheaper, we definitely treated ourselves everyday while we were there and are pretty pleased with the balance we achieved as a result.

This $1,230 covered:

  • Last minute hotel booking for 5 nights in the historic (read: expensive) area called The Rocks (~$530)
  • Transportation to/from lots of cool free/inexpensive experiences (think hiking in the blue mountains a couple hours outside of the city, going to multiple national landmark sites, public art exhibitions, and a couple other cool museums) on public transit (5 train rides and 5 ferry rides) (~$130)

Hiking in the Blue Mountains

  • A souvenir ring for me, a christmas ornament, and a mother’s day gift for Mama PoP all from an open air craft market ($85) (I also kindof wanted to buy these amazing steam punk style cufflinks made from recycled and polished watch parts for Mr PoP since he always borrows my cufflinks, but the price for the watch pieces he liked was a bit higher – almost $200! – than we were prepared to spend that day and he wasn’t sure they would be worth $200 to him.)
  • One expensive experience – spending the day in a world class zoo and getting to hang out briefly with a koala named Darryl and his zoo keeper, sorry for the poor videographer skills. (~$105, but worth EVERY penny)

  • All meals either provided by a continental breakfast or eating out at restaurants. Mr PoP drank a LOT of great espresso while there, so didn’t miss his awesome home espresso setup at all. (~$380)

For having to decide all this on the fly since the weather turned our plans upside down, I’m pretty pleased that we came in as close as we did to the planned spending.

Where We Saved

Accommodation was definitely where we saved some money. By choosing a historic B&B with shared bathrooms (think down the hall like in a college dormitory), we saved some serious cash over other last minute alternatives and were still able to stay near to all the action that we wanted – like the beautiful botanic gardens, the opera house, a main port for ferries and access to the subway. While we were kept up a couple of nights due to the pub downstairs of our accommodations, the staff was really friendly, the museli at the continental breakfast was REALLY filling, and I was glad the big cockroaches didn’t show themselves until our last morning there.

Where We Splurged

Food and coffee. Though we weren’t eating anything too extravagant, the costs in Sydney are just really that insanely high (well, especially in the tourist district, I imagine). (And since we didn’t have access to any sort of cooking implement or fridge, we didn’t ever visit a local grocery store. Honestly, we had more interesting things to do. Do we fail some sort of PF blogger test there? Oh well.) In general, restaurant food and beverage cost about double what it would back home. (While I’m quoting the Sydney prices in AUD, the exchange is pretty close to 1-1 these days, so it’s fairly accurate to think of these as absolute comparisons.)

Some cost comparisons:

Item Price At Home Price In Sydney
Americano (called Long Black there) $2 $4-$5
Dinner for 2 at IHOP equivalent $20-$25 $47
Dinner for 2 at nice cafe/mid market restaurant $40-$45 $80-$90
Pint of Beer at Restaurant/Pub $5-$9 $7-$9

Beer was the only thing we encountered where the prices remotely resembled our reality at home, so Mr PoP made sure to take advantage of that and usually tried a new beer every night.

It’s now 4:26am and oh so clear that my sleeping schedule is a complete wreck. So what else to do but head out for a run and finish this up tomorrow when I’m hopefully on a more normal schedule.


Gratuitous lion picture from the zoo. Such good kitties they were to model so well for me.


How much do you aim to spend on vacations? Do you try and maximize vacation time and money by adding on to work-paid trips?

42 comments to Trip To Australia: The Money Stuff

  • Jo

    Glad you enjoyed Australia, Sydney really is a beautiful city!

    Travelling in Australia is expensive. I live in Brisbane but did live in Sydney for many years. You did well to find accommodation at that price. Last time I visited (at christmas time) I couldn’t get a hotel room in Sydney for under $200, and a hostel bed was about $70 per person. Those prices are average for eating out in a capital city down under. That’s why most Australians travel to places like South East Asia, Fiji and the USA for holidays and camping and caravaning is becoming popular here again, it’s cheaper!

    We can easily travel in Europe and America for $100-$125 a day per in decent accommodation, less if staying in hostels and guesthouses. Asia can be done very comfortably for about $50-70 a day.

    • I think we really lucked out with finding the last minute hotel at a decent price, especially as it was the Easter holidays.

      Friends of ours stopped in Fiji on the way to Australia for several days and had wonderful things to say about their stays there as well.

  • Sounds like a good trip! Friends of ours lived in NZ and it was also very expensive. I’d like to go but not until we can afford to go for like 2-4 weeks (we’d probably do SE asia as well).
    Catherine recently posted..How I’m Able to Put $2,000+ Towards Debt Every Month And Still Have a LifeMy Profile

    • Yes, we heard that Auckland prices are quite similar. 2-4 weeks sounds great, but it’s so hard for us to take that much time off work. Even these couple weeks were difficult. =/

  • Great to hear about your trip down under Mrs Pop! My wife and I live here in Melbourne, Australia (south part of Australia), and just like Sydney it is ridiculously expensive – house prices in particular are just crazy. Sounds like you did pretty well with your budget, despite being well above your $100 per day rule!

    We actually love travelling to the US (once every couple of years), and love how relatively cheap it it – especially the food! My wife is also a huge Disney fan (and of course, now so am I), so we have made a couple of trips to your home state of Florida so far, and always have plans to return again!

    PS Sydney is a beautiful city, and sounds like you had a fantastic trip – but if you really love your food and coffee, Melbourne is definitely the place to be! Perhaps you can come check it out next time 😉
    Jason recently posted..How the simple habit of frequently checking your share prices can ruin your investment successMy Profile

    • We’ll definitely have to check out Melbourne the next time we’re out there as I’ve heard so many good things about it. Don’t you guys have a colony of the little penguins living in the wild that visitors can see?

      One of the things I was so impressed with was how friendly all the people I met were. If that’s how nice the “big city” folks were, I can only imagine how nice the smaller city and rural people are.

      Glad you guys enjoy Florida (so many similarities in foliage, we found!). Any advice on the jet lag?

      • Yeah the penguin colony is on Phillip Island, 90 mins from Melbourne city ( Really popular tourist attraction, thought I’ve never been to see them.

        Great that you met some friendly people – People are pretty welcoming here, but I always feel the same way when I visit the US :)

        The jetlag is a tough one – I just make sure to stay awake for the entire trip, and crash at night when I arrive. Helps me adjust pretty much straight away, but easier said than done!
        Jason recently posted..How the simple habit of frequently checking your share prices can ruin your investment successMy Profile

        • “People are pretty welcoming here, but I always feel the same way when I visit the US :)”

          Aww, nice of you to say! Thanks for the tip on the jet lag… wish I had known that before. =) But at least I think I’m finally over the jet lag now.

  • You did a fantastic job adding onto the trip and what an amazing opportunity to travel to Australia!! Sounds like your hubby works for a great company. I have started buying Christmas ornaments from the places I have traveled to as a souvenir, I see you bought one too! When my husband traveled a lot for business a number of years ago, I would meet him for the weekend in places like NYC, Chicago and San Francisco. His flight was already covered by his company, I would often fly on points and we’d just have to maybe cover another night’s hotel stay, some food costs and spending money, of course.

  • Thanks for sharing! Australia is on my to-do travel list…once the kids are gone. As expensive as it sounds, I don’t think I’ll drag the four of them along. :)
    Brian @ Luke1428 recently posted..Moving Back In With Your Parents at 50? It’s Happening A BunchMy Profile

  • Kim

    Australia, thanks for sharing. That one is on our list but it will be a few years. I’m so glad you stayed the extra 5 days. I was about to feel sorry for you if you’d only stayed the first week with all that flying! I would also not go there and not see a koala bear, so I think that was a good expense. I think travel is one of those reasons to drive an old car or bike to work. I’d rather spend on vacation than for most material things any day of the week, although you really did well with spending for such an amazing trip.
    Kim recently posted..6 Things That Are Cheaper on Amazon Prime than at Wal MartMy Profile

    • The koala was definitely a highlight (though Mr PoP will probably roll his eyes when he reads that). There weren’t many that did just the 5 days, but there were a few and I didn’t want to be in their shoes. So tiring… It is an absolute ton of flying!

  • We did the 5 days in Sydney when I had to go for work – I drug Dad with me and tacked on two days on either end of my work stuff. Except for the fact that I was 5 weeks pregnant and my stomach was revolting at the sight of meat, we had a blast! I would love to go back and spend more time, and go to different cities in the country, like Cairns. Dad’s not sure he wants to subject himself to 20+ hours on a plane again though (and this was over 3 years ago!).

    Glad you had a great time, and for so little as well. I try to get cheap flights and inexpensive hotels when traveling for fun, but food and experiences are more important to me than saving every penny, so we splurge on those.
    Mom @ Three is Plenty recently posted..Daughter Person’s Easter MoneyMy Profile

    • The mr and I are in agreement with your DH on the flight. We can’t really see subjecting ourselves to that torture again, but we’ll talk about the alternative ideas for that problem in our next post.

      Cairns sounds great, but it got hit with a category 5 hurricane while we were there, and it traveled down much of the Queensland coast, which is the main reason we stayed in Sydney.

  • Wow that is EXPENSIVE.

    I haven’t been to that part of the world yet, although I’d like to. I just know that if I went with BF and the baby ,they’d probably both need a week just to adjust to the time zone change.. and another week to adjust when coming back 😐

    Me, I can adjust within a day but they both have serious sleep issues…

    Still it sounds like a lot of fun, even at $10,000 …
    save. spend. splurge. recently posted..Would it be better if the government forced us to save 40% for retirement?My Profile

    • I have never before had jet lag problems, not even with a 9 hour difference between Germany and the west coast of the US. But this one through me for a total loop on the way back.

  • Whew Australia is pricey! But, it’s awesome that you were able to go for so little money! I agree with you 100% that splurging on food is something that must be done while on vacation. For me, food is an awesome way to experience culture, and well, I really love food!
    Retired by 40 recently posted..I Saved 80% Making Baby Food!My Profile

    • Mr PoP is definitely one who likes a good meal. He got way too grumpy if I tried to appease him with nuts or fruit when he wanted a meal. =)

  • Ivy

    Lovely! Australia and NZ and were next in line for a trip when kid#1 showed up and long distance travel like that got on the back-burner. It will be mostly Europe and US until the kids are at least teens

    I traveled a lot before kids and my company allows us over the weekend to either charge a plane ticket (own or spouse) or hotel stay – so my husband joined me quite a few times. I was working quite a lot in South Florida, so it was a perfect destination. Nowadays it’s difficult, I am going to Japan in the fall and I really wish he could make it, but we have nobody to leave the kids with for that long

    We’ve definitely started splurging more on hotels. 5-10 years ago it was motels and camping, nowadays time and experience are at a premium for us when we do manage to get away (did I mention the kids:-), so $100-150 for a hotel a night is my usual target in big cities.

    • $100-$150 is still not bad at all for a hotel in a major city – especially as an excuse to get away from the kids for a couple of days!

      Enjoy Japan! Will you get to extend it and see a bit while you’re there?

  • I do penny pinching in some areas and extravagance in others, based on my own values. I’ll pay a lot to do something like a guided kayak tour, but I’m not picky about where I sleep. I do visit grocery stores (even if I don’t have a kitchen), but that’s because I’m a snacker. My husband and I usually pack lunches and just eat out for dinner when we travel.

    I went to New Zealand for three weeks for less than $3k (including airfare) in 2006. I stayed in hostels, mostly made my own food, etc. All my splurges were experience-based (and, boy, did I have some experiences!).

    My vacations end up pretty frugal, though they are more pricy now that I’m married. My husband really likes to rent a car so we can go for drives. We sort of offset that by doing lots of free stuff (hikes and bird watching, mostly). Still, it’s all about saving where one can to splurge where one wants.
    Leah recently posted..Happy Earth Day!My Profile

    • “New Zealand for three weeks for less than $3k (including airfare)”

      Well done! Mr PoP usually likes renting cars on trips, but for some reason he was glad when we ended up not needing to on this most recent trip… and I had even managed to reserve a manual transmission for him. =)

  • I did a trip to New Zealand awhile back through REI and it was worth every penny I paid for it, and it wasn’t cheap, but it’s probably my most memorable trip ever. When it comes to certain vacations, it pays to splurge on certain things like extending your trip and piggybacking on a business trip. For my trip to Iceland, it was only about 3.5 days, but with the weather and it being relatively small, you could see and do a lot in a short time, and it was only 5.5 hours from Denver. If I ever go to Australia, I’d probably do at least two weeks and just try to be as frugal as possible. Maybe I’ll start making some friends there now so I can stay with them instead of pay for a hotel or Air BnB. :) BTW one of my bucket list times is to hold a Koala.
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted..Money and FamilyMy Profile

    • Maybe someone from Australia can correct me, but I think it’s not generally possible to hold koalas. At the zoo we went to you’re not even supposed to touch them, though we heard at other “sanctuary” places they let you touch the fur. But I’d still be kindof wary… apparently most of the koalas have chlamydia. (Well, a koala version… I don’t think humans can catch it.)

  • AU is a real cool place. I would be careful of swimming in any water down there, too many sharks and crocs. And lots of snakes.

    But I hear is it nice.
    No Nonsense Landlord recently posted..Long Distance Property ManagementMy Profile

    • Luckily no one we know had any encounters with anything more dangerous than the hotel elevators. But those were pretty dangerous!

  • Oh hey! So you guys didn’t make it to NZ, fair enough given your time. Bummer you were there during Ita. We were just in Queensland this week and missed it fortunately, although the weather was not stellar.

    Our daily goal was NZ$100 for both while on the road overall (more in cheap countries and less in expensive ones). Queensland was good as everything was cheaper than in Auckland (don’t really recall what things cost in Sydney as I didn’t pay for much while I was there, presumably either cheaper than Auckland or on par, and your numbers seem to back that up). Was that Taronga Zoo?
    NZ Muse recently posted..Quintessentially NZ things I still haven’t doneMy Profile

    • We didn’t… other folks made it over to Auckland, but we tried (and failed b/c of Ita) to go to the Whitsundays instead. Good to know that Queensland is cheaper because Sydney’s prices definitely made my eyes bulge a little. In fact, you knew it was time to go home when spending $30 on a plate of bad polenta (that I could make for ~$1 at home) and a glass of tap water didn’t seem abnormal.

      That was Taronga Zoo. If you haven’t been, you definitely should – it’s now probably my all time favorite zoo!

  • This is awesome! It sounds like a once in a lifetime trip that was well worth it. The fact that your hubby’s work paid for part of your trip doesn’t hurt either! =)

    Vacations are our big splurge, so it wouldn’t bother me to spend that much on a trip like that.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..All We Have Is TimeMy Profile

    • Yeah, I don’t think we would have paid to go at this point in our lives if work hadn’t covered such a huge part of the costs.

  • Australia is one of those places I really, really want to see… but since I don’t anticipate getting a subsidized trip, I question whether I’ll ever really find it worthwhile from a dollars-to-happiness perspective. There are so many OTHER places I want to see, most of which are cheaper!
    Frugal Paragon recently posted..Don’t Put Shampoo on Your Grocery ListMy Profile

    • True story, there are tons of other places. But who knows what opportunities life will bring down the road. Besides, the longer you go for, the less the airfare matters. So maybe just try to go for a while and live there?

  • Mama Pop

    One of my favorite trip memories was a week in London with Mrs. PoP (long before she became Mrs.). I was there for work and she met me there during her college spring break. Each morning, I would catch the underground to a school and Mrs. PoP would set out to explore the city and figure out what play or landmark we would see that night. After work, Mrs. PoP would share what she’d found that day and guide me all over the city to all of the best sights (she is a great traveling partner). Many nights we got to see a play or other special event or high point. As I recall, we were able to do this because we always ate a big, free breakfast and often grabbed a sandwich at a local drug store for dinner. Food is just not important to me when it is stacked up against an experience! Some would say that food can be an experience, but I know of only 2 restaurant meals in my whole life that were memorable for me. Give me a koala or time on a beach or some live entertainment every time and forget the fancy food.

    • Awww, that was a great trip – though if I recall we were both sick by the end of it!

      I’m with you on food, but Mr PoP definitely enjoys a meal at a nice restaurant more than I do, so some compromise is needed when he’s my travel buddy. =)

  • We save $200 per month for vacations…then we typically book when we have enough for the booking, but end up spending a little bit more than what we’ve said when we actually go on the trip. It actually works out pretty well! It does push us away from destinations that are expensive to fly to (like the South Pacific), but I’ve lived in New Zealand as well as Australia, so that doesn’t bother me too much. Hubs would love NZ and has never been, so I should probably try to get a trip going! Right now I’m working my credit card rewards to save up for a trip to Africa! :)
    Becky @ RunFunDone recently posted..Decision Maker!My Profile

  • What’s a vacation?

    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Big change can be ok tooMy Profile

    • sad face. =(

      Is this because of traveling with kiddos or workload? Can you not finagle a vacation now that you’re tenured?

      In truth, half of it was a workaction, especially for Mr PoP. But with timing and schedules, that’s pretty much the best case scenario for us taking vacations these days.

  • […] the time you’re reading this, we’ll be on our way out of town yet again.  If nearly two weeks in Australia weren’t enough for us, now we’re crossing an even bigger item off the bucket list this […]