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Planning a Trip to Australia: Where to Start, When to Go, What to See

Planning a Trip to Australia: Where to Start, When to Go, What to See

Planning a trip to Australia, but not sure where to start with the preparations for your dream vacation? This article is for you!

Australia is one of those countries that everybody dreams of going to one day. But then the day is finally there and you have not the slightest idea on where to start. Don’t rush to the travel agency just yet! First, figure out what YOU want so that your dream trip becomes a reality!

Below you can find some advice on how to plan Australia trip and make a good trip itinerary. Find out!

How to Plan a Trip to Australia – Our Experience & Tips

We were lucky to have had an opportunity to travel to Australia twice: once as a couple, and ten years later, with our three kids of 3, 3, and 5 years old.

Our first trip to Australia and New Zealand ten years ago was also our first road trip, and there were lots of things we didn’t know. We just booked the most popular road trip itinerary and relied on the road book we got from our travel agent. We saw many amazing places, yet we were disappointed. We went to New Zealand on the same trip as well, and we loved every single day there. So what went wrong in Australia?

We knew that Australia is huge and that driving times can be very long. What we didn’t know is that it is really boring on the road most of the time. Often, there is not much to see in between the places which are well worth visiting.

We saw so many dead kangaroos on the road and black, burned forests that it was even depressing with moments… We visited quite some towns along the Eastern Coast which were really not worth it – at least not for someone who only has 3 weeks in Australia.

So when we were preparing our second Australia trip with kids, we knew that we had to make an itinerary in such a way that it would be fun for the whole family. We were not going to make the same mistake twice!

So here are some general tips and recommendations to help you plan your dream Australia vacation. Read on!

Sydney Opera House and Harbour as seen from the water
Sydney Skyline and the Opera House

Planning Australia trip – what you need to know in advance

Below you can find some essential tips that will help you plan a trip to Australia. Not just any trip, but a really well-thought-of bucket-list trip that you always dreamt of. Take a look!

How to prepare a good travel plan for Australia

Before you start planning your Australian trip itinerary, you have to figure out the following:

  1. What are your INTERESTS? If traveling with kids, make sure to take their interests into account as well.
  2. WHEN do you want to go?
  3. HOW MUCH TIME do you have?
  4. WHERE – which places do you definitely want to see?

1. What do you want to see and do in Australia

The very first thing you have to figure out is what you expect from your trip to Australia. Do you want to see the beaches, go diving or snorkeling? Do you want to visit some cities, or maybe none at all? Or maybe you are mostly interested in beautiful nature and diverse wildlife?

For most people, it’s a combination of all. Still, you have to set priorities.

When we were preparing our trip to Australia with children, we were also struggling to come up with a good plan. We wanted to see as much as possible, but also had to try to estimate how much sightseeing a three- or a five-year-old can actually handle.

In the end, we chose nature destinations and limited city visits to just two days in Sydney and one day in Melbourne. Wildlife and nature are the most important factors for us when traveling with kids, and so we added Kangaroo Island, Tasmania, Great Ocean Road, and some other locations to our itinerary.

We also visited a few wildlife sanctuaries so that the kids could cuddle a koala, feed a kangaroo, and touch a Tasmanian Devil. We didn’t go to a zoo or a theme park as it was not in our interest and also didn’t fit our itinerary. But it might be something you as a family wants to consider, especially if you are passing near such a place anyway.

You are the one who knows your family and their interests best. So make sure that your Australia vacation is fun for everybody!

Children chasing wild kangaroos in the Grampians NP Australia
Chasing wild kangaroos in the Grampians NP, Australia

2. What is the best time to travel to Australia?

You can travel to Australia at any time of the year as long as you choose the right places in the right season. You can either decide on what you want to see and then find out when it’s the best time to go there OR you can select the places to fit your holidays. Just do some research before you book!

Remember that the best times are also the busiest times, so book early and be prepared to pay more. If possible, avoid Christmas and Easter vacations.

Here is a short destination guide to help you decide where to go in Australia and when:

  • Sydney can be visited all year round.
  • North Australia (Darwin area) is not a good idea in Australian summer as it is also the wet season and the roads are often impassible. The best time to visit is May to October. Here you can find our suggested Darwin itinerary.
  • Southern Australia (Melbourne area, Adelaide, Great Ocean Road, Kangaroo Island…) is probably best visited in the warmer months. By the way, we absolutely loved Kangaroo Island! Here you can read more about our visit to Kangaroo Island.
  • Tasmania is a summer destination unless you don’t mind the cold and the wind, or want to go skiing. The best time to visit Tasmania is between November and March. Here you can find more info about things to do in Hobart, Tasmania.
  • Red Centre (Alice Springs, Uluru) – can be visited all year round, but it’s VERY HOT and can be very wet in the Australian summer months. It’s a good destination in winter when Europe and the US have long summer holidays, but it will be much busier as well. Here you can find more information about visiting Australia’s Red Centre. The best time to visit the Red Center is from May to September.
  • Queensland (The Great Barrier Reef and the East coast between Cairns and Brisbane) is warm all year round, but the summer months are also the wettest. Tropics can be beautiful when it rains. The best time to travel to Queensland is from May to October.
  • South-Western Australia (Perth area) is probably best in spring or autumn. Summers are hot and winters – wet. Locals say that August and September are the best months to visit Perth.
Beautiful red rocks of Kata Tjuta, also called the Olgas in Australian outback
Kata Tjuta or The Olgas in Australia’s Red Center

3. How much time do you need in Australia?

It’s very important to understand that you cannot see everything in Australia unless you have unlimited time and budget. So be selective when you choose where to go.

The first time we traveled to Australia we had 3,5 weeks and we did a road trip from Cairns to Sydney. Despite the fact that this tour is presented as the most popular way to see Australia by most of the travel agencies, I wouldn’t do it again. I know more people who had a similar trip itinerary and they were all disappointed. Driving time is much too long on this trip, you spend hours in the car, and it’s not like you see the most amazing landscapes or landmarks every day.

In 3-4 weeks time, you can see the Great Barrier Reef, some of the Eastern coast, Sydney and the Blue Mountains, plus some other places like, for example, the Red Centre or the Great Ocean Road. That means you have to fly instead of driving, and that you have to be more selective as to where you go.

TIP: Domestic flights are not necessarily the more expensive option. In fact, it can be cheaper to fly than to spend days on the road. The costs of car rental, fuel, accommodation, and food for the extra days will quickly add up, not to mention the precious time you save.

When you travel to the other side of the world for just a few weeks and you want to actually see some of this diverse continent, you better go to fewer places that are really worth it than to many places which are not as worthwhile. Spend fewer hours driving and more sightseeing!

The Great Ocean Road coastline near the Twelve Apostles Australia
Great Ocean Road

4. Top places you shouldn’t miss in Australia

In my opinion, you really should try to see Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru (Ayers Rock), and the Great Ocean Road. These are the very best places to keep in mind when planning a trip to Australia.

However, these places are also very far from each other. So it’s not really feasible to see them all if you only have a week or two. Try to pick at least two of these top spots – that way you at least get a taste of what Australia has to offer.

If I had to choose just one place to go to in Australia, I would recommend the Red Centre (Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the Kings Canyon, West MacDonnell Ranges…). It is so very different from all the rest and it’s also what makes Australia so unique. Of course, it’s just my personal opinion, but you really have to experience it in order to understand how special it is. Uluru is not ‘just a rock’.

Uluru or Ayers rock from a different perspective
Different view of Uluru, the Ayers Rock

So, these are our main tips for planning a trip to Australia. To summarize: good trip itinerary stands or falls with these four factors: WHAT, WHEN, HOW LONG, and WHERE. Once you figure that out, the rest is easy.

It goes without saying that the budget is a very important factor as well, but leave the money worries for later, after you figure out your trip itinerary.

Whether you’ll love Australia depends so much on how well you’ll prepare your trip. This is the most important step, so take your time and plan well!

TIP: If you are looking for ideas on where to go in Australia, check this post with our 5-week Australia itinerary. It covers some of the most beautiful regions, some of the must-see places in Australia. Even if you don’t have as much time in Australia, you will get a good idea of what there is to see and how much time you need for each region.

TIP: If you are planning to visit Australia with a family, check out our tips for traveling to Australia with kids.

READ ALSO: Top Places to See on the Great Ocean Road

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Planning Australia trip - practical tips and recommendations #Australia

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Gail scanu

Monday 28th of August 2023

Hi, I’m wanting to go to Australia for the first time for my 60th! It will be for 3 weeks. Would like to go to Sydney but where else should my husband and I visit. We love history, culture, nature! Just don’t know where to start! Please could you advise? Regards Gail


Wednesday 30th of August 2023

Hi Gail, I have covered this info in the article. A lot depends on the season when you visit, your personal preferences, etc. On the first trip, most people visit Sydney (+Blue Mountains), Melbourne (+Great Ocean Road), Red Centre (Uluru), and the area around Cairns (Great Barrier Reef). You may want to take a look at our Australia itinerary for more info, it will give you an idea of what can be done in different parts of Australia. Unfortunately, I really have no time to help our readers with individual trip planning. Good luck with the planning!


Tuesday 1st of August 2023

Hi my name is Eduardo from Los Angeles, i really liked reading thru your post. I am planning a trip to AUS and NZ for DEC 2024, I do have some time, ive been reading much about AUS and given its size we wont be able to cover as much as hoped. We are coming from LA , which is such a long ways, with that unfortunately we only have about 10 days in AUS, so i was thinking Sydney, Melbourne, fly to Cairns and Great Barrier Reef and then some Gold Coast. Comin from LA and living near Santa Monica, my wife and I enjoy the beach and vibrant city life, great places to eat and sight see. i know youve probably been asked so many times, if u had 10 days, max of 12 how would u plan it????



Tuesday 1st of August 2023

Hi Eduardo, there are millions of ways to plan a 10-12-day trip to Australia. Your plan - Sydney, Melbourne (+ Great Ocean Road?), GBR - sounds doable if you just concentrate on the 'musts' and fly in between. I'm not sure I'd add Gold Coast to that mix unless you skip Melbourne. Otherwise, you'll have just 2-3 days in each region and probably spend more time at the airport and on the plane/car than sightseeing. Sometime less is more ;). Good luck with the planning!


Wednesday 19th of July 2023

Hello- My husband and I are traveling to Australia for our first trip in September and would like to see as much as we can in the 10th short days we get! We are flying into and out of Sydney. We like to do all of the things and well anything outdoors. Though I know it is impossible to see everything in 10days what is the best recommended itinerary to take as much in that we can. We were going to rent a car but that now sounds limited due to long driving distances. We are open to doing short flights just need guidance and don’t have a lot of time to plan. Help!


Thursday 20th of July 2023

Hi Tabitha, as you can imagine, there are millions of options on how you could spend 10 days in Australia. I would pick 2-3 different areas, fly in between, and then spend 2-4 days at each place. Take a look at our Australia itinerary for some ideas of different regions to visit and how we did it. Unfortunately, I really have no time to help our readers with individual trip planning. Good luck!


Sunday 2nd of July 2023

I’m hoping you can help…we will be leaving out of Sydney on a 12-day cruise in February stopping in Eden, Burnie and Melbourne before heading to NZ. We are willing to spend a week or so before the departure out of Sydney site-seeing Australia (including some time in Sydney. We love nature and culture unique to the countries we visit. We thought about flying into Cairns to see the GBR, but have read that Feb is risky weather for visibility and potential travel delays. Bummer. What would you recommend as a close second area to visit before heading to Sydney (say 3-4 days where we would fly directly to the location and then fly to Sydney). Any suggestions would be so helpful. I am beyond overwhelmed at this point. Thank you!!!!



Tuesday 4th of July 2023

Hi Barb, there are just so many choices that it's really hard for me to suggest something. If you absolutely want to see the Great Barrier Reef, then go for it and make the best of the weather that you get. Otherwise, if you have just 3-4 days, head straight to Sydney and explore the city and the area. Take a day trip to Blue Mountains. There's plenty to see to fill a week so you won't get bored. Good luck with the planning!


Friday 12th of May 2023

I appreciate your write-up. I was hoping you might field my idea - I was looking at renting a car and driving up the coast from Sydney to the Cairns area, over about 2-2.5 weeks. The driving doesn't bother me, and I love being able to stop in small towns/beaches/etc. I recognize the distance, and recognize that I may have more time IN a few places if I flew. But - I also think it could be really fun to drive a few hours a day, get to a small beach town to hang out/explore, then continue along the way. Thoughts on this approach? Thank you very much!


Saturday 13th of May 2023

Hi Jake, we did a similar trip when we visited Australia the very first time. We started in Cairns and drove all the way down to Sydney over a 3-week period. It was ok and there were some nice stretches and amazing places along the way. But there were also long days of driving. We enjoyed our next trip (flying big distances and taking more time to explore each area deeper) incomparably more. It really depends on your preferences though. If you are looking to make a classic road trip and don't care about spending hours and hours in a car each day, then it can be a very nice experience. But 2-2.5 weeks is rather short, so try to do some research so that you at least don't miss some of the nicest places. Enjoy your trip!

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