25 Things Nobody Tells You About Living in Byron Bay as a Backpacker
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It’s been 2 years since I first started living in Byron Bay, and I still think about it like, all the time. Who’s busking down on main beach… who lives in my camping spot now… if there’s one thing in life I’m sure about, it’s that this place will forever have the most lasting impact on me.
If this is your first Byron Bay post that you’ve read of mine (there’s a few, I’m a tad obsessed) then allow me to introduce myself. My name’s Claire and I lived in a tent in Byron Bay for five months – which were the best five months of my life (closely followed by driving around the whole of Australia in the subsequent 10 months).
I get lots of questions from people about living in Byron Bay. People hear about this paradise full of happy souls, good vibes, beautiful beaches and amazing music and want a to be a part of it. I don’t blame them. But many people do their research about life in Byron Bay and are put off by people claiming it’s expensive, it’s hard to get jobs and it’s tiny.
But I’m here to spill the beans on some things that nobody tells you about living in Byron Bay. Here’s what it’s really like to take up residence in Australia’s most famous beach town (oosh, sweeping statement, but I think it might be true). So whether you’re here as an extended stop on your east coast Australia road trip itinerary or are thinking about Byron Bay life for…. ever? you’ll find these travel tips useful! 🙂
Living in Byron Bay: The Lowdown
The place is absolutely tiny
Yes, Byron Bay is small. It’s pretty much Johnson Street which is where most of the restaurants, shops, cafes and bars are, a few roads off Johnson Street and a street leading to where the Arts Factory Hostel – in my opinion, the best hostel in Byron Bay – is located.
It does, however, have an impressive amount of beaches for a town of its small size, as well as bushland. There’s not much hiking in Byron Bay, but you can walk to the lighthouse (takes about 30 minutes from the town centre) and to Tallows Beach and go to the beautiful tree sanctuary – which is my favourite spot in Byron Bay to be within nature.
But once you get there, you might never leave
I was living in Byron Bay for five months, and I left the town less than ten times. If I’m in Bromley for five days I try and leave more than ten times.
Honestly, when you live in Byron Bay, you’ll be in a bit of a bubble. There’s everything you want there – beaches, a jungle, great people, good food, plenty of spots for a beer and shops selling everything from prayer flags to tye dye rainbow tops. What more could you want in life?
The Byron bubble is very real. But, even though it’s a great place to be stuck, I would recommend leaving the town sometimes – to check out these great day trips from Byron Bay to see what is in the area.
Living in a tent (on an official campsite) is the best accommodation option
I’m not remotely quiet about this. Living in a tent was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. Being outside most of the time cured me of anxiety, insomnia and IBS, it made me into such a contagiously happy person and it gave me a deep appreciation for nature.
I get so much curiosity about the fact that I lived in a tent for so long, and I welcome it – every question helps me remember the happiest time of my life even more vividly. If you’re after unique, cheap(er) accommodation in Australia, living in a tent in Byron Bay is the answer.
Note: I am talking about living on an official, registered campsite here where you are allowed to live, not wild camping by the beach. This is illegal, and is causing big problems in Byron Bay with littering and anti-social behaviour. Don’t do this, but do pay to stay long-term on a campsite in Byron Bay – I lived in the Arts Factory for five months while in the town.
Houses are hard to come by
Part of the reason why people live in tents in Byron Bay is because it’s damn near impossible to rent a room. There’s about a trillion backpackers calling the place home for a few months, and only so many rooms – which hikes up prices and bond fees considerably. There is also the option to live long-term in a hostel – but come on, you can do that anywhere ;).
Your biggest daily dilemma is ‘which beach shall I go to today’?
I mean it’s a real problem. Do you go to the beach with big waves, because your pro surfer friend wants a ride, or do you go to the place where you can get in the water without being bashed up by waves and subsequently swallowing the a quarter of the Pacific Ocean?
There’s so many Byron Bay beaches that we’re absolutely spoilt for choice. Main Beach gets a little crowded at times, but there is a lots going on there – or if you want some P&Q you could go to Tallows and be the only one there…
Whatever you decide you’ll have a blast – they’re all amazing!
Nightly dinner becomes a beach BBQ
And one of my favourite things about Byron’s beaches is that there are free BBQs – everywhere. This isn’t a rarity for Australia, but coming from somewhere where a day by the beach means wearing a hat, scarf and gloves while sitting outside a colourful beach hut and maybe having a whizz down the helter skelter, these are fantastic.
There is a Woolies supermarket and an Aldi in Byron, so you’ve got plenty of places to stock up on BBQ supplies. They’re great for vegan options – once you eat a Woolworths Macro burger, you’ll never look back – trust me.
And beach parties are the new clubs – but maybe it’s a wise idea to give them a miss
Going ‘out out’ in Byron Bay isn’t all that. I mean, the Railway Tavern (known as ‘Rails’) is fun for some live music and a couple of beers, but it closes at 12 and then you’re generally between the Northern, which is hit and miss, Woodys which plays despicable music 82% of the time or the Sticky Wicket if there is anything on (about once a month). Or you could just think ‘f** it’ and spend the night at Cheeky Monkeys (seriously, who even named that club?!).
OR you could wait for the legendary Byron Bay beach parties. Happening around once a month, sometimes more, they’re a ball. They aren’t really advertised – generally someone just decides one is happening and it goes from there – but if you hear a rumour of a beach party while you’re in Byron Bay – go.
Hi there, it’s Claire from the future here. I’m going to be completely honest here – I went to a few beach parties when I was in Byron Bay, without really thinking about the implications of them on the environment and locals. This was three years ago, and I wasn’t so into travelling sustainably and responsibly then.
Since then, I’ve heard from a few locals and done a bit of independent research and I’ve realised that these beach parties do quite a lot of harm. They quite obviously litter the beach, which goes into the ocean, they cause noise pollution and create social problems in the town. Some of them are also on Aboriginal ground, which is very distasteful and this definitely makes me ashamed that I participated in them.
I wouldn’t go to one of these parties now. When I did, I didn’t realise how harmful they were, I was just in my ‘Byron Bubble’. I’m not going to remove this part of the post because I think it’s important to show my journey to becoming a more sustainable traveller, and I don’t want to pretend I get it right all the time because I don’t. I’m still learning. But my recommendation now is to avoid these parties, for the reasons that I mentioned above.
‘Gossips’ wine is your poison of choice
Ohhhh Gossips. Miss ya like a hole in the head. Byron’s where you realise that goon is actually expensive, so you start to spend many a night merry on $5 bottles of wine instead. You’ll have a rose drinking phase, and will then have an atrocious night probably involving rose coloured vomit so will start to favour white wine. Then you’ll have enough, declare yourself anti-gossip forever and start treating yourself to $7 bottles of wine. But somehow, you always end up back on gossips….
Shoes are optional (but frowned upon)
If you’re living in Byron Bay (especially in the Arts Factory campsite), you can wear shoes, but you’ll be in the minority. Shoes just aren’t a thing here. I’m sure lots of people are going to be reading this and thinking ‘bladdy hippy’, so I’ll spare the speech about how connected I feel to nature when my feet are bare. But just know that in Byron, shoes are rare and you’ll have to use tweezers to pull glass shards out of your foot at least once.
Finding a job is tough but doable
Byron isn’t somewhere that you can go to and guarantee getting a job in the next week. It does happen, and it did to some of my friends, but some of us struggled. It took me a few days to get an awful job, and 6 weeks to get a decent one. It took some of my friends more or less time. If you go with enough money and are persistent with your search, you’ll find something, but just know that it is competitive. Here are some more tips for finding a job in Byron Bay!
Wages are awful
Because the world, his wife, their dog and all of their kids want to work in Byron Bay, wages are just awful. For my first job, I was (illegally) paid $13 per hour. The average is $18-19 an hour, which is minimum wage. (I mean, compared to most countries, that is still pretty good, but the cost of living in Australia is substantially higher).
But the quality of life is excellent
Yes, pay isn’t much, but where else can you finish work, go for a quick surf and try and spot some dolphins, head back and meditate in a tree sanctuary, then go back to your tent city to hang out with some of the most positive people you’ve ever met, before heading back down to the nightly drum circle as the sun sets? There are more important things to life than money, and Byron Bay will show you that.
You probably won’t save a penny
I actually saved quite a lot. But I also worked like crazy and going back to that work/ life balance, I kind of wish I’d life-d a little bit more. I still had the most amazing time and I don’t regret it, as the money I saved in Byron funded me to drive around the whole of Australia – but most people just worked to fund living in Byron Bay.
That being said, if your time there includes living in a tent, drinking gossips wine and eating reasonably cheap food from Woolies or Aldi (this is where I fall down, I can’t seem to go shopping without buying some kind of overpriced superfood), then you might be able to save for future travels!
Sustainable travel tip: there are also Farmer’s Markets in Byron Bay: the main one is open 7am until 11am on Thursdays. This is a great way to support locals and purchase some fresh food. I’m going to be honest, I did shop at Aldis and Woolworths more when I was living in Byron Bay – a big reason being that I worked Thursday mornings and I also was not so big on sustainable travel then – but nowadays, I would make the effort to use these Farmer’s Markets more, as I am much more aware of the importance of supporting locals when travelling. Read more sustainable travel tips here.
Sharks? No biggie, she’ll be ‘ite
There are quite a lot of sharks off the coast of Byron Bay. I’m not sure why, but when you’re there, you don’t really think about them. Of course, it’s important to be vigilant but do remember that sharks aren’t as scary as the media makes them out to be. When I went diving in Byron Bay, I actually swam with leopard sharks who have no teeth and are super chill! There are also wobbegong sharks in the ocean, who do have teeth but generally hang out far from the shore on the bottom of the ocean bed.
That being said, of course, if there are shark sightings, then it’s important to stay safe and get out of the water. There have been shark attacks, there were a few while I was there (thankfully none were serious), so do know the risks.
Snakes? They’re chill
I don’t know whether it was when I saw a python crossing the path right in front of me, found a baby snake in the lining of my tent or encountered a tree snake in my place of work that I became fascinated by the creatures… but I did. Snake lover and proud.
While there are a lot of poisonous snakes in Australia, none of them actually want to hurt humans – they only bite out of self-defence. Most of the snakebites in Australia happen because people try to pick them up. So don’t go doing that, and you’ll most likely be alright.
There do seem to be a lot of snakes in Byron – probably because the campsite I lived on backed onto a small part of jungle – but I never had any problems with any of them. I also travelled around Australia and slept in a very ripped tent for far too long and while I saw lots of snakes (in all states except South Australia, which I’m still pretty gutted I missed!), I never had any incidents.
Snake bites obviously do happen, but they’re rare and can be avoided. Please please don’t let this scare you out of camping in Australia.
You’ll have mixed feelings toward bush turkeys
I feel like bush turkeys are undervalued. Everyone knows about kangaroos, koalas, poisonous snakes and man eating sharks (just kidding!), but the humble bush turkey doesn’t often get a look in. They’re not dangerous to you – although if you leave your Lush bar of soap out, it won’t get a chance – but they’re extremely entertaining.
Although you’ll often feel very exasperated about the fact that you turned your back for 0.01 of a second and your tasty grub suddenly became a bush turkey’s dinner, the pure innocence in their eyes will eventually warm your heart and the absolute determination they have to achieve their dreams (of nicking the food of everyone possible) will inspire you.
Yep, I was inspired by bush turkeys in Byron Bay.
Fire spinning is nightly entertainment
I’d never seen anyone fire spin before I got to Byron Bay – and suddenly, it was around me every night.
And it’s not just fire spinning – fire poi and fire hula hooping also common in the Bay. I never tried fire spinning (I think most people I know would agree that it’s probably not a pastime that I should begin following, given my fantastic ability to drop absolutely anything I hold), but it was absolutely mesmerizing to watch.
Be warned though – after so much fire spinning in Byron Bay, you’ll never get as excited about it anywhere else!
Crystals, tarot cards, and reiki become fascinating
I was into yoga and meditation before I got to Byron Bay – it was one of the reasons why I wanted to move there. But when I got there, a whole new world opened up to me. I learned about the energy of crystals, tarot cards (which I’m still pretty scared of) and natural healing with Reiki.
I was kinda skeptical at first, but after a Reiki session where I felt amazing after, I wanted to learn more and more about it. All of this has helped me learn more about spirituality and positivity, helping me mold my life exactly how I want it.
At 6pm, the drum circle is the place to be
There’s only one place to hang out as the sun goes down in Byron Bay. The drum circle at Main Beach plays drums (could ya guess?) and brass instruments and invites people to dance or just hang out. Anyone can play – you just need an instrument. The music is always entrancing and as you watch the sunset, you’ll feel like you’re pretty close to magic.
You’ll mean to go to the lighthouse for sunrise the entire time you’re there
And you’ll make it once – if you’re productive. And then wonder why you’ve never been there before. It’s a pre-5am wake up, but it’s without a doubt one of the best things to do in Byron Bay – you’ll feel like you’re the only one in the world as you watch the sun rise from over the Pacific Ocean from the most eastern point of mainland Australia. Apart from the Pacific Islands and New Zealand, it’s the first place to see the sun each day.
Walking to the shops takes about 5 hours
Byron Bay is small. After a couple of months, you’ll know half the people there. If you’re walking to town – or even going to eat at one of the best (vegan) restaurants in Byron Bay – from the Arts Factory or somewhere else that’s a little further out of the centre of town, be prepared to chat to about 53 people.
It takes forever to get anything done, but it’s Byron – you don’t really have anywhere to be, do you?
You’ll find yourself permanently in a good mood
Something happens when you live outdoors, when you get into crystals and reiki, and when you’re surrounded by beautiful positive people all of the time. Suddenly, you’re in a fantastic mood that you could not get rid of even if you tried.
The weather’s pretty decent in Byron as well – it’s warm most of the year, and when it rains it’s normally a quick storm – which only adds to the positivity. And my top reason for my contagious positive mood that I had in Byron Bay was because I slept, ate, socialized and lived outdoors. It does wonders for the soul, trust me.
Your mind will be completely opened
Byron’s home to people from all walks of life. A little time here and you’ll chat to people from different countries, backgrounds and ages. And you’ll realise – if you hadn’t already – that everyone is a potential friend. You’ll learn that we are all one and nearly everyone on this planet has stories to tell and wisdom to impart. You’ll start to want to speak to everyone on the street – which is normal in Byron Bay, but a bit strange when you get to downtown Sydney ;).
You may struggle to leave
Nobody ever leaves Byron Bay. Well they do, but it takes a while. I got there in September 2016, thinking that I’d stay until November while I was waiting for Melbourne to warm up. I didn’t make it to Melbourne until April. I ended up in Byron for five months (and then road tripped to Tasmania!) and could have easily spent longer. And I yearn to go back every single day…
And I’m just one example. Everyone finds it hard to make the move and decide to leave Byron Bay. And most people come back!
Your life will never be the same
An Aboriginal dreaming story states that Byron Bay is a place to stay in for a while and grow from – and my experience replicated this exactly. It’s somewhere that you’ll learn more about yourself, get in touch with the universe, meet amazing people and chat about deep stuff. And trust me, your life will never ever be the same…
Visiting Byron Responsibly
I’ve had a few comments on this post about the overtourism of Byron Bay, and how that doesn’t really ring true with my writing about sustainable tourism. This is a bit of a catch-22 for me, as I try to focus on sustainability, but Bryon Bay did a huge amount for me as a person and I can’t not write about it.
It’s true, Byron Bay is overtouristed, and the comments by locals have made me realise that tourism has caused a problem in this town. Like many European capitals, people have been pushed out of the town and prices have skyrocketed, causing real issues for families who have lived in the town for decades.
What’s the answer? I don’t think it’s stopping all tourism to Byron Bay, or preventing backpackers on a working holiday visa from living and working here. There are so many jobs in the many restaurants and bars in Byron Bay to accomodate the tourists, and backpackers do make up a large portion of the people working in them.
But we can travel better. Here are some ideas of how we can minimise our impact in Byron Bay:
- Avoid plastic and uneccessary waste – you’re right by the sea, after all!
- Respect local laws, especially those about camping and fly-tipping.
- Stay in accommodation run by locals, opt for these rather than airbnbs or other flat rentals. If you’re living in Byron Bay as a backpacker, you can stay in hostels long term or in a tent on a campsite like I did!
- Support local restaurants and local farmers markets, as well as other businesses rather than chain stores where possible.
- Think twice about going to the beach parties.
- Take part in beach clean-ups, or do your own ones!
- Check out some of Byron Bay’s vegan restaurants for sustainable eating.
- Travel onward by carpooling, taking the train or the bus rather than flying.
As I mentioned before, I am not perfect, and I’m not for a second saying that I did all of these while in Byron Bay – nowadays, I would be a lot more of a conscious traveller, but I have evolved a lot in the three years since I lived there. But they are great ideas to protect the bay and respect local people.