Australia is expensive, that’s a fact. Melbourne is one of the most expensive places on this huge island, and also one of the places where you can’t get away with a lot of money saving techniques that help out when road tripping or staying in other parts of Australia (like using WikiCamps to find free campsites). But what if I told you that Melbourne on a budget is possible? That I survived nearly two weeks without spending hardly any money in Melbourne?
It’s not the most enjoyable way to experience the capital of Victoria, but it can be done.
I find that the best way to look at staying in cities on a budget is to split up requirements into categories, and then look how I can get these for free or extremely cheap. This is what I did when I hardly spent any money in New York and did Dublin on a budget in previous years. Even in notoriously expensive Hong Kong, I still managed to save some money by staying at the unfavourable and allegedly unsafe Chungking Mansions.
But Melbourne on the cheap was different; when I was in New York and Dublin I had some money; ie. Money for accommodation and food. In Melbourne, I didn’t really have any money. (No violins here, I had no money because although I saved up a great deal working in Byron Bay I blew it all road tripping Tasmania and then on a car of my own so I can do the roadtrip of a lifetime. Don’t feel sorry for me, I chose it to be this way, I’m just explaining how I overcame having no money) This is Melbourne on an ultra budget.
So, what do we spend money on when travelling? The main staples are food, accommodation, transport and activities.
Accommodation is normally the biggest financial drain when visiting somewhere – especially somewhere like Melbourne, where the cheapest hostel is $30 per night, and Holiday Inn hotel rooms went for $300 per person during the Grand Prix.
I definitely couldn’t afford those kinds of crazy prices, and cheap accommodation in Melbourne seemed to be a complete oxymoron. So my car became my home. Sleeping in the car is a kind of grey area in terms of Australian law – it’s not illegal, as long as you’re not trespassing on anyone’s property, but is definitely frowned upon. We found a spot kind of off a residential road, so it wouldn’t disturb any residents. We were never asked to move on, but I can’t say that I wasn’t expecting someone to.
The best way to do this with dignity and without upsetting anyone is to keep noise to an absolute minimum, put blankets or towels over the windows, and make it look like a normal car during the day. I figured as long as we weren’t bothering anyone we couldn’t be doing that much wrong – but I really wouldn’t have been surprised if someone official came around and asked us to move on.
Another option, which I am neither recommending or discouraging, or saying that any of my friends did so, is camping in one of the more rural parks. There’s a few forest areas that may be a good spot to pitch a tent (I wouldn’t know…) where people probably wouldn’t find it. But as I say, I have no opinion on this type of accommodation 😉
But what about water? Showers? Electricity for phone charge? I hear you cry.
Well, there’s ways around everything. There’s showers on the beach in St Kilda, a couple of other free showers at other points in the city, and leisure centres will often let you use the showers for a small fee.
Water is easily combatted; there’s water taps everywhere in Melbourne. Just have a couple of full bottles in your place of sleeping at all times and you’ll be fine.
Charging sockets can be found in more places than you think too. I basically have a plug socket radar now – which began when I lived in a tent in Byron Bay – and swoop on one whenever I see it! I spent a lot of time doing freelance work in the State Library while I was in Melbourne, so always charged there. Basically any official building should have some power points, some stations also do. In Telstra shops there are charging stations and there’s others dotted around the city too; in the art gallery café for example. It’s a lot easier to charge things than you think.
A more legitimate free accommodation in Melbourne option is couchsurfing. There’s loads of hosts in Melbourne, but please remember to be respectful when couch surfing – don’t just use their house as a place to sleep and make an effort to spend time with your hosts – if they wanted to run a B&B they’d charge! Read these couchsurfing tips for information on how to be a savvy surfer!
Finally, there are loads of backpacker hostels in Melbourne, but to me $30 is A LOT to pay for a bed, so I wouldn’t advise it for those visiting Melbourne on an ultra budget.
You’re in luck in the CBD of Melbourne! Trams are free to use all over the centre. Other than that, I just walked around. It takes a bit longer but it’s free and good exercise!
Searching for cheap eats in Melbourne? The cheapest way is always to cook it yourself. There’s coles and woolworths all over Melbourne – and even some Aldis too, where great budgets can be found. Some of my favourite food items to buy on a budget are:
- Tinned Lentils – surprisingly good just eaten out of a can. I’m sure my mum is reading this and gasping in horror.
- Tinned Chickpeas – ditto
- Tinned Beetroot – the three of these can make a pretty great ‘salad’ that can be eaten for lunch and dinner
- Carrots – so cheap and filling
- Hummus – a $2 pot lasts me three days, so it’s pretty decent when I want a sauce
- Macro Veggie Burgers – I’m not sure what I ate in Australia before I discovered these. They’re $4 for a pack of 4 and one is SO FILLING.
- Wraps or Bread Rolls – I bloat like crazy when I eat too much bread, so I try and eat wraps when I can, although they work out a bit more expensive
- Oats – oats with water and a banana, with some variation, has been my breakfast for nearly 2 months now. It’s kind of like gruel but you get used to it!
- Apple – remember to get your fruit!
If you have access to a stove, things can get really exciting:
- Pasta is cheap and always a winner
- Pasta tomato sauce – normally cheap to come by
- Chilli can be made entirely with tins (tinned tomatoes, lentils and veggies)
- Baked beans – surely every budgeters go to dish?
(note: These are all vegan. With the exception of eggs, a lot of super budget food is vegan. Think how much meat, fish and cheese cost!)
I’m going to be writing a post of the best meals to eat on a road trip some point soon, be excited…
BUT, if you’re all veggie burgered and banana grueled out, there are SOME options for cheap restaurants in Melbourne. My favourites are:
Lentil As Anything – I LOVE this place. It’s an amazing concept, founded by golden-hearted people, and every single person involved in this restaurant deserves amazing karma forever and ever.
It’s basically a vegan restaurant which operates on a ‘pay what you wish’ basis. It’s still a la carte, with a specials board that changes every day, and the inside is cosy and communal. The volunteers are all lovely, and the chefs obviously very talented, as the dosa that I’ve had twice there has been absolutely amazing!
They also do community events there, like yoga and spiritual healing. It’s basically a place to go if you want to feel good and support a completely sustainable cause.
Please don’t take the mick if you eat here – give what you can afford. If that’s not much, it’s ok, just vow to give more next time you stumble on a place like this and you do have more money, or next time you see a volunteer opportunity at somewhere like it bite the bullet and give up a couple of hours a week to help out. That’s how the world goes round.
Lentil as Anything is a great place to go of an evening and, once you’ve payed your donation to keep the restaurant running, is a fun thing to do in Melbourne at night for free. There’s not too many other options after the sun goes down – unless you want to try your luck at going to a bar and not buying a drink!
Street Giveaways – we stumbled across a donation food stand at Fitzroy one night. It was leftover food from a catering event, and they were giving it away on a charity donation basis.
Om Vegetarian – another wonderful concept, serving $6.50 all you can eat lunches and dinners! Go at 2pm for lunch and you won’t need another meal all day…
They also offer a free curry between 3 and 5pm, but please only take this if you have literally no money. People giving these out depends on people not taking too much advantage of them!
Sushi – sushi always manages to be relatively cheap and filling – a roll normally costing $2-$3.
Subway – get the sub of the day for just $4.50 – where you can add as much salad as you like! For vegetarians, that magic day is Wednesday when they serve a veggie patty.
Dominos – I’m really not a fan of Dominos – the last time I ate a pizza from there it made my belly turn upside down when I was sleeping in the car of all places – but their budget pizzas are cheap. Sometimes there’s nowhere else to get a $5 dinner and dominos is just there.
A lot of the city’s main activities do charge, but there are plenty of free things to do in Melbourne – ways you can pass the time in the city without spending a cent.
- Victoria Art Gallery – is free entry and has lots of interesting exhibitions from Australia and all over the world
- The Lanes in Melbourne are all outdoor art galleries that are free to browse. My favourite is Hoiser Lane
- Walking around the CBD, admiring all the skyscrapers and old buildings like Flinders Street Station as well as Federation Square, is as in all cities, free of charge.
- The State Library of Victoria is a fascinating building filled with art and exhibits, and always with a great atmosphere. (Plus free wifi and charging sockets!)
- The Melbourne Markets are a lovely place to walk around
- St Kilda Beach is free and beautiful on a hot day
- St Kilda Drum Circle is a wonderful way to spend a Thursday night
- St Kilda Penguin Sanctuary is also a great place to go of an evening; fairy penguins migrate there every night and you’ve got a good chance of spotting one!
- Melbourne’s Northern suburbs are pretty cool; and an afternoon can be easily spent window shopping and café admiring in Brunswick, Fitzroy or Northcote. But remember any purchases will cost!
Melbourne on a Budget – it’s possible!
Following these methods, I estimate that you can survive in Melbourne for two weeks on around $70. It’s not a fun way to experience the city, and I’m not sure if I entirely recommend it – after nearly two weeks it all got on top of me and I did end up forking out for a hostel/ ringing home in tears – but it’s definitely possible, if saving money in the city is your main priority. You still get to see the city and experience ‘Melbourne life’ while spending barely any dollar!
I just want to finish by emphasising how important it is that people are not disadvantaged or taken the mick out of while you’re living in Melbourne on a budget. Please remember…
- Don’t be a disruption when sleeping in the car. If you sense people are noticing that you’re there then move on.
- Don’t leave a trace when living outdoors – make sure you take any waste and don’t leave unwanted items anywhere.
- Respect nature at the same time – there are wild animals around Melbourne still and they don’t want their homes disturbed!
- Don’t take advantage of any businesses offering free food. Sure, these are great for budget travellers and the aim of them is to make food cheap for everyone, but do pay what you can. And if you do pay a cheap rate, make sure you make up for it next time you have money.
- Don’t do anything obviously illegal!
Enjoy Melbourne, it’s a wonderful city and even though my time here has been a bit strange – I’ve been in a bit of limbo while purchasing the car and planning my next move – I do feel like I’d quite happily live here. It’s got a great community spirit who really wants to help those doing Melbourne on a budget, so embrace having no money, enjoy the creativity that comes along with it and remember how lucky we are to have the chance to be in Australia and even to be alive! I’m the most broke I’ve ever been in my life but also the most free. Who needs money anyway?
Where have you enjoyed on a super low budget?
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