If you're one of the many students traveling to Australia this February for a study abroad program, it's time to book your airfare and start planning for pre- or post-program travel. Before you embark on your foreign studyor any Down Under adventurecheck out our tips for getting the best air deals to Australia and suggestions for budget touring in country.
According to Liz Meggison of Travel CUTS, you can often get the best deal on Australia fares by booking a one-way flight on a low-cost carrier to Los Angeles from your home city and then a round-trip student fare on an international carrier from LA to Australia. You can usually find student fares with a year maximum stay and minimal change fees. That way, you won't be committed to a return date and can extend your trip without paying a huge penalty. Then, when you're ready to come home, you can book a connecting flight from LA to home on a domestic airline. Just make sure to leave plenty of time between connections, warns Meggison.
Currently, Travel CUTS offers round-trip student fares from LA to Sydney (including a free stopover in Fiji) on Air Pacific from $1,150, plus taxes. With these fares, you can change your travel dates for only $25 or cancel travel altogether for a $100 fee. As flight arrangements can be complicated, we'd recommend calling a student travel agent to book rather than buying online.
Accommodations when traveling
For access to cheap accommodations during weekends away from school or travel breaks, Meggison recommends purchasing a VIP Backpackers membership card, one of the most recognized hostel discount cards in Australia. The card costs $32 for a year membership, and is good for discounted rates at hundreds of hostels worldwide, including over 130 in Australia. Purchase a membership through a student travel agency or the VIP Backpackers website.
Independent travel after the semester
After your study abroad term ends in late June or early July, many students remain in the country for a few extra weeks or sometimes months to explore the country independently. For such explorations, you may want to use a hop-on, hop-off bus service to get around, such as the Oz Experience. This travel network links most of Australia's top cities, attractions, and adventure travel spots by bus and is geared towards young backpacker types. Chose from a variety of passes that cover different routes through the country. Passes allow you to get on or off at any stop you like, and stay in one spot for as little or as long as you like (passes are good for up to a year after you first use them).
Since you're not stuck to a set schedule, you can purchase them in advance even if you don't know exactly when or where you want to travel. With an ISIC discount, passes start at $136 and range up to $1,162, depending on how many routes you want to follow. To learn more or to buy a pass, go to the websites for Travel CUTS or STA. Passes are also available for New Zealand and Fiji.
If you have time to explore before or after your program begins and would prefer to go on a packaged vacation rather than travel independently, you might consider booking a tour. For example, Contiki, a company that specializes in travel for 18- to 35-year-olds, offers numerous packages ranging from a four-day city tour of Sydney to a 25-day cross-country trek. Tours usually include accommodations, most meals, ground transportation, the services of a Contiki guide, attraction admissions, and numerous tours and excursions. Prices range from $155 to $2,145 per person. Learn more about the available tours by visiting the Contiki website.
For long-term travel abroad, it's prudent to buy travel insurance in addition to your home medical coverage. You can purchase discounted student plans through most travel agencies that usually cover trip cancellation, delay, or interruption; medical and accident protection; repatriation of remains; emergency evacuation; lost or delayed baggage; and more. Read columnist Jill LeGrow's article about insurance to learn more.