How to glam it up on a backpacker's budget

Like the idea of a champagne experience on a cask-wine budget? You might be one of the new breed of glampackers: budget-conscious travellers seeking a slightly more sophisticated experience.

  • Emma Markezic
  • July 2018

There comes a time when backpacker dorms and communal bathrooms are behind you, but five-star resorts are still out of reach. So what do you do when you have just a few coins to rub together and wanderlust to boot? Fortunately enough the travel industry is falling over itself to provide a host of Goldilocks-type experiences these days - not too cheap, not too costly. We’ve rounded up a list of the adventures that are just right.

Glamp out

The spark that started a movement, glamping is the epitome of glampacking. It’s the kind of trip where you take your own food but not your own toilet paper, sweep your own floor but don’t have to sleep on it. You could opt for a AUD $150-a-night glamping tent on Sydney Harbour’s Cockatoo Island or, for AUD $180 a night, you can revel in a luxury bell tent complete with bed, linen, lanterns and bunting, thanks to Soul Camping in Western Australia’s Margaret River region.

But for a really memorable experience, try Nightcap Ridge. Tucked away in the Byron Bay hinterland, you’ll find a secluded cottage that’s yours for AUD $190 a night for up to three people, plus pets. For that price you’ll get all the misty mornings, sprawling orchards, native birds, starry nights and roaring campfires you can handle - not to mention a claw-foot bath, cosy throws, aromatic toiletries and country oasis vibes. “We do have satellite internet,” explains Fraser, the property’s on-site custodian. “We actually find people enjoy their stay better without internet and with a conversation instead!”

And while you’re at it, make sure you partake in Fraser’s optional chicken stew – the stuff of bush legend. “The hanging pot on the campfire is a real treat for guests,” he says.

Glamping campsite in a beautiful mountain
Book a glamping holiday

Get a room

Don’t think you can’t get luxury city stays on a glampacker’s budget though. Hotels aren’t just for the financially gifted anymore: there’s a slew of quirky, new hotels (with all the customary bells and whistles) designed for the cultured, yet thrifty, traveller. At the QT Museum Wellington, from NZD $212 a night, you’ll get a boutique experience in one of the most eccentric ‘design- driven’ hotels in New Zealand, complete with a museum-style modern art collection, indoor pool and Instagram-worthy cocktail lounge. And for a serious price-to-panache ratio, head to Sydney and check into Cremorne Point Manor – a heritage-listed Federation house turned glampacker oasis. With views of Sydney Harbour from its sweeping guest verandas, plus laundry facilities, free Wi-Fi, free breakfast and even a lift (you’re too fancy for stairs now), this North Shore pad blurs the lines between hostel and hotel. Rooms range from dorms to queen suites with en suite, right through to a penthouse. And rates start at just AUD $74.

If you’re looking for something tropical, try Rambutan in Townsville, Queensland. A resort-style hideaway that boasts dorms, boutique-style hotel rooms and self-contained villas, it’s designed to satisfy gen Yers who want luxury without the price tag. The award-winning resort nails the vibe with a rooftop pool, restaurant and bar, plus free Wi-Fi and a travel desk. You could be sunning yourself atop their decidedly designer dorm digs from just AUD $24.

Woman arrives on her chose accommodation
Airbnb is a cheaper alternative to a hotel

Share and share alike

Of course, there’s also the rise of sharing economy-based businesses. Don’t be shy if you haven’t tried one yet – there’s much goodness to be had.

Consider EatWith, which lets you book a seat at a local dinner party in Tokyo, or a cooking class in Bali. Or Riparide, which is all about providing back-to-nature experiences – think hiking with a llama through the Macedon Ranges or organising an overnight stay in a Kombi campervan.

Then there’s Airbnb. With hundreds of thousands of options the world over and new accommodation added every week, you don’t have to sift for long to find a veritable gem, such as the site’s award-winning, architecturally designed ‘Flinders Lane Architect Apartment’. Ensconced in a heritage-listed building in Melbourne’s CBD, the two-bedroom unit is far from a dingy spare room in the back of someone’s house, with column inches in Kinfolk Home, The Saturday Paper and Inside Out attesting to its brilliance.

“Every detail has been considered,” says owner Dan, who rents the apartment in its entirety for AUD $260 a night. “Miele appliances, super-fast Wi-Fi, very comfy queen bed with lovely linen, concealed dishwasher and fridge, deep bath, a great selection of design and architecture books, a Bose sound system and carefully chosen objects and furniture from around the world ... this is the perfect base to return to after your inner-city adventures.” The best part: no porters to tip or generic hotel hallways to traverse.

Need more convincing? Beyoncé rented an Airbnb after her 2016 Super Bowl performance, so you’re in good company. It has a private orchard, infinity pool and costs in excess of AUD $30,000 a night, but still.

View of Sydney Harbour Bridge
View of Sydney Harbour Bridge

Three squares

Silver service is best left to the Beyoncés and Jay-Zs of the world though – these days casual fine dining is where the street-smart eat. You just need to know where to look.

Bridge Bon Appetit, the cheap and cheerful arm of Sydney’s Restaurant Hubert, is perched above the main floor and serves lighter fare than the white linen-lined downstairs area – think saucisson with pickled vegetables.

There are also places you can get prime ribeye for a steal if you know where to look, such as Fergburger in New Zealand’s Queenstown. The illustrious gourmet hamburger joint often sports a line that spills out onto the street, but they’ll serve you a medium ribeye between a bun with all the trimmings for AUD $18.50. While you’re waiting, drink in the names – the Codfather, Bun Laden and Chief Wiggum are as delicious as they are clever.

Or the golden ticket, Hawker Chan in Melbourne: the world’s cheapest Michelin- starred restaurant, direct from Singapore. Their soy-sauce marinade is such a closely guarded secret, that chef and owner Chan Hong Meng makes it from scratch daily in a locked room before it’s flown direct to Australian shores. And while it’s the first street food outlet to score a Michelin star, its world-famous chicken and rice is still only AUD $6.80. Any glampacker worth their Yelp review must visit at least once.