Planning a Trip to Australia

Are You Ready for Australia Trip Planning?

Down Under. The Merry Land of Oz. The Place Where EVERYTHING is Trying to Kill You. (No seriously, did you know a scientist in Australia just discovered a spider that will swim in the ocean to try to get you?! Truly what nightmares are made of.)

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So I was planning my first trip to Australia. More precisely, I was planning a trip to Brisbane and Melbourne with my 11-year old daughter.

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Down Under

Itinerary: depart Boise 3:30 PM on a Thursday. Arrive Brisbane, Australia 6:30 AM on Saturday for a total travel time of 22 hours and 37 minutes in economy. With a hormonal tween-ager who speaks fluent hashtag. #OMG #IHopeWeDon’tHateEachOtherByTheTimeWeGetThere

Trust me, this seemed like a really good idea when I booked this trip on Expedia…”It’ll be fantastic,” I told myself. “Maybe we’ll see Hugh Jackman and get to snuggle a koala.” (NEWSFLASH – BOTH OF THOSE THINGS ACTUALLY HAPPENED. Although I would have been delighted to just see a koala if it meant I got to snuggle Hugh Jackman.)

And so began my very first international trip with a child in tow.

My world-traveling cousin suggested that I request special meals. I don’t want to annoy flight attendants by seeming entitled, but I took the advice this time around.

Why? Because Special Meals:

  1. Are often served first so you get your food at the beginning of meal service
  2. They don’t run out of your first choice, so you’ll get what you asked for
  3. They are usually healthier and contain more vegetables

I didn’t see an option to book a kid’s meal or vegetarian meal when I booked, so I contacted Expedia to add those. Within the hour, the handy folks at Expedia forwarded my request for a child’s meal to the airline and clarified which type of vegetarian meal I want. (Rad! Virgin Australia offers all kinds of options so I went with Vegetarian – Oriental. Mine was delicious. My 11-year old was not a fan of the kids’ meal and wanted mine.).

Destination Cities

So why Brisbane and Melbourne rather than Sydney? Time and Friendship. With a country that’s also a continent, you could spend a lifetime in Australia, but we had a mere 10 days including our travel time, which left 7 full days of Australian exploration. We were meeting up with our friends who live in Brisbane (and staying with them – hooray! Room and board on the Sunshine Coast!) and then flying to Melbourne to visit my daughter’s school mate who had relocated from Idaho to Australia (the reason she was going in the first place). Practicality demanded that we leave Sydney for a future trip. This was a bit sad since after years of watching “Finding Nemo” with my little ones, I have “42 Wallaby Way, Sydney” committed to memory (Disney/Pixar quotes have displaced other information in my brain, such as Algebra).

Naturally, narrowing down the trip to two cities allowed for a more in-depth exploration of them, with a short domestic flight in-between. (FYI, flying domestically within Australia is delightful compared to the USA. You can keep your water bottle and you feel like a guest, rather than a terrorist. I love you, Australia!)

My Favorite Travel Planning Tool For Planning a Trip to Australia (and everywhere else)? Pinterest.

Seriously, I’m kind of in love with Pinterest. I created a board, invited my collaborators (my trip buddies) and we started pinning our ideas. What sounded good? What looked amazing? What was feasible?

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Pinterest: not just for recipes and makeup tips…

The big day approached. It was the end of summer in Australia which made packing light easy peasy. We opted for carry-on luggage only and minimal packing. Since my daughter would be managing her own luggage on the trip, a light suitcase made it easier for both of us.

After our little Visa Crisis at the Boise Airport, we made our first flight to Portland, then to LAX where we lounged in the upscale international terminal. Excited, a bit anxious and hungry, we scouted around for dinner. Tween’s choice was…Panda Express. (Seriously? Out of international fare available in the terminal, she opted for the deep friend and glazed comfort of Orange Chicken. I had a Think Thin protein bar since I knew we would be eating again on the flight. In retrospect, I should have ordered a side dish of steamed vegetables at Panda Express, since I never get enough veggies while traveling, even if making a concerted effort.)

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Are we there yet?

Brisbane

Brisbane is a tropical paradise, home to Australia’s cutest marsupial. The koala. I had just a few bucket list items for this trip: Koalas, Kangaroos, The Beach, Hozier Lane and Hugh Jackman. I checked off three in Brisbane.

As soon as we arrived and made it through Immigration and Customs, I was handed a coffee by my darling friends. Within the hour, we had showered and my 11-year old was swimming in the pool. After a leisurely brunch at The Rabbit Hole, we drove an hour to the Sunshine Coast. Move over Maui, Australia’s Sunshine Coast is paradise. We liberally applied sunscreen to our Northern Latitude skin and body surfed for hours.

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Coolum Beach, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

The only way to top a perfect day at the beach, was to hold a koala…The next day we drove to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to get up close and personal with Australia’s famous wildlife. This place has enough delight and magic to make a sullen tween giggle all day in disbelief. From the platypus, the Godzilla-like lizards that just hang out on the rocks, to the kangaroo feeding area and of course, holding (albeit briefly) a eucalyptus-munching koala.

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#OMG #IAmHoldingAKoala!

Melbourne

Melbourne is my dream city. On the Yarra river, completely walkable and known for its street art. That being said, an 11-year old has no desire to walk through the city aimlessly. I gave her $20 and sent her into Daiso (Are you familiar with Daiso? My favorite Japanese dollar store.) Our ideal vacations clashed in Melbourne. I wanted to wander the streets, eat and explore Hozier Lane, the famed street art/graffiti alley of Melbourne. My daughter had a 2-day visit with her friend in the suburbs outside of the city, so we took advantage of adult time with a wine tour of the Yarra Valley.

A note about planning. Make sure you’re aware of any major public holidays at your destination!

Our trip fell during our Spring Break, which led into Easter. In Australia, Good Friday is a public holiday on the scale of Christmas Day in the US. Stores, museums and markets were closed and even public transportation ran on a limited schedule (the free train that circles the city didn’t run at all). This major holiday put a major damper on our final day in the city as everything we had planned to do (Victoria Markets, Free Tram around the city, Jurassic World exhibit at the museum) was suddenly called off. 🙁

Fortunately, the Minecraft Exhibit at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI – in Federation Square next to Flinders Street Station) was open all day which meant that my 11-year old flew across the world to stay indoors and play video games…I got my fill of cinematic history and she got to indulge her passion for video games. I was able to check Hozier Lane off my Australian Bucket List and standing at the Qantas counter at the Melbourne Airport, getting our boarding passes to say goodbye to my darling Oz…Hugh Jackman and his whole family walked by. Truth.

Long story slightly shorter, we planned a trip to Australia, we visited, we had a great time in the wonderful world of Oz. If any of y’all have an Australian planning tip or experience (and let’s face it, we all love to hear the horror stories of a trip gone awry), comment below.

 

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  • I traveled to Australia a bit over 13 years ago for my Honeymoon. I also have 2 girls one is 11 and one is 8 and I am taking them on their first long haul flight this summer – not to Australia but to Scotland. Thank you for sharing this article. I had forgotten about requesting special meals (great tip) and I will be doing so on my return flight for sure. Looks like your daughter really enjoyed herself especially with the koala. Happy Roving!!!

    • Good job RovingJo! You’re taking the girls solo as well? Where are you based? In the US? Another tip is make sure the girls’ carryon-ons aren’t too heavy, since they’ll need to manage them themselves. 🙂