Something many of you know about me, but many may not…I am not a well-traveled person. At all. I’ve been to Mexico 3 times. I went to Vancouver once for a weekend. Those were all the stamps in my passport until this trip. I’ve been all over the US and always have thought that makes up for some of it…that I’ve seen a lot of my own country that others haven’t so I’m good, right? Yeah…no.
So I jumped into the deep end on this one. Never travelled anywhere? Just quit your job and fly to the other side of the world on your own with no definite plans! That’ll fix it! Jesus, Laura…no wonder so many of you were concerned about me. But already, just a week in, I’ve figured out a trick to having highly fulfilling travel experiences:
Find all of the free shit
Travel in the past for me has always ended up being crazy expensive…blowing the budget on nice hotels and restaurants and the things that everyone does when they go there so I have to, too. This, in turn, makes me stress out, which then makes me spend more money on shit I don’t need because I want to pretend I’m not stressed out. Fun.
This time, it’s obviously different. This is an indefinite adventure with a definite budget. And Sydney is an expensive city…but it doesn’t have to be! I spent 4 days in here and fell in love with it, but I only spent money on (cheap) food, public transit, and (also cheap) lodging. Here are a few of my favorite free spots in Sydney:
1. Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden, North Sydney
When I arrived in Sydney after over 24 hours of travel, I finally understood why so many people bitch about jet lag. Because jet lag is a bitch. I’m sure this won’t be the first time I say this about solo travel, but jet lag made me feel ECSTATIC that I was traveling alone. I can’t imagine feeling that way while trying to have normal conversations with other human beings, because I couldn’t even make sense of my own internal monologue for about 3 days.
I didn’t want to stray too far from my first lodge in Sydney in case I needed to immediately pass out, so I wandered around until I found this amazing and beautiful spot. So beautiful, I ended up spending parts of two days there because one just wasn’t enough. You can read a full description and history of the Secret Garden in my Atlas Obscura entry here.
2. Dr. Mary Booth’s Lookout, North Sydney
My first night in North Sydney, my aforementioned jet lag was seriously kicking my ass. But I knew I needed to stay awake as long as possible, and some time between my fight with customs agents in Shanghai and my mental breakdown in Kunming, I came up its this insane, sleep-deprived idea that I had to see the sunset every night of this journey because otherwise I wouldn’t get everything I needed out of every day. Still in the throes of said insanity, I dragged myself from the lodge to this spot, which, honest to god, is the best spot to watch the sun set in Sydney. With views of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the CBD, and the entire bay, it was shocking to me that there was only one other person there each time I stopped by.
3. Harbour Bridge Walk
Obviously, the Harbour Bridge is a Sydney must-see. But here’s the deal…did I want to do the “official” Harbour Bridge walk? Yes. Did it seem ridiculous to spend hundreds of dollars to do so? Also yes. For those of you who haven’t seen pictures of people on this excursion, it looks amazing. You climb the bridge until you’re at the highest point, so you can see al, off Sydney and the bay. But you also can’t take your camera with you. And if you’re paying hundreds of dollars for that view…um, you’re going to want a picture of it. So then you end up spending even more on the picture they sell you. Maybe someday, when I have an unlimited budget, but not this time.
Instead, as I moved from North Sydney into the CBD, I decided to throw my pack on and hoof it across the actual bridge on foot. Let me tell you…such a cool experience. You can see everything. Would it be cool to do it from even higher up? Sure, but man…I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything as I stopped to look out from the middle of the bridge. Not recommended? Doing it with a 42L pack on your back smack dab in the middle of an exhaustively hot day. But still…worth it.
4. Royal Botanic Gardens
Already, I feel like I’m describing everything as “the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen”, so let’s just add this to that list. Not only do the gardens have best spots to look out over the city, the Opera House, and the bay…they have the most amazing variety of gardens spread across a massive expanse of land. Plus, if you make it over to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, you’ll catch a unique view of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.
5. Sydney Opera House
Honestly, after years of seeing pictures of the Opera House, I expected to be let down when seeing it in person. But wooooow…this place is a different kind of fascinating than I expected in person. Yes, it’s very touristy – at one point I got incredibly annoyed by the amount of people I had to navigate around because I was still an exhausted Grumpy Gus – but sometimes spots are touristy because everyone needs to see it in person to understand exactly why it’s so famous. Add this one to the list.
I certainly visited other spots in Sydney in my few days there, but these were my Top 5, hands down.
Total spent? $0. Holy crap, that’s a bargain for these memories.