Australia remains a classic travel destination. A steady stream of gap-year backpackers, career breakers and round-the-world-trippers head down under to sample Sydney’s energetic nightlife, visit the Great Barrier Reef, marvel at Uluru, cuddle a koala and learn to surf.

The country is a great place for solo travellers, particularly first-timers – it’s friendly, fun and full of opportunities to meet people. Many travellers end up staying longer than they planned – and some never leave.

The must-see destinations

One of the world’s great cities, Sydney is the ideal place to start your trip. As well as landmarks like the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Bondi Beach, it has a lively backpacker scene and eating, drinking and nightlife options to suit all budgets and tastes.

Cosmopolitan Melbourne is the country’s second biggest city. As well as being a foodie and cultural hub, it has the country’s premier sports ground, the MCG – watching an Aussie Rules, rugby or cricket match here is an unforgettable experience.

Queensland is home to some of Australia’s most famous attractions: the Great Barrier Reef, the scenic Whitsundays, the beach resorts of the Gold Coast, and Fraser Island, which is covered with giant sand dunes.

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No trip is complete without a visit to Uluru (Ayers Rock), which lies in the centre of the country, deep in the Outback. Regardless of how many photos you’ve seen of “The Rock”, nothing prepares you for experiencing it first hand.

It’s also well worth heading off the beaten track. For example, the temperate wilderness of Tasmania feels very different to the rest of the country, the tropical Northern Territory has some of the country’s best national parks, and South Australia offers great vineyards and beautiful coastline.

Getting around

Australia is the sixth largest country in the world – at almost 7.7 square kilometres it is 31.5 times bigger than the UK – and getting around takes time.

Most people fly between states, and competition means fares are pretty good value. For shorter journeys – or tighter budgets – Greyhound buses connect all the main tourist destinations.

Australia is also a great place to drive, enabling you to explore at your own pace and get off the tourist trail. Campervans are particularly economical, as they double up as accommodation. Vehicles are easy to hire, but if you’re travelling for several months it is often cheaper to buy a secondhand vehicle and then sell it on again at the end of your trip.

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Where to stay

Hostels are great places to meet other backpackers, and most organise social activities – often for free – including barbecues and pub crawls. The YHA, which offers accommodation in everything from former prisons to historic mansions, is a good place to start.

Another option is a homestay, which provide the opportunity to meet locals and stay in a family environment.

Where to eat (and drink)

Many people feel self-conscious about eating out (or going for a drink) on their own, but it’s increasingly common, especially in the cities.

Most hostels have a café, restaurant or bar where you won’t stand out as a solo diner and are likely to meet fellow travellers. More and more restaurants have communal tables, and food markets – such as Mindil Beach Sunset Market in Darwin and Adelaide Central Market – are sociable places to eat, too.

It’s also easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger in an Aussie pub (which, confusingly, are often called “hotels”).

Get a job

Working in Australia is a rite of passage and a great way to meet people, get under the skin of the country and fund your travels.

Twelve-month working holiday visas are available for 18 to 30-year-olds from most European countries (including the UK and Ireland), Canada, Japan and Korea. US citizens need to apply for a “work and holiday visa”. For more information, visit www.border.gov.au.

Officially, no job should last longer than six months, and most travellers end up working on farms or doing bar, construction and other casual work.

How to meet people

It may seem counter-intuitive, but you’re far more likely to meet new people if you’re travelling on your own, rather than in a couple or with friends. You’ve got an added incentive to break the ice and try out new things – and will also seem more approachable to the countless other solo travellers out there.

Taking part in group activities is another easy way to meet people. For example, you could climb Sydney Harbour Bridge, take a 4WD trip across the giant sand dunes of Fraser Island, go wine tasting in the Barossa Valley or spot dolphins on a Coral Coast cruise.

And Australians themselves are (generally) very sociable, welcoming and happy to talk to strangers.

Appreciate being on your own

You will feel lonely and homesick at some point. But you’ll also never have as much freedom than when travelling on your own – you can go wherever you want, whenever you want and do whatever you want, without worrying about anyone else.

Some of Australia’s epic landscapes – sunset at Uluru, driving down the Great Ocean Road – are best appreciated alone.

And although it may sound cliched, you’ll learn a lot more about yourself when you travel on your own.

Shafik Meghji co-authors The Rough Guide to Australia. He blogs at unmappedroutes.com.

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