Maybe… Or maybe not.
If you begin your round the world trip in Oz, then it may be a fine idea to include it… although you better budget accordingly or you may find a yearlong RTW trip turning into nothing but a two-month RAT (Round Australia Trip). That being said, over at BootsnAll they do make a good argument for using Australia as a destination to begin your round the world trip. After all, it is a nice place to ease into a big trip (especially if it’s your first) with a friendly, English-speaking population and a fairly familiar and comfortable Westernized culture.
However, during my year living in Australia, I met up with two of the people I had previously befriended while traveling in South America, as they were each continuing their RTW trip in Australia, and both of them were eager to get out of Australia after spending very little time there.
The problem is, Australia is expensive and, in a way, impersonal compared to places like South America or Southeast Asia (two places people often visit before Australia on a RTW trip). Even in just the past two years, Australia has become prohibitively expensive for anyone not earning the Australian dollar. Therefore, a lot of the travelers (especially backpackers) in Australia are there on a Work & Holiday visa. The few people who do come to Oz just to travel (especially solo) find the hostels less friendly and with a social atmosphere less conducive to backpacker bonding, as almost all their fellow hostel-mates are living there while looking for a job and/or an apartment.
And if you are on a backpacker’s budget (especially as part of a larger RTW trip), you probably aren’t going to be able to see and do everything you want to because it’s just too expensive. (Not to mention Australia is huge and quite empty, making it not just an expensive but also a time-consuming place to get around.) You may want to dive the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef, ride camels on Cable Beach, wrestle crocs in Darwin, watch the sunset at Uluru, and hike in Tasmania, but these places are all VERY far apart. Renting a van to drive all the way around Australia would take months and buckets of cash, and flying around it will cost even more. And that’s not even taking into consideration the cost of each tour and activity.
Contrast this against South America, for example, where they are so many (highly varied) places and experiences that are accessible to someone on a budget. In Australia, it’s very pick and choose, and almost everything you do will still have a hint of painfulness to it when you think of how much you’re spending. Even the simple things in life, like going out to eat or for a night on the town with friends, are so expensive it could cost you more than an entire day’s budget in many other places on your trip.
One other thing one of my friends mentioned — which for some may be a positive, and of course goes with the earlier argument for beginning one’s trip there — was that Australia was too easy. The excitement and adventure of finding your way across less developed countries is hard to replicate in Australia. Everything is so ordered and planned, it’s easy to start missing the real feeling of travel you get in places like South America. The challenges of finding your way, deciphering a foreign language and handling cultural differences — and the camaraderie you develop with fellow travelers also dealing with these challenges — aren’t as prominent in Australia.
Certainly adventure can still be found, and you can find ways to push yourself physically and mentally in harsh environments (hello Outback?), challenging circumstances (say, driving across Australia — including a couple thousand nearly-empty kilometers across the Nullarbor), and in its paradoxically huge cities and tiny towns. However, these tend to come at a greater cost in time, money, and sometimes social interaction. (As I mentioned, the social backpacker scene has changed a bit in Oz, and if you are tackling these big activities you are likely to find yourself always surrounded by the same few people you share a van or tour with, and meeting very few others along the way…. unless you are just partying your way up the East Coast, in which case you might have less of a problem.)
I am not at all saying that you should not visit Australia. I’ve been there three times myself (which has especially allowed me to see these changes in the backpacker scene and these increases in costs), and I just spent an entire amazing year there. It is an incredible country full of awesome people, spectacular sights, epic adventures and adorable critters. It is for this reason I think it is worth spending three, or six, or even twelve months there rather than just one small chunk of a huge RTW trip. Australia is worthy of a trip of its own, and will be best enjoyed in this way. Some of the best places take a bit of extra effort to see (Esperance, Kangaroo Island, Cape Tribulation, Ningaloo, Shark Bay), and so many people miss out on them while trying to squeeze Australia into their trip. So many people see only one side of Australia, party-hopping along the East Coast or taking expensive tours that are rushed along to fit in as much as possible, and so some of them end up leaving disappointed.
If you are going to include Australia on your RTW, the most important thing is to do your research and get your expectations in line. Budget properly, in both time and money, and realize that it is one place that you will only get out of it what you put into it. And think carefully about where to fit it into your trip: in the beginning, in the middle as a break from extensive traveling in challenging countries, or as a finale to help ease you back into the ways of the Western world. Even if you are a by-the-seat-of-your-pants traveler, Australia is one place you’re going to have to suck it up and do a bit of research and planning on to avoid disappointment.