Traveling the East Coast of Australia we have met dozens upon dozens of Europeans and a few American folk who are making their way up or down the coast. Camping has become an increasingly popular way to travel in Australia, especially with the rise of the converted travel van industry and the high price of bus and plane travel in Australia.
Besides the economy of camping, what is the drawcard? Freedom! If you’re on a road trip you can leave the beaten path, the sometimes questionable hostel beds and the bus schedules behind you. You are free to roam where and when you please. You can camp in Australian National Parks for as little as $6 a night and wake up with kangaroos next to your tent and have monitor lizards join you for breakfast. Sound inviting? It is!
But how do you start? What do you need? Above all, how much will it cost? Here is a handy little list of the essentials that you will need for to travel in Australia and how much you can expect to pay for them. After you have all of these you’re set up to roam as you please. The route is up to you!
What vehicle do you need to travel Australia?
We have seen a lot of international tourists touring for months at a time in rental vans. These vans rent out for between $50 – $100 per day however you can sleep in them and you will not need to purchase most of the other things on this list, just bring your own bedding and you’re good to go. I can certainly see the appeal of these vans. If you’re on the road for two months or less, they are the more economic option.
Just what are these camper vans that we’re talking about? If they have not taken your country by storm yet, be prepared to be impressed. These vans are converted working vans or ‘people-movers’ that have had a bed, storage, a table and in some cases a sink and other luxuries added into them. The idea is that you’re a turtle, travelling with your home behind you, ready to set up camp anywhere that you please. They range from the super cheap to luxurious and you kind of get what you pay for.
We have a FULL article about campervan hire in Australia here, so we will not rehash all that. We recommend that you skip over to our page on campervan hire in Australia now fora quick read if you’re interested in this option. We have also included a widget below for you to look up the pricing for your selected dates and locations if you’re just after a quick pricing guide.
Maybe you’re like us and seeking the Big Australian Road Trip adventure of 6 months or more, then buying your own vehicle will be the most economic option. You will end up paying too much for a hire car – would you hire a car everyday at home for 6 months, or just buy one with the hopes of selling it once you’re done with it? Same applies on your holiday. We know that buying a car can be a pain in the ass, but below is some info to make you feel more at ease with your decision.
Do you need a 4WD to travel Australia?
No. A lot of hardcore Aussies will tell you that you NEED a 4WD, but they are cashed up baby-boomers who are towing a caravan bigger than the size of most apartments and who think that they need a 4WD to ‘get themselves out of any trouble’. The truth is that that a lot of these 4WDs never leave the highway. Everyday there are hundreds, if not thousands of people travelling Australia in a 2WD van or car. By far the most popular backpacker car is the Ford Falcon. They are strong, cheap and reliable cars. You can grab one of these second-hand for around the $4,000 mark. We were lucky enough to grab ours for $3,000 with 6 moths rego! Best places to look are gumtree, carsales and the trading post. The other popular choice for backpackers, particularly internationals is to buy a converted van. You can pick this baby up an hit the road immediately. You can pick up a good converted van for under $6,000. Best places to search are gumtree and backpacker boards in hostels and towns such as Perth, Sydney and Cairns where a lot of backpackers finish their journey and need to sell up before boarding their plane home.
Should I buy a van or a wagon?
That is entirely up to you and how you want to travel. We have seen people sleeping in the back of their wagons and being just as comfortable as those in vans. We however, are now 30 and I’m not sure I could sleep in the back of a wagon and be able to get myself out in the morning. Plus I like the finer things in life, like a comfortable bed. This was one of the reasons we opted for the wagon plus tent combo. The other was that we want (and need) to work along the way. If we were sleeping in the van and one of us needed to take the car to work, the other would be left at the campsite with no car and no house. So with the wagon plus tent, one of us can go to work in the car and the other still has a house to enjoy, so they’re not just sitting on the dirt of the camping grounds waiting for the other to come home.
We have seen couples in vans and sleeping in their wagons where one person is working and the other takes them to work each morning and picks them up so that they do not loose their house while the other is working. So it is possible, complicated, but possible.
Get insurance! You are going off the city roads and there is a chance that you can hit a kangaroo or big bird. These things will do some serious damage to your car. Your vehicle is also your home on the road, and it’s a very easy home to steal. Insurance means that if something does go wrong, you’re not left stranded in the middle of nowhere, 150kms to the nearest town trying to get your car towed or a lift to a hostel to figure out your next move. Comprehensive insurance will cost you $350 – $500 with one of the online companies. Do your research and you will be rewarded with a cheaper premium. The big guys will slog you at least $700 for comprehensive insurance.
While we’re talking about insurance, make sure that you also have adequate Travel Insurance for your travels in Oz.
Tips for buying a car in Australia
It’s always scary to buy a car or any major purchase, particularly when you’re doing it overseas. Here are some tips to make he process a little less scary.
- Only buy a car with a RWC (road worthy certificate) and current rego (registration). Buying a car without these means that you cannot drive it without getting these two things done. The car may need work that you did not know about and this can easily blow your budget. If you buy a car with a RWC and rego you will not need to have any mechanical checks done to transfer it to your name and you can drive away sooner.
- There will be a small change of ownership fee. When you buy the car you will need to register that purchase with the relevant authority in the state you’re in (or the state that car is registered in – as the case maybe). There will be a small fee to transfer the ownership to yourself. The relevant authorities are, VicRoads in Victoria, Tasmania Transport, TAMS in the ACT, Department of Transport in the NT, TMR in Queensland, Transport, Travel and Motoring in SA, RMS in New South Wales and Main Roads in Western Australia.
- Australians are very honest people, and we would much prefer to buy used cars from private owners rather than get them through a dealer. Australia has good roads and people generally care about their vehicles. Old cars with high km in the odometer are not rare, consider the size of this place and understand long distances are normal and usually done in good roads so plenty of cars with high km are still in perfect condition.
- Make sure you check the car before buying, normally a $500 dollar deposit will seal the deal (if you are unsure of the protocols and someone asks you, don’t worry this is normal, but do it over the bank or get them to write down an acknowledgment of the payment.
You have many budget options for your big Australian adventure. You can sleep in your car, in a tent, housesit, work for accommodation, or just simply pay for accommodation (but where’s the adventure in that?!). Here is a rundown of your option. You might, like us, opt for a mixture of all of these to make your stay as cheap and comfortable as possible.
This is the obvious place to start your Aussie adventure – and we’re sure that you know how to book a hostel room all by yourself so we will not go into too much detail here. We will just say that we do not recommend you spend too many nights paying to stay in Australian hostels – you will go broke. A night in a hostel can cost anywhere from $18 – $40 in Australia. When compared to the $6 you pay for a campground, hostels are a great way to go broke down under.
Camping – in a tent, your wagon or car
We opted for a tent primarily, due to the reasons mentioned before about us needing to work on the road. Camping is cheap and fun. As we move around Australia, we are reviewing all the sites we stay at (you’re welcome) so head to our campsite reviews section to learn more about what to expect from Aussie campsites. Now, back to the tent. You can purchase a good, two roomed tent for under $400, or if you’re on a budget, go for a dome tent which you can pick up for around $150 or less if you play the sales well. Just make sure that the tent your buy has good ventilation, humidity in the north will make your nights very uncomfortable if you cannot open up your tent well. Read all about how we chose our tent here, at Our First Home!
If you choose to buy your own car and camp, there are a few other things that you will need. If you have hired a van, these should come as standard (all except the solar power kit). Remember that if you buy decent equipment, you can sell it at the end of your journey.
1. Camping kitchen
Most campsites will have free BBQs, so if you’re happy to live of grilled meat and veg, then you do not need a camping kitchen. We like nice food and we like to cook, so we invested in a small gas cooker and a set of light, travel pots and pans. Cookers come in all shape and sizes and you really need to see then to choose which is best for you. Expect to pay between $40 for a cheap and potentially dangerous (or fun) cooker or $80 for a more stable version. Travel pots and pans can be expensive. We purchased ours in South America and bought them back with us because it was light, cheap and compatible with gas sold in Australia. For more info about our camping kitchen, see Our Camping Kitchen which details exactly what we are carrying. So think what you are more likely to be eating in your trip and get the equipment you need to make it happen, off course you aint gonna be cooking for a wedding but everyone likes a bit of pasta or rice once in a while, and you will need a pot, a pan and a wooden spoon, as well as a plate an knife and a fork… see what we mean? now we are sure you can figure out what utensils to bring.
Be prepared for extremes. You will have nights in Australia that are so hot and humid you cannot sleep and others where you’re wearing a thermal layer and a jumper to bed. A lightweight sleeping bag with a rating of zero degrees will be sufficient for most places, however be sure to take a light sheet also for the warmer months. If you’re camping in the desert in winter, it can get cold. Like, really cold. You may need to look into more professional gear for that. Chances are that if you’re doing a round the world trip, you will already be carrying some form of bedding, so just bring that, it will be fine. The other thing to consider if you’re in a tent is an inflatable bed. We opted for a fancy bed and are loving the comfort, however you can pick up cheaper air beds that will keep you off the floor and sleeping well for around $40 for a double. Again, be sure to watch the sales at stores such as Rays Outdoors and Anaconda to grab a bargain.
The main goal of your day whilst camping in Australia is trying to keep things cold. Ice melts and electric coolers draw a lot of power. One is not a better option than the other, however the price difference if fairly significant. A good esky will set you back about $30 where as an electric cooler may cost you upwards of $300. Ice can be found at most camping sites, general stores and petrol stations for about $3-$4 per bag. It will generally stay cool for 2-4 days (depending on your esky) if you keep in in the shade. We bought a 12volt cooler that can be used as an esky also. It cost us $55 on sale and we use ice in it at campsites and can plug it into the cigarette lighter in the car on travel days.
4. Solar power kit
A necessity if you want to stay at cheap camping sites and be able to use your phone/camera/computer. These kits can be pricey however are well worth the money if you’re on the road long-term. We bought a Goal Zero Yeti 150 Solar Generator Kit with Nomad 20 Solar Panel and it is enough to power two phones, a camera, a tablet and the speaker, and sometimes, when we really need it we use it for the computer (its a drainer!!). The price difference between a powered site in a commercial caravan park and an unpowered site is usually $10 per night. So after 57 nights this little beauty has paid for itself. However the real savings happen when you can stay in National Parks for $6 per night per person. That is a saving of about $16-$20 per night that you’re on the road and not staying in commercial caravan park. That is huge! In which case, this solar power kit pays for itself in one month, the rest is just pure savings!
Housesitting is a great way to not only save money, but it will also give you a different perspective of a place. We are BIG ambassadors for housitting and have dedicated a whole other section of our site to it, so head on over to our Housesiting section for more info, but if you want a summary, you get a house for a while, plants to water and animals to play with (opportunities for sitting farms and large properties with lots of animals are plenty!) as well as all the comfort of non-nomadic lifestyle (real mattress, air con… you know, luxury for campers.)
Work for accommodation in hostels
We are making the most of this option also, especially in towns where the camping sites are expensive and commercial. If we’re going to be surrounded by other travellers, we prefer them to be young backpackers instead of grey nomads in giant moving castles. Working for accommodation is a common practice in hostels around Australia. Generally you will work for 2-3 hours per day in return for free accommodation in a dorm room and sometimes you get food for free also. It’s a good deal, and helps you to ground yourself in the town, meet other travellers and save some cash. You can also use these as a base to find paid work from, as hostels have things that campsites do not. Like hot showers, electricity and internet (ohh my!).
Where can you look to find these Work For Accommodation (WFA) opportunities? Anywhere. No seriously. Just jump on Gumtree, Working holiday jobs, facebook or google the hostel you are wanting to stay at and just call and ask them if they do WFA.
Equipping the Human
Ok, so that’s all good for the arrangement for the road, but what about your backpack? What about yourself? What are the essentials that are gonna make or break your experience in Australia? What’s the gear that will gonna turn you into the human adventure machine who will be able to climb boulders and jump in rivers, endure the brutal sunshine for 12 hours straight at the beach, pick some fruit in the farm all on the same day, while jumping with roos and hugging koalas???
Well you can start by buying a lot of sunblock. No, seriously, you can leave your underwear at home and you wont regret that mistake as much as you WILL ABSOLUTELY regret not carrying sunblock. Apply first thing in the morning and keep applying every three hours. You don’t believe us? On a high UV rated day only 15 minutes of sun exposure will fry you, on an extreme day (which is half of the year in lovely sunny Queensland) it will only take the sun 6 minutes to start cooking your skin. You have been warned. So was Chilli, and she didn’t listen, check the picture, it does not even do her burn justice. She was BEETROOT RED for a week and could not sit with her back against anything for days. Silly girl….
As the Aboriginal Elder in Modern Family told Phil after he was punched in the face by a kangaroo “Australia is nice to tourists, but it’s tough on its own people. Congratulations, mate, you’re one of us”. Read on to find out about the gear you will need to supercharge yourself into an Aussie action hero capable of taking on all that this country will throw at you.
Besides your underwear and socks, bring all your standard summer clothes. You are an adult you know what you are gonna wear, but make sure to also include:
- Bathers (swimming suit for non Aussie speakers) make it two pairs at least. The best places to swim in Australia require a good hike in the heat so having a pair of dry boardies or shorts to walk back will ensure you have no rashes. Girls, make sure that one of your swimsuits is comfortable enough to wear all day walking without hurting your back or neck so you never miss out of the good swim spots because of no change rooms! Good ideas are sports bras the can double as bathers or Speedo or Funkita supportive bather tops.
- A jumper (hoodie), and a light rain jacket. Sometimes, especially if you decide to hit the hinterland, the nights can get really cold and you will need more than shorts and t shirt. Also, the weather is a bit unpredictable and big storms can roll over and soak you in no time.
- Shoes: they weigh you down, but they also power you and they can be a real factor in determining your enjoyment of a bushwalk or outdoor activity. Good closed and sturdy shoes are useful for bushwalks and hiking and they may also be a requirement for employment at farms and in commercial kitchen. Light sneakers are good to hang out and go out around the cities and to play sports with all the friend you will make on the road. Thongs, or flip flops are a must to go to the beach and shower in public facilities and keep your feet healthy. We’ve seen a lot of backpackers half way through a bushwalk and bitching about the thongs they were wearing that day for the hike, don’t be that idiot.
- Towel (s): if you have space pack both a bath and a beach towel. Simply because you have a shower to rinse off the salt and sand you’ve covered yourself with at the beach, and then you will have to dry your clean self with the same towel which is still wet and full of sand and salt. Two towels are handy. Sarongs are a good alternative for a beach towel, as they are light, pack small and dry fast, plus you can wear it as a dress. Not sure what one is, check the picture here of Monique modeling hers as a dress. She uses the same sarong as a beach towel. She basically lives in that thing – best investment ever
- Gadgets: Head torch. This is the most comfortable form of illumination, but any light will suffice for when it gets dark and you’re alone in a National Park. Camera (duh) and if you are keen, you will use the underwater function quite a lot (there, if you needed an excuse to get an underwater camera, you are welcome), portable speakers or headphones, a book. Just one. There are plenty of book exchanges around here. Bring a toy too, especially if its an activity you wont forgive yourself to abandon, travelling is not the same unless you can do what you love. We brought our skateboards and Chilli would not be able to leave the guitar at home, putting the bmx in storage because she couldn’t get herself to sell it, was hard enough.
- Mobile phone, must be unlocked and able to connect to the internet. Aussie sim cards are about $2 and can be picked up at supermarkets and news agencies. If you plan to get to rural places and small towns be sure you sign up with telstra, it doesn’t matter what the other companies say, telstra is the only one with a decent regional network. If you will be only in big cities pick then just pick the cheapest deal, they will all suffice. Your phone will be useful for maps, bookings, and keeping your life in the real world on track.
- A hat and sunglasses. Do not forget these. If you don’t own any, then go out and buys them. To reiterate from before, the Australian sun is harsh, protect yourself. Also, if you’re planning to work on a farm it’s a requirement that you wear a long-sleeved light shirt to work, for sun protection.
- Mosquito repellant. There are strains of dengue fever and ross river syndrome in parts of Queensland so this is more than just to make your stay more comfortable. It is a health issue. The further north you head the more bugs want to suck your blood. In some areas we were using DEET spray plus mosquito repellant coils everyday. It’s not ideal, but it saves a lot of uncomfortable nights swatting away the biters. That being said, there will always be something that just do not give a shit about how much repellant you have put on. Like horse flies. Or green ants. Or snakes….