15 Tips for an epic road trip backpacking Australia in a campervan
Nothing beats the thrill of the open road and the ultimate freedom to explore Australia on your own four wheels. From epic Outback road trips, driving the stunning Great Ocean Road to just getting off the beaten track, camping out in the bush and having the flexibility to go wherever you want whilst also saving money on transport, accommodation and eating out – backpacking Australia in a campervan is the best way to experience Australia.
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So should you buy, rent or relocate a campervan when backpacking in Australia?
Renting a Campervan for backpacking Australia
The time you are spending Down Under (and the money you have) will determine whether you will be better off renting or buying a campervan for backpacking Australia.
Even if you are on a tight backpacker’s budget renting a campervan can actually be a really cost effective way to backpack Australia as you’ll save money on hostels and hotels, eating out and instead of taking an expensive day trip or tour you can simply drive there yourself. It’s also the most fun way to explore Australia with the freedom of your own set of wheels.
If you are only backpacking Australia for a couple of weeks then renting a campervan is by far the easiest choice and requires little upfront costs and organisation. There are so many campervan hire companies in Australia, some are even especially for backpackers but you’ll want to spend some time researching to make sure you get the best deal as prices can vary alot.
An easy way to do this is on www.drivenow.com.au This is the best website I’ve found that compares all the rental prices and options from all the major campervan hire companies in Australia so you can make sure you’re getting the best deal.
Buying a Campervan for backpacking Australia
If you are going to be backpacking Australia for more than a few months, like if you have come to Australia for year long working holiday then, considering the cost of renting over that duration, it’s probably worth buying your own campervan in Australia. Although you will need some cash for the upfront cost of buying a van and time at both the beginning and end of your trip to sort out the paperwork and buying and selling the campervan a bonus of owning a campervan as a backpacker in Australia is that you can (hopefully as long as there are no problems or major break downs) sell the campervan at the end of the trip and get your money back park up at free campsites, cook up some food and sleep under the stars or in the van and this will save you a lot of money in the long run.
An advantage to renting a campervan as a backpacker in Australia is that there is less hassle and upfront costs to pay and you are more likely to have a newer campervan in better condition than a cheap second hand backpacker campervan that has done many many trips around Australia, plus you don’t have the hassle of trying to sort out the paperwork and selling the van at the end of the trip.
If you’re interested in buying a campervan in Australia read my Backpacker’s Guide to Buying a Campervan in Australia first which will tell you all you need to know.
Relocating a campervan in Australia
If you are flexible relocating a campervan could be the perfect money saving solution for backpackers in Australia. Campervan rental companies need their vehicles in another location and offer you free or very discounted hire, sometimes for just $1 a day, if you relocate their vehicle to a specific destination. See more details here about how to relocate a vehicle for free or $1 a day. However, there is a time limit on these deals so this may not be the option if you want to take your time seeing the sights, but I whizzed down from Cairns to Sydney in a week and only spent $7 on the campervan hire and got a free tank of fuel thrown in!
You’ll also want to think carefully about what type of vehicle to rent or buy – cars and station wagons are the cheapest and cost less in fuel, you sleep in the back of a station wagon but it can feel a bit cramped. Also be aware that when you get off the beaten track many roads aren’t sealed so you may want to hire or buy a 4WD vehicle or campervan.
Whether you decide to buy, rent or relocate a campervan, road tripping is the most cost effective and most fun way to backpack Australia. Your campervan is your accommodation and transport in one, allowing you to save considerable money on hostels, bus tickets, tours and eating out and also giving you the ultimate freedom to explore this amazing country.
The open road is calling for you, but before you speed off here’s how to make the most out of backpacking Australian in a campervan
The open road is calling for you, but before you speed off here’s how to make the most out of your epic Australian road trip adventure.
#1. Have a rough plan of where to go
There’s no denying Australia is one big country and while the freedom that you get from having a campervan is awesome you need to try to have a rough plan of your route.
People often don’t realize just how massive Australia is until you get there. You could spend days and $100s driving and not seeing that much at all and you don’t want to waste time and money backtracking. Have a think about the sights you want to see and the route you want to take before you set off. But be flexible enough to go off route to discover the little surprises, these were often the highlight of my Aussie adventures, especially on the spectacular Great Ocean Road.
If you’ve got limited time then concentrate on exploring one region of Australia and being able to really enjoy it rather than tying to rush through and spending more time driving than doing. Australia’s East Coast is one of the most popular backpacking routes – see here for my full itinerary for road tripping the east coast of Australia.
#2 Get the Camps Book or App
A campervan is awesome because it is your transport, accommodation all in one. Even though you can sleep in your van you can’t just park up and camp anywhere – many areas do not allow camping and you could be moved on or worse fined. Campsites are an option and include facilities like showers and toilets, camp kitchens, power and sometimes swimming pools and other leisure facilities but expect to pay $20 plus dollars a night for the pleasure.
You can find free campsites with the Camps Australia Wide book. It’s also a map and contains points of interest so it’s really useful for navigating and as there can be limited reception outside of the towns the book is a bible for road tripping Australia on a budget. You can also use the Wiki Camps App to find places where free camping is permitted.
The Camps Australia Wide bookis an veritable bible and an essential addition to any campervan road trip. The Camps book has maps and lists free and low cost campsites all over Australia. It’s also a map and contains points of interest so it’s really useful for navigating and as there can be limited reception outside of the towns. We got it included in our campervan but you can also buy it in Australia or on Amazon before you go. You can also get the WikiCamps App to find suitable places to camp up and save yourself a heap of money, essential for anyone backpacking Australia in a campervan and we loved hardly ever having to pay for campsites.
#3 Save money by cooking your own food
If you’re lucky you might even be able to afford a campervan with a kitchen and bathroom facilities but most people backpacking Australia in a campervan find that buying an eskie (cooler) and a camping stove suffices, often these are included with the campervan hire and if you buy a camper the previous owners often chuck in all the equipment into the deal.
Buying groceries from a big supermarkets like Coles or Woolworths where you can pick up some supplies for a couple of dollars each keeps costs down. An eskie and some ice can help to keep groceries and beers cool without the need for any power or you could plug in a small fridge. Canned foods, pasta and rice are easy to store and cook up on a camp stove and be prepared to have plenty of BBQs. It’s best to stock up at a supermarket in a large town as food and supplies are more expensive in the outback.
Check out this post for more budget tips for backpacking Australia.
#4 Get a camp shower
Be prepared that many free campsites just have a composting toilet or sometimes don’t have any facilities. One of the downsides of backpacking Australia by campervan is that sometimes it’s hard to wash unless you pay to stay at campsites with showers. Toilet roll, wet wipes and santizing hand gel are all essential items to keep in your glove box. You could buy a camp shower and hang it up in the sun to warm the water and take a refreshing outdoor wash or make sure of public facilities or sometimes a campsite will let you use the showers for a couple of dollars even if aren’t staying there.
#5 Make use of the facilities
Most Australian towns, especially ones along the coast of Queensland have a free public swimming pool with toilets, showers and BBQ facilities. If you are camping at free sites where there aren’t any facilities these public facilities will be a god send for backpackers and a good place to meet other backpackers doing the same thing
#6 Learn the rules of the road and beware of fines
Australia has some of the highest fines in the world. It’s worth learning the rules of the road to avoid having to pay hefty fines that differ depending on which state you are in, but for example, in Queensland include $341 for not wearing a seat belt, failing to stop for a red light $341, speeding from $152 – $1062 and there are many, many more. Laws and rules differ depending on state so check out the rules of the road for the state you are driving in. Stay legal and keep your hard earned cash for more rewarding activities than paying out fines.
#7 Split the cost of fuel
A liter of fuel typically costs about $1.50 and due to the huge distances in Australia fuel will most likely be a major expense when backpacking Australia in a campervan. Try teaming up to split the cost or look for ride share partners on hostel noticeboards or on gumtree and help a fellow backpacker out, get some company and reduce your costs at the same time. Driving from Cairns to Sydney cost us $500 in fuel.
#8 Buy an extra battery
You might want power to keep your phone and camera charged up so you can share photos of your trip. You could just charge up small electronics by plugging in a special charger to the cigarette lighter, or charge larger appliances like laptops or mini fridges with a power invertor. Just make sure you don’t use all your battery power charging your electronics so that you can’t start the car the next morning. You could buy an extra battery to ensure you’ve always go enough juice to start the car and charge your gadgets.
#9 Be careful driving at night
Most Australians simply don’t run the risk to drive long distances at night due to the active nocturnal native wildlife. Carcasses of road kill are littered across the roads from where the massive road trains plow into kangaroos stopping for nothing but driving at dusk can be quiet terrifying in some areas where kangaroos erratically hop out into the middle of the road in front of you from all directions. Honestly, I really couldn’t believe how many there were! They can cause massive damage to your campervan too so its a good idea to get a ‘roo bar’.
#10 Always fill up when you are half empty
Outback roadhouses or service stations become more spread out the further you venture into the outback. Don’t run the risk of running out of fuel and breaking down in these harsh and remote conditions and fill up at every available opportunity, even if the tank is not yet empty. Try to keep the tank filled up as much as possible, filling up when the tank is half full. Also be aware that fuel in the outback costs more than in major cities.
#11 Carry plenty of water
When traveling in the outback or in remote areas always make sure you take plenty of water! The recommended amount is at least 5 litres per person, per day. This sounds like a lot but when you break down or get stuck on a 48 degree day it really isn’t. Dehydration is one of the biggest dangers. If you break down the advice is to stay with the vehicle, people who have wondered off in to the outback to find help have been known to die, mainly from dehydration. Besides drinking and staying hydrated under the Aussie sun you’ll need plenty of water for washing and cooking anyway.
#12 Don’t expect to have phone reception
Out of the main towns phone reception becomes patchy. Telstra has the best rural service but large areas of the country still do not have service so you can’t count on being able to make a call if you break down. Being stuck out in the remote harsh outback can be quite intimidating but if you are really exploring the Outback wilderness then it may be a good idea to hire a satellite phone, or a UHF CB radio (loads of utes have these) or a PLB (distress radio beacon) so you can get in touch with someone for help if you need it.
#13 Be aware that it does get cold in Australia
Contrary to popular opinion it does get cold in the south of Australia and in the outback in winter ( June – Aug especially) Head up north with everyone else but still expect some extra blankets and a warm jumper in the cold nights.
#14 Watch out for roadtrains
Roadtrain trucks are huge, sometimes with 3 or 4 trailers and nearly 60 meters long. Roadtrains don’t stop for anything so be careful and allow enough time and a clear road to overtake these huge trucks or pull off the road if you are on a single carriage road.
#15 Take care on unsealed roads
I didn’t realise at first how limiting it was to be stuck to sealed roads. We tried to avoid unsealed roads because our campervan really struggled with them but sometimes the road runs out and you have no choice but to just drive very slowly and carefully watching out for loose stones, wet mud, sand and other hazards.
If you’ve got your sights set on an epic Outback trip or just want to explore more off the beaten track then you might want to consider getting a 4X4 to have the ultimate freedom to go anywhere and not worry about getting stuck if you want to explore the outback wilderness. Also, Australians seem to have a habit of taking their cars on the beach, but if you don’t have a 4WD it’s really best not to join them. Getting stuck is embarrassing!
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Do you have any more tips for backpacking Australia in a campervan?
If you are thinking of buying then make sure to check out the Ultimate Backpacker’s Guide to Buying a Campervan in Australia.