Traveling the East Coast of Australia we have met dozens upon dozens of European couples and friends who are doing the same, as well as a couple of Americans along the way. Camping is becoming 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. Camping can also help you to reduce your accommodation costs as your work along the way!
Besides the economy of camping, what is the drawcard? Freedom! If you’re on a road trip you can leave the beaten path, the dirty hostel bedrooms 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!
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. However if you’re like us, and seeking the Big Australian Road Trip adventure of 6 months or more, then buying your own vehicle is necessary.
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 $3,000 mark. You can opt for a 4WD or a converted van for sleeping, both of which will set you back a minimum of $6,000. The back of our car also doubles as a cooking prep bench and pantry.
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.
You have two options for your big camping trip. You can sleep in your car, or in a tent. We opted for a tent as cars are just not comfortable for long-term travel. We are also planning to work on the road and if we slept in the car and one of us needed to use it to go to work, the other would be left with no car and no house. So a tent it was. 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 $100 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.
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. My recommendation, grab whatever you can. You’re camping, not cooing for a wedding party.
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 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.
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 spent $570 on ours and it is enough to power two phones, a camera, a tablet and one computer. 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!