Budget Tips for a Road Trip Around Australia

Australia is without a doubt one of the most diverse and interesting countries to visit in the world. There is a lot to see, from interesting cities to amazing natural wonders, but it is also an expensive place to travel. One of the best ways to see it (and one of the cheapest) is to hit the road and drive yourself around the country. I’ve spent quite a lot of time road tripping across Australia in my old van, and there is still so much more that I am yet to see, but I have picked up quite a few tips along the way. It can be a bit confusing coming from another country and working out how to do things, so these tips should help to get you on your way.

South Flinders Ranges in South Australia

Road trip through the South Flinders Ranges in South Australia

Buying a vehicle

If you’re only travelling for a couple of weeks, then hiring a car or campervan makes sense, but if you plan on spending months or even a year travelling around the country, hiring a car just isn’t really financially feasible. The cheapest and best way to see the country is to buy a used car and then sell it again when you’re done. Lots of travellers and backpackers do this and you just need to know the rules and regulations.

Buying a car in Australia is easy. You can just head to a car yard or look in the classifieds in the paper, but one of the best places to find a car or van is on Gumtree. This is where I bought my old van, and a lot of backpackers buy and sell their camper vans there as well. Gumtree is a huge marketplace where you can buy and sell pretty much anything, and their automotive section is excellent. You can search by car type and there are some pretty decent used car prices.

When buying a vehicle privately in Australia – for example if you were to buy a van from some other backpackers – you should look at the requirements for the state that you are buying in. Most states require that the vehicle will be sold with a roadworthy certificate, which is necessary for registration. Here in Queensland you should make sure that the person you are buying from provides this, as well as a registration transfer form that you can lodge at the transport department. Each state has different laws and regulations and you should look up the transport department for the state that you are buying in.

Unless you know the person well, it is also a good idea to get the vehicle checked out by a mechanic before you purchase it to make sure that it is a good buy and that it isn’t going to fall apart on you half way around Australia.

When you register your vehicle, it will come with CTP (Compulsory Third Party) Insurance. This is not the same as liability insurance, and is there to cover emergency medical assistance etc, in case of an accident. Comprehensive car insurance can be a little pricey, but you should at least get a third party liability insurance policy to cover the other vehicle in case of an at fault accident. This is quite affordable and a good idea since you are driving in a foreign country.

The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road, Australia

The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road – just one of so many beautiful drives in Australia

Staying safe on the road

I often refer to Australia as the land of rules and regulations. It is almost ridiculous how many rules we have here, and the same applies to the road. It is a good idea to read up on the Australian road rules before you start driving as they probably differ quite a lot to your country. For example, the top speed that you can do on any road in Australia is 110kph, where as there may not be a speed limit on the motorways in your own country. In urban areas this speed drops down to 50kph unless otherwise stated. There are plenty of other rules as well and the fines will take a big chunk out of your travel budget.

Australia is a huge country and much of it is vastly unpopulated, so you need to be prepared for long drives between places. Make sure that your vehicle is in top condition before you start driving around the country, carry a jerrycan full of emergency fuel at all times, and make sure you have a proper spare tyre and the tools to change it.

Camping and road tripping in Australia

Camping in our van = free. The view = priceless

Budget tips

One word you could use to describe travel in Australia is EXPENSIVE. Things do cost a lot here, but there are ways to keep your spending to a minimum. There is no way to avoid the huge cost of fuel, but you can save money on accommodation and food. One of the benefits of having a van is that you can pretty much pull up anywhere and sleep for the night. Australia is full of camp grounds and many of them are free or only cost a few dollars. Obviously, if you want the comfort of a caravan park then you will be spending a lot more. It can cost anywhere from $20 to $50 per night in a caravan park in Australia.

Carry a gas stove with you as well as an esky (ice box) and some cooking utensils and you can buy food at the supermarket and cook all of your own meals. If you just have a normal car you can still do this. Just buy a tent and some camping gear. You will save a lot of money doing it this way.

I decked my old van out with a proper bed and a kitchen in the back, so I can just pull up where ever I like, cook myself a meal and get a good night’s sleep. I also have things like a canopy for shade and protection from the rain, a table and chairs for sitting outside and a solar shower and shower tent. I lived like this for about five months straight and couldn’t be happier.

Camping at Rainbow Beach, Australia

Camping at Rainbow Beach in Queensland

When to travel

Being such a large country, Australia has a lot of different climates and weather patterns. Generally speaking, you should travel the South of Australia during the Summer and the North of Australia during the Winter. The reason I say this is because the North is tropical and is hot, humid and very wet during the Summer months, which can result in flooding and even the odd cyclone. The South is also hot in the Summer, but mostly fine. In the Winter it can get very cold and wet, and we even get snow up in the mountains of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. Winter in the North isn’t cold at all and the weather is usually beautiful.

A road trip around Australia will be one of the greatest things that you will do. It is such a beautiful country, and the freedom of just being on the road is addictive. I hope that these tips help you with planning your trip. Happy road tripping!

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12 comments… add one
  • Nina Mar 10, 2015

    Australia and a canpervam go together like strawberries and cream, it’s the best way to see this country.there are plenty of free campsites all around australia and many national parks have great campaites for less than 10 bucks. Stock up the van with food and you’ll find plenty of great spots with free BBQs for a cheap meal.

    • Dean Wickham Apr 20, 2015

      Agreed. Campervan is the best way to travel the country. I was surprised at how many free sites there were. Lots of fun and quite affordable. Cheers Nina.

  • Hojo Apr 26, 2015

    Love reading this.!! 2nd picture is amazing.! Traveling to Australia this july.! Hope to see everything beautiful around the country.!!!


    • Dean Wickham Jun 19, 2015

      You will have an awesome time. Australia has so much to see and do. Enjoy your trip! 🙂

  • Jodie Brownlee Jun 11, 2015

    Hello Dean! Thanks for a comprehensive blog. I am hankering for an Australian adventure and have just been researching campsites along the south coast of NSW. Some are expensive ($60 plus) and some are free! There is a beautiful natural campsite on the beach at Mystery Bay ($10 – $14). I have just started writing for Camperman (a campervan hire company), so who knows, I might try doing it in a camper van next time instead of the car and tent. I like the idea of being able to cook breakfast in my own little kitchen. I have been to Rainbow Beach (in your picture). The goannas were very, er… ‘friendly’. 🙂 Thanks again for your blog! (If you are interested in the results of my research, I shared them at campaustralia.wordpress.com) Happy travels!

    • Dean Wickham Jun 19, 2015

      Hi Jodie. A campervan is the perfect way to see Australia. So much more comfortable than a tent and you can pretty much just pull up anywhere 🙂 Very handy. Thanks for the campsite tip!

  • Tom Miller Jun 15, 2015

    Thanks for this information, at previous Australia trip is costly for me but after reading your blog I think I have some tips to reduce my travelling cost in Australia. 😉

    • Dean Wickham Jun 19, 2015

      Hey Tom. I’m pleased that you found the post helpful.

  • Tahlia Oct 5, 2016

    I think Spring is the best time of year by far for a road trip in Aus. Not too cold, not too hot which means you don’t have to pack as much stuff! Happy travels 🙂

  • Aaron Jan 6, 2017

    Some great tips. It’s ridiculous the amount of money you can spend staying at Caravan parks; if you spent every night in one you could rent a nice house somewhere. You have it dead right; free camp/low cost camp as much as possible and you’ll be saving money as quickly as possible!
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  • Agness of aTukTuk Apr 16, 2017

    Australia seems like a great country for a budget travel! Great post, Dean!

    • Dean Wickham Jul 14, 2017

      It’s an expensive country to travel, but it is possible on a budget 🙂

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