We bought Stripe in Perth from a company called Freedom Campers. He’s a great guy and you can check out his business here. It was completely my fault we bought him; I was over-excited, too keen and ready to live in a camper van. Full disclosure, Stripe isn’t even a camper van, it’s a converted workman’s van. A Toyota Hiace (2004) which has, a fold-able bed/sofa, a bit of storage, a couple of shelves, a sink (sort of) and an electric-pump shower. Now this might sound impressive, but trust me, spend 30 seconds on Pinterest looking up camper van conversions and you’ll quickly see ours is hardly the cream of the crop (sorry Stripe).
It has its upsides, when we wanted to up sticks and move on quickly we could. When it poured down with rain and we had two days doing crossword puzzles we had a sofa-bed to kick back and chill on. We’ve saved on accommodation costs by hitting up free campsites, so there have been quite a few benefits. All of these, however, do not take away from the fact that Dan (6ft2) and myself have been living, surviving, sleeping, cooking, getting changed, hanging up laundry, doing puzzles, watching Netflix, playing crib, singing along to Fleetwood Mac… all the back of a van.
1 – Put everything on the roof
I was so sceptical to buy a roof basket, why the heck would we need one? We’re living out of backpacks and the baskets are $200… how wrong I was. You end up with A LOT of stuff when you road trip, especially when petrol stations/supermarkets are hours apart. Jerry cans, water containers, solar panels, camping chairs and table, all go on the roof. Which leaves more space when you’re trying to conduct your life from the back of a Toyota Hiace. I hold my hands up, I was wrong. All hail the roof basket.
2 – Figure out your ‘one pot meals’ or learn to like tuna
Living without a fridge isn’t easy, you have a staple esky (translated: cool box) to keep fruit and veg from wilting. Some vans are fancy and have a fridge, ours alas, is not. So we quickly learned to live off ‘one pot meals’, throw it all in and hope for the best. Fajitas were a strong favourite.
Unfortunately, tinned tuna also doesn’t go off and you can then boil all your potatoes and veg in one go. I hated tuna before we left but now… it’s dolphinately not the worst thing I’ve eaten, I mean it doesn’t krill me to eat it. I was squidding myself if I thought I wouldn’t eat tuna at least once, now I know my plaice. If you can think of any better camping meals let minnow. Oh my cod, ok I’ll stop.
3 – Have a decent playlist/download podcast episodes
If you’re on the road for hours, days, weeks at a time, chances are you’re going to either rinse your data to avoid listening to that super edgy ‘road trip’ playlist you made before you left (i.e. me) or you’re going to tear your hair out if you hear another song about summer or sunshine. SO, have a variety of playlists made, downloaded and ready to go or research some podcasts. So far we’ve listened to Serial (seasons one and two) and My Dad Wrote a Porno. Any other recommendations, please throw them in the comments!
4 – Try and be organised
K Mart is my new favourite place, they have everything. It’s like ASDA and Primark had a love child but it’s better in every way. They have some great storage solutions and they’re the cheapest we’ve found. We found that it was easy for our van to become organised chaos very quickly; the only way we managed to get around this was by buying storage boxes for everything and trying to stay organised. As having a hoover in the back of a van also wasn’t an option we bought a “welcome mat” for shoes/boots/flip-flops to try and minimise dirt. Tupperware for food was also the only option to keep the nasties out, so with all the different sized boxes now the van looks like a failing game of Tetris.
5 – Use camping apps
There are two highly regarded, well-known apps when it comes to camping in ‘Straya, Wikicamps and Campermate. Both of these saved our bacon more than once when it was getting dark and we still hadn’t decided where we were staying for the night. They’re easy to use and filter your results to make sure you can find exactly what you’re looking for. They also have the option to search for nearest drinking water spots, tourist attractions and points of interest. There are heaps of reviews left by other backpackers and holidaymakers so you can get a fairly accurate view of each of the campsites and how they’re run.
Gabs has covered all the main points but here’s some extra thoughts…
1 – Make sure it’s actually what you want to do
Sounds obvious but it isn’t. Thanks to social media, posing on Instagram and over filtering everything, many things in life these days are not as they seem. It is very easy to ignore, or simply not even consider, bad points of things like campervanning and just assume everything is as seems in Instagram pictures. Yes you’ll have beers on a remote beach with no-one else around and a generally relaxing way of life. But the beer will be warm (unless you have a big budget) and you’ll only get to the beach if you have a 4WD. Didn’t say that in the Instagram pictures did they!
Take some time and think about what you like and what you want. Let’s be honest, if you like a life of luxury, backpacking around Australia probably isn’t for you anyway. But how far the opposite of luxury can you handle? The Australian outback drop loo can be quite.. unpleasant (to be kind) and how many days can you cope without showering in hot temperatures. I don’t want to turn people off buying a van and driving around Australia but it’s not all camp fires and BBQs on the beach. The last thing you want to do is invest a lot of money into a van, get 3 weeks into a road trip far from any city, fall out with your partner and want to go home. (This hasn’t happened yet…!)
However, if you’ve considered the possible negatives and think there are worst things in life. Good for you, go for it.
2 – Allow extra time and money
I’m sure you’ve read this everywhere but I’ll confirm what everyone says, Australia is really big. When planning and budgeting for the trip, we used Google Maps a lot. We put in Perth to Darwin and saw it was 4000km and 1 day 20 hours of driving. We would then add a bit of time and distance to what Google said to allow for exploring (getting lost) and were happy with how long it would take and how much fuel it would need. According the app Fuel Map, we actually did 6356km and took us 3 weeks. Now that’s a lot of extra kms and extra time. Admittedly we did stick around in one place for 5 days in the middle waiting for the whale shark dive and we didn’t do the route google maps suggests (not even close) but still. Those extra kms would add up to about $400 in petrol and the accommodation and food costs for that time added up too.
So take it from us, make your plan then add a thousand kms and a thousand dollars to allow for anything that happens along the way. This will really help keep your trip stress free and as enjoyable as possible!
3 – Invest in your comfort
Something we probably didn’t do enough of. We made the mistake of not getting a good-sized mosquito net for the main first part of our road trip. This meant when arriving any time near or after sunset at a campsite, as soon as any door was open, many little flies and bugs and mozzies came in. Gabs especially found this distressing as she’s very tasty to mosquitoes and woke up with lots of bites lots of times. Climate in Australia isn’t always really hot, as hard to believe as that seems. Anything south of Darwin was cold at night whereas Darwin was never cold, (20+ until 4am-sort-of-hot). So, again, invest in comfort – a blanket for cold nights, fans for hot nights.
4 – Talk to people
You could be travelling with your best friend who you can’t ever imagine falling out with, but when you’ve been with them and only them 24/7 for weeks on end and you’re tired of the road, hot, hungry, a bit dehydrated, you need other human contact. It happens to the best of us, most times we end up having a laugh about it soon after. There are other benefits as well as not killing your travelling buddy… By talking to other travellers our plan changed many times as we heard of new places we wanted to go and see that we otherwise wouldn’t have. We got loads of good tips and met loads of great, interesting people. We’ve been invited to stay at a B&B in Holland, we’ve been invited to house sit for people on Kangaroo island and we’ve received contacts for potential jobs. We’ve also had people ‘paying it forward’ and giving us handy supplies for when road tripping. People are generally great, talk to them.
5 – Take breaks and avoid night time driving
You will see billboards all over Australia reminding you what you already know, tiredness kills. Yet we will still try and drive hour after hour to get the distance done and get to the next site of interest. As amazing as the scenery is in Australia, every now and then the 10km+ straight road after road after road can numb the mind and you will get tired. It’s so easy to pull over and stretch your legs in Australia, do it! Make sure you get a vehicle that you can both drive and keep switching. As all Australians will warn you, try to avoid driving between dusk and dawn. There are twice as many roos in Australia than humans (!!), you will see them on the road and they are most active around sunset and sunrise, also throughout the night. One of the first things we really noticed when driving remote roads was the amount of roadkill. For the good of the animals and your vehicle, try to avoid night time driving, or if you do make sure you have a good light bar to maximise the chance of seeing them!
Overall we are loving our little Stripe and road tripping around Australia. There are some negatives, some testing times and it is probably more expensive than flying. But we are positive we would not have seen half the amazing things we have seen and experienced without choosing to see Australia via Stripe. We have met some great people, eaten some interesting food and driven through some impressive scenery.