The main expenses you’ll have on an Australian road trip are food, accommodation, and transportation. Knock out a bulk of one of them, and you’ll easily save a ton of money. In this guide, I’ll address how you can save on each category in a few different ways.
1. Get your car tuned and checked beforehand
For my first few Australian road trips, I drove a poorly-maintained Hyundai. I put off taking it to the mechanic in fear of the expensive service bills. After a few break downs in remote places, I learned this pricey lesson the hard way. Insurance companies generally don’t tow cars further than twenty kilometres without charging you an insane amount – and twenty kilometres is nothing in Australia.
Before setting off, make sure that your tyres have tread and are properly inflated, your oil is set, and that there are no major issues. If you’re going on a long trip, it’s best to take your car for a full service. There’s a lot of nothing in between towns in Australia, so breaking down isn’t only expensive – it’s dangerous.
2. Renting versus buying versus ridesharing
Should you rent, buy, or rely on rideshares while in Australia? Ridesharing, where you hop along for a ride in someone else’s car, is the cheapest option because you’ll only have to worry about fuel expenses, but this costs a lot in time and energy. I wouldn’t recommend ridesharing long term, but you can find travel mates via Facebook groups (search “city + backpacker” or “city + rideshare”) or on Coseats.
Buying a car might be feasible if your road trip is spanning more than a few weeks and you’ll be covering long distances. Campervans or cars that can fit camping gear will cut accommodation costs, even if they’re slightly more expensive than say, a Hyundai Getz (the go-to car for backpackers on a budget). Consider that you’ll be needing to buy insurance and will have the hassle of selling the car at the end of your trip. This is especially challenging if you’ve registered the car in one state and are trying to sell it in another.
Rent a car if you’re doing a short trip or staying within one state. Car hire is great because you won’t have the stress of setting up insurance, you can choose one that has low fuel consumption, and you’ll have a company to contact just in case things go wrong.
3. Map your route in advance
On a trip from Perth to Esperance, my travel mates and I decided to skip seeing the Rabbit Fence – after all, it was about four hours out of the way. Imagine our surprise when we’d pulled up to the Rabbit Proof Fence and had no idea where we were.
So much for taking the short cut.
Phone service let alone internet rarely works once you hit the endless-dirt-forever parts of Australia. We’d taken one wrong turn, had no idea, and paid heavily for this mistake in both time and fuel. Pre-load your smartphone route, have a downloaded or paper map on hand, and always double check directions.
And don’t bother seeing the Rabbit Proof (State Barrier) Fence – it’s just a fence.
3. Camp at free rest stops and campsites
Sleeping in your car or camping in public spaces is illegal in most of Australia – and can get you pegged with a hefty fine. Fortunately, there are hundreds of free campsites and roadside stops all along Australian highways. Even if they aren’t free, basic campsites are rarely expensive and will surely save more than checking into a hostel or hotel. Many road trippers like to spend a few nights camping followed by a few nights in a hotel to spread the comfort and cost.
You can pick up a free campsite and road stop guide at the tourism offices. My favourite online resources are Free Camping Australia, WikiCamps, and each state’s Department of Parks and Wildlife site. Note that many campsites are shifting to online-only bookings.
The view from a free campsite in Western Australia
4. Cook on the free public barbecues
Australia is amazing for the sole fact that all throughout the country, there are clean and free barbecues for public use. This can save hundreds of dollars in dining out costs. Buy simple and easy to cook meals from the grocery store, pack some cooking gear, and you’ll likely be having dinner in an incredible spot – the barbecues are typically set up along beautiful beaches or in parks.
Check out the website, Meat in a Park, to locate a free barbecue near you.
6. Browse coupon sites for discounted activity passes and sign up for RAC / NRMA rewards
I don’t usually recommend browsing coupon websites to save money. Oftentimes, people end up purchasing something they don’t need or wouldn’t usually do just because it’s offered at a discount.
But you can find great deals on restaurants and activities by going on Scoopon, Groupon, and Living Social. There is also a coupon site dedicated to solely activities called Adrenalin. Yes, there are a lot of vouchers for liposuction and hypnotherapy, but with patience you’ll find something good.
Your state’s automobile club (eg RAC / NRMA) generally have great rewards for members at places like caravan parks, entrance passes, and shops. Be sure to check your state’s local automobile club website for the full range of discounts.
7. Make use of the sharing economy by CouchSurfing
CouchSurfing an organisation that sets up travellers with hosts, where travellers stay free of charge. Though it’s more than just a free place to crash because hosts and guests typically spend time with one another so it’s more of a cultural exchange. Be courteous by cooking for your guest and getting to know them. Nobody likes a freeloader.
Local hosts know where the best sites are, how to see the area cheaply, and offer a priceless experience that you can’t get from a hotel or hostel. If this sounds like something you’re into, check out our full guide to CouchSurfing.
9. Check every receipt for deals on the back
Check the back of receipts from grocery stores like Woolworths, Coles, or IGA to see if there are any relevant deals featured. Sometimes, you can get half-off meals or even save a few cents per litre on petrol – that adds up when you’re driving long distances.
10. Spend time in nature – it’s free!
You’re in Australia! If you spend every day taking advantage of the incredible beaches and or inland natural parks, you won’t regret it. There are so many places in the world where there’s nothing to do but pay entrance fees for indoor attractions or venues. Australia is not one of these places. Go swim, hike, make friends, explore, and be free in one of the most untouched places on the planet.
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