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I’m a big believer that a road trip is the best way to explore a place, and driving around Australia is no exception. Australia has some of the best road trip routes in the world and it’s definitely one of the easiest ways to travel Australia on budget.
That said, Australia is not known for being that budget-friendly (although I do my best to show how can travel to Australia for cheap). After doing nearly a full lap of this enormous country over the 2 years of my working holiday visa, I know that every little thing spent can add up quickly.
But after very nearly driving a full lap of Australia on a budget, I know it can be done. And that’s exactly what this list of my top Australia road trip tips will help you do, too!
How to buy a car or campervan in Australia
Both our car that Tom and I converted into a camper and our lovely little campervan that we converted ourselves were found on Facebook marketplace. I recommend taking a look here and joining some Australia backpacker facebook groups as lots of people advertise on here. Gumtree is also quite big in Australia and another place to find cars or campervans for sale.
How to get a good price for a car or camper
As with buying a vehicle anywhere, don’t be afraid to bargain with the price. Ask questions when you go and take a look at it and take a really good look to see what might cost you money and use that to get the price you want to pay.
Don’t forget to stick to your budget though! It can be really easy to get sucked into a pretty looking campervan but by spending now you’ll be taking out of your budget on doing some of your Australia bucket list items!
How to check it’s mechanically decent
Tom and I made a massive mistake with our very first campervan and bought it without getting a mechanic to look over it. Simply ask the seller if they would be happy for you to test drive the vehicle and take it to a mechanic to look over. This will probably cost you a little bit of money now but could save you so much in the long run. And if they don’t want you to take it for a check over, alarm bells should be ringing!
What about the paperwork?
Australia likes to make this really fun as this varies from state to state. In Queensland, for example, vehicles have to be sold with a roadworthy certificate to prove their safety, but in Western Australia, they don’t. The state the vehicle is registered to and the state you’re buying it in will alter what you need to do to register yourself as the new owner. Make sure you do your research around this before you purchase a vehicle.
What should my Australia road trip budget be?
Ah, the million-dollar question. How much does it cost to travel around Australia…
And no Australia road trip guide would be complete without trying to answer it!
The cost of driving around Australia can vary a lot depending on where your road trip is going to take you. A lap of Australia is going to require a different budget compared to smaller trip such as driving Melbourne to Sydney.
I have to admit, I didn’t keep track of what we spent on any of our road trips in Australia but other blogs suggest somewhere between $60-$100 per day for 2 people. But of course, this depends on so many things!
In reality, there are 2 main categories of road trip expenses:
Living costs – you’ve always got to eat, have water available, pay for fuel and be able to wash yourself and your clothes. These costs exist no matter what else you’re doing. There’s no avoiding them!
Optional costs – How many tours you want to take and how much you want to drink, eat out and party. The more you do this, the more it will cost you! But keep reading as there are definitely ways to do these for less as well!
Then there are the other things you need to consider:
- How far you’re going to road trip – Wanting to go from Darwin to Adelaide? That’s going to cost you a lot in fuel money. Fuel is expensive in the outback and everything you want to see is massively spread out.
- Which Australia road trip route you’re going to take – If you’re planning an iconic east coast Australia road trip you’re going to be spoilt for choice when it comes to tours and things to do. But these don’t come cheap in Australia! Over on the west coast, it’s all about getting outside in nature, but it doesn’t have the Aussie bucket list items.
- How long you’re going to road trip for – An obvious one, the longer the road trip the more it will cost you. However, the cost per day doesn’t really change. No matter how long you’re going for, you still have to eat, get water and wash each day. The cost of a longer road trip is only really down to fuel and tours.
- How many people are on the road trip- Another easy one, a family with young children are going to have different outgoings to a couple or solo traveller.
- Where you’re going to stay- The best budget-friendly Australia road trip tip is to buy a camper or car you can sleep in. There are some epic free campsites all over Australia and budget hotels are hard to come by.
How long does it take to travel around Australia?
There’s really no answer to this! We met people who had been travelling for years and people who did huge road trips in just a few weeks. Here’s what I recommend though:
- East Coast (Melbourne to Cairns) – 6 weeks but can be done in 4 weeks if you’re short on time
- West Coast (Broome to Esperance) – 6 weeks
For our (almost) full lap of Australia we were on the road for about 5 months and did this route:
Road trip Essentials
After road tripping in both a car that we built a bed in the back of (read how we did that here) and a campervan, I know what you do and don’t need on the road. I’ve previously put together road trip essentials guides for both car camping and your campervan, but here are a few of my top, top, TOP road trip essentials.
- Basic set of tools – doesn’t have to be anything fancy, and even if you don’t know what to do with them, chances are some kind stranger will! A tool kit like this has a little bit of everything in and could really save your bacon if something breaks while you’re in the middle of nowhere.
- Solar shade for your windows – Great for both keeping your car or camper at a nice temperature and creating privacy. There are loads available online for cheap.
- Rechargeable head torch – they might not look the part but you’ll be so grateful when you’re doing a midnight toilet run! Getting a rechargeable head torch like these saves on the cost of batteries as well.
- Packing cubes – These are the best way to keep your clothes tidy when you’re living in a tiny space! I just have the normal ones like these but if you want to be super tidy, check out compression packing cubes.
- Travel games – Want a quick way to make friends? Crack out Uno or Monopoly Deal!
51 Australia Road Trip Tips
Tips for driving around Australia on a budget, before you even leave…
1. Know what money you have in the bank when you start
Sounds obvious but THIS will determine everything when planning your road trip around Australia! If it’s more than you anticipated, great! If it’s not looking quite as good then it’s time to reprioritise your plans.
2. Plan ahead
Planning every little detail of your road trip would be pointless BUT having some idea of a route and time scales can definitely help you save money.
- Avoid school holidays – Everywhere will be busier and prices for accommodation and tours will go up. if you’re going to be travelling long term and won’t be able to avoid these, try and steer clear of the major tourist attractions.
- Plan around the seasons- This country is massive guys! It’s cold in the south in winter, Boiling and humid in north Queensland in Summer and the Northern territory has a wet season and can even get cyclones. And if you think the red centre is always a blazing hot desert, think again! We were wearing 3 layers walking around Uluru in May!
- Migration seasons – If you want to tick off big things like swimming with whale sharks in Exmouth, make sure you’re there at the right time of year or you’ll miss them.
3. Don’t buy stuff for your road trip you don’t need
Simple! If you’re not sure you need it, leave it. If you find you need it later on then buy it then! Don’t get sucked into the idea of ‘just in case’ because it hardly ever happens!
4. Think about what you need to pack
Australia is so diverse and by working out what to pack for the types of things you need to do can save you money. Planning on hiking some of the incredible national parks? Keep an eye out for a deal on hiking shoes. Planning on nothing but beaches? Get yourself some decent swimmers and a quick-drying travel towel.
Speaking of packing, I actually have a full packing guide for backpacking around Australia which is perfect if you’re planning on doing a little bit of everything. Check it out here.
Spend a little bit now, before it’s too late!
5. Have your vehicle serviced
As annoying as this might seem, having your vehicle serviced is a way to identify problems before you set off. You can cover huge numbers of miles each day when driving around Australia so ironing out some small issues can prevent a breakdown when on the road.
6. Have a few spare parts with you
This was something we picked up from a local and it’s so worth doing! Having a spare belt, hose and oil that you know will fit your vehicle will make things a whole lot easier if they break. You might be able to fix them but someone else might. And if you can get to a mechanic then you won’t have to wait for parts to be delivered.
7. Consider buying roadside assistance…
Guess what can make the cost of driving around Australia astronomical? Breaking down and having to get towed. We broke down twice on our lap of Australia – once near Alice Springs and once just outside of Kakadu. We bought roadside assistance through NRMA as they covered us throughout the whole country and, dear god, where we glad we did! Having to pay for a tow could cost you thousands!
8. And make the most of the perks that come with it!
By joining NRMA we also got access to their benefits such as discounted stays at NRMA campgrounds and discounts on some tours and attractions.
9. Buy travel insurance
I know this doesn’t sound like much of a road trip tip but hear me out. By having good travel insurance you’re protecting yourself and your belongings in case something does happen. I’m a big fan of World Nomads because they offer cover for a huge range of activities like skydiving and bungee jumping which you might well have on your bucket list. They also offer cover for your belongings. Take a look at their website for a quote and more details.
Save money on fuel in Australia
10. Get the Fuel Map App on your phone
This is unbelievably useful and actually quite interesting. The cost of fuel across Australia and even between petrol stations in the same town can vary massively. The Fuel Map App shows all of this so you can fill up for less. One thing to note though is the fuel prices are updated by app users so might not always be super accurate. But we find it to be good enough!
11. Jerry will be your new best mate…
Jerry can that is! Oh wow…
But honestly, if you’ve got space on your roof for a couple of jerry cans, do it. Fill them up when fuel is cheap to then put it in your vehicle when fuel is expensive. FYI, fuel is almost double the price in the red centre vs anywhere on the coast!
12. Get a Woolworths rewards card
Woolworths is one of the main supermarkets in Australia and their rewards card gets you a few cents off at their fuel stations. It also collects points as you spend which overtime amounts to $10 off your shop. Bonus!
13. Maintain your vehicle for fuel efficiency
Doing some basic checks on your vehicle like oil levels and tyre tread and pressures can help with fuel efficiency. Learn how to do them and save money on fuel.
Save money on the road
14. Don’t be scared to keep checking your account
I’m so guilty of just assuming my bank balance is fine without actually checking it. Don’t do this! Try and check your account every day so you know how much you’ve got to use towards activities and your bucket list items.
15. Or keep track of everything you spend on an app
If you want to really keep tabs on how much you’re spending each day get an app that allows you to input all the information in. I tried to do this but got bored of it but I wish I’d kept it up so I knew how much we spent!
16. Slow down and enjoy the drive
Driving at a steady pace is more economical so slow down and enjoy the views.
17. Plan your route
As I’ve mentioned, Australia is massive and not knowing where you’re going can cost you precious dollars in fuel. I always just use Google Maps as it allows you to add multiple stops and it also lets you know if there are diversions of traffic jams. This will help you work out how to plan a road trip on a budget no end!
18. Avoid tolls
Toll roads are a stinger in cities so avoid them where you can! You can choose this as a setting in Google maps to make it easier to plan your route and driving times.
19. Hire a campervan for as little as $1 a day…
This is not too good to be true! Vehicle companies hire their campervans out for a tiny amount for the purpose of relocating them from one place to another to meet hire demands. It works out great for them as they don’t have to employ staff to get their vehicles back to high demand locations, and it means you can hire them for as little as $1 a day! The catch is you have a strict time deadline to meet so it restricts what you can actually do. But to just get from A to B, it’s great!
20. Find cheap vehicle hire
Always use a comparison website like MotorHome Republic or vroomvroomvroom to get the best options and prices for what you’re looking for.
How to find cheap places to stay
21. Road trip in a campervan or car camper
I know this Australia road trip guide is pretty heavily weighted towards having your own home on wheels, but it’s for a reason! Having a vehicle that you can sleep in makes the cost of accommodation minuscule in comparison to hotels or even hostels each night.
22. Use WikiCamps
Wikicamps is an awesome app that allows you to find cheap and even free campsites all over Australia. It’s just a few dollars to download it and then you can filter by location, campsite facilities and most importantly, price! To learn the ins and outs of WikiCamps, check out my guide here and you’re on for a cheap road trip!
23. Make use of free campsites
You’d be surprised about how many free campsites there are in Australia and making use of them is obviously going to save you money. Some have no facilities and some will offer basic toilets and a tap. They might not be anything more than a truckstop or layby on the side of the road but use WikiCamps to find them.
24. Find cheap showers on your road trip
Generally, you’re only going to find showers at proper campgrounds. While it can well be worth the luxury sometimes, to travel Australia on a budget, this won’t be the case most of the time. WikiCamps is also great for finding showers and will mark on places like beachside showers, swimming pools and some campgrounds where you can pay a small fee to use the facilities.
25. Be self-contained
If you have a bathroom and solar power on your vehicle then you can save yourself a nice amount of money. It’s becoming more common now for free campsites to only allow fully self-contained vehicles to stay so this could definitely save you money!
26. Make use of hostels
Some hostels allow people to sleep in their vehicles on-site but make use of the facilities inside. This is often cheaper than paying for a campground but be sure to call the hostel in advance to check availability.
HostelWorld.com is the best place to find hostels that offer this.
27. Stop and Housesit
Housesitting is a great way to stay in an expensive area for free in exchange for looking after someone’s house and pets for them. Chances are you will need to be available to do this for at least a week at a time but it’s a great way to slow your road trip down and spend some time in a place.
The best websites for house sitting in Australia are Trusted Housesitters and Aussie Housesitters. There’s a membership fee for both but if you just get a couple of nights as a house sitter you will have made your money back.
28. Join Couchsurfing
Couchsurfing is another great way to not only save money but make friends and get to know an area through a local. Again, it’s sometimes better if you have a couple of days to spend in a place as the point of Couchsurfing is to meet people and offer them something in exchange for free accommodation in their home.
29. Find a bargain on AirBnB…
AirBnB is amazing and our go-to when we wanted to explore the big cities in Australia where campsites just don’t exist. If you want to see a city as part of your road trip, find an AirBnB with a parking space so you can get into the city easily. Nothing is worse than staying at a campground miles away and having to waste time driving in and paying extortionate fees on parking.
30. But also compare this with the price of hotels
My go-to website for hotels is booking.com as it’s so easy to use and they also offer discounts the more you book with them. It’s pretty common for AirBnBs to be listed on booking.com and hotels to be listed on AirBnB so always look at both websites when looking for the best prices.
Save money on groceries
31. Cook your own meals
Making your own meals is always, always going to be cheaper than going out. cooking in a campervan is easier than cooking on a campstove if you’re in a car but there are still plenty of meals you can make on two ring gas stove.
32. Use free public BBQs
Free. Public. BBQs. It doesn’t get more Aussie than that! But you’ll find these all over the country, especially in parks next to the beach. Save your own gas and have a BBQ with a view instead!
33. Have staple go-to meals
On our lap around Australia it wasn’t uncommon for us to drive for 8 hours a day but with this came tiredness and laziness when it came to cooking. Instead of heading to the nearest takeaway though, we would turn to one of our easy and quick dinners. Things like vegetarian fajitas, lentil chilli or cheese toasties can be whipped up in about 15 minutes.
34. Stock up at the big supermarkets when you can
Aldi, Woolworth and Coles are the main supermarket chains in Australia and it’s best to stock up here when you can. Once you leave more built-up areas you might only find small convenience stores (usually and IGA) that are a lot more expensive.
35. Raid the reduced food section
I do this no matter if I’m on a road trip or not! If there’s something in the reduced section that you’re looking for and are going to use within the next day or so, why pay more? It helps stop food waste too!
36. Organise your food storage
When you’re living in a tiny home on wheels, the more organised you are the better. If you organise your food storage then you’ll be able to fit more in and stock up more at the supermarkets.
37. Keep food cool
In our Honda CRV car camper we only had space for a cool box which was great, but it was so much better having a proper little fridge in our campervan. Either way, make sure you have something to keep your food cool and fresher for longer to avoid food waste. It will also help with the stocking-up tactic!
In case you’re wondering what fridge we had in our campervan, it was similar to this one.
38. Get in the snacks
Avoid those sneaky stop-offs at drive-throughs by avoiding hanger! And maybe try and get some healthy snacks as well as the crisps and biscuits. It’s all about balance guys!
39. Cut back on alcohol
Despite there being so many awesome breweries and vineyards all over Australia, the price of alcohol is insane! A pack of just 6 beers can cost you about $21! Something to bear in mind when getting your groceries.
40. Get free drinking water
It’s so important to have a decent amount of drinking water with you at all times in Australia. Get yourself some water jerry cans like these and use the WikiCamps app or drop into visitor centres to find nearby potable water. If you keep on top of this, there’s no need to buy bottles of water from the shop- and it’s way more environmentally friendly of course!
41. Find restaurant deals
Ok, so let’s be real, you’re going to want to eat out sometimes. While Australia isn’t the cheapest, I’ve found some great apps that show restaurant deals and get reward credit. Liven and Eat Club offer discounts at their associated restaurants when you pay through the app and have different special deals on each day.
I’ve actually got a whole guide on these apps and more ways to eat out for cheap here.
42. Eat out for breakfast or lunch
You’re far more likely to find morning or lunchtime deals at restaurants so if you want to eat out, go for one of these instead of dinner.
43.Drink up at happy hours
From harbourside bars in Sydney to outback pubs, happy hours seem to be everywhere! So if you fancy a few pints, get the drinks in while they’re cheap.
Save money on activities
44. Make the most of the great outdoors
Australia’s natural beauty is what makes it one of the best places to road trip in the world. And its natural beauty means there’s a lot you can do and see for free or very little money! Get out and go snorkelling at the beaches, go waterfall hunting or simply walk around a city or park.
45. Prioritise your bucket list things
There are some seriously incredible things you can do on your Australian road trip and to keep to your budget, it’s a good idea to prioritise them. Don’t get sucked into other tours that you’re not bothered about just because other people are doing them. You can’t do everything anyway so decide on the things that are 100% unmissable for you, factor in the cost and stick with it.
46. Look to do tours out of season
This isn’t always possible as not all tours run year-round, but if you can do your bucket-list trips outside of the peak times, it’s a great way to get a discounted rate and maybe even avoid the crowds.
47. Tour group or DIY tour?
This is something that I’ve definitely learnt more about over the year, and by having your own wheels, it’s so much easier to do your own tours as part of your Australia road trip. For example, if you have a 4×4 you can take yourself to Fraser Island rather than joining a pricy tour.
Generally, it’s cheaper to take yourself than it is to join a tour!
48. Find the best tour deals on bookme.com.au
Tom and I didn’t take a lot of tours but for our Whitsundy’s tour and Great Barrier Reef Tour, I used Bookme. This website offers awesome discounts on a huge range of tours and ferries all over Australia and I haven’t found another site to beat the prices on there.
49. Get a National Park Pass
This is a great option especially for Western Australia where nearly all the top National Parks have an entrance fee. Buying a National Park Pass gets you free entry into the parks which is far cheaper than paying for day entry per park. You can buy a Holiday pass which is valid for up to one month for $60 vs paying roughly $15 per day for each park you want to visit.
50. Compare booking directly with a tour company vs using a tour agent
This one requires a bit of effort but could be worth it. Shop around for the best price for the tour you want to take. Sometimes the tour agents have great deals but sometimes it’s better to go directly through the company.
51. Do free walking tours
I think I have this at the start of every one of my budget-friendly city guides, so this time I’m going to finish with it! But honestly guys, there’s no better way to get to know a place than through a free walking tour with a local. Check out I’mFree Walking Tours or the local visitor centres to book on to one.
Are you planning an Australia road trip? Share where you’re going in the comments!