Travelling in a new country is exciting but sometimes, the mundane stuff of life can be frustrating. This post is for a person new to Australia and specifically targeted for someone who wants to travel around Australia by road. This is all the boring information to keep you safe and help you save money so you can get on with the fun stuff.
The blog will be split into two sections; safety tips and cost saving tips. For costs, frugal tips will be provided for all the major expenses for road-tripping Australia i.e. fuel, accommodation, food, sightseeing, gear etc.
- Australia is a big country. Don’t underestimate the distances! Stay awake and alert when you drive. Pull over for a rest if you have to. Fatigue can cause accidents and a high speed accidents can easily by fatal.
- When travelling in remote areas, understand the capacity of your fuel tank and know where you can buy fuel next.
- Always have water in your vehicle and take water with you on remote walks.
- If you breakdown, stay with your vehicles instead of walking off to find help. Many tourists have died walking off to look for help. You are easier to find by your vehicle.
- The sun is strong in Australia. Slip, Slop, Slap i.e. Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a broad brim hat.
- Listen to the locals and obey signage when it comes to animals such as crocodiles and jellyfish. Yes, you may be hot and desperate for a swim but there is a reason why no one else is in the water!
- Snakes are usually more scared of you than you are of them. As you tramp through the bush, they will hear your noisy approach and slither off.
- There are some venomous spiders. Just use your common sense and take reasonable care and you’ll be fine.
- DO NOT drive at dawn and dusk. This is when many animals are more active. You are at a MUCH greater risk of driving into a kangaroo or even a cow. If you have to drive at that time, lower your speed and watch carefully. These animals can behave unpredictably and you will have less warning than you think.
MONEY SAVING TIPS
Fuel is a big expense on a road trip especially considering the distances involved in traveling around Australia. Always look for the cheapest fuel along your route. If you deviate a great distance from your route for cheap fuel, it could be a false economy.
You may only save a few dollars each time but the savings accumulate. These websites are useful for finding the cheapest fuel. Most states and territories have accurate fuel prices information provided by the government except for Victoria and Tasmania. The information in Petrolspy in Victoria and Tasmania is crowdsourced so can be inaccurate especially for remote or small fuel stations.
- New South Wales (NSW) – https://www.fuelcheck.nsw.gov.au/app
- Queensland (QLD) – https://petrolspy.com.au/
- South Australia (SA) – https://petrolspy.com.au/
- Tasmania (TAS) – https://www.fuelcheck.tas.gov.au/app
- Victoria (VIC) – https://petrolspy.com.au/
- Western Australia (WA) – https://www.fuelwatch.wa.gov.au/
- Australian Capital Territory (ACT) – https://petrolspy.com.au/
- Northern Territory (NT) – https://myfuelnt.nt.gov.au/
Other tips for saving fuel include
- When planning your trip, do your research and plan an optimised route so you don’t double back to see something you have missed. Minimising the number of kilometres you drive, saves fuel and saves wear and tear on your vehicle, thereby reducing maintenance costs and increasing vehicle re-sale value.
- Take advantage of supermarket fuel discounts. Coles provides a 4c/L discount when you spend more than $30 in their store. The voucher is on the bottom of your paper receipt. Woolworths does similar but their vouchers are automatically stored on your Woolworths Rewards Card. These discounts only apply in affiliated fuel stations (which despite the discount, still may not be the cheapest!)
- G’day park membership gives 4c/L off at Coles Express fuel stations.
- Drive slower. The sweet spot for fuel economy is about 80km/hr.
- Do not speed. Speed radar cameras are used because they are a good revenue earner for the government. Even just 2km/hr over the limit can get you caught and the fines are often steep and you will also get demerit points. Penalties are even harsher on public holiday long weekends to minimise road deaths.
These accommodation tips assume that you will be camping. If you will be staying in hotel type accommodation, the advice is to shop around. For camping,
- Download the Wikicamps app. There is a tiny fee but it will pay back many times over. This app will tell you where you can camp including places you can camp for free. For each place, it will tell what amenities are available e.g. toilets, showers etc. This app is absolutely essential for road-tripping Australia. An inferior free alternative is Campermate.
- Free camp – There are plenty of areas set-up where you can rest overnight or free camp. Some of these will include drop toilets and/or picnic tables. Use Wikicamps to find these or there will road-signs that pre-empt the turn-off to a rest area.
- The two big caravan park chains in Australia are Big4 and G’day parks. Big4 charges consistently more per night but tends to be newer and nicer. Both offer a quality and consistent product. For $50, you can purchase a 2 year membership which will get you a 10% discount for each night stayed and other perks. For value for money and a greater number of locations around Australia, I recommend a G’day park membership. They also often sell their membership at a reduced price of $35. G’day park membership also comes with a fuel discount at all Coles Express fuel stations.
- Plan ahead around busy periods e.g. school holidays. Things get crazy around school holiday times in popular holiday destinations. The price for accommodation goes through the roof and that’s if you can get something! We were quoted $110 a night for an unpowered campsite on the Great Ocean Road on Easter weekend! In Kalbarri, there was absolutely nothing to be had during the school holidays as a recent cyclone had damaged a lot of the pre-existing holiday accommodation.
To save on food in Australia, it is almost always, especially in remote areas, cheaper to cook yourself rather than eat out. If you are in the big cities, there are discounts to be had eating out. These are documented in this blog post.
- Coles and Woolworths are the two nation-wide large supermarket chains. You will find these in all but the smallest towns.
- If you are in a big city, it will be cheaper to shop at Aldi
- If you are heading to remote areas, stock up so you don’t have to shop at tiny, small town supermarkets at a premium price.
- Supermarkets often mark down items close to their expiry date. Take advantage of these if you can. I find Coles is better for these types of discounts.
- Shop at markets and food court stalls near closing time. Often, they are trying to move their stock to avoid waste and will discount heavily.
- Don’t waste your money on buying water. The water out of the tap in Australia (unless marked otherwise) is potable and can be drunk as is without any further treatment e.g. boiling. Drink tap water!
- Join the Woolworths Reward card program and Flybuys for Coles. As you shop, you can accumulate points for additional discounts.
When travelling around the country, you are likely to need some stuff e.g. camping stove, clothes, shoes, sleeping bags, pots and pans etc. Here are some places you could look for this stuff. This list is ordered from least expensive to the most. My suggestion is to look online (if you can) to confirm they have what you want at a decent price before heading to the store.
- Check on Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree – secondhand stuff can often be much better quality than you would have purchased new and it’s better for the environment.
- Thrift shops e.g. Vinnies, Salvation Army, Good Sammy – a great choice for secondhand clothing and kitchenware.
- Bunnings – this is a nation-wide chain of hardware stores selling hardware, plants and other household items. Here you can buy 20L water containers, butane cannisters, folding chairs, camping stoves for a reasonable price.
- Kmart, BigW, Target – these stores are nation-wide chains selling clothes, kitchenware, bedding and homewares. If you are looking for casual clothing, bedding or camping gear, check here before heading to more specialist stores. It may not be high end fancy but it will be a decent quality and functional.
- Decathlon – This shop sells outdoor and sporting goods at an excellent price point. Unfortunately, there are only stores in NSW and Victoria so it is not widely available.
- 4WD Supacentre – this store specialises in camping accessories and outdoor gear with a focus on road-tripping. Their prices are good and they often have specials. You can also order stuff online.
- BCF and Anaconda – Do you research and pounce when they go on sale!
- For completeness, I will finish this list with the high end outdoor shops but DO NOT shop here if you are a budget backpacker e.g. North Face, Macpac, Paddy Pallin, Kathmandu.
BUYING AND MAINTAINING A VEHICLE
The most useful resources in Australia when buying a vehicle are;
- Facebook Marketplace
- Facebook groups – there are Facebook groups selling all kinds of vehicles e.g. Vans for Sale NSW, Australia Car Market / Campervans for Backpacker / Traveler etc.
When buying a vehicle, always do your research to understand all the costs and requirements which can vary from state to state. Registration costs can vary depending on state and each state has different requirements in regards to the requirement for vehicle inspections. Understand how much stamp duty will cost.
When buying stuff for your car e.g. engine oil, coolant etc., these are the nation wide stores that sell vehicle stuff in order of cheapest to most expensive. Remember always to check online and compare prices.
For vehicle servicing;
- Try to plan your vehicle servicing for when you are in more populated cities. These are likely to have more mechanics and therefore more price competition. Shop around for the best price.
- Some mechanics may allow you supply your own engine oil. You can then buy your engine oil on sale and pay only for labour. Call and confirm with the mechanic as not everyone will allow this. Make sure you know what oil to get because it will be your fault if you get it wrong!
- Some nation-wide franchised mechanic chains offer a warranty where they will rectify issues caused by their service at their other branches. Some of these chains will even include a roadside assistance service as a perk of getting a service with them. Some nation-wide mechanic chains include; Ultratune, MyCar, RepcoService etc. Do your research as to which one of these provide these types of warranty.
In regards to vehicle insurance, always shop around as the price can vary significantly.
Visiting local parks and botanic gardens are free. These are often well planted with an interesting and diverse range of plants and may be adjacent to picturesque lakes and rivers. They often include additional amenities such as picnic tables, public toilets and sometimes BBQs.
Exploring a town or city is also free unless you join a paid tour. With all the information available on the internet and easily accessible on your phone, it’s easy to learn more about any location. Explore the main street of a small town or drive/cycle along the waterfront roads to gawk at the fancy, expensive houses! Most towns or cities that are built by the water, whether it is a river or the ocean will often have a nicely built waterfront area perfect for a lovely, scenic stroll.
Beaches are free and freely accessible in Australia, in contrast to the paid private beaches e.g. in Europe or areas where private property is built in a way that blocks free public access to the beach e.g. Asia or Europe.
There are many free lookout points in Australia and access to national parks is relatively cheap when considering that the rangers have the never-ending battle keeping out invasive plant species and feral animals, ensuring the walking trails are safe and maintaining toilets and other amenities. National parks are areas of stunning, untouched natural beauty.
Shop around when looking for a phone plan as prices vary greatly. We were with Circles.Life with 100GB plans at $30.
Telstra is the mobile network that has better coverage in remote areas but they can be very expensive. Optus was OK. We had coverage in most populated areas and even in some surprise locations e.g. the campground at Karijini National Park. In a 2WD vehicle, we knew that even if we broke down somewhere without phone coverage, another vehicle would come along soon enough who could provide assistance.
- Toll roads exist in some major capital cities. Either set your GPS to avoid them completely or do your research on the cost and how to set-up for payment.
- There is a minimum wage in Australia therefore, tipping is not the cultural norm.
- When you can, zig when other people are zagging. Try to predict what the masses will be doing and consider if doing the opposite could get your better price e.g. if everyone is heading out of the city for Easter weekend, maybe there is cheap city deal you can take advantage of.
- Don’t throw useful stuff away, sell it on Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree.
Hope this helps you stay safe and save some money. Enjoy your journey around this beautiful country!
Let me know if there is anything I have missed.