After 7 months of living on the road in a van, travelling around Australia, we have collected a number of handy tips and tricks to make life easier. These tips and tricks may also apply to caravan living or travelling light. Some of these are obvious but are so useful, they are worth including. Here they are in no particular order.
Tip #1: Rare Earth Magnets
Vehicles are metal and therefore, magnets will stick to any metallic surfaces. Using magnets can be very useful but the usual ceramic magnets are too weak to stick reliably and are a basically a waste of time to do anything truly useful. Rare earth (neodymium) magnets are strongly recommended. Bunnings sells packs of them or the Japanese shop, Daiso, which has a branch in every capital city, sells super handy hooks and baskets which incorporate them. Applications include hanging up hats, clothes or lanterns on a magnetic hook, using magnets to attach privacy shades or using a magnetic basket to create an easy storage shelf.
Tip #2: Carry Some Basic Tools and Gaffer Tape
When travelling, always carry some basic tools. Gaffer tape (also known as 100-miles an hour tape) also always comes in handy and has a multitude of uses.
Tip #3: Make Full Use of Caravan Park Facilities
When staying in a caravan park, take the opportunity to maximise the use of all available facilities. It is an opportunity to have a good shower, do laundry, meal prep for later, freeze water and/or juice boxes for esky’s or to recharge the battery that runs your car fridge. Frozen bottles of water and juice boxes are a cheaper, more convenient, useful and less messy way to keep eskies cool instead of purchasing bags of ice. No issues with your esky’s contents swimming around in melted water!
Tip #4: Make Use of Non-Perishable Food Items and Skip the Meat
Fridge space is often limited when on the road. Look for and incorporate into your diet more shelf stable, non perishable food items instead. Examples include canned goods, dried fruit and nuts, pre-cooked rice packets, muesli bars etc.
If you can, reducing or eliminating meat in your meals will save you money, is good for the planet and also good for your waist-line! If you must eat meat, then travelling in Australia offers a plethora of road-kill dining options. These vary from the many kangaroos that line the roads (avoid the ones that are swollen and bloated – not fresh) to the many bugs that will inevitably coat your windscreen as you scream down the highway at 130 km/h, For the squeamish, deep frying your insects is a good beginner option (mmmm….crunchy).
Tip #5: Be Prepared for Bugs
Travelling around Australia, it is inevitable that there will be times and places where there are lots of bugs. They can either be super annoying e.g. flies or biting insects e.g. mosquitoes and midgies. Useful items to manage them include:
- a face fly net – to deal with the sometimes biblical fly populations that plague inland Australian summers
- DEET insect repellant (good luck those of you who smother yourselves with essential oils and other quack remedies)
- a good old fashioned fly swatter (big step up from the rolled up newspaper)
- long sleeved clothing at dusk if you can stand the heat
- Biteaway bite healer
- electric mosquito zapper racket.
- UV bug light and zapper
Tip #6: Choose Healthy Car Snacks
Driving long hours is often an excuse to snack unhealthily. The fare offered by most service stations are usually deep fried and very unhealthy. Stock up on healthier options when at a large supermarket. Our favourites include dried mango, coconut chunks, unsalted cashews and dried apple. Plain old pieces of fruit are also a winner.
Tip #7: Bring water
Australia is a vast and dry country. When driving in regional areas, ensuring that you carry water is essential. Bring extra in case of a breakdown and carry more water than just for drinking. For example, public toilets at many remote rest stops will be pit toilets and often do not have running water for handwashing.
Tip #8: Review Fuel Stops and Carry extra if Possible
When driving in remote areas, always plan your fuel stops in advance. Understand the range of your vehicle and research where fuel will be available. Fuel is often much more expensive in remote areas. Doing this ensures that you won’t run out of fuel but also gives you the opportunity to take advantage of the cheaper fuel stops. Fuel prices in most states can be obtained online and the price difference can really add up!
Extra tip: diesel is a great way to quickly and (relatively) safely start a fire. Simply douse a SMALL quantity on any available fire wood and light it up. Definitely not recommended with petrol!
Extra-Extra Tip: if you do decide to light a campfire with petrol then be ready to use the roll-over technique to put yourself out and remember a black marker allows you to quickly draw in replacement eye-brows.
Tip #9: Everything has it’s place
When travelling and living in a vehicle for long durations, secure items when the vehicle is in motion and have a set place where each item is kept. Unsecured items can become dangerous momentum filled projectiles and cause injury and/or damage in situations of hard braking. They can also rattle and be damaged or just be annoyingly noisy during driving. Find the best location for your items depending on their function and secure them for driving. Always return the items to the same place so they can be found later. This seems unnecessary but unlike a house where items can be spread out on counter space, storage in a vehicle is often out of sight and tightly packed. This makes it annoying to search for items and easy to lose things. Create a system for your items that works for you and the way you live out of your vehicle.
Tip #10: Keep It Tidy
It is really surprising how quickly it can get dirty in a van. Keep a broom or brush handy and spend a few minutes tidying up every day. It’s also recommended to keep the inside of your vehicle a shoe-free zone.
Tip #11: Wikicamps App or Campermate
Download these apps onto your phone. They are super handy for locating caravan parks, free rest stops, public toilets, locations to get water etc. They are a source of really useful information when camping and travelling across Australia. I prefer Wikicamps over Campermate but there is a tiny annual subscription fee with Wikicamps. The small cost, $8 is immediately recouped the first time you use it to find and use a free campsite!
Tip #12: Consider How You Want to Live Out of Your Vehicle
Are you living in your vehicle or out of your vehicle? Do you want your vehicle to have everything that exists in a house and then pay for fuel to drag that all around the country? For some, this may be the intent. During winter months, plenty of grey nomads pack up their caravan and move north to warmer climes. These people set up and stay for months in a new location. They tend to have a very comfortable rig which has all the comforts of home. For those of us who want to be more flexible and travel across the country, really consider what you need in your vehicle. Do you need a full kitchen, shower and toilet? Do you need seating and crockery for a dinner party for 8? Minimise your items and thereby minimise your fuel costs (and your impact on the planet). Consider how long it takes you to set-up your rig when you get to camp so you are ready for bed. Long set-up times can get pretty annoying in a situation of long term travel and can create friction for travelling partners.
Tip #13: Design your Itinerary According to the Climate.
Where possible, design your travel route to follow the good weather. This is related to the previous tip. It is so much easier to live out of a vehicle when the weather is good. Try to minimise the number of nights in places where it will be too hot or too cold to sleep. Try to minimise the number of days where it will be too hot, too cold or too rainy to live outside. There are plenty of beautiful perfect weather days in Australia and being mobile, you can take advantage of these by moving around the country accordingly!
Tip #14: Consider the Best Camping option for your Holiday
If you’re only travelling for a short period, then hiring a caravan or campervan is generally not cost effective (unless you’re dragging a family around). They’re so expensive and more difficult to manage on the road as well. Taking a normal car, staying in cheap motels and doing the odd night camping in a tent can be more flexible and less expensive. Most motel rooms are more comfortable than most campers (even if it’s not a great motel). If you’re travelling for an extended period, the cheapest option is certainly to buy a camper rather than rent one.