Before we settled down in Western Australia to refill our savings accounts, we were travelling through Australia with our car. Our car was not just our vehicle for transportation, but it was also our home. A lot of backpackers and budget travellers are planning to do exactly the same. Probably because a road trip is the best way to see a country, as you can decide where and when to go. Maybe you’re planning to travel somewhere in the world with a campervan as well, and aren’t sure what to expect or how to plan your trip. We’re here to make it a bit easier. Read our 10 useful tips for living and travelling in a campervan!
Edit: this article was originally written on March 19, 2016 while we were living in Australia, but we have revamped it on August 22, 2017 to keep it up to date.
1. Do some research before getting the campervan
Please take a look at our previous post for some tips on buying a campervan. Here are a few websites where you can start looking for a campervan:
- Gumtree – this is where we found ours.
- Trading Post
- Travel Wheels
- Car Point
Please do some looking around, and don’t buy the first car you see. After seeing some cars online, you’ll know what’s a reasonable price and what’s not.
Consider buying a 4×4 wheel drive
When we came in Australia we started in Melbourne and didn’t even think about buying a 4x4WD, and so we bought a 2-wheel drive. We didn’t have any trouble during the most of our road trip on the east coast. If you’re planning to travel places with decent roads, a 2WD is good enough. But, if you’re planning to see more and go off-road, then get a 4WD. We regret not getting one now, as we are currently in the outback and there are many cool places where you can only get with a 4WD.
2. Be aware of upfront costs
Not only do you have to have some money aside for buying your car, you always get some extra costs. You’ll need to get vehicle registration, also known as the rego in Australia. Further costs include:
- Roadworthy Certificate
- Mechanical checks
- Gear that you need to buy that is missing in the car
That brings us to the next tip:
3. Make sure you have all the necessary gear
What do you need to pack for living in a campervan? It’s not as simple as putting a mattress in the back of your car. You need equipment for cooking, sleeping, basically for living. For instance, it’s useful to have a gas cooker to make breakfast and dinner. But you also need cutlery, plates and other cookware. Furthermore, after dinner you’re probably not planning to go to bed right away. Sometimes you’ll camp somewhere remote without a nice place to get some drinks and you might just want to read a book or have a chat with your travelmates. Then it’s useful to have a decent light – but be aware of all the bugs. Below is a list of travel essentials:
Of course you need the basics to sleep, such as a mattress, pillow(s) and blankets or a sleeping bag. Personally, we bought blankets and simple pillows from Ikea. But I’ve also heard wonders about compressible pillows, which are easy for travellers, because the foam expands big and packs small. During your campervan adventures this isn’t necessary, because you can just leave your pillows on your bed, but useful if you are travelling with a tent instead of a van.
Buy your sleeping gear
Of course you need the necessary gear to make food. If you’re lucky like us, you’ll get all your (second-hand) cooking gear with the campervan! Otherwise, it’s possible to buy everything at Ikea or online. We mostly made use of the gas cooker and cooler for your food (in Australia they call this an “esky”.
Buy your cooking supplies
- Gas cooker and fuel
- Aluminum foil
- Plates, bowls, cups and cutlery
- 4 Piece Camping Cookware kit
- Plastic bags
- Esky (beverage and food cooler)
- Water jug
- Water bottles
Of course you need clothes! It’s a bit hard for me to say what type of clothes, as it really depends on where you are planning to travel to. In Australia you need a combination of summer clothes and some good sweaters, but it never got really cold while we were there. But if you’re going to New Zealand you need a decent rain coat and maybe even winter clothes, depending on the timing of your trip. Below I’ve included some tips for what kind of clothes to pack, but it’s mostly for Australia.
- Regular summer clothes
- Sweater for nights
- Shower slippers
- Dirty clothes bag
- Clothes detergent (hand wash)
Beauty and health
You need your basic toiletries, such as face wash, shower gel, shampoo and so on. It’s really important to always put on sunscreen, and be sure to have aloe vera with you too. Especially if you’re travelling in Australia. Of course, take along any medicines you might need and also taking into account that you can get sick on the road.
Buy your basic hygiene products
- Facial wipes
- Travel Toiletry Bag and basic toiletries
- Insect Repeller
- Aloe Vera
- Tooth paste and tooth brush
Next to sleeping gear, cooking supplies, clothes and beauty and health products, there are also other necessities that are useful to take with you. Just think about everything you plan on doing on the road; hiking, showering, reading a book before bedtime, playing cards together, charging your gadgets and so much more.
Buy other necessities
- Day Pack
- Universal All in One Travel Adapter
- Battery Pack
- Matches and lighter
- Spare batteries
- Wash towel
- Reading material
- Bug net
- Beach Sarong
4. Use WikiCamps to find camping spots
If you’re planning to travel in Australia with your car, then WikiCamps is the App for you. Unfortunately it’s only for Australia. So, sorry if you’re planning to go travelling by campervan in another part of the world – but maybe a good idea to start building an App yourself?
Anyhow, WikiCamps is very useful to find cheap spots to spend the night with your campervan! The best part is that you can download all the data beforehand, so you don’t need the Internet while you’re on the road. Not every camping site is free. Most are around 20 – 30 dollars per night, including a toilet, warm shower and safe place to stay the night. Are you planning to camp for free every night? Although there are some free campsites in Australia that can be found in the App, most are paid places. What we recommend is that you find a free rest area, and spend the night there. There is often a toilet, but often not a shower. Ask other travellters or locals about good camping areas they found. Our best free rest area we ever found is St Lawrence Recreational Reserve in Queensland. Not only were we surrounded by kangaroos and beautiful scenery, there were clean showers and toilets as well.
5. Take a travel buddy with you
Although we don’t have anything against solo travelling at all, when you travel with a campervan you’ll drive a lot and probably spent a lot of time in some very deserted places. Even though those places are often amazingly beautiful, it probably can get pretty lonely. Furthermore, it’s advisable to take a break every few hours while driving. Stop, Revive and Survive: it’s recommended that you only drive two hours at a time. Get a little snack along the way, or have a coffee before you continue driving. If you’re planning to travel Australia, you’ll have some pretty big distances, so it’s good to be able to share the wheel with someone.
6. Do some planning, but stay flexible
There is a lot you probably want to see. So beforehand you can write some of the destinations down you definitely want to see and create a route for yourself. Don’t make a too tight schedule, as you deny yourself to have some freedom. Moreover, know that your plans can change every day. This is something we noticed with our travels frequently. Every time we started planning our week, it would change the next day. Don’t be sad about that, but embrace it. You’ll probably not see some of the places you planned to visit, but you’ll see other places you didn’t expect to. And those unexpected spots are the most memorable ever.
7. Do plan your daily drive though!
Be sure you get to your destination for that day on time. If you’re driving in Australia, the kangaroos are very suicidal after dark. They may jump in front of your car, no matter how much space they have around them. If you’re travelling in another part of the world, be aware of other dangers after dark. Driving in the dark is never really fun, especially if you’re somewhere without streetlights.
8. Always take enough water with you
There isn’t always a supermarket at the end of the road. Be sure to take enough water with you. When we were driving through the outback to our current location, we made sure we had at least ten liters of water in the back of our car. You never know if your car is going to break down and gets you stranded somewhere without help. For that matter, also remember to:
9. Always let someone know where you are
Now, we didn’t exactly always do this. Sometimes you just forget. But it’s really important that people know where you are, for when you suddenly get missing or get stranded somewhere. This is especially important when you’re travelling somewhere remote. Just send a daily text to a relative so they know where you are and that you’re safe and sound.
Don’t stress, but have fun! Don’t try to do too much, don’t expect to much, just roll with it. Take the views in, enjoy the freedom you have at that moment in time. You’ll remember this road trip for the rest of your life!
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