In 2016 we set off for a year long road trip in our 1975 Kombi Van - Vinnie the VW. Vanlife was something the two of us had always dreamt of doing, and yet simultaneously, something we knew nothing about.
Our idea was to start our big lap in Perth, heading East first. We had no set plans, just a list of places we wanted to visit, people we wanted to see and experiences we wanted to have. We were incredibly excited!
We saved up $40k for our year long roadtrip and hoped that $800 per week was a reasonable budget. Unfortunately 44 weeks into our trip, Vinnie decided he had had enough and broke down in Kalbarri, roughly 600km north of Perth. We were so close to finishing our big lap! But hey, everything happens for a reason right?... Although we're still trying to figure out what that exact reason was!
So here's what we learnt from 44 weeks on the road in Australia!
OUR TOP NINE COSTS
1. Petrol - $ 6.7k
Our biggest cost was easily petrol - costing us $6,748 for our 304 days on the road. Our cost of filling up ranged dramatically from $92c per litre to $2.02 per litre, with the cheapest being Adelaide (SA) and the most expensive being Kings Canyon (NT). While this was an unavoidable cost, we always tried to fill up in major cities or towns and carried a jerry can as a backup.
2. Food - $5.1k
We counted 'food' as any supermarket/grocery shops (IGA, Woolworths, Coles, Farmers Markets and Aldi). Our total food costs were $5,131 which included 155 supermarket shops (oh my hat - that equates to a grocery shop every second day!!). At the start of our trip, we were eating roasts, extravagant quinoa salads and steak sandwiches but after about ten weeks on the road we subbed these out for cheaper alternatives - soup, baked beans, wraps etc. One rule we also self imposed was that soup had to be on the menu at least once each week. This was a great way to keep costs down (tomato soup costs $1.10 on special) and we ended up having 56 cans of soup throughout the year! We also started using the catalogues pretty religiously and splitting our shopping between stores e.g. buying our spreads and meats from Aldi, toiletries from Coles and canned food (a.k.a soup) from Woolies (no wonder we went 155 times!).
3. Accommodation - $5k
Our accommodation costs were very close to our food costs. When we first set off on our roadtrip, we were living the luxe life. Staying in caravan parks most nights, we were never far from power (to plug into) or unlimited hot showers. We stayed in caravan parks for 149 nights which cost us $4,503. Once we got a bit more vanlife savvy, we invested in some proper solar panels and learnt how to free camp, we started swapping out our fancy caravan parks for the side of the road. All together we spent $4,976 on accommodation for the year and this included 66 nights free camping and 45 nights in National Parks (these ranged in price from $3.30 to $12.00 per person).
4. Car repairs - $3.9k
If you couldn't tell, our roadtrip finished rather abruptly with Vinnie breaking down in Kalbarri, WA. In our weekly budget of $800, we included a cost for maintaining/servicing Vinnie. While this cost was definitely higher for us as we chose to travel with a 41 year old vintage vehicle, it's extremely worthwhile building a maintenance section into your overall budget. On our trip we had four services done, 10 windscreen cracks fixed and ended up purchasing an array of different parts (two new starter motors [don't ask why we bought two], an alternator, four new tyres and the grand finale - new pistons, valves and heads [this set us back roughly another $4.5k not included here]).
5. Miscellaneous - $3.7k
It's not much use calling this cost miscellaneous so let us provide a bit more detail! Our miscellaneous costs included alcohol, gas refills for cooking ($173 for 11 refills), pharmacy purchases, new clothing ($965) and laundry ($98). Even though we tried really hard to keep this figure low, it just seemed to add up. Looking back, perhaps we could have bought less fridge magnets.
6. Sightseeing and experiences - $2.7k
This was a tricky one for us - we wanted to experience as much as possible on our roadtrip, but we didn't have a huge budget for paid activities, nor did we really enjoy group tours (cue the anti-social meme). We thought about what was really important to us and what we physically couldn't do ourselves. For example, we were tossing up a sunrise helicopter ride at Uluru, but when we really thought about it we realised we would be just as happy sitting on our picnic blanket and watching the sunrise from the ground. This of course will be different for every person, but we found it a useful way to think. In the end, we spent money on roughly 30 excursions/activities/tours. Of those our favourites were:
Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb (* this was shouted by our wonderful parents - Deb & Dave);
Mt Isa Rodeo;
Whitsundays boat tour;
Cobbold Gorge tour; and
Uluru Field of Lights.
7. Equipment - $2.5k
Our equipment costs involved new camera gear, solar panels, bikes and other camping necessities (e.g. kettle, bbq equipment and pots and pans). In hindsight, we didn't end up using our bikes as much as we thought we would and definitely wouldn't bother taking them with us again.
8. Transport - $1.9k
This cost mostly included us shipping Vinnie to Tassie on the Spirit of Tasmania ($884 return). Other costs here included ferries to various islands, public transport and the ridiculous tolls in Sydney (which even though we tried our very best to avoid, still ended up costing us $90).
9. Eating Out - $1.5k
We aren't huge 'restaurant' people - awkwardly we often prefer McDonald's to fine food. Like our miscellaneous costs, we tried really hard not to indulge in eating out. But sometimes it was worth it - like getting a steak for James' birthday, trying Australia's best burger in Canberra (Brodburger) or feasting on Darwin's world famous Laksa at the night markets.
HOW WE CUT OUR DAILY COSTS IN HALF!
If you compare our daily costs at the start of our roadtrip (SA) to the end of our roadtrip (WA), we cut our costs from $144 per day to $68 per day. The two most important changes we made were:
1. free camping; and
2. cost-effective eating.
We stopped paying for caravan parks and started free camping as much as possible. We also stopped eating gourmet dinners and started hitting the mi goreng hard. We realised food wasn't as important to us as the sights we wanted to see so we were happy enough to make this sacrifice. We appreciate that this may be different for others!
TOP FIVE LESSONS WE LEARNT
1. Laundry is expensive and unavoidable
We spent $98 on washing around Australia. We were very lucky to have friends and family scattered around the country who let us do bulk washing when we stayed, but we still cried every time we had to get our wallets out for washing. We were also really lucky to find a few campgrounds that had FREE washing machines. Safe to say we stayed a while when we found those gems. Hello clean sheets, towels and clothes!
Have your own washing powder ready to go so you don't have to pay the ridiculously high caravan park/campground price for it!
2. Tupperware containers for portioning meals
We learnt to buy our meat in bulk and then split it across five different meals - for example with mince we would make nachos, burritos, spaghetti bolognese, wraps, tacos etc. It was a good way to keep meat in our diet without getting sick of eating the same meal for a week.
Pack tupperware containers so you can split your meals or meat into different portions easily.
Bonus tip - make sure the frying pan handle is on securely so you don't spill your spag bol everywhere.
3. You might not need that coffee!
At the start of the trip James was purchasing coffee on the regular. Every new town/city/place we visited was the perfect opportunity to "test out their coffee". Eventually (eight weeks in), I may have gotten a wee bit cranky about the cost of this and had a bit of a go at James. Sorry James. In the end, James bought 32 coffees in the first eight weeks (costing $132.85) and just 23 coffees in the remaining 36 weeks (costing $111.80). Obviously my go at him was quite cost effective...
4. Social media can be incredibly positive
We met so many incredible, kind hearted and generous people through Instagram. We couldn't believe how many people messaged us on our trip with suggestions of spots to visit, things to see or even crazier, welcomed us into their home for a night or two. Quite often we focus on the negatives of social media, but this was a huge positive for us.
5. It's ok to pay for accommodation
Sometimes it's nice to splurge and park up for a week not having to worry about when and where you can shower, if you'll have enough solar power with those rain clouds coming in or whether you're parked in a dodgy spot. We know a big part of vanlife is living on a budget, but it's a-ok to pay to stay.
We hope this helps if you have any questions please let us know!