Travel Australia; caravan or camping vs cabins and accommodation

From time to time, we hear the argument that you are better off travelling Australia by staying in cabins and motels than to purchase a caravan, camper trailer or campervan.

A large majority of this argument stems from the financial implications of purchasing something to travel with that can be quite expensive, but there are many other reasons why someone might think staying in accommodation is a better option than dragging your own sleeping arrangement with you everywhere you go.

In terms of the financial argument, the person might argue instead of spending 60k on a caravan or camper trailer, you could do 300 nights at various cabins and motels, and still come out better off. Are they wrong? Maybe, but there’s a lot more to it than just that.

Everyone travels differently, and likes to do things different ways, and there’s no right or wrong way to travel Australia; you do what you are happy with, and what works for you!

Eco Lodge at Dirk Hartog Island
Do you prefer accommodation, or your own home on wheels?

For us, we’ll always recommend travelling in a caravan, camper trailer or campervan where possible, regardless of the financial side of things (we’ve done an example below and the results are quite surprising).

For us, the whole point of travelling Australia is to see the pristine, remote parts of the country that most people don’t get to go to. There are no motels, or cabins, or often any form of accommodation in these areas, so its physically not possible.

Of course, you can day trip in, but the camping and caravanning experience is part of why you go too. I couldn’t think of anything worse than having to book accommodation for every single night, and stay in the limited locations on offer.

Beach camping in WA
We prefer camping in the most pristine spots ever

Why camp?

It’s a complete experience

Australia is a magic place, and you can have a great time exploring it by vehicle, and staying in accommodation if needed too.

However, for us, where you sleep is just a part of the experience, and being able to cook up a feed anywhere you want, or stay in a place that you fall in love with, or share an early morning sunrise on the beach whilst laying in bed is what makes it so much fun.

If we weren’t able to spend nights out camping (and had to retreat to accommodation) it would be half the fun gone.

Glen Herring
We love the full experience that comes with camping

It can be much cheaper

There can be an initial expense to camp your way around Australia, but if you do it enough the actual expenses can be less. It does very much depend on what you buy, how much you use it, and where you stay. If you choose to stay at expensive powered caravan sites each night, it can work against you very quickly.

Having a setup and mindset that allows you to camp off grid in cheap, low cost or free camp sites will save you a fortune, and at the end of the trip, you still have the setup that is worth money. We’ll do a financial example below and see how the two turn out.

Free camping in the Pilbara
Enjoying another amazing, free camp

You can stay in amazing locations

Waking up on the red cliffs of Pender Bay, with the most amazing coastline you’ll ever see comes only with being able to take your accommodation with you.

Camping within 5 metres of the pristine Running Waters, or any of the hundreds of incredible beaches in WA is one of the things that we look forward to when on the road, not waking up in the middle of a caravan park, or next to a bustling shopping centre in the middle of town!

There’s more to it than this though; if you wanted to see these amazing, remote locations it would be extremely difficult with the nearest accommodation options hours away.

Pilbara Camping
Camped overlooking the beautiful Carawine Gorge

You get away from the hordes of people

I can pretty openly say I’m not really a people person. I don’t mind a good chat with like minded travellers, or a discussion about anything, but I certainly don’t go out of my way to hang with hordes of others, and we prefer to camp away from everyone except our friends and family. Both Sarah and I are introverts by nature, and we like our peace and quiet.

When you have your home with you, the options for where you pull up for the night are expanded to huge levels, and you can get away from others very easily. Even if you are amongst others, its often only a handful, and that makes it special.

People at Florence Falls
We prefer to avoid hugely crowded locations like this!

The wildlife experiences are second to none

You won’t get many (if any) special wildlife experiences when staying in a cabin or motel.

I can recall watching dolphins frolic in the water while laying in my bed, or watching hawks hunt while sitting back at camp, or watching the whales migrate down the coast from my camp chair, and we seriously love watching nature do its things.

Camping is a complete experience, where you become more of one with nature, and we love it.

Red bird
Sitting at camp and watching nature is always greatly appreciated

You get to take your home on wheels with you

There’s a certain comfort level when you tow your own home on wheels behind you. Your bed, your gear, your cutlery and plates and anything else that you have with you.

Whilst its nice to walk into a freshly cleaned cabin or motel, some people need the routine of their own gear to travel and opening 15 cupboards to find where the glasses are kept gets old pretty quickly.

Reconn R2
There’s something nice about the familiarity of your own home on wheels

You can be far more flexible

If you travel and stay in motels and cabins, you have to be pretty well organised, book in advance and know that you are going to make it when you say you are going to.

When you are camping, in a caravan or RV you can be far more flexible. If you fall in love with somewhere new, your chances of finding somewhere to camp are significantly better.

Bilung pool is free
Camping allows for a lot more flexibility in booking and how you travel

So, how does it work out financially?

Now, full disclaimer, I have no idea how this is going to work out, but I assume that taking a caravan or RV around Australia is going to be way cheaper than a motel/hotel. Let’s find out (bearing in mind there are a million variables and we’ll have to make some assumptions).

Let’s say you are a couple, wanting to do 12 months on the road, and you have nothing. If you went out and purchased a caravan and 4WD, its going to cost you somewhere between 20k and 200k. Let’s call it 100k, which is a fair old chunk of money.

On top of that, you have fuel costs, camp fee costs, maintenance, and food. You’d pay a bit extra for fuel compared to staying in accommodations (as you have less weight and wind resistance by not towing), but the food and maintenance is going to be similar.

Total travel costs when camping (ignoring maintenance and food):

Vehicle and van purchase: $100,000

Fuel for a lap towing a van: 30,000km at 17L/100km, and $2.35 for fuel = $11985

Camp fees: $20 a night for 365 days = $7300

Total cost = $119, 285, and you return home with a vehicle and van still worth hopefully around 100k, but lets call it 90k, so a total cost of almost $30,000 if you decide to sell the van and 4WD.

Hopefully though, you’ve fallen in love with the life and want to hang onto it for weekends and trips away each year!

Towing with a Y62
It’s not cheap to buy a 4WD and Caravan or Camper Trailer, but is it cheaper than accommodation overall?

Now, if we do the figures for driving around Australia, and staying in accommodation

Vehicle cost – nothing, assuming you own one (but maybe not a suitable one?)!

Camper/caravan cost – nothing, as you won’t need one

Fuel for a lap not towing – 30,000km at 10L/100km, and $2.35 for fuel = $7050.

So, its going to cost you 7k for a lap of Australia, and then you’d have to spend under 23k in accommodation costs for a year of travel before it became more expensive than taking a van or camper. Is that doable? 23 grand into 365 days is $63 a night for accommodation.

Do you think you can travel Australia and find accommodation that averages $63 a night? There’s no chance; you’d be looking at around $100 at absolute best (and that’s probably not even possible), so $36500 plus $7050 for a lap doing it this way.

A total cost of $43550, which is 13 grand more expensive than camping your way around. Even if we double the camping fee’s to $40 a night its still $5700 more expensive.

I’m positive you can save more money on food when camping for a number of reasons, but you’d have a bit more to pay in caravan registration and insurance, and there’s lots of other nuances to consider.

You might have to take a loan out to get a travelling setup, and if you don’t, there’s a good chance it will just come off your mortgage (which is essentially a loan anyway), which adds some interest costs. The take away though, is that you shouldn’t lose a huge amount of money in depreciation if you buy sensibly to begin with. 

Todays market is completely different to normal, but even before all of this took off I know plenty of people who bought a van to travel Australia, and sold it for the same price, or more when they returned.

RV towing a Suzuki
There’s a heap of ways to travel Australia

There’s no right or wrong way of travelling

I want to stress that you should travel however you want to. There’s no wrong or right way, but as you’ve probably picked up we are very passionate about travelling Australia and staying in your own home on wheels as you go.

If that doesn’t suit you, do it in a way that does. Perhaps splitting camping and accommodation is a good compromise?

What about you? Do you prefer to stay in cabins and motels, or travel with a caravan or camp?

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  1. Hey Dave,

    Yep, flexibility is key when travelling Australia. We’ve even gone so far as to not book much at all, and just meander around. It takes the stress out of having to be in a certain place at a certain time and for us we enjoy it far more.

    I know what you mean about a reward night, and nothing wrong with that either. We do it too, occasionally

    All the best

  2. I’ve wondered similar, but we like the flexibility of our camper trailer (Cub). Change routes on the fly or stay longer without having to reschedule all our bookings, and you can camp closer to the action. We do reserve the right for a family “reward night” now and then though, where we stay in a cabin or even a hotel – typically the last night of the trip on our way home.