Ways to save money when travelling around Australia

Travelling Australia is expensive, period. Unless you ride a bike, or walk, its going to cost you a good chunk of money in fuel, and then you have the usual expenses of food, washing, repairs and the list goes on and on.

We’ve been fortunate enough to see a huge amount of Australia already (and are on a mission to see much, much more), and combining that with my miser nature, we’ve learnt quite a few ways to save some money when on the road.

We did a huge chunk of work in reducing our overall expenses at home before departing, but below are a number of ways that we save a few bucks when travelling:

Slow your travels down
How do we save money when travelling around Australia?

We free or low cost camp as much as possible

There’s two major expenses when travelling Australia, and the cost of camp sites is one of them. The difference between paying $50 a night for a camp site and nothing is nearly 20 grand a year if you were on the road full time, and that’s a staggering amount of money.

Free camping on Fitzgerald Bay
We do a lot of free camping, and save a huge chunk of money doing so

Some parts of Australia are far easier to free or low cost camp in, and we don’t spend all of our time in these types of camps, but they are generally our preference. We’ve got a setup that allows us to live comfortably away from any amenities for long periods of time, and that means we have virtually no need to go to expensive caravan parks, or incredibly costly Hipcamps.

It’s a balance for us, as if you want something in particular at a caravan park, or you have to travel an extra 30 kilometres to get to the free camp sometimes it just doesn’t add up. We actually prefer being away from caravan parks anyway, and will generally only go in if it’s the best option for the region, or if we need to wash large items.

On our 3 week trip through the Pilbara we averaged $15 a night in accommodation costs, and we probably could have had that down to almost nothing if we really wanted to. In the first 50 odd days of our lap of Australia, we’ve kept the cost per night for camping fees just over $12, which is pretty awesome.

We actually prefer the off grid, remote camp sites from Caravan Parks anyway (in general), so its a win win.

Free camping in the Pilbara
The Pilbara is a great place to get used to free camping in Australia

We cook on the fire a lot

I’m not sure what it is about cooking on a fire, but we got bitten by the bug really hard, and if we are able to have a fire we’ll often cook on it. This can save you a few bucks in gas, as you are using heat from timber that is freely picked up instead of your gas.

The added bonus is the food almost always tastes better, and that’s a big winner. Obviously you can’t do this between November and March depending on where you are (due to fire restrictions), but its not a bad option.

Cooking on the fire
Anything cooked on the fire tastes better

Our Induction cooktop gets a work out

Before we left full time, we purchased a lithium battery, inverter, 600W of permanently mounted panels and a dedicated solar charger for the camper. This was done mainly to run our 82L freezer full time for up to 3 days with zero solar charge, but it has the added benefit of being able to run an induction cooktop (or any other home appliance for a short period), and that’s essentially free energy.

If the sun is shining, and we have plenty of power in the batteries, we’ll use the induction cooktop and again, conserve the gas. If we are running low on batteries, or we want to be able to cook on two ‘burners’ at once then we’ll use the gas, and the two compliment each other very well.

If you want to save money, don’t go out and buy a lithium battery system, inverter and induction cooktop. It’s a false economy, and its much cheaper to just cook on the existing gas setup that you have. That said, if you can already run an induction cooktop at no cost, its not a bad option (and we far prefer them to using gas!).

We almost only use gas for the Weber now, and our hot water system, which means we can comfortably get 4 – 6 weeks out of a 4kg gas bottle.

Induction cooktop on the Dmax
Our induction cooktop gets used full time now, unless we’re low on battery power

Our setup is small and relatively fuel efficient

If you’ve followed us for some time, you’ll know we are all over the weights side of towing, and buying our Reconn R2 Hybrid was done after a huge amount of research. The end result is a combination weighing about 5.3 tonnes, but the hybrid is the same size as the 4WD, which means it doesn’t hurt the fuel economy nearly as much as a full size caravan would.

We’ll frequently get 13 – 14.5L/100km, which is pretty spectacular for a full time rig for a family of 4, living on the road! If you have a 200 series Land Cruiser, or a Y62 Patrol towing a full size caravan you’d be lucky to get 18L/100km, and more normally 22 – 28L/100km, which is a massive difference in fuel costs.

Fuel is the other major expense when travelling around Australia, and if you can save 2L/100km, you are looking at around $1600 in fuel for one lap. For us, saving 5 – 13L/100km it equates to $4000 to $10500 a year on the road!

On the flip side, we are running larger tyres, and carrying a lot of weight, but this is a compromise that we have decided to live with (that hurts our economy) in order to be able to get off grid, away from people (and caravan parks), and live relatively comfortably.

Slowly heading into Memory Cove
Our Dmax is the same height and width as the camper, which is very helpful for fuel economy

We can go totally off grid for up to 3 weeks

In terms of electricity, we can be off grid indefinitely. What draws us back to civilisation is fuel, water and food. Water is usually the first to run out, but we can make our 320L of water that we carry last 2 weeks easily, with regular showers for all 4 of us, drinking water, dishes and so forth.

Fresh food is usually a struggle beyond 2 weeks too, as we start to run out of fresh vegetables, especially anything that you’d use in a salad.

By being able to avoid the towns for weeks at a time, we save a huge chunk of money in fuel going back and forth, and in expenses that you might grab when you are passing through. We generally buy a lot of food in the big towns, and then only basic supplies in smaller towns, as needed which can save a huge amount of money.

Food shopping and packing
We do big shops in the main, cheaper towns where possible

We argue over bakery stops

This point is a bit of a laugh, but Sarah always wants to stop at the bakeries in town, and my miser attitude is often to skip them. Inevitably we often do end up stopping occasionally, and our compromise was to set aside $50 a week for treats, that lives outside of our actual food budget.

That means we can take the kids out to a restaurant every couple of weeks, or stop at a bakery for lunch once a week with a bit of change left over. Despite this, I’m still happy to drive past a bakery (most of the time), and it drives Sarah nuts. For the record, we’re well under the $50 a week budget that we set for treats.

Mt Barker Bakery
It’s easy to spend a lot of money on Bakeries if you aren’t careful, so we’ve set a budget

Lunch stops are a breeze on the road

The moment something is difficult, you’ll look for easier ways. If you have the ability to pull up for lunch and have a good feed easily and quickly, you’ll do so far more often. We live out of our 4WD’s upright fridge, and that means wherever we go, it is with us.

If we head out for a day trip, there’s no shuffling food, or packing anything different, and we have a day use drawer that has a cutting board, sharp knife, various other utensils, bowls, plates and cups. No matter where we are, we can make a tasty lunch in a matter of minutes, and its done in the shade of our canopy (by parking the car appropriately), and on a nice size kitchen table that folds down.

We’ve had a huge number of other setups in the past, and when its hard to do, or you can’t make a tasty meal, you end up stopping at bakeries and fast food joints far more often.

Lunch at Mt Nameless
Making lunch on the road is easy and quick

Our long range tank is a huge winner

I always wanted to fit a long range tank, but never got one for fear of being overweight. Eventually I caved and got one, and its been one of the best modifications we’ve made to the 4WD. Not having to stop so often for fuel, having fuel security and being able to relax and not worry about fuel range is a huge benefit, but there’s a massive financial one too.

Yes, they cost a chunk of money to install, and will make you lose a bit of economy in terms of the extra weight, but they also allow you to skip the expensive fuel stations in favour of the much larger ones.

This does two things; it saves you a bucket load in fuel, and it reduces the chances of you filling up with bad fuel from service stations that don’t turn their fuel over much.

For those of you who hop along the bitumen roads this is going to make less of a difference, but if you head to remote parts of the world you can expect to pay 30 – 90 cents a litre more in fuel, and that can pay for a long range tank really, really quickly.

We’ve had to pay $3.00 a litre for fuel before, and its probably more than that now, so a few hundred litres of fuel at that price will save you a bucket load of money.

Long Range Tank
Being able to carry 140L in the Dmax has saved us a lot of money already

We treat our travels as a way of life instead of a holiday

People travel Australia for a whole heap of reasons. Some do it as a holiday, and others do it as a way of living. We’ve long since decided that we are on a way of life, instead of a holiday, and treat it accordingly. When you are on holidays, you might blow extra money on restaurants, amazing attractions, extra special food and drinks and special tours. If you live as if you are on holidays for months at a time, you are going to burn through a lot of extra money.

Contentment is a funny thing, and we’ve learnt to live a life that is happy and comfortable with less. That means we’ll happily spend afternoons at camp just kicking back and doing nothing (or I’ll work on the blog), and we don’t live an elaborate life often, as its just a huge unnecessary expense.

That doesn’t meant we don’t blow our budgets from time to time, and do expensive and amazing experiences, but we are careful and selective as needed, and are pretty head strong to ensure we aren’t living in a way that jeopardises our longevity on the road.

Coral Bay Restaurants
You won’t find us spending up big, like its so easy to do on holidays

We never buy coffees

There’s a lot of people on the road who spend a lot of money buying coffees. If that’s your thing, please don’t be offended, but I’m far too tight to pay money for coffees when travelling. Sarah makes cold coffee for herself with the Jarrah Brazilian mix, and I use the Aeropress 2 or 3 times a day, using pre-ground coffee that we buy in bulk.

I will say occasionally we buy Iced coffees on the road, but its not very often. You certainly wont’ find us paying $6 for a coffee from the shops!

Aeropress to make coffees
We make our own coffees on the road, including iced ones

Snacks are pre-organised

Every day, before we head on a drive (where we are moving camp) Sarah spends a couple of minutes grabbing snacks and having them in the front with her. She’ll grab some muesli bars, fruit, nuts, chips and lollies, and when the kids ask for food (which is basically every minute), they are ready to go, and we can keep plodding along without having to stop and find, or buy food.

Sarah organising snacks
Sarah does an awesome job with the snacks

Checking food specials

Sarah’s great with saving money on food, and will often check the specials before we head to the shops, and we’ll stock up on whatever is cheap and will last, and we keep using it.

Shopping at Tom Price
We always look at the specials, and stock up with extra when its good value

Buying in bulk

Going on from the above, we are happy to buy in bulk and split it up into meal size portions with the vacuum sealer (or zip lock bags if we are being lazy). We do this with a whole heap of meat, and it can save you a serious chunk of money.

Sarah will often buy meat when its on special, even if we don’t need it and we’ll just freeze it.

82L Evakool Freezer full
We’ll buy extra meat when its cheap

Paid attractions are carefully considered, and we skip plenty

There are thousands of amazing attractions around Australia, and you could spend tens of thousands of dollars doing them all. We do some, but we are pretty select, and do as many free or low cost attractions as possible.

If we want to do something big and expensive, we all decide whether its worth it or not, and we might skip some other attractions for a while to make it happen.

El Questro Helicopter Tour
We’re really careful with what paid tours we do (helicopter ones are out for now!)

Look after your gear

Some people are so careful with the way they look after their gear that its almost always in showroom condition. We are not like this, and our gear gets a work out, but we have a healthy respect for how things should be done, and I get annoyed when something fails earlier than it should.

This means letting air out of your tyres when you are heading off road, driving carefully, picking intelligent lines, not going where your vehicle isn’t able to and in general doing your best to avoid damage or things going wrong.

Ploughing into a big mud run might seem like a whole lot of fun, but your mechanic will be the one laughing when you’ve got to pay them a fortune to fix everything that breaks. Don’t put things away when they are wet and mouldy, and do your best to make everything you own and carry last as long as it possibly can.

Big salt water puddles
You’ll never see us driving through salt water, as we care about our gear

We travel slowly

In general, the slower you travel, the less it will cost you per week. Yes, the total cost is still going to be the same, but you see more and its spread over a long period. 

The simple example is in fuel. A typical lap of Australia is around 35,000km, and at 15L/100km that’s $10500. If you do it in 6 months, its $1750 in fuel per month. If you do it in 2 years though, its only $440 a month, which is a massive difference.

On our travels so far we’ve averaged around 86km per day, which allows us to set a relaxed pace, and keeps our total cost per week down.

Mirror reflection at McLennans Punt
Some days we literally move 20km down the road

We don’t have any car or camper loans

There’s a lot of people on the road travelling in different setups, and that is fantastic. Some are owned outright, and some are under a loan arrangement. If you have a high interest rate loan on an item that traditionally depreciates, you will find your travelling costs skyrocket. 

We own our Dmax and Reconn R2, and all of our gear, and the only loan we have is on our house, which is paid for by rental income. 

Now, I’m not going to argue whether you should or shouldn’t be doing a lap of Australia with a car, caravan or camper trailer on loan, but the facts are there; having a loan will hugely increase your expenses.

Car and camper loans cost a fortune
Loans on vehicles cost an absolute fortune

So, what do we spend on the road?

Excluding any costs that come from home, we are sitting at around $110 a day for fuel, camping fees, repairs and maintenance, treats, eating out, general attractions and other random expenses. It does not factor in home loans, or health and life insurance. It does however, include car insurance and registration of our Dmax and Camper.

That’s roughly $800 a week, which we are really stoked with, for a family of 4. If you want more details, you can check out our first 100 day travelling Australia cost post.

What else can you do to save money on the road? What have we missed?

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