Are you thinking about taking the plunge and going to work in Australia on a working holiday visa before you get too old (30)? After spending time in Asia, I decided to do exactly that and to earn enough money to travel around Australia in a campervan on an epic road trip.

Getting a job as soon as possible is a priority for most people on a working holiday visa. I arrived in Perth, WA, which it's handy to know is the city with the best work opportunities and pay in Australia. It's easy to find work (I worked as a charity fundraiser) and after a few months, you'll be able to save enough money to set off on your travels. I bought myself a campervan which became both my home for 7 months and my ticket to exploring the great expanse that is Australia...

Life on the road: buy or rent a campervan?

I would only recommend buying a van if you’re planning on staying in Australia for over two months and you don’t mind some very long drives! I’m not in any way mechanically minded and I have no idea about cars; therefore buying a campervan for me was complete pot luck. I also had to deal with the minefield of the car registration or ‘rego’ (Aussies love shortening words and then adding an ‘o’ on the end).

It’s a sensible idea to have the vehicle registered in the state you want to eventually sell it, so you can avoid paying high fees getting to get the registration changed over. Another bonus of buying a van in Perth was that a lot of people seem to finish their journey on the west coast so there were a lot of people frantically trying to sell their vehicles before their flights departed.

Your living space is your sleeping space

When I bought the van I knew I was planning on living in it and travelling around the country and also working along the way. I didn’t have much money so I ended up buying a Mitsubishi Express with a bed already fitted.  These have loads of storage space under the bed, however this also meant the bed was very close to the roof and there was no way to sit up in bed! It was therefore a pretty cramped and stuffy 7 months that followed. If you rent a camper, the models for hire are ingeniously fitted out with lots more headroom and a host of clever storage ideas, don’t worry!

In the back, we had a little stove so when the back door was lifted, we could cook standing under the back door. I decided that since we would be living in the van for a long time, it needed a name (Brice) and a paint job…. so bright yellow was the colour choice! I also added some nice curtains and tried sprucing it up a bit! However, luxuries like a fridge, shower, toilet, ‘roo bars, heating, air con or lighting when the engine was off were all non-existent!

Sara spraypainting her campervan

Setting off and dodging the suicidal 'roos

We set off from Perth in a Northerly direction and promptly got lost and ended up driving at dusk, which is a big no-no when you’re outside of the cities. Kangaroos are increasingly active as the sun begins to set. They have an inbuilt suicidal tendency and a strange desire to hop out in front of you just when you have no time to brake.  Our van wasn’t fitted with ‘roo bars (metals bars on the front which help protect you against when such suicidal kangaroo) so if we had hit a kangaroo, it would have been a serious collision as they are HUGE!

On this first evening, out of nowhere three giant kangaroos appeared and bounced in front of us, scaring us to death, but luckily we missed hitting them. After that encounter we decided to pull over and sleep, so we found a lay-by where a trucker had parked. We froze during that first night and had to listen to the noise of road trains roaring past us all night. I think this was the scariest night of the whole seven months and luckily as we headed North the cold was to be a distant memory!

Kangaroo road sign, Australia

On the road – getting used to the distances

So everyone tells you Australia is big (and obviously on the map it looks quite sizeable too), however it’s impossible to really grasp this concept until you actually drive around Australia.

I think the lack of towns and things in between the towns add to the illusion of the country being smaller than it actually is. For example, on a map you’ll see two towns on the coast and think ‘oh that’s probably about 2 hours’ drive between them’. Only later you'll realise that after 4 hours in, you’re still driving down that same long road with the never changing scenery (especially on the west coast and outback).

Lonnnnnnnng drives and DIY entertainment

I once found myself getting overly excited about coming across a bend in the road and I remember waking up my travel companion just to show him a small hill to the left of the road! I met friends who had driven through the outback and they invented some very silly games, one being to see how long they could drive on the wrong side of the road – this apparently lasted 3 hours until they got bored. Another one involved drawing a grid in lipstick over the windscreen and betting on who could get the most squashed flies in their designated grid!

Surprises you’ll encounter along the drive

So yes, the journeys ins some places can be pretty long, straight, with not much to see, oh and did I mention long? However, Australia rewards those who explore and who get off the road. We found some amazing gems along the way and because we were driving ourselves, we could stop and jump out whenever we felt like it:

The Pinnacles, Western Australia

Whale shark, Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

  • The Pinnacles (strange natural rock formations)
  • Wave rock (another strange rock formation strangely enough shaped like the name would suggest, as a wave!)
  • Ningaloo Reef (where you can snorkel with whale sharks and Manta Rays)
  • Shell beach (again Australians liking to state the obvious!)
  • Natural hot springs in the outback.. and these were just a few!

Choosing your vehicle – do you need a 4WD?

During the trip, we came to realise that it’s very useful to have a 4WD vehicle. Ours wasn’t 4WD, so sadly this stopped us visiting some National Parks along the way and the Bungle Bungles which looked amazing! We were advised by locals that the route to the Bungle Bungles was a really bad idea if we didn’t have a 4WD, so we didn’t try it.

Breaking down

In north western Australia, just past Wolf Creek (where they made a film about backpackers breaking down and getting murdered), we broke down. There were not many passers-by so we made lunch and sunbathed on the side of the road until a nice old couple came along and offered to tow us. First, they took us to an aboriginal settlement, but the mechanic had gone walkabout, so they kindly took us to a service station or ‘servo’.

After a night spent camping outside the servo and discovering that a pick-up truck would cost about £300, we approached some backpackers with another campervan and offered them $100 if they would tow us. We thought we were speaking to the travellers who owned the big campervan, but it turned out they had a small old car! Still, they towed us for three hours nonetheless.

Being towed whilst going downhill is also a skill I acquired along the way. So, in Katherine, a town in the middle of nowhere, we had to wait three weeks for a new timing belt to turn up. It cost us AUD$1000 - yet another reason why hiring a camper would’ve been a lot easier and cheaper!

A montage from Sara's trip

Life in your tin can and the trusty camping cookbook

Living in a cramped van with no air conditioning can be quite taxing, especially when you’re sharing this space with someone else! When there is no radio signal for hours along the drive, you have to get quite inventive with your games. I practised singing at the top of my voice (to the dismay of my travel companion). We also developed an addiction to the dice game ‘yahtzee’ which we played in the evenings.

Living in a van in the outback does mean you end up going to bed quite early and also waking up early (feeling like you’re a chicken getting cooked in an oven). You will meet lots of other backpackers and older couples in their amazingly equipped motorhomes who all use the same ‘Camp 5’ book. There is probably a Camp 8 book by now. This book was our bible, showing all the free camping areas all over Australia. Although these are often pretty basic with a few trees, picnic tables and a long drop ‘dunnie’, you'll soon become experts at finding showers on beaches, hostels and campsites and you can always treat yourself to the occasional campsite along the way.

Cooking and eating

Eating whilst living in a van, being on a budget and not having a fridge be repetitive and it seems every other person in a camper followed the same campervan diet. Our regime consisted of Maggie Noodles of various flavours, a tin of tuna (Australians have a far superior choice of tinned tuna: Thai red curry, soy and ginger, Mexican, spicy tomato flavour) and then we’d try and add some vegetables like tinned sweetcorn, a tomato and sometimes an egg when splashing out. Sandwiches also consisted of said tuna and so did the pasta meals we made. I think the important thing to avoid whilst living in a camper is scurvy, so watch out!

When to travel by camper

If you’re travelling on your own and you want to meet people, a campervan by yourself could be a bit expensive, and it can be hit or miss if you have to look around for a travel partner to share the costs. You may find a hop on hop off bus is a better option for you if you want to meet lots of other travellers. The downside is that you may well miss some gems along the way – there’s no asking the bus driver to stop if you see a kangaroo that you want to take a photo of!

If you’re travelling with friends, renting a campervan could be a great option, giving you the freedom to do what you want, when you want.  If you’re a couple, campers are also convenient, especially if the alternative is sleeping in mixed dorms or in expensive private rooms.

If you want to be able to travel at your own rhythm, take impromptu stops, and discover the hidden and beautiful areas off the tourist trail, a campervan could be the option for you.

Feeling the call of the road?

There are loads of seasoned campervanners at Travel Nation who have been there and tried it, so if you want to plan a trip with someone who's done a road trip as a couple, with friends or with children, we've got the experience. We can give you competitive rates for your campervan hire along your journey, whether it be the whole way round Australia, from the North to the South Island in New Zealand or from Los Angeles to San Francisco via the national parks.

We work with all of the main suppliers in Australia and New Zealand so we have some excellent budget options from Ford Falcon Station wagons with a tent, converted people carriers up to giant motorhomes with all the mod cons - so whatever your budget or style, we can find the right van for you. We can also advise you on the model to hire, about insurance, taking the van on a ferry (eg to Tasmania or between the North and South islands in NZ) and any other questions you have along the way! Just get in touch with Sara or ask for a campervan quote.

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