Living in a campervan in Australia is either heaven or hell.
If you’re on the heavenly side of camping, you’ll think about the freedom to go wherever you want whenever you want. You probably imagine camping on the beach or gathering around a campfire with a beer under the stars.
If you think living in a campervan is hell, you probably think of cramped spaces, having to build a toilet in the bushes, and hours of driving. And there was a lot of driving as The Boy and I drove around Australia in our campervan! You can check out our Australian road trip itinerary here.
Living in a campervan was the best experience of my life, but it wasn’t easy at times. Over the course of a full year, my boyfriend and I have come up with some tips to make it easier:
1. Embrace minimalism…then take it a step further
To say there was very little space inside the camper van would be the understatement of the century. I’ve always wanted to live wearing nothing but clothes, but if I did that in the real world, I’d probably end up being a vagrant. Backpacking is probably the only exception.
During the last few months of our trip, we had almost nothing. Gradually we shed and parted with our belongings and life became much easier.
By the end of the year I was living in a camper:
- 1 pair of beach sandals
- 1 piece of cut-off denim
- 2 singlets (vest top)
- 1 dress
- 2 bikinis
- 1 jumper
- 1 wool hat
- 3 sets of underwear
I didn’t wear makeup, and I didn’t blow dry my hair. In a sense, it was liberating to have very few belongings and not have to wake up in the morning and think, “What should I wear today…’
2. Make friends with someone who has a better van than you
No matter how good your camper is, there will always be someone with a bigger and better camper. Our van was a run-down old VW with a mattress and a cupboard, so it wasn’t hard to find friends who fit the bill. When backpacking, people generally take similar routes, so it’s easy to band together.
We made friends with a group of guys who had a luxury item that backpackers covet: refrigerators. And what do we mean by refrigerator? Cold beer. It was a very good friendship choice.
3. What to do when it rains
Living in a campervan is a very outdoor lifestyle, as you can’t just relax and play computer games in the living room (if you’re in a fancy pants campervan like Meet the Fockers) except). When it rains, there are few options that don’t cost a fortune.
Of course, you can go to the mall, go out to eat, go to the cinema or go bowling, but this is not suitable for a backpacker’s budget.
We finally came up with a strange but interesting solution. That means going to the pet store.
Pet shops in America and Australia don’t just sell food and fish like in the UK, they also sell kittens and puppies. Sure, you look like a total weirdo (especially if you’re traveling with four guys in their late 20s). But I have to admit it’s a great way to spend a rainy afternoon without spending a dime.
4. Always put your food in sealed containers
We learned this lesson the hard way and let our little mouse be part of the journey. I dread to think how long I was sharing muesli with Stuart Little. We spent a few nights listening to him run around on the roof of our van and finally caught him (and then realized how small and cute he was and felt terrible!)
5. Make sure you have air-con and the money to pay for it
We bought our camper based on the fact that it had “frigid air conditioning.” By frigid we actually mean arctic standards that can lead to frostbite it was fun!
The only problem was when I turned on the air conditioner I could see the fuel gauge drop. I had a few weeks to drive to my new job, but I had so little money that I had to turn off the car and drive with a wet towel hanging from the window and around my neck. Honestly, I thought it would melt.
6. Stay in campsites whenever possible
The idea of camping on the beach is very romantic and perfect for a night or two a week, but it won’t be long before you start missing the toilets, hot showers, cooking facilities, and interaction with other people.
On Australia’s west coast, there were days when I didn’t see anyone outside of gas stations. So it’s good to go to a campsite and talk to locals and other travelers heading in the opposite direction to get advice and information.
If you hang out with other people a little bit, you won’t want to kill each other. That leads nicely to the next point.
7. If you’re driving around Australia in your campervan, don’t stop at Wolf Creek
We drove past Wolf Creek and being a total timid cat, we didn’t even stop to take pictures. This is a blurry photo that I managed to get out of the window.
8. Laugh at the bad times
There weren’t many, but there were some, so it’s really important to laugh at the bad times.
There was the time I camped in the middle of nowhere and locked myself inside a van, convinced there was a killer outside. It was a very long night and I was too scared to go outside to pee.
The Cassowary Bird
Once a cassowary and her baby appeared out of nowhere and got so scared that I dropped my beer cooler. It turns out that the casawari is endangered and extremely rare, but we didn’t realize at all how lucky we were to see it, thinking, “That blue-headed stupid big I spent the next six months cursing “Bird.” But what you also don’t realize is that mama cassowaries are very dangerous and you should always stay away from them!
The local hooligans
We once camped under an apple tree (a nice shady spot), but all night the apples fell on the van and we didn’t get a wink of sleep. We thought it was local hooligans throwing stones and spent the night planning to remove them.
There were many mornings when I woke up hungover in a stuffy, hot camper and felt like the world was coming to an end because I couldn’t escape the heat.
The emu attack
I was once attacked by an emu while trying to get water from a tap in Cape Range National Park. Every time I turned on the tap, more and more emus jumped up to get their own water. I was so thirsty!
The shower knock-out
There was a time when I used solar showers, hanging from tree branches and feeling one with nature. Unfortunately, a branch broke and I almost passed out in the shower.
There were many nights when my sleep was interrupted by terrifying words whispered in the darkness: “I think there’s a spider in the van.” The van was emptied and torches illuminated every nook and cranny until we were sure we were safe.
And then a discussion ensued about speeding fines, parking fines, bridge crossing fines, toll road fines, fines for not paying the fine, and who was driving when the fine was imposed.
Quick tip: If you want to avoid fines in Australia, don’t buy a big, bright green campervan. I think the fact that it stuck out painfully attracted attention and led to further fines.
But even as I write this, I can’t stop laughing. Now that I’m in my 80s, I’ll still laugh at some of the stupid things that happened and know that it was all worth it and that it was the best years of my life.
If you’re considering buying a car in Australia, be sure to check out my mini guide to buying a car or campervan in Australia.
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