This is a post by Laura Smith, who decided to take the plunge in Australia and drive solo, with only a campervan for company. Go Laura!
Companies such as the Naked Bus and Greyhound offer travellers reasonable fares, so many opt to leave the fate of a trip of a lifetime in the hands of others. Now, I’m not going to disagree with the fact that the tickets are cheap (when bought in advance) but consider this: there’s no room for manoeuvre, no room to make on-the-spot changes and visit somewhere off the beaten track (i.e. recommended to you by another backpacker in your hostel).
Planning months in advance for the sake of a cheap ticket isn’t always the best option, and definitely won’t maximise your travel experience.
What I Did: Hire a Campervan!
I assumed that hiring a campervan and driving through a strange country at my own pace would be an expensive option. I was wrong.
Right at the beginning of my trip I found myself chatting to a young Welsh couple in a bar in Melbourne. They had travelled Australia some years before and were now combining a friend’s wedding with the opportunity to revisit their favourite places. When asked how they planned to cover such a vast area in a relatively short space of time, they told me they were driving.
My first thought? Expensive rental and fuel fees. I assumed that they must have a large amount of cash saved up for this, especially as they’d been buying the drinks all night.
Later on, the drinks turned out to be the compliments of a barman and the ability to drive across the country was down to the best money-saving tip I was likely to ever come across while travelling.
Golden Nugget of Travel Advice Coming Up…
Rental companies often offer relocation deals to people willing to drive their vehicles back to their original offices around the country.
A quick phone call to their office with details of roughly where I was headed saw me picking up a campervan and setting off down Great Ocean Road the next day. Different companies offer different deals, but the ones I came across involved free or very low rental (between AUS $1-5 a day), or paid-for fuel and a discounted rental rate.
Was it Worth It?
The pros of travelling this way spoke for themselves within an hour of setting off. I pulled up into a golf course opposite the beach and a bunch of wild kangaroos came up to say hello!
Driving the Great Ocean Road is like driving through a postcard; each bend in the road gives a new view of turquoise waters on one side and dense forest on the other – something you’d miss out on without this independent option.
The real treat however, was the mornings. Though most people are advised to stay overnight on a campsite, pulling into a residential street and parking amongst other vehicles is just as safe and saves the hassle of turning up late at night.
The first time I did this I stepped out of the van in the morning and found myself speechless. The town I had stopped in the night before was badly lit and all I could see of my surroundings was a few houses and a concrete road. Now, in the bright sunshine, I found myself looking up at a collection of green mountains with a stunning lake resting at the bottom. I was in disbelief how I had no idea they were there the previous evening, but surprises like this came thick and fast in Australia.
There were tons of experiences like this during my trip and I know one thing for sure; if I’d gone with an organised tour group I would have missed most of them.
Have you ever hired a campervan on your travels? Would you recommend it?
If you enjoyed reading Laura’s post, then check out this guide to overland travel or see how two other travellers got on driving a campervan around New Zealand’s North Island…