Australia is so beautiful and there’s so much to see. However, there’s actually so much to see that this can almost make travel tricky. The country is absolutely huge and a lot of the best things to see are well away from the big cities. This makes an old-fashioned road trip one of the absolute best ways to experience Australia, but it’s not always the cheapest.
Long highways sap away your fuel, even the cheaper hotels leave their mark on your bank balance and sometimes it feels like drinking a few too many beers can cut your life savings in half. However, with a flick of flexibility, a pinch of planning and a cup of cunning, you can cook up a road trip that doesn’t leave your wallet as a ghost town.
This will take you through a few tips on how to save on the big money-sappers, food, petrol and accommodation, as well as a few other tips on keeping general costs down.
How to save on food
The main key to saving on food isn’t a fun one, discipline. If you want to get home with some money left in your pocket, you’re going to have to learn to look at a mouth-watering restaurant menu, turn away and trudge into woolies to buy something to cook.
Your first friend will be a portable stove, this will cost only around $20 for cheaper options, or you could spend up to nearly $100 for something in a higher range. Remember to also bring cleaning supplies to keep it tidy through the trip.
Another good money saving tip is to bring cooking fundamentals from home instead of bringing them along the way. Though, if you do choose to eat out or engage in some fine dining, a fancy lunch is generally cheaper than a fancy dinner. Therefore, if you eat at a restaurant for lunch then cook your own dinner, you’ll spend less than the other way around.
A slightly more distant friend of yours will be a microwave. You won’t be able to lug one around with you, but knowing where to find one can help you eat cheap by heating up ready made meals, instant noodles or whatever else your heart desires. A sneaky tip for finding microwaves is to look in parent rooms at supermarkets, as they generally have microwaves for heating up milk. Obviously don’t nonchalantly heat up your green curry as a mother and her crying baby wait for you to finish, but if the room is empty you can quickly heat up your meal. Another alternative is to put on your best smile and ask local restaurants if they have a microwave you could quickly borrow.
Another good tip is to look out for BBQ’s in parks, these are a great place to cook up some lunch or dinner, particularly if you don’t have a cooker or want to save a bit on gas. Meatinthepark.com.au is a great website for finding a BBQ near you.
A final quick tip for saving on food, if you want to grab some deals head to supermarkets at the end of the day, particularly Coles and Woolies. You can often get some super cheap deals at the end of the day, particularly on things like readymade meals or lunch items that often get slashed to half price at the end of the day.
How to save on petrol
Australia is completely huge and you’re going to burn a lot of gas getting from place to place. So unless you’re cruising in a Tesla, it’s going to be extremely important to save money on petrol.
The first thing to do is get an app on your side, apps like FuelMap, NSW FuelCheck and MotorMouth will help you get the best prices for fuel on your trip.
It’s also important to be smart with your filling up. Petrol is generally cheaper in a metro area than a rural one. So for example, say you desperately need petrol as you pass through a rural town, it can be beneficial to only fill up enough to get you to the next larger town, rather than filling an entire tank.
Something that many people may think no longer exist, or they were never aware of them to begin with, is supermarket fuel vouchers. This means if you look at the back of your receipts from Woolworths and Coles, they quite often have petrol discounts on the back. This can earn you up to 14 cents per litre savings on fuel, which really adds up on a long road trip. If you have rewards cards these often come with fuel discounts as well.
Another simple tip to save on petrol is simply to chill on the accelerator a little bit. The more accelerating and braking you do, the faster you burn through fuel. So keeping to the speed limit will actually make your tank stretch a few more kms, as well as the extra benefit of increased life expectancy.
How to save on accommodation
Depending on your budget and what you’re after, accommodation can either eat up a huge chunk of your budget or be a huge saver. However, whether you’re being pampered in an all-inclusive resort or pitching your K-mart tent in a free campsite, there are always ways to cut costs.
If you are a hotel person and you’re not going to budge on that, your best bet is to plan ahead of time and keep an eye out for deals. Keeping your eyes peeled on websites like Flight Centre, Groupon and Expedia can save you big money down the line. If you’re staying in hostels or caravan parks it won’t matter too much price-wise as to when you book, but if you’re in hotels, having your itinerary a bit more meticulously planned out will save you some money. Arriving in a town late at night without accommodation booked is the perfect way to end up hugely overpaying for a hotel.
Motorhomes are another potential big saver, it’s really just going to depend on what you want and what type of traveller you are. Essentially, if you’re willing to sacrifice some comfort for flexibility and adventure, then a caravan or campervan could be a really good option. If you’re heading on the road for months and months it can even be worth looking into purchasing one rather than renting. You won’t have fresh sheets every morning but you’ll be able to shift and change your itinerary as you go and feel a little adventurous as you do it.
To give my 2 cents and hopefully save yours, learning some camping skills will really save you money and give you some incredible experiences. If you’re not going anywhere too remote or dangerous, learning to camp doesn’t have to be a huge learning curve or as big of an investment as you might think. While a bit more investment is probably good, I’ve had very comfortable nights in a two-person, $14 K-Mart tent, with a blanket and pillow as my only other camping equipment. Australia has a seriously huge network of camping sites, many of which are free or only cost a small booking fee. Downloading an app such as WikiCamps will mean you’re never too far from somewhere to pitch your tent for the night.
Halfway between a safety tip and a money saving tip, is to know when and where it is and isn’t illegal to sleep in your car. While whether it’s legal or not, most people probably aren’t too keen on spending the night in their car, it can be a good option if you’re too tired to continue to drive safely, or have no other to crash for the night. However, if you end up getting fined then that’s obviously not going to save you a lot of money. Sleeping in your car is illegal in Queensland, but legal in all other states.
However, laws vary slightly from state to state so check up on that beforehand. For example, in NSW it still has to be a legal parking space or it will be illegal, or in Victoria, laws can vary council by council. Sleeping in your car is far from ideal but it’s good to be prepared for the scenario.
Airbnb and Couchsurfing are also great apps to have downloaded and are a good buffer if you’re not quite after a hotel, but also not exactly looking to start pitching your tent or jetting off in a motorhome either.
Check up on your car beforehand
If your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, you’re leaving yourself completely as the mercy of the mechanics. If you’re in a town with only one or two mechanics there’s not much you’re going to be able to do other than fork over whatever they ask for, not to mention the delayed time in your trip. You really just want to do anything you can to avoid something bad happening to your car, get a solid and reliable check up before you drive anywhere. Make sure you know how to change a tyre, check air pressure and oil levels and be vigilant towards any funny noises your car makes.
Don’t get lost
In the age of smartphones you would think it’s hard to get lost. But a couple wrong turns into a no reception area and it can happen quite quickly. Pre-planning your driving routes will reduce your chance of getting lost as well as save on gas. Downloading offline maps of the areas you’re going to will also help if you veer in the direction. Even an old fashioned mapbook is a good back up for the nightmare scenario of being on a dark road, with no phone charge.
There are plenty of destinations and experiences around Australia that are worth a bit of investment, but so many of the absolute best things to do are completely free. While particularly big cities will often have free galleries and events, a real treasure of Australia is its national parks. No one is charging you to submerge yourself in a waterfall, relax amongst grazing kangaroos and hike to the top of mountains. The more you spend out of cities and in the national parks, the more money you’ll save and the more adventures you’ll savour.
Don’t rule out flying
Domestic flying in Australia is extremely reasonable. Depending on how far you’re going, you might actually be spending more on gas and accommodation than you would be on flying closer to your end destination, then renting a car. Keep an eye on flights, skyscanner.com.au is your best bet for finding the cheapest available, and if you want to head to an opposite corner of the country, consider flying there and then beginning your road trip.