Family touring on a budget

By: Claudia Bouma, Photography by: Chris Bouma

Want to go round Oz but aren’t swimming in cash? These 10 tips from a family on the road will help.

Family touring on a budget
Family touring on a budget is possible...

The dream of travelling around Australia can seem out of reach for a lot of people, whether you are a low-income family or a pensioner. Let me encourage you, it is actually possible to travel this amazing country without breaking the budget. Having done the Big Lap twice with three children under five, we have learned a secret or two. Consider these tips a starting point for reasonably-priced travel. Remember the more homework you do before you leave, the less surprises, and unexpected costs, will crop up on your trip.

You can save money before you've even hit the road by realising that a bigger rig is not always better. Some travellers will spend exorbitant amounts on new campers, but it is more important to buy a rig that suits your needs - it doesn't have to be huge and it certainly doesn't have to be new.

During our Aussie trip I gave my husband Chris a hard time for spending so much time checking over the car: oil, batteries, tyre pressure, you name it. However, after meeting too many people who broke down on the side of the road or worse, in the middle of nowhere, I changed my tune. You'll save money in the long run if you service your car when it is due. If you suspect something is wrong, get it looked at. Detailed knowledge of your car is essential to pick up on signs of trouble.

Each state has a different system regarding entry fees to national parks. In most cases you'll save yourself quite a bit of money by purchasing a multiple parks pass instead of paying individual entry fees. Most passes can be bought online. For example, entry to a NSW national park will cost you $7 per day, whereas a multi-park pass, which is valid for 12 months, costs $65.

Some people prefer to be spontaneous in their travels and that's fine. However, you run the risk of arriving at a popular campsite or caravan park and being disappointed. Some caravan parks are part of a nationwide chain and it works out cheaper in the long run to become a member. Other places will give you one night for free if you stay for a week.

As some parks continue to increase their fees, it pays to be more self-sufficient. Limit the number of powered appliances you take and make sure you have a decent water tank. You might have to rough it but you'll get to see beautiful bush camps all around Australia. Bush camps don't break the budget and the experience is a little closer to the real deal.

Invest in good quality tyres now and save later. We met truckloads of people who had multiple flats because their tyres were cheap and old, or poorly matched to their tow vehicle. Also, lower tyre pressures according to driving conditions (we never had a flat tyre during two years of travelling on mainly dirt roads). Prevention is always cheaper than the cure.

It is worth investing in camping books such as Camps Australia Wide. Someone else has done all the hard work for you by tracking down the cheap and free sites. Also check out camping forums online for advice from other travellers about the best places to stay. Call ahead to confirm prices, as they can vary from season to season and you don't want to be surprised on your arrival.

Word of mouth is often the best way to find out about the cheapest, best and most beautiful campsites. Take the time to talk to your neighbour and share information. Also, remember to pop into the local visitor information centre, where you can pick up brochures about things to see and do in the area, and get some good info from a local.

Pack a comprehensive toolkit and ensure you take spare parts that suit your vehicle and camper trailer, such as hoses and wheel bearings. The more vehicle maintenance jobs you can do yourself (such as changing the oil and filters), the more you will save.

Drive slowly and according to the road conditions. Most damage to vehicles can be attributed to driving too fast. Not only will you save money on fuel but you will avoid shredding tyres on uneven cattle grids, and busted suspension on unforeseen washouts

We all like to save money, but remember the best things in life are free: a breathtaking sunset, roaring campfire and good company.

Source: Camper Trailer Australia #49