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Tips for Driving a Campervan in Australia

With its vast coastlines, unique scenery, and immense distances between cities, Australia is an ideal place to explore in an RV or campervan. Both tourists and Aussies alike can be found on the road enjoying what can easily be one of the best ways to see the country. With plenty of rental companies to choose from and an effort by the country to facilitate life on the road, travelers will find it rather easy to discover the joys of RV-ing. However, as with any mode of travel, there are ways to save money and avoid hassles while traveling in a camper, and we thought we’d share with you some of the tips for campervaning in Australia we learned from our experience.

1. Look into the “relocation rental” option

Renting a campervan in Australia for an extended period of time can be quite expensive once you tally up the daily rental fees, insurance, gas, campsite fees etc. One way that you can help ebb the free flow of funds out of your account is to look into relocation rentals. We wrote two posts highlighting what a relocation rental is and how they work plus a follow up post about what our experience was like and how much we actually saved. Make sure to read both posts to find out if this is the right fit for you and your travel style.

2. Grocery shop strategically to save money on gas

Fueling up your campervan can be one of your most costly daily expenses while driving around in Oz. One of the ways you can save a few bucks is to shop at grocery stores that offer gas discounts if you purchase $30 or more of product. The discount usually is about 4 cents/litre (for the entirety of your fill-up). All you have to do is save your receipt from your grocery shopping and then hand it in at the associated gas station when you go to pay for your fuel. If you shop at Woolworths, your fuel discount will be for any Woolworth’s gas station. If you shop at Coles, you can use your discount at Shell gas stations. The best way to maximize your savings is to fill up as much gas as possible when using your fuel discount. So while I’m not advocating running the camper on fumes to try and get it as empty as possible, I would try to time your fuel up for when you can get the most in the tank, and the most off your bill.

3. Getting rid of your waste

The national dump sign, indicating you can dump your campervan water and septic waste here.

So other than standard garbage around the camper, you will need to be on top of getting rid of your waste water and septic waste (if you have a toilet in your campervan). Getting rid of the waste (gray) water isn’t so difficult. Most gas stations have a tap for filling your water tank, and also a drainage system where you can dispose of your gray water. It is very poor form (and an offence) to dump your gray water in public, so please don’t think that “ooh, it’s just a bit of dirty water”.

The septic waste is a little more difficult. There are very few free septic disposal sites in Australia, so you are looking at one of two options. The first is paying for a powered site at a campervan park (which almost always includes septic disposal systems), or emptying your septic trap into a toilet with flowing water. While this second option is free, it is very important that you only use toilets that are hooked up to the sewage system. Many public bathrooms in remote areas use septic tanks, so you can’t dump there. Also… don’t make a mess.

4. Use public bathrooms

If you have a camper with a bathroom, consider using it only as a last resort. Even if you use the chemicals that help control the smell, it doesn’t fully do the job. Let’s face it, fecal matter and urine stink, so try not to drive around with that stuff festering in your camper septic tank if you can avoid it.

5. Alternate between rest stops and pay sites

A road sign indicating the next 3 rest stops along the route.

Traveling on a tight budget while driving a campervan means you will often be taking advantage of Australia’s numerous rest stops and free camper sites. While this will definitely help you save money each night, it is recommended that you shell out some cash once in a while and stay at a pay (powered) site as a breather for both yourself and your ride. Pay sites have nice bathrooms and showers, most have laundry facilities, and a much higher level of security than just parking out in the open. The other major benefit is that you can plug in your camper to help fully recharge the camper’s battery, which runs your fridge, cabin lights, and water pump. Sure, the battery does get charged while you drive, but it only gets fully charged when it is plugged in. Most campervan companies recommend charging your battery at a pay site every other night, though Arienne and I paid every three nights and didn’t have any issues. I’ll tell you though, staying in the paid site was always a much better sleep than staying out on the road.

6. Ask about pre-paying for your propane tank

Almost all campervans come with a gas burner that runs off a propane tank. At the end of your trip, the propane tank must be full or else you face a heavy refilling-fee that is absolutely something you want to avoid. Unfortunately, the tank provided cannot be swapped with a full one, meaning you cannot take advantage of the numerous ‘swap-and-go’ propane tank services offered at most convenience stores. This means you must drive around to find a propane fueling station (not LPG) with someone willing to fill the tank for you. This sounds easy, but for Arienne and I, it proved to be rather difficult.

Propane tank fueling stations are a lot harder to find these days in light of the ease of ‘swap-and-go’s’, so we ended up spending almost an hour driving around on our final day trying to find a place that could fill the tank. To save this inconvenience, and the extra cost of the gas used while driving around, ask the representative when you pick up your campervan if they have a pre-pay propane option. Yes, you will pay a little bit more than you would at the pump but you will save yourself both time and money (gas) instead of doing it yourself.

7. Understand the road tolling systems

When driving through most of the larger cities in Australia, you will undoubtedly end up driving on a toll road, one that you must pay to drive on. Sometimes you can detour around these routes, but more often than not, you just won’t be able to avoid it. Understanding how the road tolling system works before you set out on your journey will save you a lot of hassles and head scratches.

No two states in Australia have the same toll road systems (I know…why can’t it all be streamlined?!) and none of them are a pay-on-the-spot toll road. This means that you will either have to set up your payment before or within three days after you use the toll road. Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria all have websites that detail how their systems work along with a section where you can set up a toll pass or pay for a toll road that you’ve used.

It’s recommended to set up a toll pass before you use the road, that way you won’t forget about it afterwards and face extra fees. Toll passes can be set up between 2-7 days in advance of your travel dates (depending on the state) and can be left open for a period of 30 days, giving you the flexibility of when you can use that toll road. Before you purchase a toll pass make sure you have the following information: vehicle registration number (ie: the license plate), state in which the vehicle is registered in, and the dates you want the vehicle to be covered for.

Campervan-ing in Australia can be very enjoyable and stress-free. Understanding and knowing these tips will help ensure that you will get the most out of your experience while saving some time and money in the process.

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