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Cruising round Australia in a campervan for a couple of weeks is massive fun and enables you to visit more places, stay longer and spend less money than if you were just trying to hostel hop from place to place. Not every place you’ll want to visit has a hostel close by. I say close by, more like within 200 miles. But what happens if a couple of weeks just isn’t long enough for you? Well you could always take the plunge, buy your own home on wheels and hit the road for a year of two, finding work as you go. This brings the question, how to live in a campervan full time!?
After spending a fair chunk (8 months to be exact) of my Australia trip living in a campervan full time, I can assure you there are plenty of highs and lows to living like this. It’s not as easy as you may think, so let’s delve into what it’s all about.
To live, or not to live in a campervan?
There’s no clean cut answer to this one, ask your self these questions:
Well, how much do you love the open road? How much do you love waking up each and every morning to a different view?
How much do you hate not being able to just turn a tap on and know the water will keep coming? How annoyed do you get when you’re trying to cook your dinner and the lights go out?
- The whole continent is your garden – In Australia, as long as your out of the main cities and towns, you’ll have no worries over finding somewhere to camp, “rest stops/free campsites” are everywhere. Numerous times I found secluded spots along a river with no one around for miles, my own private beaches and some truly spectacular views just by exploring.
- Finding work – I found that many jobs outside of the cities were advertised as “own accommodation needed”, no campervan or tent = no job! More chance of getting these jobs as there’s less competition.
- Cheaper than hostels – Average price of a night in a hostel being in the region of $30-40 a night, costs nothing in your own ‘van. (Spend $6000 on a van, if there’s two of you then you’ll break even in less than 4 months)
- Hold their price well – Odds are if you spend that $6000 on a van and keep up with maintenance, you’ll be able to sell it after a year for $5000+
- Better than a tent – They offer a little more insulation and sound proofing that a tent. Also, with all them snakes and spiders lurking around on the floor, it might only be a foot but if it keeps you from waking up with a huntsman on your face, trust me it’s worth it.
- Less time working – If there’s two of you, you’ll be looking at $500 a week in accommodation alone. $500 in a campervan exploring the outback is easy 1000kms and 2-3 weeks to do it.
- Big initial layout – $6000 is probably a big chunk of your budget and it will take a while to break even.
- Breakdowns – In all fairness these old vans have very basic engines and very little to go wrong with them but breakdowns will happen. Pray to god your not completely of the beaten track or you could be in trouble.
- They’re slow – One of the campervans I had, “muffy crosswire” was abysmally slow! If you’re planning a road trip around the southeast coast, be warned, there are some pretty steep mountain roads! In Australia on the steepest of hills they have what’s called a crawler lane on the left, designed for the road-trains to crawl slowly up the mountain roads. Yes we were hogging them, road trains overtaking on the right. I looked into why “muffy” was so slow, turns out when she was new she had 69BHP from the 2 liter petrol engine, add to that, 23 years, 430,000kms and roughly a tonne of gear in the back…. You get the picture!
- Not the best on fuel – Compared to small car, you’ll be talking twice the fuel consumption. “Muffy” was averaging roughly 16l/100kms.
- Useless off-road – Don’t even think about trying to go up that dirt track! Hit any sand and it’s game over.
What type of camper to buy?
The majority of “cheap” backpacker campervans fall into two categories:
- The small wheelbase two seater, equiped a mattress in the back. Storage underneath.
On the cheaper end of the scale at around $3-4k. These vans are all good if you have other accommodation and are just using it for standard commuting and the odd road trip here and there. My first campervan was one of these, I travelled in it for a month and then the fact of not being able to sit up because the permanent bed in the back was too close to the roof got to me. As well as having to unpack half of the van and make a wind break with it’s contents so I could keep my crappy camping stove flame from blowing out every time I wanted to cook so much as a pack of bloody noodles. Try that in the rain!!!
2. The long wheelbase two-four seater with a poptop roof, fridge, microwave, sink and a proper two ring stove etc…
I’m saying already, from the sentence above you can tell that I learnt my lesson from my first ‘van to buying my second. This is the more expensive $6000 beast! Well, in my case $4300 because is was originally white but had been sprayed blue with a $5 dollar “rattle can”…. Shocking paintwork!!
The paintwork aside, it had it all!
- Full kitchen.
- Sink (20 litre water tank).
- Two ring gas stove with grill (central heating in winter).
- Microwave (Found out when I ran out of gas half through cooking dinner that it was just the light that worked, it didn’t actually cook anything).
- Fridge (wouldn’t work on gas and emptied the leisure battery in a few hours on 12v).
- 1000w inverter.
- Curtains all around.
- Cupboards for storage
- Bed that folded away into an “L” shaped couch.
- Leisure battery
- The most important: Poptop roof – Being able to stand up inside is the most important thing of all. Being able to cook when it’s windy or raining is a must if you want to live full time in a campervan.
So yeah, having the right campervan is a massive part of how to live in a campervan full time. To live like this for any reasonable amount of time without hating every single minute of it, you MUST be self-contained!!
Living on the road, at some point pretty soon you’ll need to find work. Imagine finishing a 10-hour day on the farm and then not being able to cook because it’s too windy and having no where to sit down inside apart from the driver or passenger seat. I’ll give ya 2 months before you find yourself in a hostel again.
Surviving day to day
Surviving day to day you need to know how to live in a campervan. It requires more planning than you may think. Here’s a few of the daily chores to need to be organised with/think about:
Water: The bain of any full-timers life. As stated earlier, my second campervan had a 20 liter tank, this lasted, if frugal 1 day for two people. I carried an extra to 10 liter tanks (anymore and your already slow van… Just get out and walk). So every two days I needed to go collect more water, nightmare!! Finding a water source can be tricky, petrol stations tend to be away from where you’ll be allowed to camp and half the time it’s not drinking water. You can always buy water in 10 liter bottles but that just adds another cost.
Doing your washing: Well, another drain on your water resources if you decide to do it by hand.
Showering: Again, another drain on your water resources. Buy a solar shower, basically a black plastic bag that holds 10 liters of water with a little tap on it. Fill it up, hide it out in the bush near where your camping in full sunshine and 5-6 hours later a free hot shower. If it’s a cloudy or cooler winters day then don’t expect miracles but on a 35c summers day it’ll be like a bag full of lava. You can also buy a pop-up shower cubicle, pretty handy!
Stocking up on food: If your going out of town for a few days, stock up on food. Saves a trip back to town everyday… Gets expensive on fuel if you do it too often.
Finding phone signal: Countless times I found the perfect free campsite, toilets, drinking water, free BBQs, riverbank, quite, shade trees… What else can you need?? NO PHONE SIGNAL!!!!!
Toilets: Only two solutions to this one, either find the free campsite that have toilets. Or go proper outback and take a shovel 😉 Just watch out for them snakes!
A few tips….
- Talk to the “Grey Nomads” – The term “Grey Nomad” refers the older generation of traveller, mainly retired people, of which many have sold their houses in exchange for a luxury motor home or caravan and now live a nomadic live on the road, slowly pottering around Australia, experiencing everything it has to offer (living the dream I say). The reason I say speak to the Grey Nomads is the fact that they are very friendly, have lots of time to talk and have spent years roaming Australia. They know all the best places to see, best free campsites and you just never know where you might get your next job lead from. If anyone knows how to live in a campervan, it’s these guys!
- Put your inverter somewhere accessible – Is this just a personal preference? I don’t know but what I do know is if you make the same school boy error as I did you’ll regret it!! When an inverter senses your leisure battery is running low it will emit a high-pitched scream to let you know to turn it off and save damaging the battery. Try this in the dead of night, when it’s black as a bag and it’s in the storage box under your bed!!
- Get a good map – One of the things I should have done earlier is mark everything on a map. Find a rest stop with good facilities, don’t just think “I’m passing I’ll never be back around here again”, mark it on the map! Find a source of water? Mark it on the map! It’s surprising if you’re travelling around for work how many times you could be on roads you’ve already been. Also, when it comes to selling your ‘van, I know myself that a campervan with marked up maps and a diary of places to find work beats a ‘van without any day of the week.
Living in a campervan 24/7 can be pretty hard but get a few of the basics down and it can be the most freedom you’ve ever felt in your life.
Well that’s about it! I’m in no doubt there’s more to know about living in a ‘van full time but that’s my guide on how to live in a campervan!
For anyone who has/does live in a campervan please, I beg you to fill that comments box. I have some of my best memories from “muffy crosswire” (yeh, it’s mandatory to give your van a crap name) I’d love to hear yours…