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Home > Tips and Hints > Keeping costs down

Keeping costs down:  Hints for budget touring

Index
Money saving tips - overview
Driving
Entrance fees, flights and cruises
Free and low cost camping

Caravan park chains that offer discounts

Food and drinks
Discounts
Saving on telephone costs
Insurances

Most people need to know how much it is going to cost them when planning a trip around or within Australia.  The answer is really as much or as little as you want to spend. 

 

Some people travel long distances almost every day and at speeds that will burn fuel faster than just ambling along.  Others may travel on average only a few hundred kilometres a week, spending time at nice locations such as alongside a lake or beach. 

 

You can take expensive cruises and flights, or just select a few of the lower costs options. 

 

When camping, you have your accommodation with you, but camp site fees can vary from nothing for bush camping to over $50 per night in if you choose caravan parks in popular areas at peak season.  If you have a canvas camper or tent that does not make life easy in the rain, you may choose a cabin when the weather is wet.    

 

Food and drinks will depend on your choices and whether you eat out a lot, or always cook for yourself, and the price of the foods and drinks you choose. 

 

If your rig is your sole home, you will be probably be in front on living costs, whereas for those who are maintaining a home and a rig will have additional costs at home. 

 

See also keeping it simple for ideas on setting up a rig without spending a fortune.  

 

Money saving tips - overview
Driving

Fuel is probably the biggest budget item, and prices increase when you go into rural and outback areas.  If towing, watch the revs and find the optimum economical speed for your car. Probably around 85 - 90 kilometres per hour would be a good speed, and this gives everyone a chance to look at things as you pass them. If you are travelling with young children and want to get them spotting wildlife, it would be hard at 110 kilometres per hour but easy at 85 kilometres per hour.  Carrying a lot of extra fuel to save buying in the most expensive places can be counter productive as extra weight will add to your fuel consumption, and doesn't help the business working with low customer numbers make a living to be able to provide fuel for those in need.  When costing a long trip around Australia, the price of fuel at a few outback places will not make a huge difference in the end. 

 

Plan a shorter overall trip and travel less in a day rather than driving and covering long distances in your given space of time. This will be more enjoyable and relaxing as well as saving on running costs.  The saving will be around twice the fuel saving when you consider maintenance, including tyres and wear and tear.  Keep maintenance up to date and check rig over, especially after corrugated roads. 

 

Travel as light as you can; extra weight means more fuel used.  See here for weight reduction tips.

 

You should always have enough money set aside for emergency repairs in case of a major breakdown, such as a motor or gearbox, and bear mind that costs away from cities may be much higher than you expect.

 

Entrance fees, flights and cruises

Sometimes boats or kayaks can be hired at gorges where boat tours operate.  Considering the cost, we have found that taking the cruise, which may have refreshments or a meal included, can work out better value than hiring and going alone, aside from the information given and special spots pointed out by the tour operator. 

 

We do not visit every museum, gallery or cave, but see a selection of different ones.  We have not taken overnight or longer cruises, but have taken short boat trips along various gorges and rivers or to go fishing.  We have not taken long flights, but a short helicopter flight adds a whole new dimension to the place you have just walked (eg Mitchell Falls and Purnululu in the Western Australian Kimberley region) and are not expensive on the scale of costs for the whole holiday.    

Free and low cost camping

We bush or free camp as often as we can. This is a holiday choice. If we wanted to stay in towns, it would be cheaper to go to motels than to have purchased our rig. You get a feel for finding good spots, and bookssuch as Camps Australia Wide, or websites and Apps such as listed helps if you are stuck for somewhere to stop overnight, or if you want a nice place to stay for a while.

 

If you are looking for a quiet place to spend the night, watch for disused gravel pits and road works dumps.  These are usually tucked away in the bush, flat and clean, but in Western Australia, Mains Roads have a tendency to block off the access to these and to old roads.  Other places include tracks following along water courses and old roads that deviate far enough from the road fro privacy and quiet.  When on a minor road, traffic stops at night so you don’t have to go far.  Along disused railway lines, old siding sites are usually easily accessible and a bit away from the road with a large flat open area.  Bearing in mind that you are generally not permitted to camp in parks such as national parks and conservation parks unless in designated camp sites, other undeveloped land can have tracks entering the bush, and so long as it is not on private property and you leave no trace, stopping overnight should be acceptable.  Of course do not camp on private property without permission from the owners. When on stations where the roadside is not fenced, it is permissible to leave the road to within 30 metres of road centre; that being the road reserve.  Always respect no camping signage and leave nothing but your tyre and footprints.  If uncertain where the track leads and in case turning around is difficult, I walk and check the track out before we turn in.  A hand held two way makes reporting back to the driver with an “OK” or “no way” quicker and easier.  Ideally, we like to get out of sight and sound of the traffic, but this is not always possible.  Do not stay in a rest area designated for trucks.  They need the room for their required rest stops, and it would be noisy anyway. 

 

When not in a rush, we start looking for a nice spot soon after lunch, or even stay at our lunch spot if it is too nice to leave so soon, which can be a feeling as much as a good view. We get less selective as the afternoon goes on.  If it gets dark and we haven’t found a spot, when it becomes impossible to see opportunities such as tracks leading in to the bush in time, we pull off and stay alongside the road.  We do not travel at night in much of Australia due to the danger of hitting kangaroos, cattle, camels or other animals. 

 

When bush camping, even if you don't have a bathroom in your caravan, everyone can get fresh and clean each day with a tub of water and a flannel. If you have a shower and HWS, you can save by not showering every night.  A wash with water warmed from a boiling kettle will save water and gas.  When you are visiting towns or major attractions, it is usually false economy to drive many kilometres out to a free camp each day rather than staying right there on the spot.

 

I you want a mix of bush and caravan park camping to save money, try and camp overnight around 20-50 kilometres from the town you want to tour.  This will minimise time spent in the caravan park in town, eg get four almost full days sightseeing out of two nights in a caravan park. 

 

Look for showers and laundromats in towns and at some larger service stations, particularly those that cater for truckies.  It will usually cost a few dollars, but less than an overnight fee at a caravan park, where you usually still pay the same for the laundry.  See our developing lists of places with showers and coin laundries.

 

If weather is fine, don’t use the laundromat dryers.  Hang your washing out discreetly when you stop.  A lot of washing can fit on a fold-up clothes airer, and this can be moved around to follow the sun, without looking unsightly like a line of clothes strung out amongst the trees.  See simple clothes drying.  We were caught with a huge load of wet washing when it started to rain.  We were in a Caravan Park with power and I had a small electric fan heater.  With all the washing piled onto the clothes airer, I squeezed it into the shower recess and propped the door open a little with the heater.  It proved a very effective drying cabinet.  Not only was it cheaper than using the dryers as we had already paid for a powered site, but it saved trips across to the laundry in the rain. 

 

Save money by staying a while in places where camping is free or very low cost rather than spending that amount of time in an expensive resort caravan park. Some towns provide serviced camp grounds free or low cost to encourage visitors to their towns which may be in rural areas where the economy has suffered.  Reward these towns by doing your shopping there, and talk to the locals to gain a whole new dimension about life in that region. 

 

There are many towns and regions where free or low costs options are available.  Some of these can be found at Free and low cost camping with the best of the ones we have visited at Free camping and low cost camping places we have enjoyed , and there are numerous publications such as Camps Australia Wide with free and low cost camp sitesCheck out the CMCA (Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia) RV Friendly Towns on line at CMCA RVFT.  These towns provide free or low cost camping opportunities, and do so because they want to encourage visitors to come and stay.  For links to roadside rest areas state by state. 

 

Of course always leave your campsite clean, as some people doing the wrong things are causing some Shires to close down free camping opportunities.  I have not used this iPhone and iPad app SnapSendSolve for reporting those doing the wrong thing, but by reporting them to the relevent authority be any means you will be helping to keep the great Australian dream of responsible free camping.

 

Caravan park chains that offer discounts

Many travellers who frequent caravan parks get considerable savings from their membership of one or two chains.  There are quite a few different caravan parks chains or groups.  However if you join one, you may find they are not in the towns you are visiting. Research this carefully according to your travel plans.  To find where parks belong to each chain are, see My Parks List Groups

 

Big 4  Membership gives discounts to Big 4 caravan parks and a number of other tourist attractions

Top Tourist   Top Tourist Parks are rebranding to reflect three different levels of facilities; See Top Parks

Family Parks   Family parks membership also gains discounts at selected local businesses; check website

Kui Parks  Kui Parks is a new group which commenced July 2014 and has an introductory offer of $24 for two years.  This enables a 10% discount with a ceiling of $30 per stay.  See Kui Parks list of members.  Parks are mostly 'no frills' parks. 

  

We have never considered paying membership of a caravan park chain or group as we go to caravan parks only occasionally and usually to parks in rural towns or to lower cost ones which usually aren't part of a chain or group. Low cost caravan parks are listed in Camps Australia Wide publications. The best three caravan parks we stayed at in 2009 were at the low prices of $22 and $23 per night for two powered. They were very good caravan parks at any price and were not members of any chain or group.   

 

The following extract is from: Tourism Western Australia and Tourism Research

Australia (2007). Understanding the Caravan Park Industry in WA, Tourism Western

Australia,Perth

  

Caravan parks that were members of a caravan park chain and/or the CIA were more likely to have a higher pricing structure than those which were not members i.e.:

- more likely to charge more per night across all accommodation types

- more likely to charge for an additional adult / child

It is suggested that the higher pricing structure is because of the additional facilities that caravan parks which are members of a caravan park chain and/or the CIA typically provide. It was also mentioned in the qualitative research that caravan parks that are members of a chain are committed to providing a discount on the standard cost of accommodation to members which may raise the standard price (to non members) to cover the discount.

 

Aspen Parks is a private company with caravan parks across Australia mostly in popular holiday areas; some of which are Big 4 group parks.  Aspen Parks does not offer membership, however all visitors to their parks are given a lifetime 10% discount voucher to use at all their parks on future visits (conditions apply).  They also offer a discount for Senior's Card holders in certain circumstances.

 

Discovery Holiday Parks are another parks ownership company which has parks in all states, including some which are part of the groups such as Big 4, Top Tourist and Family Parks.  There is no membership or discounts, but specials are advertised on the web site from time to time. 

 

Motoring organisations (clink to see state by state list) offer 25% discount at resorts owned by RACV, and this includes caravan park facilities at Cobram and Inverlock in Victoria.  RAC of WA offers their members discounts of 5% to 10% at a number of different accommodation options, including Aspen parks.  NRMA have a number of holiday parks in New South Wales and one on the Gold Coast in Queensland.  There are also some discounts and specials on motel and holiday resort accommodation with motoring organisation memberships in each state.  Check with yours on line.

 

Some caravan parks will give a discount to Senior’s or Pensioner Concession Card holders; it is worth asking if you have one of these cards. 

Food and drinks

Prepare and take your own food and drinks if you want to cut costs.  We eat basic simple meals when touring, and take lunch with us in the car most days. Food costs a bit more than at home, in part because of prices in outback areas, and partly because at home we can buy in bulk and store or freeze food.  Often when at a venue, you will be tempted to buy lunch from the alluring aromas coming from the cafeteria. Prices may be quite high in such places so it pays to be selective.  Alcoholic drinks can be costly and other travellers will share where the costs the best buys are found.  We choose to save the money for fuel in the tank to see more of Australia.  I enjoy a cup of tea when we set up camp more than I would an alcoholic or a sweet soft drink, and it can be made at only a few cents cost. 

 

If budget is tight, send only the most efficient and frugal shopper into the shop.  Without the children (or husband) asking for extras such as lollies, biscuits and soft drinks ‘because we are on holidays’ or any other reason, the shopping bill may well be smaller.   Most of us eat similar meals when travelling to what we eat at home, so your shopping patterns will be the same as when at home, but making further economies by purchasing best value rather than what you had planned for the menu means more money for fuel or entrance fees to attractions.  In areas where fruit and vegetables are grown, roadside fruit and vegetable stalls and weekend markets can also be good buying opportunities for fresh produce. 

 

Do you need to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables all the time?  When in some remote areas, vegetables have come quite some distance, and may be at a very high price for something that doesn’t look very fresh at all.  For times like these, dried, frozen (if you have freezer space) or canned fruit and vegetables can be the best value option.   When potatoes are in short supply, meals can be made using pasta or rice instead, or you can resort to canned or powdered potato. Remember when you will be crossing state and exclusion zone borders so you do not have to discard produce recently purchased (although you can cook and freeze produce before entering the exclusion zone). 

 

When travelling in the outback, bread can be expensive, and it is usually frozen and some days away from when it was baked.  In 2008 we were paying $5.50 for a loaf of sliced bread in some remote locations, when it was available.  For 50c worth of flour, a few cents worth of yeast, and a bit of time and gas, I can make a small loaf or six to eight fresh bread rolls (enough for lunch for two days for the two of us).  If you don’t have the time to wait for the dough to rise, a damper loaf made from self raising flour is acceptable for a change.  Wraps, mountain bread and similar have a long shelf life until opened.  

 

Fresh milk can also be very expensive in remote locations. We use UHT milk for our tea, coffee and breakfast cereal, and I use low fat milk powder in cooking such as in white sauce or custard. 

 

If you have room in your fridge and freezer, meat can be vacuum sealed for a longer refrigerator shelf life.  This can be done by many butcher’s shops or you can purchase a vacuum sealer such as Sunbeam, which seems to have a better record for longevity than the cheap brands.  You can then take advantage of supermarket specials.  If you have a good freezer, vacuum sealing is not necessary. 

Souvenirs and gifts
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Entrance fees, cruises etc can be high. However considering what it has cost you to get there, a shame not to spend a few more dollars to see or do what ever it is. Be selective. Check out the alternatives. Someone may be charging a fee to see something such as a wildlife event and you are paying for their talk and information. What is happening may well be able to be seen free nearby. Assess the value of the information to you and your family before deciding whether to pay or not. 

 

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National Park passes
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