If you can’t yet afford a caravan, there’s no reason you can’t travel far and wide. In part one we look at pre-caravan type travel and in part two saving for the big rig and maybe the big lap
We have all been there. Pulled up at a set of traffic lights in the old family faithful, the air conditioner on the blink as the blistering Australian summer sun peels the paint from the roof and turns the road into the le Brea tar pits. You wipe the sweat from your brow and glance into the side mirror as it appears … the ultimate set-up.
Cruising into the lights like the Fairstar Princess into Sydney harbour, almost as big and decked out with more mod cons. Bright as the Arctic snow at midday and more refreshing. The driver of the 200 Series has hair driven back by the gale-force air conditioning of the state-of-the-art cab, teeth so bright it hurts you to look at them. And why wouldn’t they be smiling? Driving $100,000+ worth of car and towing a $120,0000 van. It’s like they have your whole house on the back. Your partner puts a hand on your arm, smiles and says ‘one day.’ Maybe they’re right. Maybe one day you will take out the Powerball, pack it all in and cruise into the sunset with your world-class set-up and never look back.
Otherwise, there doesn’t seem much chance, does there? What else could you do? Sell your house, cash in and go? But what happens when that 12 months on the road is finished, and the family wants to go home? Hardly the problem you’ll face, as it is unlikely after a year on the road around the best country on earth that you’d ever want to face the old boss again.
Then the barking starts. It’s not Bruce the staffy. You left him at home wading into the half seashell pool to beat the heat. No, it’s the little Australian mongrel that reminds you where there is the will there will be a way. Your statements become questions. Instead of telling yourself you can’t make that trip, you start asking ‘why not?’ What is it that’s really holding you back? Can we make it work on a small budget? Would we be better off?
Those questions are the key lines of enquiry that start you on your homework, planning and number crunching, all necessary elements for any successful venture. The best place to start is to read on and make use of the fact someone has started that homework for you and is happy to share the answers — someone who hopes to show you that at times limited-budget travel is not only acceptable but even preferable.
ALTERNATIVES TO THE FAIRSTAR PRINCESS
Few people would turn down the dream set-up we described. But there are more than enough suitable alternatives. For example, an 80 Series LandCruiser, at a more than affordable aftermarket price of $13,000 is perfectly adequate for getting you across the country and back safely. It has stood the test of time and served many on the infamous travels of the Cape and the Gibb.
For those on an entry-level budget, and we are talking about those with just under $10,000 to spend, the set-up should be focused on a delivery-type van or 4X4 with roof-top tent. You can equip yourself with a full camping set-up, including fridge, for little more than $2000. Sure, you will be without the creature comforts, but isn’t that what hitting the open road was originally about?
There is something to be said for the intrepid traveller prepared to get back to where it all began. Isolation. A blanket of stars. The crackle of the dying embers of the fire and the sigh of the night breeze a welcome change to the white noise of television and the hum of the oversize fridge and freezer of the van.
For those with a little more to spend, upgrade to a used camper-trailer. It affords a few more creature comforts like a kitchen and inner-spring mattress, without the price line associated with the big-ticket items. It’s the happy medium for those not wanting to step back to the good old days of outback camping, and those unable to afford the equivalent of a first-class stay. It can be ideal, particularly for the family man who has to consider his partner and perhaps children, who may need a little more in the way of comfort.
LET’S LOOK AT SOME NUMBERS
Additional benefits of taking the more affordable option include saving money twice. The first expense comes with the purchase of your big-ticket items. The 200 Series and the 24-foot van is going to cost anywhere from $150-220,000, and the second cost comes with the depreciation of said expenses. Towing that van for 40,000km, the wear and tear you add to the new 4X4, alongside automatic depreciation as you drive them off the lot, is going to set you back pretty heavily. Even with good resale and recouping of initial expenditure you’re still going to find yourself in the hole some 20-40 grand. That’s up to double, or more, than what the cheaper alternative will cost for the outlay.
Towing those awesome new vans will also hit the hip pocket during the trip. A powerful towing vehicle and a significantly heavy load are going to guzzle 22-28 litres per 100km. On top of that you have the service and maintenance costs to consider. In comparison, the camper-trailer set-up will only add around 5L/100km, and the 80 Series or GU/GQ models of Patrol were built to last.
Routine wear and tear in such cars are unavoidable, but you’ll find that the frequency and severity of problems will be less with a model that was run off the factory line when the reliability of the truck was the driving force behind a name-brand price. Once you head into more remote areas, you’ll see plenty of these vehicles alongside you on your travels which means parts, should you require them, are never too far away.
Another major benefit of sticking with the base model set-up is accessibility, on two fronts. The first is city access. Having a huge van is appealing on a wide country road and an easily accessible site, but passing through any major city becomes a living nightmare. The rat race of the narrow lanes and aggressive drivers is enough to turn you off any attempt at a city sojourn. Shopping centre car parks are becoming increasingly more oriented toward small SUVs and Teslas, ill-equipped to deal with a large wagon, let alone the dimensions of the van in tow. The camper set-up negates this. You’ll have as easy a time pulling into Cairns Woolworths as you will powering up the Peninsula Development Road.
And therein lies the next front of smaller set-ups and the benefits they exude; remote site travel and access.
WHEN THE GOING GETS TOO TOUGH
Creature comforts have their place, but the Kulumburu Road and Mitchell Falls camp are not necessarily some of them. Nor are the Victorian High-Country sites. All are remote and only practically accessible by 4X4. And like most things in life, the more difficult they are to attain the greater reward at the end. Chambers Pillar is nestled in a landscape that epitomises the word isolation that stands now as a link between the modern world and cultures past, rich in history and heritage. Just you, the great outdoors and the elements.
But there are times when the elements, may indeed, prove more troublesome then enticing. Anyone stuck in the vicious tempest descending upon Wilsons Prom, the blistering heat of the Litchfield National Park, or the driving winds of a north Queensland cyclone can attest to the benefits of a sound roof overhead. Mother nature can threaten to turn your vehicle, and your plans, quickly on their head. At times like these a more comfortable lodging is not only desirable, but necessary for your safety and, more importantly, your families. The solution is as simple as it is ideal: Stop off.
With the budget set-up you are already hundreds or thousands of dollars in front. Those hard-earned savings can now be put to use by temporarily upgrading to a comfort style stay when necessary. Lock up the car and move the family inside a cabin. A quick scout of sites providing power and non-peak cabin stays will bring the pleasant surprise of a comparative rate. So, when the elements turn against you, treat yourself and the family to more luxurious lodgings, and when mother nature brightens her disposition you will return to the road safe, well fed and well rested.
So, what do we learn? A very simple lesson. That this great nation of ours is accessible to all those who are willing to give it a go. Endless budgets and expensive set-ups have their benefits and appeals; they are in reality unnecessary for everyone. Don’t let the small budget you have dissuade you from the trek. So, when the million-watt man smiles at you at the lights, smile back. You will no doubt be pulling up alongside him at a whole heap of places across the country, and leaving him in your dust for others he may never get to see.
See part two here: