For most families, time and money are major limitations when it comes to planning the annual touring pilgrimage, so it’s no surprise that when it comes to parting with the folding stuff we like to stretch it as far as possible. Here’s our tips on how to save coin so you can spend more time on the road.
HOW TO SAVE MONEY ON ACCOMMODATION
One of the best strategies for saving money is learning to be self-sufficient. Bush camping in areas such as national parks can save big bucks on caravan parks and provide a brilliant camping experience. The managers of national parks blend recreation with conservation, so you can enjoy the natural surroundings without the overcrowding associated with some commercial parks.
The guide Camps Australia Wide is a great resource for finding free and low-cost camping spots but our own free camping experiences have been mixed; some locations are overcrowded and ones without toilets can be littered, taking the shine off an otherwise magical location.
We prefer to stay in national parks with basic facilities and splash out on a weekly visit to a caravan park. The weekly visit ensures we enjoy a decent scrub, wash some clothes, fill the tanks and recharge the batteries, plus the kids can play with other kids for a day or two.
HOW SO SAVE MONEY ON FUEL
One of the greatest costs for any self-sufficient touring holiday is fuel, and driving style, speed, weight, tyre pressures and aerodynamics all play an incremental role.
Always buy fuel from big outlets with plenty of throughput as there is less chance of scoring a contaminated batch. We’ve saved quite a few dollars over the last few years using Woolies/Coles fuel discount vouchers. These outlets’ rewards programs provide members with additional fuel-saving opportunities from time to time in addition to the regular in-store offers. A $0.10/L discount on a 150L fill adds up to a $15 saving, but, better still, if you spend $5 or more at the cash register you may qualify for a further $0.04/L discount. On a 150L fill, that $5 outlay is more than compensated for by the additional discount of $6 and you’ve got the goodie bag for your efforts.
Handling diesel is one of my least favourite jobs, whether from the greasy pumps at the fuel stops or manhandling jerry cans to top up the tanks; even with gloves, the greasy film and stench seems to follow you like a new friend. A long-range tank provides an increased touring range and lessens the need for jerry cans. It’s an additional cost but, in my opinion, it’s money well spent.
HOW SO SAVE MONEY ON FOOD
Pre-planned meals are the best way of saving money on the road. Stock up in the major centres but be aware of fruit-fly exclusion zones that can quickly fleece your supplies of fresh fruit and vegies — particularly at state borders.
Some of our favourite meals have been enjoyed around the campfire. I remember a lamb roast we cooked in the camp oven over a bed of coals in the Wonnangatta Valley some years ago. The lamb was infused with garlic and anchovies and cooked over a bed of onions in a moat of port. Yum!
Vacuum-sealing meat and other produce can increase its shelf life dramatically; some manufacturers claim by up to five times. Systems suitable for camping are available from between $100 and $350.
There’s money to be saved by investing in a quality water filter, too. We’ve used B.E.S.T. water filters for the last few years to fill our tanks, which saves having to buy filtered water. Even when filtered, not all water is created equal but cordial goes a long way to complement (or mask) a ‘distinctive’ local flavour.
Now that I’ve pulled on my flak-jacket, I’ll also suggest rationing grog as a way to save money. Murphy’s Law says you will run out, and in our experience it has always been where it’s least convenient, costing us twice as much as we’d normally pay and rarely where we can purchase our favourite brand — at least on the beer frontier. Our personal experience is that good wine doesn’t travel too well and spirits seem to disappear at an alarming rate. Beer on the other hand is the undisputed champ, as you get sick of the taste well before you drink too much. It’s also the ultimate currency in a breakdown if you’re seeking assistance.
In readiness for the big trip, make sure your vehicle and trailer are fully serviced. Keep in mind that a standard car service maintains a vehicle’s components at set intervals, so not all items are checked at every service. A heavily laden vehicle towing a camper trailer is likely to operate under duress for much of the trip, so the replacement of all fluids and filters is recommended as a good starting point. You should also have all major components inspected — the cooling system, electrics, wheel bearings, suspension and brakes. For trips off the bitumen, tyres should be a light truck (LT) construction with plenty of tread. The lower the tread, the more the carcass is exposed to punctures. If you are not particularly handy with the spanners, discuss the trip with your mechanic to ensure your vehicle and camper is appropriately prepared. Sometimes you need to spend money to save money.
Check your vehicle roadside assistance subscription is current before you leave. Services such as Total Care by the RAC groups provide emergency accommodation, towing and car hire should your vehicle break down more than 100km from home. You may not be able to backdate a membership for retrospective cover, so without cover you risk footing a large remote recovery bill.
Carry spare filters and radiator hoses for commonly replaced items — particularly air and pollen filters, which easily clog up with dust during an outback trip. These parts are not always carried by regional service centres and any waiting time will add delays and costs to an already tight itinerary.
The best way of tracking holiday funds is to compile a basic budget with items such as fuel, food, accommodation, permits, entertainment, activities and repairs. Estimate the costs based on the season, as accommodation and fuel costs peak in the main holiday periods. Fuel prices will increase the further you travel away from civilisation; remote communities are often the most expensive, as it costs a lot to get the fuel out there and there isn’t a lot of competition to help regulate the price.
Record your actual expenditures. We try to get a receipt for everything we buy and update our spreadsheet on a daily basis, then crunch the numbers to compare actuals against budget. While all this might sound like an extra chore, it only takes a few minutes each day and it’s something the kids can get involved with. You soon get a feel for what each trip costs, and that helps to plan the next one.
Well folks, that’s our take on travelling on a budget. We’d love to hear your money-saving camper travel tips, so why not drop a suggestion on the Camper Trailer Australia Facebook page.
Until then, happy touring!