Travel in the off season
Have you ever tried to get into a Broome caravan park in winter without a booking or score a beachfront campsite in Byron Bay at Christmas? To camp last minute in the Daintree outside of the stinger season you’d have to spin a few yarns about a man-eating crocodile and wait until the Wicked vans cleared out.
The bottom line is this: peak season travel is problematic. Between the crowds, the noise and the inflated camping fees, you really are best off considering travelling in the off season. You’ll not only enjoy discounted holiday park fees, but fewer fellow campers means there’s a ready supply of hot water at the shower block, the washing machines are empty, and freshly-cleaned barbecues are ready and waiting. Out bush, campgrounds are quiet, wildlife is more likely to hang around and you can actually hear the evening critters without a symphony of generators humming.
Imagine arriving at a popular national park where the flattest, most spacious site with stellar views is still vacant, the picnic table has not yet been claimed by someone’s camp, there’s as much firewood as you need, there’s gas in the barbecue and, most importantly, a roll of loo paper still hangs in the toilet. No, it’s not a wild camper’s dream: welcome to off-season travel!
Become totally self-sufficient
To maximise your time off the grid, stay longer away from holiday parks and save yourself big bucks, simply amp up your onboard power supply. Install as many solar panels as your rig needs (including a mobile panel that you can shift around to follow the sun), invest in a micro wind generator (perfect for moody off-season weather) and wire up a generous bank of deep cycle batteries.
Reduce your power drain by switching to LED lights, install the most energy-efficient white goods you can afford, insulate your rig against the cold and heat, and replace the seals on your fridge and freezer to avoid cold air leakage. To stretch your precious water supply, install low-flow taps and water-saving showerheads and ensure your greywater tank is large enough to accommodate prolonged stays in free and low-cost camping areas.
Tap into free Wi-Fi
You can make huge data savings by seeking out free Wi-Fi zones as you travel, and putting off your daily Facebook fix until you hit those spots. A surprising number of local Aussie shires and city councils offer free public Wi-Fi, sometimes limited to popular recreation zones or centrally located malls.
But there are some great surprises off the beaten track, too. On the Warlu Way in WA’s remote Pilbara region, free, solar-powered WiFi is available at 18 free overnight and day-use areas. Tourist information centres can tell you where to find free WiFi, but generally you’re likely to get it at libraries, shopping centres, fast food outlets and at some pubs, bars and cafes.
Sleep cheap and party for free
Free camping saves you money daily and once you vacate Australia’s East Coast, you’ll discover a diverse network of free and low-cost rest areas, community camps and state forest campgrounds that provide scenic places to stay. In some states, national park camps are a budget-busting choice: the NT charges a tiny $3.30-$6.60 per adult (half-price for kids and discounts for families, too), in Queensland it’s $6.15 per person, and you can still find freebies off the beaten track in NSW and Victoria, too.
Tassie’s blissful Bay of Fires is utterly free for month-long stays and in nearby Freycinet National Park you can free-camp for up to two weeks at Friendly Beaches where gorgeous camping nooks are big enough for caravanners and come with composting toilets, too.
Motoring association membership cards, seniors cards and pension concession cards attract discounts on a wide range of products, services, national park and holiday park stays, so don’t be shy in flashing your card and you’ll save up to 10%. When planning your travels, search regional online calendars and free travel publications for fun, low-cost events that are not to be missed: rodeos, horse races, music festivals, art exhibitions, town shows and markets.
If travelling to any major Aussie national park during our school holidays or over the peak winter months, join the free, ranger-led walks, talks and activities on offer, and scour local travel guides for discount coupons that will save you money on everything from boat cruises and wildlife park admissions to scenic flights and snorkelling trips.
Stock up & slow down
Fuel is a major travel expense, so squirrel away those discount vouchers and haul a couple of jerry cans to get you through the stretches of road where prices skyrocket. The big supermarket chains offer great fuel savings, and you can use their vouchers at many independent servos, too. Similarly, stockpile lower priced food, spares and other supplies to avoid being hit with inflated prices off the beaten track.
It’s no secret that vehicles use up to 25% less fuel travelling at 90 km/h than 110km/h, and since we are rarely in a hurry, slowing down makes sense. But slowing down in the big picture means covering shorter distances each day and staying longer to enjoy free camping areas and the company of fellow ‘freegans’ who can usually be counted upon to share details of their top secret spots. Slowing down the pace means you’ll save on fuel every single day and really get a feel for the Australia you set out to see.