Travelling in a camper is hand-down the best way to see Queensland. Whether you’re a backpacker exploring Oz or just want to make the most of your weekends (like me), this is everything you need to know about how to travel cheaply in a van in Queensland.
We’ve lived in Brisbane for almost 2 years, and for most of that time, we’ve spent pretty much every weekend in our little renovated campervan, Delilah. Aside from weekend trips, we’ve also done a few longer stints living in vans. Our longest was 6 months full-time back in 2010 (before #VanLife was cool and all over Instagram… Actually, before there was Instagram!).
Anyway, suffice it to say, we’ve done our fair share of research and have made lots of mistakes over the years. Hopefully by sharing this, you’ll make less of them.
Buying a van
You’ve got two options, buying a renovated van or doing the work yourself. We have done both, and honestly, we love the process of doing it ourselves. But be aware, it always takes more time (and money) than you expect!
Other things to consider are:
- Do you want a 4WD? In Australia, it can be really handy if you want to get off the beaten track (but isn’t essential).
- Does it come with a roadworthy certificate and registration? You need both of these to legally drive on the road in Australia, and although you can get it roadworthy yourself, it might take a lot more work (and money) than you’re expecting. Registration costs about $700-800 per year.
Where to camp
You’ve bought your van, now you need to find where to park it! Luckily, you’ve got plenty of options when it comes to camping, from free all the way through to scarily expensive. Here’s how to travel cheaply in a van in Queensland… Let’s break it down.
We tend to avoid caravan parks for two reasons… A) they’re not cheap, and b) they’re always so full of people. Sometimes though, staying in them is unavoidable, especially in more touristy places near the coast. Prices for caravan parks is generally $20 – $40 per night for 2 people unpowered. If it’s peak season and during the school holidays, this can easily go up to around $60 per night. If you’re like us, it’s just not realistic to spend that kind of money every night… but don’t worry – there’s PLENTY of better options if you’re prepared to look for them.
National Parks & State Forests
National parks cost $6.35 per person per night, making it a pretty cost-effective option. Facilities vary depending on the campground, from a simple drop toilet to a full set up including showers and BBQ. These can be booked online in advance (recommended for Saturday nights in popular areas – especially beach camps). State forests are often even cheaper or free.
There are loads of rest areas located on Queensland roads. A full list is available on the Department of Transport website. You can generally stay in these for up to 20 hours, and although they aren’t all that glamorous, they do make for a good (free) option. Some of the better ones (located near service stations) will have a shower that’ll set you back a couple of dollars.
My personal preference is spending zero dollars on camping, and although it isn’t always easy, free camping CAN be done in Queensland. The CamperMate app is a great place to find good free camps , although some of the best secret ones aren’t on there (and no, I’m not sharing, sorry!). It’s worth noting that some councils (like Brisbane) have laws against sleeping in your car, but for the most part, you’ll have no dramas. Just remember – respect the area and take all rubbish with you!
Things you need in your van
Other than the obvious stuff that you use day-to-day, these are a few things that have made our trips in the van significantly nicer.
Lots of campgrounds don’t allow “open fires” – essentially a fire that isn’t contained in a fire pit of some kind – so bringing your own is the way to go. Ours was $39 from Bunnings, is quick to assemble and has a grill plate (which we use it to cook dinner most nights). It also saves money on gas.
A solar shower
Most free campsites, and a lot of the really cheap ones, have no showers. A $19 solar shower has saved us many times, and especially in the summer, they get really warm!
A water tank (& hose)
Having running water is super helpful. It means you’re not brushing your teeth with a bottle or washing your dishes in a bathroom sink. We’ve got a 60L water tank with a removable hose that clips on easily. We hook it up when we park and voila – we’ve got water. It’s SO handy.
For the first year in this van, we used an esky. Mostly because we figured we wouldn’t need a fridge because we only use the van for 2 – 4 days at a time. Then we bought a fridge, and OH MY GOD, I wish we’d had one from the start. No worrying about running out of ice. No wet food. No space wasted with ice. Trust me, spend the extra couple of hundred and get a fridge. We waste less food and it saves us money on ice in the long run.
Spend the money, trust me. You want to be able to feel like you’ve got privacy, and also be able to block out the annoying lights that always seem to shine RIGHT IN YOUR EYE.
The weather is normally good, but sometimes it isn’t. Having an awning means you can sit outside, even in shit weather, and makes you feel like “cooped up” in the van. It’s worth investing in a good one that’s durable, as well as quick to put up and down.
A shovel & an axe
You need a shovel for digging yourself out of sticky situations (like getting bogged in the middle of nowhere) and burying poop (yes, sometimes you have to) and an axe for collecting firewood.
Apps you need
GET IT. It’s literally the best camping app in Australia (yes, better than Wikicamps) and it’s FREE. And no, this is not sponsored (wish it was though).
It tells you where the cheapest fuel is near you and sometimes, there is a HUGE difference.
great if you’re into hiking as it has all the trails on it and the offline format works really well. We still use GoogleMaps for navigation on long drives, but MapsMe for pretty much everything else.
Go and EXPLORE
So there you have it… my tips for van life in Queensland. Honestly, it is the best way to see this part of the world and I can’t recommend it highly enough.