If anyone tells you that planning a trip around Australia is a breeze, they’re either lying or very fortunate. For us (and many people), it was a mammoth effort with so many steps involved in the process. We wanted to be debt free, have the most comfortable set-up we could afford, plus have the freedom to live our dream lifestyle.
It wasn’t a short process by any means and it involved a lot of sacrificing, hard work and patience. But above all, it required faith and the ability to keep our eyes on the prize to ensure that we never gave up on our dream.
So rest assured, if you’re planning a trip around Australia, set yourself the goal and do whatever you need to do to make it happen. It’s not handed to everyone on a silver platter, and where would be the sense of achievement in that anyway?
Here’s an honest recount of how the process looked for us. Hopefully, it will help to keep your spirits high as you traverse the journey of planning a trip around Australia.
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Planning a Trip Around Australia
The Seed Was Being Planted
It all began back in 2011. Our first house was for sale and we wanted out of suburban life.
Where should we go? We couldn’t decide.
The idea of getting rid of everything and moving into a bus or caravan was very appealing. We would have loved to have just taken off to do a Big Lap of Australia right then and there.
At the time the kids were only 3 and 1.5 years of age. Long story short we got cold feet and weren’t ready for planning a trip around Australia just yet. So, we went for a tree change and bought a beautiful pole home on a few acres in the country instead.
First Came The Camper Trailer
About a year later we found ourselves at the Caravan & Camping show purchasing an Oztrail Off Road Camper Trailer for holidaying in.
As the story goes, camping trip number one ended up being quite the experience. It turns out you’re supposed to weather the canvas before using it to make it waterproof.
Guess what? We didn’t and of course night one brought with it a freak thunderstorm! The result: wet mattresses, blankets, pillows, clothing and kids. Plus, a few broken eyelets and ropes from the wind to round it off nicely.
I didn’t realise we’d ordered the special rooftop pool edition! While our Oztrail camper was brilliant and we loved it, it didn’t take long for us to realise that we wanted a more permanent set up.
Next Came The (Renovator’s Delight) Caravan
Enter the 1979 Chesney bunk van, which we just happened to come across and snapped up at a bargain price.
The first trip in this one went off without a hitch. Although we did learn to not cook greasy foods in the caravan kitchen. Geez that smell permeates everything. Some residents of the van did not appreciate the smell of bacon through their clothes months after coming home! We shall add that to the ‘Caravan & Camping Lessons’ list.
Anyone who was around back in the 1970s and 1980s will remember what lovely colours and designs were on trend back then (orange and brown). So, I guess you’ll understand why we felt the old girl was in need of a facelift. As we waved goodbye to the camper trailer, renovations began on the caravan.
Then Came The Discontent
Living in a tourist destination (Scenic Rim, QLD) was not helping either of our inner desires to travel this amazing country and maybe even the idea of planning a trip around Australia for ourselves. We were constantly seeing people cruise past with their camper trailers and caravans in tow, heading away on one adventure or another.
One day my partner at the time came home from work and said, “Let’s do it,” to which I agreed. Our itchy feet were kicking back in and the serious dreaming and planning of a simple life on the open road had begun.
Followed By a 40 Foot Bus!
As we were halfway through the Chesney caravan renovations we bought a late 1970s 40-foot Volvo B58 bus to convert into a motorhome for our trip around Australia.
So, now we had two projects on the go and neither were small endeavours!
A couple of months into the building process we went down to check on the bus after a few days of heavy rain. While we were happy to report no leaks, we did notice how much the bus had sunk into a shallow grave in such a short space of time. The worst part was that we weren’t able to move it even after a few days of letting the ground dry.
The reality of planning a trip around Australia in a big, heavy bus got our minds ticking over. How on earth do you get a 10-tonne bus off its belly and onto the tarmac again if you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere? Travelling around Australia in a bus was beginning to show us its potential issues.
Reality was setting in. We decided to go back to the drawing board.
It was time to think realistically and go back to the idea of planning a trip around Australia in a 4WD and caravan.
But what size caravan did we need and which car would be required for towing it? The car and caravan process began…
Finding the Best Tow Vehicle for a Trip around Australia
Back to the drawing board. Our old plan was to travel in a converted bus, but after seeing it sink in the back yard we came up with a new plan… to travel around Australia in a 4WD and caravan.
Well actually, the car and caravan were our original plan before we got lured in by the space a 40-foot bus could provide.I guess you could say that we compromised practicality for living space.
We needed a vehicle that could tow 3-3.5 tonne legally and easily (which ruled out Prado’s, Pajero’s, Ute’s and the like).
But we still wanted to be able to explore off-road. So that also ruled out the larger 4x4s like F trucks and Chev trucks.
That left us with a Toyota Landcruiser or a Nissan Patrol. As we’re not Cruiser people and have owned all of the Patrol varieties over the years, the choice was easy. Well easier, now we had to narrow down which engine combination we wanted/ needed.
But Which Engine?
The 3.0L Patrol engine was out of the picture purely because of lack of power and towing capacity/ reliability.
So our choice was between the 4.2L Turbo Diesel or a 4.8L Petrol 2005 onwards.
Basically, it all boiled down to power, maintenance and reliability.
The 4.8L Patrols are renowned for being more powerful and reliable without having to modify them. On the other hand, the 4.2L Patrols seem to be either powerful OR reliable, but the two don’t go hand in hand and cannot always be easily fixed on the side of the road (being a diesel).
Petrol Patrols are much more versatile for big lap conditions in Australia. For example, dust, water or contaminated fuel will kill a diesel in a heartbeat if it somehow ends up in the engine. Those things won’t majorly affect a petrol vehicle as it will just cough and splatter and spit it out of the exhaust.
At the end of the day, my partner at the time was mechanically-minded and able to fix the car on the side of the road if need be (provided we could get the parts). So, that was our determining factor.
We went for the manual just as a personal preference, as we feel you’ve got more control over the vehicle in different terrains, especially when towing a van up and down mountain ranges.
So it was decided – we were looking for a manual 4.8L Patrol that hadn’t been run on gas (which is common for the 4.8’s because of thirsty fuel consumption). We were hoping to find something that had maybe a lift kit under it or some other 4×4 bits to get us started.
Let The Search Begin!
Mass searching was under way. Not a webpage that sold Patrols or 4WDs was left unturned. This went on for months as we could barely even find a 4.8L for sale, let alone a manual one. It turns out they’re quite rare!
Eventually, we stumbled across one on good old Facebook. It was decked out to the max with every addition and mod that you could ever dream of.
There was a but… it had the price tag to match it. Not that the vehicle was overpriced, it was just well out of our budget.
We couldn’t find the car for sale anywhere else online, although the owner said it was on eBay and Gumtree. He had listed it unusually and the ads were really hard to find. It felt like our little secret. Hopefully no one else would stumble across it as we tried to figure out how we were going to raise $31,000 before someone else snapped it up!
Time To Raise Some Funds
Meanwhile, as we kept a watch on that perfect car, we carried on with our other plans. The first step was to tidy up the bus to sell it. So we did that and it sold fairly quickly. Next, we sold one of our cars, which helped a lot but the Patrol was still out of reach.
We had been in contact with the Patrol owner and negotiated his lowest price (P.S. It was a bargain, cash talks!). His need to sell was getting a bit more urgent because he hadn’t had many enquiries (maybe due to the fact that he’d listed it obscurely, using incorrect keywords).
By this stage, our old Chesney caravan was on the market and we were literally just waiting for it to sell so we could buy the Patrol outright. We did offer the van and cash as a trade for the Patrol, but unfortunately, it wasn’t what he was looking for. We had potential buyers for the van but nobody came through with the cash.
Until… one afternoon a gentleman looked through the caravan and got back to us that night with an offer, which was below our asking price. We simply said to the guy, “I’ll accept $8,500 tonight only, as it’s well below my asking price and that’s the bottom dollar that I need to secure my next vehicle.”
Long story short, the money was in our bank within the hour, so my partner got on the phone to the Patrol owner saying, “sold, see you tomorrow!” and was booked onto a flight from Gold Coast to Canberra to pick it up.
My partner was so excited to get home with his new toy, he drove straight through and was home very early the next morning.
We were both blown away by the car. there were loads of accessories on it that hadn’t even been listed in the ad. It was perfect for planning a trip around Australia!
Tow vehicle acquired. Tick!
The Patrol went through many mods and changes – check out the final Patrol set-up →
Selling The House for a Trip Around Australia
The House Must Be Sold
Our next step was to sell the house. It would enable us to be mortgage-free and hopefully have enough money left to buy an off-road caravan as our new home on wheels. Sounds like a simple enough task, right? Not quite.
Our property was situated in the beautiful Kooralbyn Valley, a scenic destination about an hour and a half south-west of Brisbane, near the New South Wales border.
Property sales in the area were renowned for being rather slow (slow to sell and slow to increase in value) being so far out of the city. We needed to spruce the place up as much as we could (but without spending too much money on it), so that we could hopefully have a fast sale and make as much profit as possible.
But First, Renovations
Luckily for us, the bathroom and ensuite had not long been refurbished when we bought the place. That saved a lot of money and hassle right there. The biggest space we needed to focus on was the kitchen. It was old, dark and outdated. Apparently, kitchens sell houses, so this one was a biggy.
We repainted the whole kitchen white and replaced the pea green benches with solid timber bench top panels from Bunnings for $99 a piece. Next, we sourced new cabinet doors from a local cabinet maker for $350 in total, which we fitted ourselves. We also fitted all stainless steel touches.
We called in a favour from a mate who just so happened to run his own glass & glazing business. He installed awesome bench-to-ceiling mirrored splashbacks for us for a few cartons of Jack Daniels. It looked amazing and allowed the light to dance around the entire room.
The total cost of the kitchen renovations only came to around $1,000. Did I mention the weeks and weeks of using the laundry as a makeshift kitchen while we chugged along with this project on the weekends? Yeah, I was happy to see the end of that project!
It looked and felt so fresh and modern, why had we waited so long to get to it!? It’s always the way.
The other renovations included:
- Repainting the downstairs hallway
- Repainting the two verandahs
- Re-carpeting the kids wing and master bedroom
- New steps leading to the front door
- Removing the back dilapidated staircase and closing off that entrance to the verandah
- Added stepping stones from the car port to the entrance
- Plus lots of shovelling of gravel (I don’t want to ever see a pile of gravel again!)
Getting The House Ready To Show
Once we were done with the renovations we got underway with the cleaning and presentation of the house and property. We needed to prepare for the real estate listing. Both of us were pretty fussy with the finished product, so we spent quite a bit of time trying to make it perfect.
It’s On The Market!
February, 2016 saw our house listing go live and the next five months were filled with the constant cleaning that goes with having a house on the market for show. Every morning I would make sure everything was just right and that the fireplace was keeping the place toasty for any potential buyers that day.
As soon as I got a call from the Real Estate Agent to say that they were bringing someone through I would run around tidying up, straightening things, put on the rainforest tunes and stoke the fire to create just the right ambience.
In July the house sale came after some tough negotiations. We waited until the sale went unconditional and then we officially had two weeks to get rid of the majority of our earthly belongings! Culling as much as we could in the months leading up to the house sale made those last few weeks a bit easier.
We’d decided that whatever didn’t fit into the future caravan needed to go. We sold and gave away so much stuff. It was a crazy hectic fortnight let me tell you!
Selling the house partly furnished made things a heap easier but it did feel kind of weird walking out for the last time and having to triple check that we didn’t leave anything behind.
Moving day was a highly emotional time as we closed the door for the final time and said goodbye to our little country cottage. Many tears were shed.
We had effectively condensed our lives into the back of my car and a box trailer.
Off we went, a family of four, Brisbane-bound, heading towards the in-law’s parent’s spare room. Although we were sad that one door had closed, we knew that it was all worth it as we continued planning for a trip around Australia.
Buying The Caravan For a Trip Around Australia
The move from the house into the spare bedroom went fairly seamlessly. We moved our suitcases into the room with the pull-out sofa and stacked the boxes from the boot and trailer along one wall in the computer room until further notice.
During the week leading up to the move (amongst all of the chaos), we’d been in caravan negotiations with a couple down in Port Macquarie, NSW.
They were selling their 23-foot Jayco Starcraft with two bunks, plus all of the extras that we wanted and more. The caravan was practically new at only nine months old. It had only been used a few times for short holidays and pretty much ticked all of our boxes.
Isn’t it funny, in the year leading up to this moment, we saw heaps of vans that we would have totally bought if we’d had the cash. But as our moment of actually being able to buy one came closer, there were only a handful on the market that suited us and they were getting snapped up like hotcakes!!!
Let’s be honest, we were kinda peaking that we were going to be left stranded with a bucket load of cash burning a hole in our pocket, while squeezed into the spare bedroom at the in-law’s place. We had to keep planning our trip around Australia without losing hope!
Road Trip To Collect Our New Van
When ‘The One’ showed itself down in Port Macquarie, we knew we had to jump on it.
Luckily the couple were happy to hold it for us for a week while we waited for the house to settle and the funds to clear. Phew!
Exactly four days after the mortgage was payed out and our funds were available we were off on one of our most exciting road trips ever!
We left before the crack of dawn, because seriously, do you think we could sleep anyway?! Our first stop was at Chinderah BP (just south of the QLD/ NSW border) for brekky and coffee.
We powered on and had another pit stop around Woolgoolga, NSW.
After that, we continued down to Port Macquarie. Once we got off the highway it had just dawned on us that from here on in we would have a big van attached to the back of us, eeek! So, we made a beeline for IGA and a bottle shop to gather our supplies for the holiday and trip home.
Next stop was the house to finally see this tiny home on wheels that we had been dreaming about for the past few years. It was very surreal.
We pulled up, exchanged pleasantries and then opened the van door to check her out. One word: ecstatic!
Unfortunately, the lady’s husband was at work and couldn’t be there for the handover, so we didn’t get the usual run-down on how everything worked. She did impart the bits of knowledge she had, which was still helpful.
Needless to say, we had A LOT of learning ahead (like how we put up the awning wrong for the first 6 months or so!). She was also in a hurry to get back to work, so she had to leave us to it and head off.
But There Was A Problem
When we reversed the car back to hitch up the van… we had a problem.
It turned out that we only had a 7-pin flat trailer plug instead of a 12-pin flat plug to fit the van. We had asked this question before we left so we could make sure we would be all good, which the guy had confirmed, but anyways, these things happen.
After sitting on the side of the road and a few phone calls later, the previous owner was able to sort out a new plug for us and have it delivered. Thank goodness! So we were able to easily change the plugs over.
Off We Go
It was a slow drive down the street as we played with the electronic brakes to set them up and also get used to this big addition at the rear.
We had booked ourselves into Breakwall Holiday Park in Port Macquarie for the night. We typed the address into the GPS and followed away. Of course, it took us through every suburban back road you can think of filled with ‘Keep Left’ islands and roundabouts!
It was a pretty tense drive, just getting used to it all and running the Insurance Policy through my head to make sure we’ve properly covered ourselves for every weird and wonderful event!
Of course, we arrived without a scratch. The lovely lady at the check-in desk kindly gave us a drive-through spot so that we didn’t have to unhitch and do any tricky manoeuvres.
Our New Home!
Ahhhh, time for us to just chill and take stock on the events of not only the past 24 hours, but the past week, month, 6 months and everything that had lead us up to this moment.
This was it, this was the caravan we were now living in full-time, how did we feel about that? Pretty freaking awesome, let me tell you!!!
After that we headed to Sapphire Beach Holiday Park, NSW, just north of Coffs Harbour. It was a beautiful little gem and the owners where lovely.
As this was a little holiday for us, we splashed out and made sure we stayed somewhere with things for the kids to do. The caravan park was a short 2-minute walk to the beach and also had a new pool, kids’ play area and mini putt-putt.
We could have taken as long as we wanted to head back to Brisbane, but we were so eager to start unpacking our boxes and making this home our own that we only stopped for three nights in total before making the trip back. Yewww!!!!
Three years on from when we sold our house we still hadn’t made it all the way around the country! But, as time moved forward we learnt that for us it wasn’t about zipping around Australia in one clean Big Lap, but about living a life of freedom on the road.
If you want to find out about how we continued to fund our travels, you can read all about it by clicking below.
Planner for Packing Up to Travel Australia
If you’re looking for a step-by-step guide to help you through the process of packing up to travel Australia, the interactive planner below has everything you need.
Packing Up to Travel Australia
The ultimate pre-travel planner for anyone hitting the road for a big trip!
- 41-page Planner
- Decision-making prompts
- Travel set-up planning
- Budget estimates & more
- DIGITAL & PRINTABLE