Why travel and how is best to do it? What kind of rig is most suited to you and how do you maintain or look after it. What to take with you and the huge question of – do you take the dog?
These are just some of the questions that we will look at together and hopefully give you an insight and help you to arrive at conclusions suited to you.
Myself, I’ve travelled around Australia, OVER 50,000 kms as a full time Grey Nomad over the past 6 years, absolutely loving it and the adventures I’ve had in every state of our great land – in 5 different rigs! only just now settling back in Cessnock, in The Hunter Valley, NSW.
So, let’s start with the biggest question everyone asks – and no, its not which is your favourite place to go! The biggest question I get asked is can you travel full time on just a pension? My answer is yes! And I have proven it, as it has been my sole source of income, on a disability pension due to Rheumatoid Arthritis & Fibromyalgia.
So how do you manage? – first you need a well maintained rig. My first was a 36yr old York caravan towed by a Commodore Station wagon. I bought the van for $3,500 and the car for $1000. Both were in OK condition, so I got the car fully serviced and made sure there were no real issues to deal with long term. The van had water leaks so I spent 4mths preparing it to road worthy stage before I left and the rest I did as I travelled, doing most of the work myself and paying for professional services where I needed to.
Id advise having about $2,000 as a back up and then plan plan plan how your fuel ratio is and how many kms you can count on getting per tank. Knowing your fuel ratio is paramount to your trip. It will change, sometimes dramatically if your towing up hill, on 110km freeways (which is limited to 100kms if towing) and start & stop suburban traffic or city driving.
Then the cruncher – the head-wind! A strong head or cross wind is liable to cost you at least an extra half a tank in a 250km drive, it can double your fuel too. I remember one drive from Bourke & Wills camp driving south to Mt Isa – head wind and very slight up hill grade: cost me one and a half 70L tanks of unleaded, when it should have been ½ to ¾ of one tank. It was a valuable lesson.
Nomads become adept at watching the weather like a hawk, especially the wind. Good weather apps on your phone are invaluable. A good one also is Predict Wind, a free app that the boaties use. It provides the ability to watch the wind displayed by hundreds of tiny arrows to show you in a video format over days which direction and how intense the wind will become, thereby allowing you to select the window of time that travel is going to be best. I stopped for two days in a road side camp when I was crossing the Nullarbor – it saved me hundreds of dollars and I got to rest up and relax for a coupe of days. By watching the app, I discovered that very often there is no wind very early in the morning and it comes up stronger at 9 or 10am. So early bird travel is much more advisable – and you get to see the sunrise – one of my favourite times of the day.
The other crucial factor the winds affect – is your awning of your caravan or rig. If its tethered down with solid tent pegs (the steel thick ones) then in my opinion, you can leave it out up to 35kms per hour – more than that – take it in. And don’t go off exploring for the day and leave it out, in fact, only have your awning out if you are present to keep and eye on it. I went fishing one morning at Port Julia, left the awning out, and when I got back, there were 4 people trying to wrestle my twisted awning back into place as a rogue 80km wind had struck and lifted the tent pegs right out of the ground. Lucky there were fello campers around, but none of them had awnings like mine and really were guessing as to how to bring it in. It was too late and the damage was done. Costly repairs were then needed and I had no shade in the mean time. The “She’ll be right mate” attitude does not even come into play when camping. You really just cant be too careful.
Next factor for surviving on a pension is ‘free or low cost camping’ – if your rig is only suited to caravan parks for their electricity, then alas to say, you wont be able to go far each fortnight, paying a daily rate of on average $35 per night (p/n). By free camping and having everything on 12v charged by solar is really the most recommended way to travel cheaply. Honestly, if your rig is only suited to 240v power stays, then you really wont be able to live on the road full time unless you only stay in one spot on an un-powered site, which generally go for $25p/n. The other question you may ask is do I need a generator? Answer is most definitely YES – if you are free camping, there are often many overcast days and you wont get the solar you need for your batteries. We are going to cover battery maintenance in a forthcoming blog, so stay tuned or subscribe for free to be alerted when new posts are up.
Now you need to work out how many kms you can afford for fuel each fortnight and then decide how many jumps you can do. Jumps? = drive from one camp to the next. From that figure you can work out how long you need to stay in each camp before jumping to the next. Are you catching on?
So you may well end up needing to stay in a camp for 5 days then the next one 4 days etc. So you will need to be certain that the camp you are choosing is not a 48hr maximum stay. The rangers patrol camps like these and will move you on if you overstay.
The answer to how do I find these camps is easy: Camping apps on your phone such as Wikki Camps, its easy to use and can also track your journey, which can also be downloaded as a PDF later. Terrific. Now there are many camping apps, and you can explore them all. CMCA (Caravan & Motorhome Camping Association) have their own, Full Range Camping, Campedia, Farm Stay AU, Pub Stay, Camps Australia and more…. Most campers use Wikki Camps as a main and check the others. It costs about $10, but only the once with no annual renewal. I recommend doing the tutorial on wikki, video format and it will show you the way to use it fully. You can use filters to search for just what you want and it will show you every camp available in the style or price you want. Information is updated all the time so rest assured you have correct info. You can submit changes too in case you find one that is closed or has changed it stats.
So if you want to live the dream as they say and camp full time, then plan-plan-plan! Its essential and be on the same page as your travel buddy. Know the style of camping you want to do, how you will handle any emergencies and large decisions…. And above all else, crucial – make sure you know your budget and have a savings account for emergencies (like a new battery) – and the other thing is: have a guardian angel watching over you, that you report into once a week. They should have a recent photo of you and the rig, the rego numbers and your phone listed on theirs for finda phone. We recently found ‘Life 360’ it is a free app that you can list with a family member. It will offer loads of benefits and fun – like telling you what speed your person is doing, when their phone is low battery and when they stop anywhere. I can highly recommend this one as it made me feel very safe that my daughter knew exactly where I was all the time, and I her.
We all ‘boo-hoo’ face book and social media for various reasons, but honestly, its invaluable for staying in touch with fellow travellers, knowing when they are close by for catch ups and can usually be read with low phone signal. Many solo groups use it as a platform for its members to have a connected travel buddy to report to and its better than any phone tree – if someone is missing – just watch the branches extend across many pages. The power of social media is strong, and its up to you how you use it. One of my tips for privacy is to list which camp you have just been in, not currently in. There is so much to experience and learn, I hope to help in some small way here for free to anyone who wishes to read. Cheers to camping! – Jen