Travelling Australia on a Budget

I’m always intrigued by other people’s travel budgets and in the lead up to our trip I looked up as many as I could find in the name of research.

How we can afford to travel and live is a question I’m asked constantly. And I think it’s safe to say that profession and financial situation plays a significant role in the ability for people to pack up their lives and travel in a caravan.

From what I can gather, these are common situations for travelling families:

  • some people sell their homes before they travel so they don’t have a mortgage and have money in the bank to fund their adventure
  • a lot of families rent their homes and travel with the intention of returning to their home once the tenancy is up
  • long service leave or redundancy is often a motivating factor to travel
  • some families pick up work along the way and stay put in one location for a few months at a time to build up the bank account. Most of these families intend to travel for two to three years
  • we’ve met families where one parent works FIFO (so yes, their route is very much dictated by proximity to airports)
  • families have their own online businesses and work as they travel

How do we live? I photograph families, I create content for brands, I help small brands with their social media presence and I work as a freelance writer. We receive Family Tax Benefit every fortnight and when we do stay in paid caravan parks we also receive rent assistance.

From the outset we gathered that we could easily live on under $1000 per week and for the most part, we’ve done that (we’ve spent anywhere between $525 to $1200 per week).

I think it’s worth mentioning that many budgets I’ve looked at don’t include car + caravan registration or insurance (both big yearly expenses). We opted to pay our car and caravan insurance up front for the year and yet I think it’s best to factor those amounts into your monthly budget. And a word on insurance; get the top cover! Ours has already paid for itself three times over. We opted for top caravan + car insurance through NRMA which has been one of our very best purchases.

We have greatly limited our paid activities, eating out and we don’t drive long distances at a time, hence our fuel bill is much lower than those who drive every few days. Another reason we limit all these things is…Marigold! When you’ve got a loud and independent toddler, you really are limited when it comes to museums, exhibitions, art galleries, guided tours and long days in the car. For the most part, we’ve opted to enjoy free museums, beaches, parks, rivers and large, outdoor areas where toddler volume is not an issue. And not once have we felt like we’re missing out. Ticking things off the list was never our intention; being together, embracing a slower pace, living with less and spending more time outdoors was our goal all along.

To be completely honest, it is possible to live on very little when you travel like this. You don’t have electricity or water bills, you don’t pay rates and your rent is minimal (or nothing, if you choose to permanently free camp). We may not have the convenience of a big washing machine, we don’t always have electricity and sometimes personal space is non-existent but what we do have is an endless backyard, a love of the simple life and the luxury of time.

It is indeed the good life!

A few more thoughts on…

Cafe Coffees

As much as I love going to cafes, they’re something I’ve had to give up (apart from the very occasional treat). It took me ages to break the habit but to be honest with you, I was drinking far too many bad coffees for it to be worth the money spent. Coincidentally, Daniel got a coffee machine + grinder a few months ago and it’s safe to say that he’s perfected the art of a damn fine cappuccino. We opted for the Breville Bambino Plus and the Ascaso Grinder (that we were fortunate enough to find on gumtree) and we use Aldi’s Lavazzo coffee beans which are $11.49 a bag. For convenience, taste and financial sake, it just makes sense to make our own.

If you are travelling around and keen to drink a good brew, here’s my top five best coffees since we first hit the road:

Food

Our grocery shopping is, almost always, dictated by our location. And considering the sheer amount that the kids are eating, I’ve been struggling to keep it under my ideal $230/week. On average, we’re spending between $270-300/week but one thing I won’t compromise on is good, healthy food. It’s a non-negotiable for me. Just because we live in a caravan doesn’t mean we have to live off sausages and baked beans! I prioritise fruit and veggies in all our meals and yet buying fruit and vegetables on a budget without purchasing excess plastic is very, very difficult. I always buy sourdough, quality dairy products and free range/grass fed chicken and meat.

Of course, Aldi is significantly cheaper than other supermarkets and if there’s one close by I’ll always opt to shop there (I just have to ban Daniel from the middle aisle). They are also moving towards recyclable + compostable packing for the entire store by 2025. It’s a long way off but I appreciate their forethought, conscious planning and acknowledgement of plastic as an eco-crisis.

I try to follow the dirty dozen + clean 15 chart when it comes to choosing organic vs non-organic fruit and vegies. I want to buy “the odd bunch” selection from Woolworths – the affordable fruit + veg that don’t pass the ridiculous aesthetic code – and yet they more often than not packaged in a plastic bag. Same goes with the majority of their organic range. Sometimes I will purchase it and then reuse the bag as a garbage bag or I’ll wash it to use as fridge/freezer storage.

Of course, if there’s a farmers market on, I’ll always go and buy up for the week. It’s one of my favourite parts about travelling; meeting growers from country towns and then meal planning from my market haul. Some of my very favourite meals have been made after a trip to the markets and they’ve probably been the simplest dinners of our trip

The only other issue with food in a caravan is storage space. We’ve got a small fridge and an even smaller freezer so stocking up isn’t really an option. On the flipside, we hardly have any food waste because nothing can hide in the back and rot. I’m also more inclined to use up absolutely everything we have before we go to the shops.

As winter approaches we’re definitely using the oven more for potato bake and roasted veggies (which I use across a few meals). We’re also eating more toast hence my morning tea + toast ritual is in full swing (probably not the healthiest option).

Our weekly/fortnightly meal plan looks a little like this:

  • chicken + veggie curry with rice, pupadums, yoghurt + chutney
  • spaghetti bolognaise (I grate carrot and zucchini into the sauce and if I’ve prepped some roasted veggies I’ll blitz them in the nutribullet and add those too)
  • jacket potatoes with all the trimmings – cheese, corn, sour cream, chives + big salad on the side. I just wash them, stick a fork in them a few times, rub with olive oil and tightly wrap in foil. We cook them in the weber for about 1.5 hours.
  • tuna pasta (see my go-to recipe here)
  • chilli con carne with brown rice, corn chips, sour cream and leafy greens
  • an easy meal of scrambled eggs, sourdough + veggie sticks
  • pumpkin soup + cheese toasties (or the spinach + ricotta pastries in the freezer section at Aldi – only $2 a pack!)
  • BBQ – steak or sausages or burgers with a big salad + kaleslaw
  • potato bake + greens + salad

A Buffer in Your Savings Account

I can’t stress enough the importance of having a decent amount of savings in your account before you hit the road. Your trip is dictated by your car and your caravan so you’ll find that you’re constantly investing money in maintenance, servicing, new parts etc.

And regardless of the precautions you take, there may be a time where you need to invest thousands of dollars on your car. I know this from experience as we’re about to spend an exorbitant amount on our engine (it’s that or we call our trip off altogether!).

Peace of mind is also a significant factor and I know that travelling with a bit of financial back-up in the bank is a good feeling, especially when you don’t have a house to return to if everything does go awry.

Your Phone is Your Internet

Finding a phone plan with good data is absolutely essential. Our research showed that Telstra had the best coverage across Australia and so we kept an eye on plans for a few months before we signed up. And we got a really good deal! We pay $49/month and I have 60gb whereas Daniel had 80gb (he’s a sweet talker on the phone and somehow got his already amazing plan upgraded for free).

I’m happy to answer any questions you have! There is so much about living on the road that I could discuss and to be honest, I do find it difficult to narrow it down into blog posts. So…please ask away!

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Showing 21 comments
  • Veggie Mama
    Reply

    This is golden, Jodi – thank you!

  • Daniela
    Reply

    WOW, 60gb! My husband and I share 12 and I thought that was a lot. We are in Canada so plans are totally different here, but still.

    Thanks for sharing this breakdown, it’s so interesting to see how other people live.

    • Jodi
      Reply

      My pleasure 🙂

    • Sila
      Reply

      So basically you live off government handouts…which with four kids im sure is a decent amount…wouldnt it be wonderful to travel around australia on taypayers money….shame on you… child benefits, rent assistance, ausstudy…shame on you both!

      • Jodi
        Reply

        No, we don’t live off government handouts. As I listed above, I work as a photographer, freelance writer and content creator and because I earn as a sole trader, I only receive a cut of benefits, just like I did when we were living in a house. Shame on you for presuming otherwise.

        • Brooke
          Reply

          Great post, I love that you mention including insurances in your budget, so many budget posts skim over this (huge) expense. Good tips re food too.
          Maybe we’ll see you on the road soon. ☺️

      • Rachael McIntosh
        Reply

        Oh Sila, bless you and your poor grammar and your overuse of ellipses and your strange little anger explosion. You gave me a little turn there! Where did you come from? Go and have a lie down. It must be stressful inside your head.

        • Jodi
          Reply

          Thanks, Rach. So much unnecessary anger there x

  • Hoang
    Reply

    Since you embark on creative pursuits, I’m curious – what does your husband do?

    • Jodi
      Reply

      He works in the film industry as a DOP + Tech Tutor at AFTRS. He’s also studying Psychology.

  • Reanna
    Reply

    Great post, very informative
    I would love to do this one day, as a teenager my family did travel in a van for a few months and I hope to do the same with my family one day…
    I am intrigued though by your goal $230/week grocery bill- we have 3 kids and I work very hard to keep the bill under $300 a week! I hate compromising on good nutritious food for my family, working on more home grown veggies and my naughty chickens aren’t quite pulling their weight yet with the amount of eggs they’re producing! We don’t have Aldi here, unfortunately but I’m always hunting bargains, one of my goals this year is to cut back ok the grocery spend each week to top up the sad looking savings account!
    Like you we have our own coffee machine and I feel that makes a huge difference, when I look back at all the money I used to spend at cafes before kids it blows my mind! (It also guarantees a lovely coffee every.single.time! Win win)
    I always wonder though about other family budgets… i find it fascinating really… as we are on one income, 3 kids, I’m studying, we don’t live an extravagant life by any means… so when I hear of familys on huge holidays or regularly going out for meals, wearing all the nice new clothes I really do wonder how they manage!
    Just my rambling thoughts x

    • Jodi
      Reply

      We actually did our weekly shop yesterday and I got everything for $200 – couldn’t believe it! I’ll have to top up on milk, bread and some fresh produce over before our next big shop but I’ll do my best to keep it under $30. I feel like I’m getting better at stretching the meat we have in meals (for example, in a chicken curry I’ll add a few potatoes, carrot and beans to bulk our the meal). Aldi is ridiculously cheap…it’s quite amazing! Porridge is also a great (economical + nutritious) breakfast that really fills the belly and we have it with almonds and sultanas for extra flavour.
      Re: those who eat out and wear new clothes….I’m not sure either although every financial news feature I read does seem to mention the enormous debt that many seem to be living with…perhaps that is behind all the “new”…we’ll never know. If you would like to read a fabulous book on the topic I think you’ll like: “The Art of Frugal Hedonism” – it’s a good one! x

      • Reanna
        Reply

        Yes I read that and really enjoyed it… we don’t have a credit card so I’m guessing lots of people are living beyond their means with a big credit card debt!

  • Siobhán
    Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing all this info, Jodi – it’s so helpful! 🙂 Can I ask how much you roughly spend each week on the caravan, including camp ground fees, petrol, maintenance costs etc?

    • Jodi
      Reply

      My pleasure! Caravan parks can be anywhere between $38 – $77 per night. I know – expensive! Most will charge a base rate + anywhere between $5-$15 per child, per night. But then there’s free camping which is wonderfully free so it is possible to travel very cheaply if you do this (Tasmania is brimming with wonderful free and low cost ($10/night) camps. Our tank costs about $200 to fill up and of course the amount we go through is dependent on how far we drive. Maintenance costs are small, but we have had weeks where a few things need to be replaced at the same time which makes it an expensive week. It’s hard to give you an accurate figure….I suppose it is about shopping around and having a buffer in your account so you’re covered for unexpected costs x

  • Jaimy
    Reply

    Love your blog Jodi, very inspirational and love the post re costs, very informative. We hope to do a camper van tour around Oz in the next few years so very helpful to get an indication of these. Please don’t let negative comments affect you, there are always people out there that are unhappy with their own lives and instead of tackling this heads on, will moan at others instead.

    • Jodi
      Reply

      Good luck with planning your own trip and please reach out if you have any questions x

  • Katie
    Reply

    Hi Jodi
    I love following your blog and your photos are beautiful.
    My kids are grown up and I’ve never thought about becoming a grey nomad but it’s food for thought!
    I reckon your kids are developing great life skills! Ignore the Sila’s of this world!

    • Jodi
      Reply

      I plan to become a grey nomad too 🙂

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