Updated: Jan 31, 2020
For the past 10 weeks my boyfriend and I have been living the (now quite well known) #vanlife. As many backpackers do in Australia, we bought a second hand converted campervan and planned our roadtrip down the East Coast, finally ending up in Melbourne. As a tribute to this awesome lifestyle, and perhaps as guidance for future vanlifers I have decided to write a small series of posts covering all the things we have discovered during our time in our wee van. I will be covering everything from buying your van to making the most of the small amount of room you have. PLEASE note, we did not convert the van ourselves (although hopefully plan on doing so at home...eventually) and these posts are from my experience having a campervan 'short-term' in Australia. This is merely a rough guide based on my personal views and experience; I am no expert! Anyway, lets crack on - enjoy!
Buying Vs. Hiring
Why we chose to buy a van
First things first, you have to decide how long you want to do your trip in; this will make the line between hiring and buying more solid. James and I travelled from Cairns - Melbourne in around 10 weeks. Right from the start we knew that we wanted to take our time and enjoy everything without feeling stuck to any specific frame. We have met a lot of people who did this trip in around 3 weeks. It is possible, but I wouldn't recommend it…unless of course you are planning on skipping out all the best bits, driving all day and all night and feeling totally swept off your feet by the end. For this trip a time frame of 6 weeks+ would work well.
Once you have decided your time frame, you can decide what option is more affordable. There are lots of hire companies out there, but to prepared to get charged a small fortune. For a van our size (which is fairly small) you are looking at around $500 a week (if not more) and of course your fuel on top of that. You have the security of knowing the van runs well, and if anything happens your company will most likely give you a helping hand, but the price is enough to sway any skint backpacker. A lot of hire companies also have strict rules on where and when you can drive - be sure to look into this to avoid any unnecessary fines! If you are under 21, the hire prices will also be more expensive.
Buying a van obviously has its down sides too. I know this from experience. When James and I bought our van from another backpacking couple, we were a tad naïve. We didn't know that Queensland registration required a Roadworthy test (service), we didn't know how much insurance costed and we didn't know our van had multiple small problems. We ended up spending a lot of money repairing problems that had been left to worsen by previous owners. Thankfully for us, all of the problems were fairly easy to mend and we now have a perfectly running van. However, it was not a happy time for our bank accounts. Saying all of this, we have without a doubt still saved money buying than hiring. Buying a van gives you more freedom and less restrictions on time. Best of all, it feels like home! You can customise it and really settle in and relax.
In conclusion, hiring is perfect for short trips. It gives you peace of mind on the mechanical side of things, and you more or less get what you pay for. For longer trips or even a temporary home, buying a van is financially better and a lot more exciting.
Buying your van
Do's and don'ts of buying a used vehicle
First things first, set yourself a price range and give yourself a rough check list of what you are looking for. Do you want an indoor kitchen, a pop top, more than two seats? Be realistic. James and I ideally wanted a pop-top; after all James is 6ft 3! Sadly there wasn't a huge amount on the market in Cairns, so we settled for a smaller but cheaper van which has suited us tall gangly Scots just fine. Think about what you need. We didn't NEED a pop-top, we just wanted one. We knew that we would have to sell the van in a few months, so settling for less was an option we were happy to commit to.
Be smart when you are buying. Ideally, a roadworthy certificate shows that the van is running well and shouldn't break down on you. If not a roadworthy, some proof of a recent service is the next best thing. If you are like me, you won't have a clue about the mechanics of a car, so if possible bring someone along that does know. Check the engine, look for any tell tale signs, leaks, rust, the obvious bits! Other than mechanics, make sure you know what the sale includes. Our roadtrip has showed that a coolbox (or a fridge) is a necessity. Make sure everything you need is included, or easy and affordable to buy otherwise.
Finally, be fair. You will more than likely be buying and selling your well-loved van onto more backpackers. Don't rip them off! We are all on the same boat, all travelling and all (more than likely) a little tight on money. Be honest, be fair. You wouldn't want to be mugged off, to why leave someone else in that position.
Adding to the value of your van
If like us you have your van for a fairly long period of time, consider making some small investments which will improve the value and of course benefit your time in the van. Little things like fairy-lights and candles are small but nice additions to make your space cosy and fresh. Although James and I didn't need to do too much to our van, we bought several important tools, fresh linen and kitchen appliances which have made it easier for the next owners to get started on their adventure. Little things make all the different.
Selling your van
Making sure your van is ready for its next adventure
This part is more or less self explanatory but I thought I'd cover it quickly anyway. During our trip, we took lots of photos of our wee van in cool locations. When it comes to selling, photos are super important. It is more than likely the first thing people will be looking at, so make sure you get some good shots of everything; the exterior, interior, any cool quirks your van has, the engine, the dash/speedo/mileage and what your van comes with. People like to see what they're getting! Keep all of your reciepts and paperwork from any repairs and make them available to the buyer during viewings, it's important to show your van is legit running well and not going to die 10kms into a drive. Make sure you make a solid list of what comes with the van, about the van itself and any personal comments you feel are relevant. The first place we posted our ad was Gumtree where we have contacted the most by interested buyers. Join some groups on Facebook in the area you are selling, example for us being Australia Backpackers which has about 80,000 members. Make your title catchy and include your vehicles the best features, such as low mileage and of course decide on a fair price. Other than that just make sure you regularly repost or bump you ad and you're sorted.
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