Vanlife Part Three: Camping and equipment
Updated: Jan 31, 2020
Welcome back to the final instalment of my Vanlife posts! In part three I will be covering perhaps one of the most asked about road-trip questions...free camping and everything in-between! I have also included a little list of equipment that we found extremely handy on our trip as well as essential bits and bobs to pick up before you hit the road. Enjoy guys!
Where and when to camp
Free Camping and where to find it? In Australia, and many other countries, parking up in any old place and sleeping inside your vehicle is illegal and can result in heavy fines. Particularly in popular area's such as Byron Bay or Noosa, you are unlikely to get away with camping on the streets, especially when you are surrounded by other backpackers doing the same thing. On our trip, we didn't 'rough camp' much, but when we did we never had an issue. We have been told that the police can't fine you on the spot, they are required to issue a warning first - whether this is true or not I have no idea but it gives you peace of mind! If you are camping on the street, be discreet. Spend your day elsewhere, cook your meal and head to a quiet area with the intention of going straight to sleep. Avoid brightly lit residential area's or National Parks. You will more than likely have a lovely sleep with no problems! If this method isn't for you, there are hundreds of free Rest Area's in the country (find them on CamperMate) which normally have toilets, picnic benches and bins. Although these area's are normally next to highways they are perfect for a guilt-free night of camping.
Where to find the best campsites
We have found all the best campgrounds were the cheapest ones. On the CamperMate app, look for the blue coloured icons! My favourite camps were always within National Parks, deep within the beautiful Aussie countryside. Most of these have to be pre-booked online but varied from being only $5-$10 per person, so worth it. Normally snuggled between trees and bush you will fall asleep under the stars and wake up to the sound of kookaburras and songbirds. Surprisingly a lot of these campgrounds had better and cleaner facilities than ones triple the price in built up areas.
Off-peak seasons are a good time to travel
Our roadtrip took us through the winter months in Australia. Although it was cold it was by far the best time (for us) to travel. Campgrounds were dead quiet and we never had to fight for a space in free rest area's. The best part? Most campgrounds charge less during off-peak seasons, so you will save money too.
When to camp
On our trip we tried to limit ourselves, going 2 - 4 days without paying for a camp. When we did pay for a camp, we would make full use of the facilities. A nice long hot shower, charging up all our electronics, doing our washing and having a nosey on the wifi. Sometimes we would pay for a powered site, or sometimes we would go un-powered and use the sockets available in the camp kitchen or social room. For the in-between days of free camping we would often nip to coffee shop to charge up our appliances if they were running low. You can normally find a charging area in large shopping centres too.
We found that in most major cities or popular destinations Hostels offered the best camping facilities. Please note, most Hostels that offer camping are not on the CamperMate app. Make sure to phone around hostels if you are stuck. In most situtions, you will be allowed to park up in the hostel parking and sleep in your van but use all of the facilities as if you were staying in a dorm.
What you will need on your trip
This one obviously varies a lot of the type of trip you are doing. Below I've listed the things we needed on our East Coast Trip and why, this may give you some idea's for your own roadtrip!
1. Camping stove: I'd say this bad boy is pretty essential unless you're planning on eating out every night. Small and singular camp stoves are mega cheap, and the replaceable gas cans are easy to find to camping and outdoor shops.
2. Camp chairs & table: Not essential, but there's nothing quite like parking up and whapping out the chairs to enjoy the sunset.
3. Awning: Although we didn't use our much, and awning is super handy. Whether its to protect you against a little rain or to keep you in the shade on a hot day.
4. Telstra Phone Sim: When we arrived in Aus we didn't bother with changing our simcards, opting to fin wifi hotspots instead. However, before our trip we both invested in a $40 Telstra sim card. This little beauty is awesome! Unlike a contract you aren't tied to anything, so you can stop and start it whenever you like. A $40 top up last 28 days and gives up 6GB data (3GB daytime *8am-8pm*, 3GB nighttime *8pm-8am*), unlimited international calls, unlimited national calls, unlimited texts, and heaps more! Better still, Telstra has phone booths all over the country which produce a wifi hotspot - free for Telstra users! We used this mostly for iMaps so we could navigate from location to location, but it was purely just a handy addition to our trip.
5. Portable charger: This little beast is not essential, but definitely extremely useful. When we were planning on having a long day out, a lazy day in (where there was no access to power) or just needed to boost our devices a little - this bad boy came to the rescue. You can pick them up everywhere nowadays and different models range in battery life. We picked up a pretty basic model from Officeworks which can charge two devices at once.
6. In-car USB charger: Again, another useful little gadget. Easy to find in most shops, they generally plug into the cigarette lighter area of older cars. We had a duo port which meant we could both charge our phones when on the move.
7. Lonely Planet Guidebook: James' lovely parents bought us the Lonely Planet East Coast Guidebook and it was a godsend! This nifty little book has everything from accommodation to cool places to grab a cocktail. Although the RRP is a little pricey we totally recommend this beauty, it helped us find a lot of cool spots on our trip.
8. AUX Cable: Obvious? Maybe but a good road-trip requires good tunes.
9. Mozzie nets: When we bought our van we find some awesome mozzie nets which hook over your car window. These bad boys are super handy when you're travelling through the summer especially if like us, you don't have an aircon. Now you can leave your windows open a little at night to keep you cool without worrying about those nasty little blood-suckers.
10. CamperMate: DOWNLOAD THIS APP NOW! We could not have done our road-trip so cheap without our beloved CamperMate. There are a lot of similar apps on the market now, but CamperMate is free (i.e. Backpacker friendly).
11. Fairy lights: Okay...this one is a little bit girly but theres nothing quite like snuggling into bed after a long day with some nice wee fairy-lights twinkling - it;'s all about that mood lighting guys!
12. Spending book: Not for everyone, but throughout our whole trip we decided to write our daily spending down, simply to keep on top of things. An easy but handy task to ensure you are sticking to your set budget. Any other notebook will do! Similarly, every day I wrote down a few rough paragraphs on what we had got up to. It might sound a little childish, but it is really nice to look back at what you got up to, or even to reference back to a certain location or date.
Camping stove + pots & pans (We have 3 pots, all fairly small but different sizes & one large frying pan)
Cutlery, plates, bowls, cups
A basin (Not essential but super handy when camping it rough to get all your washing up done)
A jack, spare tyre and other handy tools
Screwdrivers (Surprisingly came in handy a lot more than expected)
Extra fuel canister
Large water container (We have a 10L one, very handy!)
Cooking bits and bobs; oil, salt, pepper, spices, etc
First Aid Kit
Dish towels, sponge, washing up products, etc
A tent (always handy for over-night hikes)
Duvet, blanket and pillows
Clothes pegs and rope
Saw for fire wood
Bin and bin bags
Ziplocks and Tupperware containers for left over food
Air freshener and candles
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