How to survive living in a campervan…for a year…with a boy

Living in a campervan is either your idea of heaven or your idea of hell.

If you’re on the heaven side of the camp you’ll be thinking about the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want. You’ll be imagining camping on beaches and gathering around a campfire while drinking beers under the stars.

If living in a campervan would be your idea of hell then you’re probably thinking of the cramped spaces, having to make a bathroom out of a bush and the many, many hours driving. And when The Boy and I drove around Australia in our campervan, there was A LOT of driving! You can check out our Australia road trip itinerary here.

Living in a campervan was by far the best experience of my life but there were times when it wasn’t easy. After a whole year of it, my boyfriend and I came up with a few tips to make it easier:

Embrace minimalism…then take it a step further

To say there was very little room inside the campervan is the understatement of the century. I’ve always wanted to live with just the clothes on my back but if you do that in the real world, well, you’d be a tramp. Backpacking is probably the only exception.

For the final few months of our time on the road I had:

  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • 1 pair of denim cut-off’s
  • 2 singlets
  • 1 dress
  • 2 bikinis
  • 1 jumper
  • 1 woolly hat

In some ways it was liberating to have so little and to never wake up thinking ‘I wonder what I should wear today…’

Make friends with someone who has a better van than you

It doesn’t matter how good your campervan is, there’s always someone with a bigger and better one. Our van was a battered old VW with a mattress and a cupboard so it wasn’t difficult for us to find friends who met this criteria. People generally stick to similar routes when they’re backpacking so it’s easy enough to stick together.

We made friends with a group of guys who had that luxury item all backpackers want – a fridge. And what does a fridge mean? Cold beer. It was a very good friendship choice.

What to do when it rains

Living in a campervan leads to a very outdoorsy lifestyle because it’s not like you can kickback in the living room to play computer games (unless you’re in one of those fancy pants campers like on Meet the Fockers). When it rains you’re left with very few options that don’t involve spending a fortune.

Of course you can go to a shopping mall, out for food, the cinema or bowling but this isn’t good for a backpacker’s budget.

We eventually came up with a weird but entertaining solution – go to the pet store.

In the US and Australia, pet stores aren’t like the ones in the UK that just have food and fish, these ones have kittens and puppies! Yes, you look like a complete weirdo (especially when you’re travelling with four guys in their late 20’s) but, you have to admit, it’s a great way to spend a rainy afternoon without spending a penny.

Always put your food in sealed containers

We learnt this lesson the hard way and had a little mouse join us for part of the journey. I dread to think how long I was sharing my muesli with Stuart Little. We spent a few nights listening to him scurry around the roof space of the van before we finally caught him (and then realised how small and cute he was and felt terrible!)

Make sure you have air-con and the money to pay for it

We bought our campervan based on the fact it had ‘Icy Cold Air-Con’ and when I say icy cold, I actually mean arctic standards that could lead to frost bite. It was delightful!

The only problem was than you could see the fuel gauge drop when the A/C was switched on. We had a few weeks when we were driving to a new job but had so little money that we had to turn it off and drive with wet towels hanging from the windows and around our necks. I honestly thought I was going to melt.

Stay in campsites whenever possible

The thought of camping on the beach is all very romantic and it’s great for one or two nights a week but it won’t be long before you miss toilets, hot showers, cooking facilities and the company of other people.

One the west coast of Australia it was easy to go days without seeing anyone except in petrol stations so it’s good to get to a campsite where can chat to the locals and other travellers going in the opposite direction for some advice and insider’s tips.

Having a bit of company from other people also stops you wanting to murder each. Which leads me nicely to my next point.

If you’re driving around Australia in your campervan, don’t stop at Wolf Creek

We drove past Wolf Creek but were total scardy cats and didn’t eeven stop to take a photo. Here’s a blurry one I managed to take out of the window.

Laugh at the bad times

It’s really important to laugh at the bad times because, although there weren’t many, there were some.

The murderer

There was a time when we camped in the middle of nowhere and locked ourselves in the van because we were sure there was a murderer outside. I was too scared to go out and pee so that was a VERY long night.

The Cassowary Bird

There was a time when a Cassowary Bird and it’s baby appeared out of nowhere and scared me so much that I dropped a cool box full of beer.  It turns out the kasawari is endangered and extremely rare but we spent the next 6 months cursing ‘that stupid big bird with the blue head’, not realising how lucky we were to see it at all.

The local hooligans

There was a time we camped under an apple tree (lovely shady spot) but didn’t get a wink of sleep as apples dropped on the van all night. We thought it was local hooligans throwing stones and spent the night devising a plan to get rid of them.

The hangovers

There were many mornings waking up in a stiflingly hot campervan with a hangover from hell and feeling as though the world was about to end because there was no escape from the heat.

The emu attack

There was a time we got attacked by emus as we tried to get water from a tap in Cape Range National Park. Every time we got the tap running, more and more emus came bounding over to get some water of their own. We were so thirsty!

The shower knock-out

There was time I was using a solar shower, feeling all at one with nature as it hung from the branch of a tree. Unfortunately the branch snapped and the shower full of water nearly knocked me out.

The spiders

There were the many nights of disrupted sleep when the dreaded words were whispered through the dark: “I think there’s a spider in the van.” The van would be emptied and torches would be shone in every nook and cranny until we were sure we were safe.

The fines

And then there were the many speeding fines, parking fines, crossing the bridge fines, toll road fines, fines for not paying fines and the arguments that followed about who was driving when the fines were issued.

Little tip: If you want to avoid getting fines in Australia, don’t buy a great big, bright green campervan. I think the fact that it stuck out like a sore thumb drew attention to it and led to even more fines.

But even as I’m writing this I can’t help but laugh. I think I’ll still be laughing at some of the stupid things that happened when I’m in my 80’s and I’ll know that it was all worth it and that it was the best year of my life.

If you’re thinking about buying a vehicle in Australia, make sure you check out my mini guide to buying a car or campervan in Australia.

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TheTravelHack

Monica is the founder and editor of The Travel Hack. She began the blog in 2009 when she left the UK to travel around Asia and Australia for two years. She's now a professional blogger and has travelled around the world in search of stylish adventure travel. Monica has recently had a baby and is now determined to prove that travelling with a baby is possible!

SHOWHIDE Comments (73)
  1. This post made me laugh so much, sounds like such an incredible adventure! I’ve seen those Cassowary birds in a zoo in Aussie before and they’re pretty scary! I always thought living in a campervan would be amazing, but I can see how it could be pretty testing at times 🙂

  2. I can not believe you lived in a van for a year! I do not think I could do it.

    The Campervan style of travel is interesting to me because we really do not have something like it in the U.S. The equivalent here is traveling by RV or towing a Travel Trailer which are much larger and more well equipped than what you were using in Australia. It is also much more popular with older people and families here.

    Hopefully I will visit Australia soon so I can experience this.

    1. We met a lot of retired people who were travelling around Australia in campervans too but there is a nice mix of old and young and everyone gets along together. Most people don’t do it with such a basic van as what we had, but unfortunately our backpacker budget wouldn’t allow for much else 🙁

    2. You have a lot of camper van life in the US Jeff, you just have to look for it. You have folks on You tube describing their camper van lifestyle, you have a couple of websites running and of the best books about living in a van was written in the USA.
      The size of your living space and your needs are a thing of your perception and your conscious awareness.
      My wife and I have twins and we travel around in a pop top Volkswagen camper for months. We cook most of our food and don’t make a lot of fuss about toilets and bathrooms. After all, there are other sources of water and as a species, it’s only recently that we live with all the commodities around us.
      And we kept this basic idea with our camper van rentals as well. We’re just fine with simplicity. http://www.spicycampers.com
      Link

  3. Love this! This sounds incredible.
    I am off to Australia with the boyfriend in October, and we are planning to road trip up the East Coast. Any tips on renting? Its all so expensive, and for a month buying seems silly.

    1. Have you checked the Apollo website? Sometimes you can get relocate rates and you’ll only pay a few dollars to take a campervan all the way up or down the coast.
      Yes, renting for just a month might be a bit too much effort. I think Hippy Campers are cheap but a bit rubbish. Autobarn are a bit more expensive but I had friends with one of these for 2 months and they got a good deal. My main tip would be to get one with a fridge!

  4. I love campervan living – its definitely the way to travel Oz! Glad to see it wasn’t just me who had a few ‘interesting’ incidents on the road!haha!

  5. LOL!! I love this – great advice and the emu attack is hilarious! I particularly agree with “Make friends with someone who has a better van than you” – genius xx

  6. Wow a year in a campervan, how did you adjust to life after your year?

    We, family of 4, have just completed 6 weeks in a caravan touring around France, we loved it and quickly become accustomed to the lack of space and the sparing collection of clothes. In fact, our biggest issue has been adjusting to being in a big house now that we are home.

    1. I actually found that adjusting back was really tough too. I didn’t have a clue what to do with all this ‘stuff’. I felt like I had loads of useless stuff everywhere. But having a nice hot shower, fluffy towels and a real bed was a lovely luxury!

  7. Nice tips! I spent a lot of time with my partner travelling in campervans and one thing we do is make sure we schedule some time apart. So if we’re in a site with a lounge and wifi that’s great. We split up, work separately and then meet for lunch and at the end of the day. Living in each others pockets all day every day just wouldn’t be feasible.

  8. Great set of tips, I consider myself a camper but this sounds like one heck of an experience. This really gets me excited about my own upcoming adventure through South America. Really because of your final statement, about laughing over the memories when you are in your 80s.

  9. Your article is great. I must say, living in a camper van has been fun for Megan and I. We love getting to see new things every day and it feels good to be spending money on new experiences rather than rent and bills. It works really good for us young folks 🙂

    Keep on keeping on in the UK. Hopefully someday we’ll make it out there.

    Check out my blog and hopefully someday we’ll find ourselves on the same road!

  10. Sh*t that’s cool…

    My dream no.1 is So-Cal, but my wife has Australia in her mind for a few years…
    The big question is – how to throw everything and take my girls and just go no matter what happens next….

    I wanna be 20 again 😛

  11. Hi,

    Enjoyed reading about your adventures. I live in a Motorhome too and can relate to some of the things you say. Do you happen to trade links with other websites?

    All the best
    Gary

  12. The idea of it is intriguing. However, I think it would drive me nuts. I think it would be fun to start but get old after while. You’ve got some great stories and memories from this trip. However, I think I would need something similar to Meet the Fockers 🙂

    I don’t need anything really fancy but a little more space would be nice. I need my alone time.

  13. This post took me back to when my hubby and I did a 3 month road trip of the States. We slept in the back of a very small van with nothing buy a thin mattress in the back! But I will remember those 3 months more than most periods of of my life!

    I would love to do it again, but perhaps this time have a proper RV, even if it is a small one 🙂

    Great read, thanks so much for sharing!

  14. Hi Monica,
    It looks like you had an epic trip! Lived in Australia for 3 years but never got to do a big campervan trip 🙁 Planning one here in New Zealand now, thank you for sharing these tips 🙂

  15. Brilliant read, considering we are 10 weeks away from starting our own adventure around Oz. Heaven or hell?? We are about to find out. So looking forward to the minimalist lifestyle (we have so much clutter with two kids) and the being forced out into nature situation.

    Great tips and a fun read Monica. Have bookmarked and will refer to this again.

    It’s going to have it’s challenging moments, but I’m sure the good memories and laughs will FAR out way the bad.

    1. It will certainly be quite an experience with two kids but I’m sure it will be an adventure of a lifetime! We met a few young families along the way and the kids were always having such a great time. There is such a lovely community feel on the campsites and if you stay for a few nights you get a real family vibe where everyone cooks and eats and plays together.
      I can’t wait to read more about your trip!

  16. Hi Monica,

    I totally love your article, it really change my point of view on road trip. Me & my bf are also thinking about going for a trip around AU. I was wondering, did you guys work during this travel? And if it is not secret, what are average costs for trip like that please? Thanks 😉

    1. Hi Veronika,
      It’s not a secret at all so I don’t mind you asking – it costs a fortune for a road trip like this! And I mean a fortune. I think we spent about $15,000. And yes, we did work. We worked in Sydney for 3 months and Melbourne for 3 months but to be honest, living and working in a city is tough if you’re saving money. So we moved to a scuba diving island where we worked for 6 months. While we were on the island our food and accommodation was included so the only thing we needed to buy was toiletries and beer. In that 6 months we saved a lot of money and also gained our second year working holiday visa. It’s a myth about having to work on a farm – you just need to work somewhere rural and not in hospitality.
      I don’t know where you’re coming from but I’d suggest working as soon as you get to Australia because the Aussie dollar is so strong. Spending our British savings out there was crazy but the wages are high in Australia so it makes it much easier.
      Just ask if you have any more questions!

  17. I would just like to say i really admire what you’ve done. I have the same interest i just haven’t done it yet. I’m currently looking into campervans that come equipped with shower and toilet. I want all of the basic needs covered. Making money over the web or out on the road is a must because i don’t have much of it lol. Within the next ten years my boys will be grown leaving me with the freedom to really get out and see some incredible sites and meetsome great people aalong the way. My preference to go with a campervan instead of a big rv or truck camper is that i want the option to simply pull into any parking lot along the way if needed to rest up or eat a quick meal without drawing any attention to myself. A van would seem to be more under the radar.

    1. Definitely, a van makes it much easier to pull up anywhere and you have so much more freedom. It also means it’s that bit easier to drive around cities or towns when you choose to.

      I hope you have a great time Roger!

  18. We have been travelling for nearly 7 months now in our motorhome with our 4 children. We started in the Arctic Circle and spent 5 months in Norway, Finland and Sweden chasing the Aurora Borealis and are now in Italy having been to Hungary, Germany, Czech Republic, Croatia, Austria, Slovenia and Slovakia.

    it’s been tough at times especially when temperatures dipped down to 30 below. Actually 30 above is harder as you can’t do much about it and we don’t have air con.

    We’re due home in Sept but have decided to do one more season of Norway and the Northern Lights. they don’t call us the Aurora Addicts for nothing! There’s nothing like the freedom of life on the road…. it’s changed everything. The minimalism. The simplicity. The new friends. The closeness of our family now. The lights dancing across snow covered mountains…..

    As William Wallace said “FREEDOOOOOM”!!

    1. This sounds absolutely incredible, what an amazing adventure.
      My boyfriend and I are thinking about another road trip around Europe next summer so I’ll be checking out your blog posts for some inspiration!

  19. Hello! Great piece. Did you find it difficult to find somewhere to sleep the night? Did you get any fines for camping on the sides of roads – was this a trouble at all?
    Thanks, Sterlir.

    1. We never had any problems at all with finding a campsite to sleep in. We actually had a huge directory of campsites in Australia. It came with our van because we bought it second hand but you can pick one up in bookstores, camping shops and even gas stations out there. We usually planned where we would drive to in the morning. We didn’t once book in advance.
      We didn’t get any fines for camping on the side of the road. We tried not to do this because, even though it rounds like a lot of fun, it’s not good when you don’t have toilets, showers or water. When we did this we usually pulled up after dark and left at sunrise. I have heard about people getting fines so I’d avoid doing it in cities or popular beaches. We got away with it at Coogee a few times and there’s no better feeling than waking up and jumping straight into the sea.
      We got a few parking tickets from our van being too long for parking spots and sticking into the road a little.

  20. Thanks for the quick response. Did you make any decisions on the vans registration being in another state? I’ve read a couple things about changing if you intend on staying in a particular state a whole but I figured I’d just play ignorant/ or explain it’s an indefinite holiday.

    1. Yes, this was actually a bit of a pain. We bought it in Victoria but it was registered in NSW so we had to drive it from Melbourne to Sydney to register it (or we’d have to pay a large fee). I think the tax (or whatever it’s called over there) ran out in the Northern Territories so we had another nightmare with that. I’m so sorry, it was years ago so I can’t really remember now. I do remember that we didn’t have breakdown cover because it was really expensive to have cover that included all the states. They’re almost treated like different countries.
      To be totally honest, I don’t think you’ll get away with playing ignorant. You’ll need to pay extra to register it in a new state if you have to.
      If possible, I’d do your best to buy it and sell it in the same state. You’ll also need to register it to an address but most hostels will let you do this if you’re struggling to find somewhere.

  21. It sounds like you had an amazing adventure with some great travel memories.

    I’d love to take a campervan trip in either America or Australia someday. I had also noticed in Australia that you can hire some very posh campervans from a couple of well established companies. They had all the mod cons but were quite pricey to hire with recent exchange rates.

    At the moment we have a static caravan on the North Yorkshire coast and love taking breaks there. There is a lot of luxury in these statics nowadays and lots of room. Plus a working hot water shower, toilet and a gas fire to curl up too.

  22. Great article, very useful. Thanks! My one question is… so with the spider panics… how often were there actually spiders in the van???

  23. Nice list! Definitely agree with embracing minimalism (or at least trying) – it took me some practice but now it’s great. Also the food container tip, I’ve just learnt my lesson here (had a mouse in the van!). I’ve never stayed on a campsite though

  24. Article is interesting but I can’t even imaging myself travelling for 12 months. But ya I surely enjoyed reading the article and that part was scarry talking about “wolf creek”. Great job…

  25. This is the first time I’ve felt inspired to try out a camper van adventure! I’d definitely be whizzing past wolf creek too, even your blurred sign makes me shiver.
    So awesome you stuck it out for a year, thanks a lot for sharing!
    Laura

  26. I laughed so much at your stories as I can totally relate to them! Me and my boyfriend were cycling in Austria and Poland and camping on the way. We had so many nights when we thought there was a murderer outside… Once when we camped by the (very small) pond, he imagined that the murdered was a diver and hides in this puddle to find the best moment to kill us!

  27. I love this post! It makes me want to jump on a plane to Australia (which I may be doing later in the year anyway) and emracing a campervan life! I’m not sure if I could do it for a whole year but it certainly does sound amazing – the freedom that comes with it definitely makes up for the lack of clothes and other “luxuiries” that we’re used to.

  28. What a fantastic article and amazing adventure. So glad that you got to see the real Australia that so many miss.

  29. Hi Monica!
    First of all I absolutely love your blog and it has been one of the biggest inspiration I’ve had to start my own blog. At the moment my partner and I are going to similar experience as you did and i have a couple of questions that could be very useful.

    where did you do your farmwork (2nd year WHV ) .You mentioned in a post above that it doesn’t have to be farm work just rural work, if you could explain this more and where I can get the most information. It would be very appreciated!

    What was the name of the book campsite?

    Thank you so much and I’ll keep reading about your experiences!

  30. Oh my gosh this sounds awesome. I’m traveling through, as much of Australia as I can, starting in October and a friend is most likely joining me in January so a van has definitely been an option. I’ll check out your post on how to buy one now!

  31. Thanks for sharing this post ..

    I travelled in France, Belgium, Spain and Portugal from September to August. I had no problems at all. I know free camping in these areas is more difficult during June, July and August as the police do not like too many people taking up car parks when there are lots of visitors to the beaches.

  32. Hi guys,
    Really amazing photos of your campervan builds. Are you going to do some sort of manual or ebook for beginners like me? I’ve been renting campervans from various places and have had four holidays so far in Australia and New Zealand, its quite addictive, I think its time however to build my own camper and just leave it here in Australia so I can just come and get it and drive it every year. Campervan hire is generally expensive. I went with Totally Campers because at least they are a family business. Am sick of hiring campers so hope you write more life hacks because it also gets bloody hot in Oz. Please write an article on how to build your own campervan as cheaply as possible 🙂 Sam

  33. Great article and I am glad that we are not the only ones who occasionally want to kill each other along the way! It does sound like you are having an amazing adventure tho. We had one time in Wales when we wild camped in the car park of a beautiful woodland park only to find that it was a meeting place for ‘doggers’ (i.e. people who park up at night for sex with strangers). We left quickly before making any new ‘friends’ but it is funny sometimes what happens. Glad I didn’t have to share the van with any spiders tho. xx

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The Travel Hack

The Travel Hack is a blog about stylish adventure travel and affordable luxury.

We believe luxurious travel can be affordable and isn't just for the rich. Follow along with our worldwide adventures as we share our trips and tips for incredible travel experiences on a modest budget.