Are We There Yet?

Planning a trip around Australia

We have been asked many times over just how we have gone about preparing for our trip. How are we going to afford it? How are we going to put our lives on hold? Most importantly, how are we going to get around this huge country? For those that are interested or thinking about planning a similar trip, below is some information about how we went about preparing for our time on the road.

 

Getting ourselves organised

We began talking about doing ‘the big loop’ about two years before we finally started. When we say ‘talking’, what we actually mean is Alan began pestering Bron about taking off in a campervan and living like a nomad. Here is a rough idea about how it played out:

 

  1. Choosing the right vehicle for travelling Australia

After more than a year of researching Mitsubishi Delicas, decommissioned ambulances, Troopcarriers and all manner of expedition vehicles, an ad came up on Gumtree for Bruce. Bruce was a 1999 Toyota LandCruiser 75 series Troopcarrier with a poptop. As fate would have it, he was in the next suburb over. “Bron!” said Alan. “It’s just down the road. Come look at it with me.”

Bruce was perfect, and a week later, after a clean bill of health from the mechanic, we got the keys. Alan did a huge amount of research before we started looking for the right truck for us, and we’ve started putting together a bunch of information on things to look for (we’ll publish it soon!).

 

  1. Making a plan

We began talking about our plans before finding Bruce. However, It wasn’t until after we bought him that we started getting serious. We decided on a six-month trip, rather than a full year. This was largely down to budget and work.

We discussed a rough itinerary, a term I use very loosely, and decided we wanted to focus on exploring the top end of Australia. This meant that we needed to do most of our travelling during the dry season (April-November). Since we bought Bruce in December, that meant we had about 6 months to get everything sorted. Once you have a deadline like that, the ball starts rolling.

Our travel dates of June – December were locked in once we had sorted our finances, arranged leave from work and figured out other commitments we had.

 

  1. Financing our trip

No surprises here. We saved!

We generally live pretty simply. We share a house so our rent is cheap and we split the bills. We are close to public transport and, until Bruce, didn’t own a car. We are both still paying off our student loans, but that is our only debt.

After rent, our biggest weekly expense by far was food and drink. Daily coffees, brunch every weekend, rounds at the pub. Nothing unusual or really extravagant, just unnecessary and expensive. Now, we didn’t completely stop doing these things, we just did them less. We made our own coffee in the morning, took our lunches to work, dinner out as a treat etc. There is so much information online now about ways to reduce your spending, from switching utilities and insurance providers, to getting more from your grocery shop. Check out Frugal and Thriving and Stay at Home Mum for some inspiration.

Beyond the usual savings advice we would suggest doing some more reading into the ‘minimalist movement’. This is the idea that we are all living far too busy lives with far too much excess stuff that it becomes all-consuming. We found it useful in changing our mindset from ‘I can’t buy that’, to ‘I don’t want to buy that’. Living out of a campervan is all about living life a little more simply, so why not start working on your mindset a little earlier? If nothing else just think, anything you buy before your trip will need packing away eventually. So make life easier for ‘future you’ by not having extra stuff to deal with. Check out The Minimalists and War on Waste for inspiration.

We were very lucky to find a person to sub-let our furnished  room while we are on the road. Not only does this mean we have our lovely home to go back to, it means that we do not have to pay for an empty room or furniture storage. For all of our personal belongings, like clothes etc, we were lucky to be able to cram it into a spare room at Mum’s. We used a combination of Flatmates.com and a dedicated Facebook group for the area we live in to find someone.

If you aren’t in a position to let/sub-let your place, you will need to factor in ongoing rent, mortgage repayments or furniture storage as an additional expense.

It took roughly six months to pull together the $25,000 we estimated we will need for our trip. This excludes the money we spent buying Bruce and some of the immediate expenses to get him ready.

At a later date, we will put together a blog post with more information on our budget. However, if you are planning a trip of your own we recommend checking out Aus Camping Adventures. That’s one guide we have been using.

 

  1. Asking for time off work

 The career stuff is tricky. As 30-ish somethings still climbing the career ladder, taking an extended break from employment is a tough decision. If you have long-service leave, great, use it. If (like us) you don’t, there are two options – ask for extended leave, or leave your job. We can share our experience from both perspectives.

As Bron didn’t want to give up her job, our trip hinged on whether she was able to get extended leave. Thankfully, they were happy to offer leave without pay for the duration of the trip. When asking for leave you have to get your timing right, or at least as good as possible. Don’t ask during annual reporting time when everyone is really busy, and don’t ask during a restructure. A bi-annual performance review provided the perfect opportunity to bring it up. It’s not an easy conversation to have, but you have to bite the bullet. The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss is an excellent resource and has a chapter specifically on this subject.

Alan’s job, however, wasn’t as accommodating. He asked for the leave, but they weren’t prepared to hold the role open for him. While disappointing, for Alan it wasn’t the end of the world. He was happy to hand in his resignation with the knowledge that he had sufficient savings to last the duration of the trip and for a while afterwards. It also presented the opportunity to work on his own website design business.

 

  1. Getting the truck ready

Even though Bruce was all ready to drive away, we made a few modifications to make him a bit more comfortable, and  to make him better suited to the trip we were planning to take. There’s a whole section of the website that explains the work we have done, so take a look at The Vehicle.

Alan did all the modifications himself (certified by an engineer where necessary) in order to save some money. However, it did end up taking more than double the time we anticipated it to take.  Something that looked like a simple job frequently wasn’t, especially because we were working with an older model vehicle. We also spent a crazy amount of time in Bunnings looking for the rights bits and pieces for the job. If you are planning on making modifications yourself, make sure you keep your receipts. We ended up returning/swapping a lot of the stuff we bought because it wasn’t quite right for the job.

We bought a lot of equipment we needed online, either through eBay or direct with the manufacturer. This involved a lot of research, particularly when the item came from overseas. Unlike Australian stores there could have been limited redress if something was wrong. Throughout this website we will refer specifically to those brands we opted to go with, and provide an honest review of them.

We only had one big issue with ordering online, and that was the gas strut we bought for the back door. The supplier put the wrong address on the order and so, despite ordering over a week in advance, it only arrived on the day we were due to leave for the trip. Lesson here: order early, just in case something goes wrong.

 

  1. Packing our stuff away

The focus here is on the stuff we left behind rather than stuff we took with us.

As mentioned above, we were lucky to sub-let our room fully furnished, and the rest of our whitegoods just stayed behind in the house too. Packing for a trip like this isn’t like going on a big holiday, nor is it like packing to move house. It is something in between.

It is amazing how much stuff you accumulate when you live somewhere for a long period. Even though we adopted a minimalist approach in the months leading up to the trip, we still had an abundance of stuff we had collected over the last four years that needed to be dealt with. We started packing like you would to move house – wrap everything up and put it in a box. However, it soon became clear that there was too much to go into storage at Mum’s. It was only at that point that we started getting more ruthless and throwing and donating more. There is a certain satisfaction in having a good clear out and making some space in your life. We regret not starting this sooner, and we suspect that when it comes time to unpack our boxes we will look at what’s inside and make a few more trips to Vinnies charity shop. If you are getting ready for your own trip, a tip here is to get ruthless early on.

We also made sure to pack a single suitcase with all the most important things we will need when we first get back. Since Bron will be going straight back to work, ours is mostly work clothes, standard charging cables, travel cards and other ID documents, etc. That way, we don’t have to rush to unpack everything.

 

Getting on the road

The last few weeks before we left were pretty hectic, with a mad dash to get everything finished on Bruce. Even Bron’s Dad was roped in to lend a helping hand. A few of the smaller jobs that didn’t require power tools were left until we were on the road.

As we’ve been settling in to life on the road we’ve done some reorganising and discovered a few things we wished we’d brought or left behind.

Be sure to check back regularly as we put up new articles where we’ll go in to more detail. If you have any questions or would like to know our experience with anything in particular feel free to ask in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook.

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