Van Life in Australia: everything you need to know

Hi backpackers, my name is Lene, I’m 22 and yes, I’ve lived the Van Life in Australia.

I have been so lucky to have travelled the south and southwest coast of Australia (from Melbourne to Perth) for four months last year with my boyfriend in our beautiful van Elsa.
It was the most magical, eye-opening and special time of my life so far.

Living in our little home on wheels, sleeping right at the beach, being in nature 24/7 and experiencing all of this with my favourite person on earth was seriously the best thing ever and brought us even closer together.

Living the Van Life in Australia

Interview with @lunalene_


Where to buy or rent a van:

If you want to travel to Australia and really want to experience the culture and country, and I mean not only the cities and hot spots, then getting a car is the most convenient way to travel. Australia is HUGE, it’s bigger than Europe, so don’t underestimate its size!

Of course with getting a car comes a lot of research and paperwork: it’s time-consuming to find the perfect car and also to sell it to the right person at the end.

I would recommend buying a car only if you stay for a minimum of three months.

If your stay is shorter than three months, I would consider renting a van. There are many companies who rent fully converted vans (I don’t have a personal recommendation, but JUCY and Wicked Campers are quite popular companies that I remember seeing a lot driving around).

Esperance, Van Life in Australia

What type of car/van should you buy?

If you plan to buy a car you first have to decide which type of car you want. Do you plan to drive offroad often? Then a 4×4 is probably the best option. Do you want a cosy van with a bed inside, a little kitchen area and a bit more space to chill in? Or maybe a station wagon?

Gumtree is the main page to look for a car in Australia, despite that there are many backpack/travel Facebook groups where people sell their cars.

The prices vary a lot, they depend on the car, the history of the car, the km’s, the set-up, the equipment that comes with the car (does the car have a solar panel, a second battery, and earning…?), when and where you buy the car (if you buy a van in Australian summer on the east coast you will probably pay a lot more than in Australian winter on the west coast; keep that in mind when selling the van after your trip), so I can’t really give you a specific price, but probably something between 3000-7000 AUD.

Van Life in Australia: Budget

Our budget was limited to food and fuel only.

Our food budget was 100AUD for two persons/per week and we cooked all our meals ourselves.

We did not really have a budget for fuel. All we knew was that Perth would have been our final destination, so we just roughly calculated what we would pay for fuel in four months.

We only paid for sleeping five times and free camped the rest of the 4 months.

Oh and we paid about 500AUD for a new cooler, which broke while driving the Nullabor.

Van Life in Australia: life on the road

What do you eat on the road?

We haven’t had a fridge in our van, which was kind of a struggle in the beginning, but we quickly got used to it after a couple of weeks. Dairy is quite expensive in Australia and we are both vegetarians anyways, so the fridge wasn’t even necessary.

Our go-to meals were:

  • Oats with rice milk, peanut butter, nuts and different kinds of fruit
  • Pancakes with bananas
  • Pasta with veggie sauce
  • Rye bread from the farmers market with avocado
  • Pumpkin potato soup
  • Gnocchi with cream sauce
  • Rice with guacamole, corn and spicy mushrooms

How do you deal with showers, toilets and so on?

Showers: We tended to stick to the coast a lot, and were swimming in the sea and using beach showers whenever possible. We also used the showers of the local swimming centre a couple of times when passing a town. You pay the entry, which is only a couple of dollars, have a quick swim and a hot shower after 🙂

Toilets: There are more toilets than you expect. Car parks, campgrounds, cafes, libraries, supermarkets, petrol stations…and if there is none around, you somehow work it out haha

Is it safe/legal to free camp in Australia?

I never felt unsafe or afraid while living the van life in Australia. Actually the fewer people around, the safer I felt.

For the legal part: It depends on which state you are, they have different laws in each state. In most states, free camping isn’t allowed.

We often used the satellite in google maps or the app ‚wikicamps‘ to find free camp spots or to find spots where other people felt safe and haven’t had bad experiences with rangers.

The most important thing that comes with free camping is being respectful of the environment. We always, always (!) took all our stuff with us and never left any rubbish behind! We saw so many beautiful camping spots that were flooded with rubbish and it was heartbreaking to see how other campers destroyed these spots because they had no appreciation for the environment.

Top 4 essential things for van life in SA & WA?

-Ereader, audible account or Spotify, mosquito repellant & the app wiki camps (for free camp spots, showers, toilets, drinking water, launderettes, libraries with free wifi …)

What do you do on rainy days?

I read a good book, listened to music, we used the rainy days to plan our next sunny days, played cards, drank endless cups of hot chocolate, and watched our favourite Netflix shows.

What does a typical “Van Life in Australia” day look like?

Wake up early in the morning, make coffee while watching the sunrise, do some yoga at the beach, have breakfast, swim in the ocean, take some photos, read a book / listen to an audiobook, drive to a different spot, edit photos, eat dinner, enjoy sunset with a glass of wine, playing cards in the van or watch some Netflix, go to bed early and repeat.

How do you keep yourself entertained on long drives?

We both love audiobooks and podcasts and always listened to something while driving.

Van Life in Australia

Best places to visit in South Australia & Western Australia

1) Esperance (WA)

Esperance is definitely my top 1! It’s my absolute favourite place in Australia so far, sand white beaches and not many people around. Kangaroos at the beach in Cape le Grand and you can park your van right at the beach. The beaches in Esperance are out of this world, my favourites are :

  • Twilight beach
  • Lucky Bay
  • Duke of Orleans
  • Blue Haven
Van Life in Australia, Esperance (WA)
– Esperance (WA) –

2) Margaret River Region (WA)

Margaret River is such a beautiful region. There is soo much to do and explore! So many breathtaking hidden camp spots, lovely people, delicious wine, an amazing farmers market and awesome beaches make this region a perfect stopover for people living the van life in Australia.

There was this one camp spot in Yallingup, which was our personal fave, where we saw dolphins almost every single morning. Margaret River is a beautiful place to spend a couple of days or, as we did, even weeks.

Oh, and if you are going to Margs, definitely go to the Margaret River Bakery! The cakes there are amazing, I would die to get a piece right now!

- Margaret River Region (WA) -
– Margaret River Region (WA) –

3) Fleurieu Peninsula (SA)

I absolutely loved Second Valley and the beaches between Second Valley and Adelaide. I found it a bit tricky to free camp in the area. There were quite a few rangers around and it was pretty busy, but the beautiful hills and fields of Second Valley are definitely worth a visit and it was such a magical experience to wander through the fields with incredible ocean views.

Australian landscape, Fleurieu Peninsula

– Fleurieu Peninsula (SA) –

4) Yorke Peninsula (SA)

We spent a week camping in the Yorke Peninsula and what a magical place it is! Secluded camp spots and beautiful beaches! Shell beach in Innes National Park was my favourite and the National Park itself was also really amazing!

Van Life in Australia, Yorke Peninsula

– Yorke Peninsula (SA) –

5) Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park (SA)

I loved Flinders, even though it was extremely hot when we were there. Lots of great walks, hikes and scenic drives. We spent a couple of nights in Wilpena Pound on their campground, and it was so nice to park the car in the shade and have a minimum of three showers per day haha.

Sunset shot, Australia

– Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park (SA) –

What would you do differently?

Nothing except staying longer than four months haha.. I’ll be back Australia!

Selling the van

What did you do with Elsa at the end of the trip?

About a month before leaving Australia we put Elsa up on Gumtree and several Facebook backpack groups.

When we arrived in Perth a week before our flight back to Germany we sold Elsa to another German couple. For us, it was the best scenario possible, because Elsa started her next adventure right away.

Travel couple living the Van Life in Australia

What’s your best memory from your Van Life in Australia?

I don’t really have one specific memory that is my favourite. The entire four months were just so eye-opening and magical for me, that the van life, in general, is my favourite memory‘.

Living the most simple life in our little home on wheels, experiencing the most incredible sunrises and sunsets every day, being in touch with nature 24/7 and getting to the core of what really matters in life changed a lot for us here in Germany, too. Actually we miss van life so much, that we are currently looking for a van here in Germany. We want to convert it in the next couple of month and start traveling Europe this summer. I’m so excited to be back in the van so soon!