A van trip got me wondering: How much does a holiday on the road cost?

Since the pandemic restricted our international travel options, many Aussies have become hooked on the romanticism of renting out a campervan and hitting the open road as an alternative to booking a hotel or Airbnb. If that sounds right up your alley (or your winding coastal road), we reveal what could be the most cost-effective option.
Van costs
My recent van trip it got me wondering, how much would it cost to travel in Australia by road? Image supplied.

I recently became the driver of one of what the Caravan Industry Association of Australia expects to be 750,000-odd registered motorhomes on Australian roads, on my first van holiday.

A friend and I chose what we hoped would be a cost-effective, adventurous and scenic way to travel, hiring out a campervan from Sydney and free-camping as we travelled down the east coast to Melbourne in seven days.

Like many Australians, I was lucky enough to have a considerable stash of credits with an airline stored in my travel bank thanks to a COVID-cancelled overseas holiday last year, so that took care of all flight expenses to and from my home in Queensland.

All that remained to pay for was the van hire, fuel, food and activities.

My total expenses for the trip added up to just over $100 per day, which I was happy with given the number of places we were able to visit compared to a stationary stay at an Airbnb for the week.

This got me thinking, what would be the most cost-effective way to do a holiday on the road in Australia? After all, just about everyone seems to be either doing it or thinking about it.

Road trip holidays trending up, but COVID-19 still holding industry back

Caravan Industry Association of Australia spokesperson Keelan Howard told Canstar 19 million Australians were considering a holiday on the road in 2021, with participation in road trips on the rise and increasingly driven by young people.

So-called ‘grey nomads’ were still an important and large road holiday group that typically take longer holidays of anywhere from three weeks to three months, he said, but families were actually the largest group on the road, and young people were the fastest-growing demographic, pushed along by the impacts of COVID-19.

“People who might not have considered a caravan camping holiday because they might go overseas or take a cruise have now either been forced or have chosen the safety elements that are provided by caravan camping,” Mr Howard said.

He said the van rental industry was also thriving among people new to road trip holidays, as an opportunity to try the lifestyle before they buy.

He said Australians were still cautious about spending money, however, with many prioritising saving or buying a home while interest rates are at record lows, meaning the industry wasn’t quite back to its pre-COVID levels yet.

IBISWorld Senior Industry Analyst James Thomson said demand for caravan and motorhome rental services was reliant upon household discretionary income, especially in times like these.

“In times of economic uncertainty, discretionary income typically falls and consumer activity is cancelled, or scaled back,” he wrote in the Caravan and Motorhome Rental in Australia report late last year. “Therefore, growth in discretionary income generally stimulates demand for caravan and motorhome rental services.”

Areas of the industry that have been recovering more quickly have been camping locations such as holiday parks closer to a major city, according to Mr Howard, especially if travellers don’t have to cross a border to get there.

Usually, this time of year would see a migration of grey nomads heading north out of the cold southern states, but Mr Howard said the industry would be keeping all eyes on Victoria, given it has just experienced a statewide lock down.

He said as the weather grows cold down south, many older Australians normally make their way up the M1 and sprinkle their money around the tourist attractions of the towns they stop at as they head further north.

“But for as long as there’s caution, and every time there’s an outbreak or a border gets shutdown, that doesn’t help with intent.”

Cost to go on a road trip holiday in Australia

Canstar research analysts have crunched the numbers to give you an idea of how much it could cost to go on a road trip holiday in Australia, excluding any spending money, car insurance or unexpected expenses you might need to account for like car repairs or cancellation costs. We looked at a two-week road trip, a six-month trip and a one-year trip, comparing the costs of doing it in a car and caravan that already you own outright, hiring a campervan or driving your own car and paying for cabin accommodation. Here’s what we found.

↓ See below for how we figured this out.

How much does a short road trip holiday cost in Australia?

The cheapest option for a two-week road trip in Australia, travelling 2,600 kilometres, would be to drive your own car and stay in your own caravan (assuming you already own these), at $1,189.84. This is made up of $634.62 in accommodation costs for staying at powered camping sites and $555.22 of fuel expenses, according to our calculations. Of course, you could cut that down even further free camping at registered locations that are either free or very low cost, such as national parks.

Interestingly, the research shows driving your own car and staying in cabin accommodation would actually be cheaper than hiring out a campervan for a short holiday, coming in at $2,224.29 compared to the hire cost of $2,453.11.

How much does a six month trip around Australia cost?

According to our calculations, having your own transport and accommodation makes an even bigger difference in total cost the longer the trip is. For instance, a six-month trip of 15,000 kilometres in a car and caravan that you already own could cost $11,507.50, but going in a hired van or driving to accommodation could put you back between $13,000 and $14,000 more.

To do the same six-month trip in a hired campervan, you’d need to save $24,632.13, according to our analysis, plus a bit extra to account for spending and unexpected costs. Driving to accommodation would cost $26,362.45, $24,436.81 of which would purely be on accommodation.

How much does a year-long trip around Australia cost?

To travel 25,000 kilometres around Australia in one year, you’d need to have around $22,039.02 set aside for a car and caravan trip. We found $16,700.32 of that would need to go towards paying for powered camping sites, while the remaining $5,000-odd dollars would go towards fuel.

The cost to hire out a campervan would total $50,308.93 once you add in paid stays and fuel, but the hire charge alone would set you back nearly $30,000. You could buy a used campervan for anywhere from $30,000 on average, according to van-sharing platform Camplify.

The cost to drive your own car and stay in cabin accommodation for a year-long trip would cost about $2,000 more than van hire, at $52,353.03.

Source: www.canstar.com.au – 7/06/2021. Hire costs based on a selection of quotes obtained from four providers for 11 vans that sleep two people. Quotes obtained on 4/06/2021; assumptions included: driver aged 30, start date of 1 October 2021, and pick-up and drop-off in Sydney. Accommodation costs based on the average cost of 860 (452 powered camp sites + 408 cabins) BIG4 Holiday Park accommodation options for two people. Car + caravan and campervan hire scenarios based on powered camping site options (excluding glamping), and car + cabin scenario based on cabin accommodation options with one bed and one bathroom that sleep at least two people. Accommodation costs for 2 week trip based on the national average, otherwise is based on the state averages weighted by the proportion of holiday visitor nights spent in each state in 2019 (Source: Tourism Research Australia: National Visitors Survey). Fuel costs based on the average fuel consumption applied to the assumed trip distances (2,600km for two weeks, 20,000km for six months, and 40,000km for one year) to get total fuel required, and the national average unleaded petrol price (Source: Australian Institute of Petroleum Annual Retail Price Data 2020). Assumed trip distances based on: two weeks – the average of a sample of two week Australian road trips, six months – the total length of Highway 1 (rounded up to the nearest thousand) which circumnavigates mainland Australia and also traverses part of Tasmania, 1 year – the total length of Highway 1 with an additional 10,000 km (e.g. to travel to Uluru as well). Fuel consumption is based on: Campervan hire – average of the 11 quoted hire vans, car + cabin – average petrol fuel consumption of passenger vehicles manufactured since 2015 from the ABS Survey of Motor Vehicle Use 2020, Car + Caravan – average petrol fuel consumption per ABS but assuming car only gets 60% of this rated fuel economy due to the extra weight from towing the caravan. ^Total based only on the three costs outlined above, other holiday costs would apply.

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