Keep costs under control on your next road trip

The thought of facing an airline trip making you queasy?

You’re not alone. Every school holiday the media broadcasts of packed check-in lines and cancelled or delayed flights make us all shudder.

Maybe it’s time for the great Australian road trip. And with the cost of living on the rise, here’s our guide to doing it on the cheap.

Off the beaten track

Australia has some well-known tourism hotspots that fill up fast during tourism season and can cost a bomb. But often if you drive just down the road, you can have the same experience at a fraction of the price.

Read: Have you tried these unique Australian dining experiences?

Noosa: damned expensive and crowded. Noosa hinterland: loads of free camping, some of it only a 35-minute drive from Noosa.

Here’s where the internet is super helpful. With a bit of research, you can easily find affordable accommodation that is not included in any shiny travel brochures.

Keep it short

There’s no getting around it, the longer the road trip, the higher the expense, especially with the sting of current petrol prices.

Consider a shorter trip, or even basing yourself at one location and making day trips.

For example, just an hour or so out of Adelaide are some of the country’s best wine regions, beaches, national parks, epicurean delights and outback experiences.

Longer trips of course have their appeal, but you might find it more satisfying to explore a region in depth instead of just ticking it off a list.

Upgrade your roadside membership

It will be short-term gain for long-term pain if you don’t upgrade your roadside assistance package before you set off.

Breaking down in suburbia means someone pushing your car to the side of the road and a reasonable wait for the tow truck.

Breaking down the other side of Coober Pedy can mean lengthy delays, a multi-night stay in whatever accommodation is available while you wait for parts to arrive, and perhaps a financial penalty for missing other accommodation bookings. And if the worst happens and the car is a write-off, it’ll be a bit of a nightmare to get home.

Top-of-the-range, premium membership should cover all these scenarios for peace of mind.

But beyond that, groups such as the RACV, NRMMA or RAA often offer discounts on accommodation, tours, car hire and entry tickets to attractions. It may only be a few dollars here and there, but it all adds up, especially if you are travelling in a group.

Read: How to look for hidden cameras in hotel rooms

Camp it up

Australia has plenty of cheap or free camping sites and there are plenty of resources on where to go including online guides and books.

Once again do your research. If toilets and hot showers are important to you, don’t turn up to a roadside turnoff on the Nullarbor. It’s also worth noting some are only designated ‘rest areas’ and while there might be suitable camping facilities, your time there may be limited to a set period, usually about 48 hours.

If you do make campsites the bulk of your accommodation, it may be worthwhile downloading a road trip planning app to keep all the information on what’s available at each site such as amenities, if it’s dog friendly, power and running water, in one place so you know what to expect before you arrive.

Many campsites these days offer cabins that are self-catering, which should save you some money. But check if you have to pay extra for linen and bedding hire as this can easily run into well over $100 for a family.

Another option is Hipcamp, which is kind of like Airbnb for private camping land.

Once again, the standards differ. Some provide wow-factor cabins, others just the land, so it pays to do your research before you rock up to an empty field in your standard sedan and not much else.

Read: Best NSW road trips for first timers

Eat it up

Buying food for every meal quickly becomes a big drain on your wallet. Develop some strategies for ‘eating in’ as much as possible. And ask the locals. There may be a well-known pub in the shopping strip, but an equally well-regarded café serving food for a fraction of the price down the road and around the corner. One of Kangaroo Island’s most well regarded fish and chip shops is in a petrol station.

Pick it up

See if you can find some employment on the road. Farmers are crying out for staff, and you may be able to supplement your budget by spending a week or two picking fruit. Workabout Australia is a good place to start.

Ask a local

Most country towns have information service centres, which are goldmines for local secrets such as cheap camping spots. If that fails, contact the local council for the area and they will be able to steer you in the right direction. And if that fails, any local hospitality outlet – café, bakery, pub – will also be an untapped resource of hidden gems for advice on camping grounds, attractions and quirky facts.

In my travels tapping into the locals has yielded a great fishing spot, where to see a platypus and where Aussie rules may have been first seen by Europeans. All just by asking the person over the counter.

What’s your advice for saving money on road trips? Why not share your tips in the comments section below?

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.


  1. Easy, use the internet before leaving home to plan ahead. Your research will turn up all sorts of gems including money saving ones. I begin with a close look at the state transport dept road maps which show parks, rest areas and other road-side facilities, also state national parks maps can provide a heap of information.

  2. Me and my family enjoy road tripping and find that the most convenient accomodation is cabins in caravan parks , they have a variety of sizes to suit your group and usually have laundrys barbeques sometimes a pool and childrens equipment

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