GUEST POST: Meet Simon of GoHobo. GoHobo is an alternative travel network dedicated to sharing adventure stories and resources for community-based travel. Below the post, you’ll find tips on vanlife and planning your own Australia road trip.
“The year was 2009, and I was still young. Fresh out of my teens, I thought I knew what I was doing.
Living with my long-term girlfriend, I was working a casual 9-5 job, just making money to get by and have some fun. This was the year our relationship went south. Going on 5 years, we had both grown apart over the last while and had decided to go our separate ways.
When you’re in your early 20’s, this can be a devastating turn of events. I was lost. I hadn’t thought of post-secondary education because I was pretty sure I was going to be a rockstar. At this point in my life, music was all I had ever put time into, and it was something that came easy and seemed like a pretty cool means to a life well lived.
While hanging out at home feeling sorry for myself one afternoon, a friend of mine, who I hadn’t really seen in a couple years had come by to play some guitar. We got to talking about his past couple years, and how he’d spent several months backpacking on a surfing adventure around Colombia and Costa Rica with some other dudes, whom I didn’t know at the time. He had had an incredible time there. The freedom sounded epic. In a month, he was heading to Australia to meet said dude, who had just bought a van in Fremantle, Western Australia, and would be rambling across the country for an indefinite amount of time. I asked him how he could afford to do something like that. “Sometimes,” he said, “You just have to go for it.”
I was sold. He hadn’t even invited me, but I knew that’s what I had to do. I called him the next day and asked if I could join him. Of course, he said yes. Over the next few days, I set up a second job to fund my travels.
Two months later, I was on a plane flying over the ocean to Perth. Rocking into Perth on my own was pretty overwhelming. This was my first solo expedition into the world. I had experienced hostel life before, during a short stint in Australia a year prior, but flying solo was a whole new experience. I got used to it pretty quickly. I was amazed by how efficient one can be when only worrying about one’s self.
After a few days in Perth, I hopped a flight all the way up to the northwestern tip of Western Australia to a little beach town called Broome. My friends were waiting for me at the airport. They’d brought along some fabulous Australian friends whom they’d met while staying in a local campground. These folks went on to become my family for the next 9 months.
We spent several weeks living and working in Broome. We managed to get bar jobs at a rather large tavern, called Divers, by the beach, where we spent a couple days a week working and getting to know the locals. There were people here from all over the country. Many lived in campgrounds like us, or dorm-houses provided by the tavern for longer-term workers.
We spent time fishing off the piers, partying with the seasonal workers, playing pools, walking the beach, and even getting paid to play as extras in an aboriginal television series!
If I was going to retire to a beach town somewhere, I think Broome would be at the top of my list. The beaches there are literally endless. You could spend a day walking from one end to the other, and we spent plenty of days doing just that. There was live music at the tavern almost every night, sing-alongs and cookouts at the campground, and an incredible Egyptian falafel shop in town.
The Van and On The Road
Australia is a fine place to live the vanlife. My friends who I had met up with, has purchased a 1980’s Toyota Town Ace which we lovingly called Chica. She has some seats that came together and made the whole back area into a bed, and she had a few cupboards built into the walls. She wasn’t much, but she provided storage and shelter to 3, and sometimes 4 grown men at any given time.
If memory serves, we paid around $2000 for her, and she lasted us more than 9 months, and I don’t even know how many kilometers. Looking back, I wish I had counted how far we had driven in that van.
After Broome, we decided to head south, back down to a town called Fremantle, where the instigator of this adventure had flown into and subsequently got comfortable in. The drive down took only a couple days, and it was pretty cool to see that much countryside. We stuck to the coast as much as possible, as the desert out there – beautiful as it is – gets monotonous pretty fast.
We managed to get a job at a freshly opened pizza restaurant on the main strip downtown Fremantle, which the locals lovingly refer to as Freo. It was a good gig for a while. We met a lot of really cool travelers who were also working there, got to sleep in real beds, and made lots of new friends.
A month here was enough for us. After working for a few more weeks, and squirreling away some more savings, we bought some nice new swimming shorts and hit the road again to meet up with our Australian friends who we’d met in Broome, to explore the southern end of Western Australia.
First stop, Margaret River
Margaret River is a dream. This place is so lush and green, especially compared with everything we had just driven through, it’s damn close to paradise. There are forests of giant trees to explore, snaking rivers to float on, swimming holes to cool off in, vineyards, avocado farms and green and gold rolling hills.
We got a spot in a local campground called Big Valley which was on an expansive free-range sheep farm. They let us pay by the month, and had clean facilities, forests with trails, swimming holes, and crayfish you could purchase by the pound. We happened to be there around Christmas time, and the owners were so nice as to throw everyone who lived there a crayfish cookout, where we all sat around and drank beers and local wines, ate barbecued crayfish and sang songs around a bonfire.
If ever I plan a trip back to Australia, I’ll be hitting Margaret River, for sure.
Esperance and the South
If you’ve ever seen those stereotypical pictures of Australia with the kangaroo lounging on a white-sand beach in front of turquoise and topaz-blue water, it was probably taken in Esperance; Picture-perfect water, moderate temperatures, and incredible scenery. This is what beach vacations from your wildest dreams look like.
East to Adelaide Heat
After some time exploring the South coast, we decided to head east to explore some of the larger cities. We took this stretch rather quickly, and camped along the way, never stopping for more than a day.
By this point, summer temperatures were hitting the high 30’s and the heat and bugs and lack of sleep were beginning to drive us all mad. We needed a break from van life.
Just outside of Adelaide, our van, Chica, had a major breakdown. We had made it so close, yet we had so much more exploring to do. We hopefully had Chica towed into town and inspected for damage. It turned out, she was going to need some major work, which we definitely couldn’t afford.
By then, the troppo had really set in. At the end of our metaphorical rope, and nearing the end of our savings, and with little thought, we decided the best thing to do would be to smash our retired van to bits, and have a junkyard company come and pay us the $50 for parts. And so, outside of our new home (an Adelaide hostel, consequently very far from the beach), we joyfully hammered and smashed.
After an hour of ruckus, some police showed up, ensured it was our van we were smashing up, and reminded us to sweep the street after. Such nice police they have in Adelaide.
The next few weeks dragged sluggishly by. I experienced what 50 degrees celsius felt like in the middle of a concrete jungle, with no cold water, and no air conditioning. We didn’t sleep for days. The hostel we stayed at was relatively empty, which was nice, so we had the facilities to ourselves for quite a while, and made good friends, and good use of the shaded patio space.
The three of us attempted to get jobs in the neighborhood, but with business so slow – due to the tremendous heat-wave – there was not a lot going on. I managed to score a few days of odd jobs for a local café, which gave us enough money to find our way to Melbourne.
In this time, my friend whom I had come here to travel with, was officially travel-tired and out of money, and without the will to carry on, he decided to catch a plane back to Canada.
That Melbourne Style
Melbourne is an incredibly stylish city. Aged brick buildings and a bustling music scene made this place a welcome break from our previous rut in Adelaide. We got a couple beds in a hostel atop a punk-rock bar in St. Kilda, where we took in some live music and drank cold beer with breathtaking views of historic St. Kilda.
By this point, we’d been living the van life for 7 months. Moving from town to town, working short-term jobs, snatching our paychecks and moving on. We had achieved our travel goals and didn’t know what to do next.
Sunsets, Roadkill, and Sand
After a couple days of internet sleuthing, we came across a campervan rental company offering vehicle relocations. The ads sounded too good to be true, and on further investigation, turned out to be on-point. For 5$ per day and 100% fuel reimbursement, we could rent one of their fully-stocked campervans to drive across the country from Melbourne to Darwin, and they gave us 8 days to do it. Vehicle relocations are an incredibly budget-friendly way to see a country.
And so, just like that, our next adventure was born. We spent the next 8 days driving through the vast desolate landscapes of middle Australia. There was epic scenery and record amounts of roadkill. One thing I remember most about Australia was the roadkill. Hundreds of cows, and kangaroos later, the drive through The Middle was becoming monotonous. The heat so intense, and the land so barren, you could actually smell the roadkill miles before you could see it. Although beautiful, there is literally nothing there but epic sunsets, roadkill, and sand.
Upon our arrival in Darwin, I remember being very thankful for showers and cold water. We were even happier to discover, that some of our new-found friends from the beginning of our journey were even there to greet us.
We spent the next few days enjoying air conditioning and deciding what to do next; Home or Vietnam? But that, my friends, is a story for another time.”
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Want to plan your own Australia road trip?
- Should I buy or rent a camper van in Australia? For shorter trips (>6 weeks), renting a camper van is generally cheaper and easier than buying one. You can check out prices through Wicked Campervans or Apollo Camper. Wait around for relocation deals and you can save a ton of money. If you’re traveling for longer, buying a vehicle is often cheaper and gives you extra freedom. You’ll need the cash up front, but you can sell it when you’re done using it and make most of your money back. If you do buy a camper van, be sure to factor in registration or repair costs.
- Where can I buy a car in Australia?If you’re starting your trip in Sydney, the Backpackers Car Market s a stellar place to start your campervan search. If you can’t find what you need, check out free sites like Gumtree or [last resort] dealerships.
- What is vanlife really like? Want to know more about the lifestyle of living out of a van? Check out GoHobo’s 5 Things I Learned About Vanlife (While Living in a Van)
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