A Guide to Buying a Backpacker’s Car

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With just one more day until we set off on our East Coast road trip, last minute preparations and panning are occupying about 98% of my free time. The other 2% is used up daydreaming about a warmer winter and bluer waters!
While a lot of backpackers choose to bus the east coast trip, we chose a route slightly less popular: buy our own car and double it up as sleeping quarters as well as transportation.
Now I know why most people don’t choose this form of backpacking. I completely underestimated just how much work, time and effort goes into finding the perfect car and making it habitable.

 

Though this process has been time consuming and eaten a big chunk out of my once hefty looking bank account, it’s been totally worth it. The fun my boyfriend and I had transforming the back of our 4×4 into our own personal bedroom are some memories that will stay with me for a long time. We get a kick out of telling people our car is our first humble abode together!

 

This whole transformation and preparation has not been easy. It involved a lot of late night googling, trial and error and word of mouth from other backpackers. So I’ve decided to put together a blog post on all the essentials you need if you are going to take the plunge and LIVE in your car for the foreseeable future!

CAR VERSUS BUS PASS

When we arrived in Oz, we began looking for a car pretty much straight away. As someone who’s never owned a car in her life, it kills me to say it but, a car is pretty essential to life Down Under. I lived and worked in Dublin city and got through life using the city trams and bus line. If I was feeling fancy I’d Uber a car.

 

Darren preparing the car for its transformation!

Darren preparing the car for its transformation!

But not here in Oz. Only when I arrived here did I realise the sheer size of the country – how naive I was! In regards to the east coast trip, there are whole sections where the buses do not travel. And if you’re looking to get out of a town in a hurry, sorry mate, your Greyhound bus only picks up twice a day.
What really drew us to buying our own car was the sheer freedom it gives to really explore the whole coast. You see a cute beach? Let’s stop here! This town looks like fun? Pull in, let’s spend the night!

 

We brought the car out of a tester one weekend and we loved being able to pull over whenever we found a nice beach or town.

We brought the car out of a tester one weekend and we loved being able to pull over whenever we found a nice beach or town.

FINDING THE CAR

Luckily for us, we found a car that suited our needs within two and a half weeks. We live with two other couples who are planning on road tripping as well and they looked for months before the found what they’re looking for.

We personally were looking for a 4×4 of some sort for a more adventurous road trip. The coast line is filled with the most breathtaking sandy beaches, a lot of which you can drive on if you have a four wheel drive. Not only are there beaches to explore, but Oz is also famous for its amazing national parks, where 4x4s are allowed!

Our car is a Toyota 4 Runner 1990 (two years older than me!). We bought it from a car dealer for the price of $2,990 (€2020). It had its yearly service done already and had all the necessary paperwork (registration cert and road safety cert).

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Our car came with a bull bar, which is a must if you’re road tripping in Oz due to the crazy amount of kangaroos and wild life on the roads.

 

It’s a legal requirement that all cars in Australia must be registered (Rego). The cost carrier depending on the type of car and the state it is registered in. It can be renewed ever three, six and twelve months. Buying from a backpacker usually means there is a few months of Rego left over so you don’t have to renew it as soon as you buy it.
You can also find cars on Gumtree and the Facebook pages ‘Irish Around Sydney’ and ‘Backpacker Cars Sydney’, where a lot of cars come equipped with already converted sleeping areas.

TRANSFORMING THE CAR

I’m not gonna lie, this bit I didn’t have too much of an input into! Darren made the bed frame, took out all the bolts and screws, made the storage for all our belongings, and hooked up and extra battery for the car for all our electronics. Me? Well I made the curtains…

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I hung the curtains and Darren had to re-do the, when the fell down after ten minutes!

Luckily our backseat a tucked up pretty small. We decided against ripping them out as most backpackers do. It was too big a job, and it would go against us later when we try to sell the car on. The bedframe was made from two old worktops which are propped up on a frame using more timber and brackets.

 

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I put an advert on the Irish in Sydney Facebook page asking for a mattress, and an hour later we had a free one given to us by a nice couple who were moving back to Ireland later that week!
We were also lucky to have sockets installed into the car before we bought it. It runs on a duel battery set up, which charges the second battery when we drive, so we can charge phones, etc., while we sleep.

 

It's a tight fit so we're packing light.

We made sure the mattress wasn’t too thick so it wouldn’t take up too much room.

FOOD ON THE ROAD

Now that we’ve bought the car, wired up all the outlets and inserted a bed, now comes the hard part, actually adjusting to life on the road.
One of the main costs of a road trip is food. A simple main course of burger and fries in popular tourist areas can easily set you back $25. To keep the cost down we plan on cooking as many of our meals as possible.
For this, I bought a simple one-ringed gas cooker for boiling water, making pasta, using the frying pan, etc. I got mine in K-Mart for $20 and bought a pack of gas canisters for $4.50. I also purchased a small grill for $19 in K-Mart to cook meat and have cheese toasties in the morning!

 

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We’re trying to keep our load as light as possible, so only the necessities are being taken, like one bowl, plate and set of cutlery each.

 

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I also purchased a cheap pot and pan from IKEA and mugs for coffee. Add some meat knives, a chopping board and spatula and our cooking utensils are complete!

 

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As we’ve limited space, we can’t bring a huge water canister. We’ll have a small one which we will regularly fill up. The same goes for our cooler. It’s small, but is ideal for carrying milk and a few burgers/chicken breasts. We will have to fill it with ice everyday to keep things fresh and cold.

 

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LIVING IN THE CAR

This sounds a lot more daunting than it actually is. Australia is a backpacker country and it wonderfully caters to the thousands that come to explore its beautiful landscape.
Of course technology is a great help!! Google maps has become my new by friend since moving here and apps like Wikicamps and Fuel Map Australia are a lifesaver. Wikicamps is a crowdsourced database of all the campsites, hostels, day spots and points of interest in the whole of Australia. Fuel Map is the same for gas stations.

 

Some fairy lights, cosy duvets and pillow cases and it's not half bad to sleep in!

Some fairy lights, cosy duvets and pillow cases and it’s not half bad to sleep in!

Our plan is to explore during the day, then when evening time rolls around drive into a campsite or hostel and set up the grill. At the end of the night we’ll slip into our car bed, then wake up the next morning and move on!
Since space is so limited we’re leaving most of our belongings with friends in Sydney and swapping our suitcases for these low, long storage units we bought in IKEA. They slide perfectly under the bed to optimise space. For future trips we might look in to buying a roof rack, but for now we’ve hit our spending budget with the car.

 

These low containers are perfect for sliding under the bed.

These low containers are perfect for sliding under the bed.

It’s going to be a bit of a challenge in the mornings trying to route through my belongings to get clothes and wash supplies, but I’m sure I’ll get into some sort of routine (I hope!). We’ll be using campsite facilities, beachside showers and McDonald’s toilets when we need to – the life of luxury! When we need clean clothes, we will have to find a laundrette somewhere.

 

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We’ll pull out these deck chairs when we find a spot and chill.

We picked the east coast for our first road trip as it’s not too off the beaten track. There are regular stops (unlike the Northern Territory), not too many great stretches of nothing, and lots of hostels incase we needs break from sleeping rough in the car. I’m already so in love with our 25-year-old 4 Runner and I can’t wait to take her out and get this show on the road!! Next time you hear from me will be somewhere up the north, blogging from my new home: the car!
Until next time guys!
Peace

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Keelin Riley

Keelin is an Irish travel writer with a degree in journalism and a background in the Irish media. Based in Sydney, Australia she loves to blog about all things travel-related specialising in budget travel, ethical travel and off-the-beaten-track itineraries!

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