Having your own car or campervan is one of the best ways to see Australia, but do your research before parting with all your cash, writes Roger Brancher.

So you’ve arrived in Australia, and maybe the first thing you’ve realised is that you have landed on a continent nearly the size of North America. At seven and a half thousand square kilometres, it may be the smallest continental land mass, but it’s the world’s largest island, and with a population of 22 million, 85 per cent of which live along its 26 thousand kilometres of coast, it may have also occurred to you that there must be a lot of Australia that is uninhabited. It’s at this point you have to ask, is my plan of pogo sticking it around this little ol’ country wise?

Clearly if you are going to get around Oz, it’s going to take a bit of planning and some form of transportation. Cycling is a possibility, but it’s unlikely you have the time or inclination to sweat, puff, roast and possibly die in the unforgiving outback. So what are your options?

A plane gets you places fast, but leaves a big carbon footprint. Sometimes a plane can actually be the most economical way to travel, thanks to Australia’s highly competitive domestic market, especially if you only have time for a couple of destinations. But air travel dislocates you from the journey and removes you from any adventure. You didn’t come here to jet set around in an air conditioned bubble. You want the wind in your hair and the kangaroos hopping across your path. A bus puts you on the ground, seeing the sights, but only stops where it wants to stop, never venturing into the unknown to explore.

It seems the obvious choice is your own wheels. You can rent one, but that can get very pricey if you’re looking to travel long term. Alternatively, a used car or van can be got pretty cheap, with most backpackers paying somewhere in the region of $1,000 to $4,000. Now clearly, those sort of prices are down the bottom end of the market, so you need to have your wits about you to avoid buying yourself a deathtrap (and a huge mechanic’s bill).

However, if you choose well, the rewards will be fantastic. You can sleep in it to save more money, and you have total freedom to stop and go, when and where you want. Plus, you might make most, if not all, of your money back when you sell it on at the end of your trip.

There are two main purchase options available. Buying from a used car lot or from a private seller. Dealers will give you more piece of mind, but at a higher price. You’ll generally get some protection from them through a guarantee, and they may be able to help you with registering the vehicle. Plus some dealers even specialise in backpacker vehicles and offer buy back deals, in which they agree to take the vehicle off your hands after your trip, hassle-free, albeit for less than what you paid for it.

But dealers are in business to make money, not to do you any favours. You’ll get the cheapest price from a private seller. The best deals are from other backpackers who have finished their trip and are motivated to sell quick before they leave the country. If you can smell the desperation
from somebody with one foot in the airport, who knows how lucky you’ll get with a ridiculous offer.