The sun is bursting with pride on the horizon. There’s an open road yawning in front of you. Your iPod is belting out your favourite tune as the wind breezes through your armpit hair. It’s every traveller’s dream – the ultimate road trip – and it could be you… but first you need your wheels.
Car Auctions This can be either the best or worst decision you will make during your travels. Most traveller’s budgets range between $1,000 and $3,500, which is naturally at the lowest end of the market and cars in this price range can be fraught with danger, but if you get a reliable one, the benefits are fantastic. A car auction is the cheapest way to buy a car, as this is where the dealers get them from. Usually they have no reserve price and you cannot pre-drive them or even inspect them. If you know a bit about cars, go to the various Sydney auctions and get yourself a bargain.
Backpacker Car Markets Australia’s largest is in Sydney at Kings Cross (http://www.carmarket.com.au/). The local council allows travellers to sell their cars in a parking station and there are usually many to choose from. This is where you will find many sad-faced travellers trying to sell their cars before flying on to their next destination. Naturally they are trying to get as much as they can, but they’re secretly stressing-out as they only have a short time before they leave Australia. If you can detect their desperation and make a ridiculous offer, you might get lucky. Be aware: these cars have been around the block a few times, so you should make sure you are given roadworthy inspection information and it’s also a good idea to take out insurance.
Buying A Car Privately This option offers the chance of excellent savings, but also the danger of financial disaster. The old saying “buyer beware” is paramount as there are no warranties and no comebacks – once you have paid the money, that’s it. Only consider this option if you or a travelling partner know a lot about cars and can inspect it yourselves. Pay an extra $30-$50 to have it independently inspected by a local garage. I’ve seen many people saved at the last minute by an inspection report that reveals the car they were about to spend thousands on was actually a ‘lemon’ worth less than a tenth of the price.
Backpacker Specialised Car Dealers Yes, they are making a profit out of you but generally speaking their buy-back systems are good value – plus you know they have fully serviced and re-registered the car for a long period of time, have a national service network, and can arrange insurance etc. Most of these car dealers offer up to a 40 per cent buy-back and want you to spread the word to other travellers along the way. Travellers Auto Barn have cars all over Australia and can be contacted by free calling 1800 674 374. Backpackers Auto Shop offers you the chance to rent, try and buy your vehicle. They are in Brisbane and you can contact them on 0400 108 004.
Hiring a Car or Campervan If you’re embarking on an ephemeral adventure, a rental car is a good bet, with no resale worries at the end of the line. You won’t have the cash for a pimped-up Range Rover, but there are rental companies targeting budget travellers that have drop-off points in most cities and start from $30 a day. If you’ve got more money to spend, a campervan allows you to pull over on the side of the road and sleep where you like. The luxury campers come with a TV, food-preparation equipment, a sink, shower and if you’re Richard Branson, a couple of hot tubs. Cheaper versions of the campervan, targeted at the tighter traveller, are simpler but do the job just as well. Also enquire about relocation specials for car and van rentals – you can get deals for as little as $1/day. It may mean being at your destination by a specific date, so you lose time to explore, but at that price you can’t complain.
Buses Some coaches are more pleasant than others. For example, Jose Mourinho, is quite unpleasant. Coach services throughout Australia on the other hand, are a very easy-going, cost-effective way to get around. They cover a surprisingly large area, linking many cities and country towns. There are various passes that offer hop-on, hop-off options, or unlimited travel over a period of time. As well as major coach lines there are also smaller operators who can take you off the beaten track. There are backpacker-specific coach lines and as the name suggests these trips are tailor-made for young travellers, so it’s guaranteed fun.
Tours Tour the country like a rock star. Hopping on a tour bus with stop-offs at the highlights and an informed guide means you can throw the maps out the window and watch the world go by. This can be a cost-effective way to see the sights and get stuck into some adventures at the same time. Many tours are specific to an activity, like a learn to surf tour. Outback adventures, 4WD tours or wine tours are also popular, taking you off the beaten track. Your accommodation, food and equipment is often provided, and you’ll spend nights in hostels, cabins or tents, depending on the adventure. Many tours have flexible deals and allow you to create your own itineraries. Shop around for the one that best suits your price range and interests.
Travel Buddies Finding a companion for a roadtrip can be as straight-forward as turning to your mate and convincing them to call in sick for work, but not always. Whether it’s to share petrol costs, or just for some good conversation, a travel partner is essential. Post some signs around hostels, put your details and travelling times on TNT Magazine’s online noticeboard (www.tntmagazine.com.au), or just spread the word among friends. Once you’ve found your partner, there are a few protocols to be put in place. We here at TNT are normally rebels when it comes to policies, but when it comes to calling shotgun the rules need to be set in stone: visit www.shotgunrules.com for some guidelines. Once occupying said position, shotgun takes on the responsibility of DJ. The trick for travelling is the mix CD. Music is a must, especially if your companion turns out to have the conversational skills of George Dubbya. You can always turn the CD player up to 11, gaze out the window and let the song give you a lasting memory.