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How to Cut Costs on Family RV Trips: Top Tips for Affordable RV Travel
Discover how to reduce the cost of your family RV trip with these tips on motorhome hire, off-grid camping, and budget-friendly travel strategies.
Words and Images by: Jessica Palmer

Image: Lake Lacelles. Credit: Visit Victoria

How to reduce expenses and enjoy your adventure

I’m heading to Western Australia this September as well and unfortunately, can’t take my own camper given the time I have and the time it would take to cover the vast distance between the east and west coasts of Australia on wheels. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed to discover the cost of motorhome hire for a family of four in Perth was well over $400 per day. Add caravan park fees on top of that (because the motorhome doesn’t have an overly large water tank), fuel and insurance excess reduction, and we’re now looking at well over $600 per day. 

It should be noted that this price is the ‘school holiday’ price but regardless, RV hire in Australia is now more expensive than staying in a luxury resort in the South Pacific over the same period. Clearly, the days of the humble motorhome holiday being the budget alternative are gone. Despite this, I still believe RV travel is one of the best ways for families, couples and solo travellers to see Australia and enjoy our great outdoors. There is nowhere else on earth quite like it and it’s not just our incredible landscape, it’s the people you meet on your RV travels here too. 

As a seasoned RV traveller, both in my own camper and hired, I’ve learned a few tricks over the years to bring these costs down when hiring an RV and I’m going to share them with you. So without further ado, here are my top tips on how to keep your family RV getaway to budget.

Image: Camping at Wilsons Prom National Park in Gippsland. Credit: Visit Victoria

Seek out the elusive one-way relocation rental

You may be surprised to learn that motorhome hire companies sometimes rent their vehicles for as little as one dollar per day. Why? Because they need to shift vehicles to a specific destination to meet their rental needs and as a result, offer amazing discounts to get them there.

It’s not all sunshine and roses though, there are a few downsides. The most problematic is that you won’t be able to negotiate the dates and will also be given a limited amount of time to move the van from one place to another. For e.g., at the time of writing, there are a number of one-way relocation specials between Broome and Perth but most of them are for six days only within specific dates. 

It goes without saying that you can’t negotiate the pickup and drop-off locations. It’s a case of taking what you can get if you’re lucky enough to get one. Although you often don’t have as much time for sightseeing as you would like, it’s a guaranteed way to significantly reduce the cost of your motorhome holiday. Details can often be found on the hiring companies’ websites but you can also check out for current offerings. 

Image: Camping by the river in the Murray River, Lakes and Coorong Region of South Australia. Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission and Adam Bruzzone.

Choose your dates with a bit of savvy

It doesn’t matter where you’re travelling or who you’re travelling with, prices are always more expensive during the school and national holiday periods. In addition, it pays to be a bit savvy with the seasons as well. For e.g., many Southerners escape the cold to Cairns in winter, pushing up the cost of motorhome hire in Tropical North QLD. Avoiding peak seasons and school holiday periods also means there will be fewer crowds and less waiting in lines at attractions.

Image: Camping by Burra Creek in the Clare Valley regional of South Australia. Credit: Megan Crabb

Take advantage of your motorhome’s kitchen

You’ll already know this as it’s one of the biggest perks of travelling in an RV, but take advantage of your kitchen as much as you can because eating out three times a day will very quickly drain your bank account. Especially if you’re travelling with kids or grandkids who have the potential to quite literally, eat you out of house and home. Do a shop just like you would at home, stock up the motorhome’s fridge and pantry, and you’re good to go.

Image: Cotton Tree Holiday Park. Credit: Visit Victoria

Where you stay matters a lot to your wallet

The vast majority of motorhomes come complete with a second (and sometimes a third) battery for your creature comforts. This means you can camp off-grid at either free camps or low-cost CMCA RV parks for a night or two before needing to book into a commercial caravan park to top up power and water. With some commercial caravan parks now charging over $100 per night for a family on a powered site, this is another easy option for keeping under budget.

However, be aware that you can’t just camp anywhere for free. The good news is, that in many rural areas, the local council will provide a free camping area in the hope that you’ll return the favour by visiting their small town with your wallet to do some shopping or grab a souvenir. Don’t forget that GeoWiki X can help with this! Just log on using the CMCA Connect app on Google Play or the Apple Store and search for somewhere to stay.

Image: Cobbold Gorge. Credit: Tourism Events QLD

Do you need a large motorhome? 

If you’re hiring an RV, do you need a large one? Really consider your actual needs when it comes to the motorhome because a smaller van is often significantly cheaper to rent, will usually use less fuel, and is easier to park. For e.g., if you plan to stay at commercial caravan parks and are happy to use their shower facilities, you might consider hiring a smaller van without a shower. Likewise, if you’re travelling with younger kids or grandkids, they will most likely be perfectly happy sleeping on a converted club lounge rather than a larger RV with two dedicated full-time beds.

Image: Fields Campstay. Credit: Tourism Events QLD

Enjoy free and low-cost attractions

Australia really is the lucky country when it comes to national parks and the great outdoors, both of which are either free or low-cost to spend time in. Rather than take the kids to an aquarium, take them to see the real thing for free by heading out for a snorkel. Likewise, go on a hike in a national park, chase waterfalls, explore a public art trail, spend a day at the beach or visit one of the many free or low-cost art galleries and museums around.

Image: Touring Bicheno on the East Coast of Tasmania. Credit: Robert King Visuals

There’s no point paying for RV rental excess insurance twice

Most RV rentals advertise a standard insurance rate in their daily rate. The excess on this standard insurance should you have to make a claim is eye-watering, sometimes upwards of $5000. Also, it doesn’t usually matter if you’re not at fault. You still have to pay the excess which you will hopefully get back if the accident is found to be the other driver’s fault. But only after the insurance companies have done their thing, which of course, can take some time. To remove the risk of having to pay this excess in the first place, most people pay an additional amount to reduce the excess to something more manageable, by taking out what is known as rental excess insurance at the time of hire. 

However, you might be surprised to find that quite a few credit cards offer rental excess insurance as a complimentary feature. It goes without saying that you’ll need to do your own research to see if your credit card offers this and if it indeed applies to motorhome hire (and not just car hire). However, if it does, there’s no point paying for RV rental excess insurance twice, right?

So while RV travel, particularly when you’re hiring and not using your own, is not the budget alternative it once was, many of you would agree that it’s still the best and most memorable way to see Australia. 

Category: Features
Written: Tue 28 May 2024
Printed: August, 2023
Published By: Jessica Palmer

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