If your definition of a dream trip is to be roaming the roads of Australia behind the wheel of an old backpacker’s van, this guide is for you.

Would you be ready to leave everything behind and pack on a moment’s notice to fly to Australia, buy a car and hit the road? Well, you should. There is no word that can properly describe the feeling of waking up in the morning at the back of a van and see a baby kangaroo graze nearby under the dim light of an early dawn.

On a bendy road leading to the Remarkable Rocks, Kangaroo Island.

A road trip in Australia is about the shapes and colours of an ever-changing landscape and its unique wildlife as much as it is about the freedom to choose wherever to go, whenever you please. Freedom on the road is an incredible gift but it does not come without costs and responsibilities so here are a few things you should know before you make your dream come true.

The Car

1. Where to buy it

  • Some backpackers will try to sell their used car by posting printed ads inside youth hostels – take a look at the board regularly, there might be great deals – but the majority will post offers on the Internet and especially on Gumtree. The offers go up and down throughout the year, as backpackers usually leave the country around the same time, but you will always find available cars on sale. Consider AU$4000 a fair price for a van and AU$2000 one for a backpacker’s car but never hesitate to bargain, it does work. You can usually expect to have at least a mattress, a blanket, a gas cooker and cooking utensils already at your disposal.
A van is the best option for couple travel and can come out as surprisingly comfy
  • When you find the chosen one, do not rush and check every part of the vehicle before driving it for a little while. It might sound silly but you should ask how to open the fuel cap as it greatly varies from one car to another. It is also important that you ask to be shown how to check and top up your oil if you have never done it before.
  • Once you have checked every detail, it will be time to fill in a form with the former owners of the car to transfer ownership. Read everything very thoroughly and be aware of some important information before you fill in your personal details:
  • Your residential address must be in the state where your car is registered but you can put any address you want, including that of a hotel.
  • Your postal address on the other hand can be in a totally different location and can even be a PO Box.
  • Be sure to tick the box indicating that your car will be primarily kept at your residential address. You could also be asked to provide a certified copy of identity (check at your local post office).
Rainy day on the Devil’s Marbles, Northern Territory.

2. Where to rent it

  • There is a number of cheap rental agencies throughout Australia, some even specialized in backpacker vans. Take your time to compare such agencies as Wicked Campers, Travellers Autobarn, Backpacker Car Rentals or Bargain Car Rentals. It is recommended that you always take out an insurance but do not expect it to cover everything as they usually do not work for undercarriage damage and you could be liable to pay thousands of dollars in case of an accident.
  • Most agencies also have a strict policy when it comes to unsealed roads. Avoid them as much as you can as the burden of responsibility falls on you if anything happens, unless there really is no other way.
  • It is best for you to take pictures of the vehicle you rent on the day you pick it up at the agency to have sufficient evidence to avoid any potential issue upon returning it.


3. The Rego

  • Ah, the infamous Rego. Get familiar with it now since you will hear about it throughout your journey. Long story short, the rego – for registration – is mandatory for you to drive in Australia. Your registration identifies your vehicle and includes a third-party insurance but it is only temporary and you will have to renew it over time, the problem being that every state plays on its own rules.
  • Western Australia is said to have one of the swiftest registration policy, along with South Australia, and allows you to renew your rego online without a technical control. The fees are also very competitive and the duration of the rego can be adjusted according to your needs (around AU$200 to AU$400). The other states are much more demanding as they request a vehicle inspection, upon the rego’s renewal in New South Wales and the Northern Territory, or when you sell your car in Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.


4. The Driving Licence

  • All non-Australian citizens need an international driving permit to be able to get behind the wheel. The country is so huge that you might see very few police officers on patrol on the road, know however that it would be illegal for you to drive with your national licence.
  • Every country has different procedures when it comes to those international permits but as far as I know, none requires to pass a new driving test. You usually need to send a copy of your current licence with passport pictures and money, in some places, before you receive a copy of your international permit a few weeks later.
Abandoned house inside the Flinders Ranges, South Australia.

There is no doubt that getting behind the wheel is the best way to discover Australia and the ultimate backpacker’s dream. Stopping at every corner, hitting the road whenever you feel like it, exploring the wonders of dazzling Australia: it’s never been that easy.

So stay tuned for next part: The guide to a dream road trip in Australia part 2 – Driving in Oz.