I regularly find people asking on travel forums if they should hire a campervan or rent a car and stay in hotels whilst in Australia. There are normally a bunch of conflicting opinions that then chime in on the forum leaving the person asking the original question no better off. This might help a little more
UPDATE: This article has always been very popular so I have updated it with 2021 prices to keep it relevant. Now you can compare the difference of what prices were and what they are now too...
Average Campervan Hire in Australia
Based on data recorded from our rental bookings, the average campervan hire adventure is:
- Middle-of-road price range
- Is hired for about 2 weeks
- Is occupied by about 2x 30-something people
So, if that is the average campervan hire adventure, in Australia, how does it compare to doing the same thing in a car and staying at hotels?
Like all travel, there are many factors that can be changed in this equation―the quality of the vehicle, quality of accommodation, route taken, like or dislike of being in places like national parks as opposed to cities, and like or dislike of being in caravan parks or hostels or hotels. It is impossible to look at all these options so I tried to take one average scenario at a time and compare them accordingly.
So, what is the journey that we are comparing campervan hire and car hire/hotel stays in?
I have based this comparison on a cheaper-model, middle-of-the-range campervan and compared it against a cheaper-model, small sedan. So in both cases, I have not gone with the super cheap budget model but one rung up the quality ladder.
I have tried to pick hotel accommodation that is fairly basic in its quality to compare to the fairly basic surrounds of a campervan. In Australia, you don’t get much in your hotel accommodation for $100 p/n. And I have factored in only travel from start point to finish point without a lot of detours. The prices and details are included if you want to recalculate anything that suits a journey you might be going on.
Campervan Hire vs Car Hire and Hotels in Australia
THE ELEMENTS OF AN AVERAGE JOURNEY IN AUSTRALIA:
ROUTE: Sydney to Cairns via the coast road
DURATION: 2 weeks
TIME OF YEAR: Spring
DISTANCE: Sydney – Cairns: 2730km following the coast road
Maximum excess reduction taken on both vehicles
Driver age 22 or older
Hiring a Campervan
HIRE COSTS – CAMPERVAN
2 person campervan: Mighty Highball Hi Top Hiace campervan in September 2021 x14 days = $1470 (2018 $931 )
Option to reduce excess to NIL $30pd x 14 days = $420 (2018 $39pd x 14 days =546)
One way fee $165 (2018 $165)
Total Campervan Hire Costs 2021: $2055 (2018 $1642)
FUEL COSTS – CAMPERVAN
14ltrs per 100km: 2730km/100km = 27.3 * 14ltrs = 382ltrs fuel
Fuel average price: $1.40
(reference: RACQ Fuel pricing – rural prices – Dec 2017)
Total Campervan Hire Fuel Costs: $1.40 x 382 ltrs = $535
ACCOMMODATION COSTS – CAMPERVAN
Average cost of caravan parks for powered site 2018: $45 (2014 $37)
Assumption: Stay in powered site every 2nd night and free roadside stops and national parks on other nights
Total Accommodation Costs 2018: 7x $45 = $315 (2014 $259)
SUMMARY - CAMPERVAN HIRE
Fuel $ 535
TOTAL: $2,492 (2014 $1627)
Hiring a Car and Hotel
HIRE COSTS – CAR
Toyota Corolla 14 days 2018: $975 – includes one way fee (2014 $748)
Reduce collision fee to NIL (Go Zen package)2018 $392 (2014 $597)
Total Car Hire Costs 2018 : $1367 (2014 $1,345)
FUEL COSTS - CAR HIRE
Fuel usage is 6.6ltr per 100km
Fuel average price: $1.40
(reference: RACQ Fuel Pricing – rural prices – Dec 2017)
Fuel usage: 2730km/100 = 27.3 * 6.6ltr = 180ltrs
Total Car Hire Fuel Coasts: $1.40ltr x 180ltrs = $252
ACCOMMODATION – HOTEL STAYS (not hostels)
Average price of a cheap hotel across Queensland as a whole state $120p/night
(reference: http://wotif.com.au – checking Queensland hotels across the state)
(Note: You CAN get hotels starting at $70. They are rare. Most start in the $90’s range and go up. However, there will be cities and towns that simply don’t have these cheap prices and you will be paying $140 and more. It is particularly common if you haven’t booked in advance. In fact, putting in $120 per night as an average is probably pretty cheap. Even a cabin in most caravan parks cost more than $130 per night, but to be fair and give hotels a go, I have factored in you can get one for $120p/n))
Total Accommodation Costs 2018 : 14 nights x $120 = $1680 (2014 $1400)
SUMMARY: CAR HIRE AND HOTELS
Car hire: $1367 (2014 $1345)
Fuel: $252 (2014 $280)
Hotels: $1680 (2014 $1,400)
TOTAL 2018: $3327 (2014 $3,025)
$835 more than campervan hire in 2018
$859 more than campervan hire in 2014
Hiring a Car and Hostel
Average price per person in a hostel is $34 (2014 $28), so for a couple it’s $68 (2014 $56) for people in shared DORMS. The average for a private room, which is closer to the experience of being in a campervan, is around $85 (2014 $70)(reference: http://www.hostels.com/). So…
Total cost staying at hostels: $85pn x 14 nights = $1190 (2014 $70 pn x 14 nights: $980)
SUMMARY CAR HIRE AND HOSTELS:
Car hire 2018: $1367 (2014 $1345)
Fuel: $252 (2014 $280)
Hostels 2018: $1190 (2014 $980)
TOTAL 2018: $2809 (2014 $2605)
$317 more than campervan hire.
2014 was $439 more than campervan hire
Additional Things To Consider
Obviously, another large expense as you travel throughout Australia is going to be food and drinks. I think this is where campervan hire can really start to show a distinct advantage. With a campervan comes the ability to cook and store fresh foods. In ALL hired campervans will come the ability to cook. The quality and the ease of the cooking equipment will change with your budget, but at a minimum, you will have a 2 burner stove and a proper place to keep your stuff. On the other hand, if you travel in a car you will need to buy these things and toss them at the end. This is an extra cost. If you DON'T have these things, then you are going to be eating out more often as a lot of cheaper hotel rooms simply don’t have kitchen facilities. Eating out will cost significantly more each night.
Another food consideration is keeping food fresh and drinks cold. In the campervan model chosen for this comparison, there is a fridge. It will keep things cold, fresh, and dry. The car options are to A) not keep things cold B) buy a cooler and put daily ice in it (cooler cost $50, ice cost $5 per day x 14 days = $120 total). This means you have just paid 1 night accommodation to keep your food fresh.
With a campervan, you can pretty much turn up to any town at any time. You will be able to stay there comfortably because all comforts of home are right within your reach, from bed to food and kitchen. I have NEVER turned up in a town in a campervan not been able to stay there. Without planning your trip and when staying at hotels, you may find that there is nowhere to stay, or nowhere to stay that is affordable when you arrive―this means sleeping in the car; dull.
And the reality is, at the end of the day, it’s not just about the money; it’s more about being able to do what you want to do and when you want to do it. If you are looking for a journey across the wilds of Australia or just sticking to the well-beaten path, you want to be able to do it the way you want to and not with the restrictions of going back and forth to your hotel accommodation. You want to be able to stay longer if it’s great there; you want to be able to move on if the place is less interesting than expected, and the reality is that if you are relying on finding a new place to stay every other night, then it is a lot harder or a lot more expensive to do this.
So, it seems that not only is it actually cheaper to hire a campervan when travelling in Australia but it also offers more options to be where you want to be on your trip. The additional freedom is what I think really sells using a campervan. I know on my travels in the past, you often find reasons to change your plans on mid-journey. In fact, this what makes journeys so much fun, and if you know you are carrying your food, clothes shelter, and transport altogether, you are free to change any time you want.