Travel the Outback: the 4 Cheapest Transport Options

Road to Uluru

Today’s guest blogger is Roger Morrison, a travel writer working as an online publisher for Jeep Australia.

If you are travelling to Australia and want to fully experience the Outback (while sticking to your budget), there are a few considerations that should be made.

The most crucial thing for any Outback traveller to consider is transportation. There are a handful of options, and how you travel and what limitations the weather will place on your mobility, will define your experience in the Outback.

Below is a list of four transportation options to consider (and a final word on fuel expenses):

1. Guided tours

Many travellers coming from abroad opt for guided tours through the Outback, where you will join up to 20 other trekkers on a four-wheel-drive bus for a trip that can last for as little as one night, to as long as a month. The tours vary in scope and price, with more expensive ones including lush lodging accommodations and first-class treatment throughout the trip.

If travelling to the Outback in luxury seems like a bit of a contradiction, there are lower cost tours available. The most affordable – and perhaps most adventurous – of these are the camping tours, where you sleep in the great outdoors, and when you look up at the sky, you’ll see more stars than virtually any other spot on earth. One company that provides camping and backpacking tours (along with accommodation and what they call “premium” tours) is Australia4Tours.

Outback tour

For any of these tour options, you can save considerable coin by travelling in larger groups. Tours range from as few as four persons, to as many as 20 tourists. Obviously, the larger the group, the cheaper the rate, so it could pay to gather up a group of likeminded travellers if having a guided tour is something you feel would be beneficial.

The downside is that the tours are often too, well, touristy, and the regimented schedules don’t often lend themselves to much individual adventuring.

2. Renting a vehicle

For those that prefer to chart their own course, the way to travel the outback is in a rented automobile. However, if you are planning on renting a vehicle but are a little leery of hitting the dusty roads on your own, you can sign up for a tagalong tour, where you will caravan with other vehicles on a scheduled route.

This is a good way to gain a little experience driving in the Outback and see some sights, without the worry of breaking down or being stranded. And once you have that experience, you will likely feel revved up to do some exploring on your own.

4 x 4 Outback Road

Some companies, like Outback Tagalong Tours specialise in guided 4×4 tagalong tours, where they will lead you on remote trek routes perfect for vehicles off-road vehicles.

If you determine that renting an automobile is your best bet, then there are a few things to consider. First of all, you absolutely must rent a 4×4 vehicle. Even if you plan on doing most of your travel on sealed (paved) roads, having a 4×4 vehicle is very much advised. And if you are going to dart off of any of the main arteries onto unsealed (unpaved) roads, having a 4×4 vehicle is paramount, unless you want to be stranded for days on end, stuck in the mud or other quagmires.

One popular method for budget-conscious travellers is the 4×4 campervan. Not only do you have the four-wheel drive capabilities that you will need, you also have a place to sleep every night to avoid the costs of lodging.
Many rental car agencies will allow you to rent your vehicle in one city and leave it in another – even on the other side of the continent. Shop around to get the best deal, and be wary of some of the rental agencies that are obviously catering to the western backpacking crowd; these companies take old, beat up vehicles and decorate them in hippie-style colors in order to lure that segment.

Campervan outback trip

More often than not, these vehicles will not be as reliable as newer models and despite some modest cost savings, it will be more financially sound in the long run to get a reliable vehicle, one you know will not break down. There are lots of reputable companies to choose from, such as Wicked 4×4 rentals.

Another plus to the campervan is that many of them come with small kitchenettes that include tiny refrigerators. You will save time and money by being able to stock up on water and food, and not be forced to drive around looking for a place to eat and being at the mercy of whatever they charge tourists for the privilege in that area.

3. Ridesharing

Another option is ridesharing. There are a number of hostels located throughout the Outback and of course, in the major cities in Australia, and at these hostels, you will often find travellers with vehicles that could use some passengers for their outback trip to help defray the costs of gasoline.

This method will obviously force you to be more flexible and spontaneous, it can be very rewarding, as not only will you get to explore the wonders of the Outback, you’ll be making some friends for life in the process.

4. Buy a car

Travellers with a lot of time and some upfront cash can save a tremendous amount of money by purchasing a vehicle, touring the Outback in it, and then selling it prior to leaving the country.

Buy a car for an Outback road trip

This is actually a fairly popular method, and in the larger cities you can often find people looking to unload their vehicles after taking a trip. Obviously, you will want to be extra careful that you do not purchase a lemon, but in some instances savvy travellers can purchase vehicles, drive them from one side of the continent to the other, and then flip them FOR PROFIT!

Again, you’ll want to make sure you have the time and the flexibility to go this route, as purchasing and then later selling your vehicle takes time, and you don’t want to have to sell your 4×4 for far less than it is worth because your plane is departing the next day (on the other hand, you might just luck into that scenario when purchasing the vehicle).

Fuel costs

One aspect of your travel journey in which high costs will be unavoidable if you rent or purchase a vehicle is fuel prices. The further you get away from civilisation, the higher the cost of petrol will be. In some remote Outback locations, we’re talking over $2.00 per litre (roughly $8.00 a gallon). This is a cost that will have to be properly planned and accounted for prior to departure.

There is little way around these high costs, other than carpooling, using public transport like busses and trains (which only go from city to city through the Outback), or simply avoiding the inner Outback altogether (and missing out on much of the Outback experience).

Penny-pinchers should plan on spending a large portion of their travel budget on fuel, and look to save money in other areas of the journey – like lodging costs. Check HostelBookers’ Australia page for cheap deals on quality hostels, hotels, apartments, guesthouses and campsites on your route.

About the author: Roger Morrison is an Australian native, off-road vehicle enthusiast, and travel writer extraordinaire who has recently taken to blogging to share his passions with others. His current project is as an online publisher for Jeep Australia.

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Thanks to jo@net, NeilsPhotography, Phineas H, lxsocon and GOC53 for the images off Flickr. Please note, all images were held under the Creative Commons licence at the time of publication.

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