Just like every other clueless backpacker, we had A LOT of crazy different ideas about how camping in Australia was gonna be like. We had planned to camp as we moved around and was looking for an efficient and comfortable way to live on the road. Having done a TON of research, looked at maybe a hundred or more cars, we eventually settled with living out of our KINGS rooftop tent (RTT) on our SUV – Baxter! (named after our car salesman lol)
1. Sleeping in your car
Prior to Baxter, we had even bought (and shortly after sold) a huge chunky backpacker 4WD with the intention of sleeping in the car. Unfortunately, our first camping trip proved unpractical and VERY VERY VERY uncomfortable. We woke up still exhausted and with aching backs and shoulders. With the limited space in the car, we could barely sit up and even as relatively small Asian girls, it was very cramp and uncomfortable. We had bought this car from two other German backpacker girls and it came with a lot of camping gear which was much appreciated but left us with very minimal space for our own personal belongings (which we have a lot of btw). The car we bought was also really old and while functioning almost perfectly, it was guzzling A LOT of petrol and was much too chunky for manoeuvring in the city. Figuring we wouldn’t be able to take these aches and pains for long on top of other considerations, we eventually resold the car a short few weeks later. People who usually do this tend to be backpackers, solo travellers or those on short trips.
No set-up/pack-up needed, better protection from outside elements
Limited head space, limited storage space, very uncomfortable, no space for additional passengers
2. Sleeping in a tent/swag
The simplest and least installation/modification method of camping. Forget converting your car or installing additional roof racks and other fancy gear. Simply pack in your tent/swag and set it up when your arrive at your campsite. We always keep an extra dome tent in the back of our car even with a rooftop tent. You can get it really cheap for a basic 2 people dome tent and it can be a real life saver when you would still like to drive out after setting up camp. Remember that this option is mostly suited for dry and cool weathers. While generally waterproof, in heavier rain and wind, opening your tent/swag to get in/out will somehow allow water to seep in. Also, being on the ground as it starts to turn into a pond really isn’t ideal in any way. We’ve seen solo travellers do this and also some in swags beside tents/RVs (probably because there’s not enough space).
No major installations/modifications needed, affordable option, still drive your vehicle after set up
More exposed to ground elements and animals, set up & pack up every time you move, unsuitable for wet weather
3. Recreational Vehicles (RVs) – Campervan/Trailers/Caravans/Motorhomes
There are so many different types of RVs and it is definitely a more comfortable alternative to squeezing in your car. Generally, most RVs have sufficient space to sleep comfortably inside, might contain a sink with a pump system and a secondary power source to power fridges and other electronics. While definitely the most comfortable and the easiest option (if you buy it all set-up), it is generally much more expensive than an average car. In fact, some trailers/caravans are completely unpowered and require a powered vehicle to tow it along. Of course as a large vehicle, it is generally not suitable for off-road adventures which could mean you missing out on some of the best hidden adventures Australia has to offer. However, many do tow along trailers/caravans with their 4WD and easily detach them to access off-road destinations. We found that the main occupants of these RVs are usually grey nomads or families with children.
Most comfortable and convenient option, no set-up/pack-up needed, no installation/modification needed (if you buy it ready made), protection from outside elements, possibility to drive elsewhere after setting up camp
Much more expensive, no off-road capability, some require to be towed by an additional powered vehicle
4. Rooftop tent
Keeping the best for the last, our preferred option would be sleeping out of a rooftop tent! After weighing our options, we eventually decided on living out of a RTT on top of our SUV and I would say this is probably the best decision of our trip. Of course, it is not a problem free solution and we have encountered some real obstacles but definitely no regrets. First of all, it is SUPER COMFORTABLE to sleep and hang out in and we look forward to camp all the time! It comes with a padded foam mattress and you can simply close it up with all the bedding in there. Setting up is also super easy you literally just have to flip it open and you are all set. Packing up is definitely a bit more of a hassle having to squeeze everything down but we were able to get it done in the dark at 5am as well as in the middle of a storm so it really isn’t that bad once you get the hang of it. Sleeping up on the roof of your car also means you are clear of ground animals and flooding during storms while the general structure of the RTT keeps you dry and is secure enough to not fly away during high winds. We are also left with much more space in the car to keep our camping gear and belongings. This option mostly caters to young backpackers (like us LOL) who have the energy to deal with opening and closing the RTT every other day.
We bought our KINGS Rooftop Tent together with a 4-man Annex for $699 and while not the best quality, it is definitely the cheapest rooftop tent on the market made almost specifically for broke ass backpackers. It also comes with a one year warranty which is enough for your travels and is quite a life-saver from our experience.
Extremely comfortable, leaves more space in the car, keeps you safe from ground elements and animals, weather resistant, stunning sunrise/sunset views
Unable to move vehicle after set-up, set up & pack up every time you move, considerable cost/installation if bought first-hand
While living out of a rooftop tent is the preferred camping style for us, it definitely defers based on individual travel needs so do comment what your favourite camping style is!
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