During my travels through New Zealand and Australia, I met some people that were traveling the country for very cheap, or even free. They did so by relocating camper vans from one city to another, and it sounded amazing. So I tried it out and found a lot of great resources I want to share with you.
Disclaimer: I spent a lot of time on this post and as a result it’s over 2,000 words so I hope you’re in it for the long haul. It’ll be worth it. I promise.
First of all, you should know what relocations are. Basically what happens is a camper van company (rental cars too) will have an excess of vehicles in one location and will need some to be moved to another location. This could be due to one city being a perfect exit point for a country, the current climate causing people to migrate, or maybe a bunch of Justin Bieber groupies decided to follow the tour.
Whatever the reason is, there is an excess of vans in one place and they need to be moved to another.
This is where you come in.
Basically, the companies are thinking:
Why should we pay a professional mover, who knows what he or she is doing, to move the vehicle when it’s cheaper for the us to hire a young, scruffy, adventure-driven, possible-menace-on-the-road backpacker who is willing to relocate the vehicle for free?
…or…something like that…
After all, what kind of backpacker would not want transportation AND accommodation at the same time, for free?
OK, but what’s the catch?
I know, I know. It sounds to good to be true. And for some people there is one small problem I have with it. You have to name your first born after the owner of the company…regardless of gender.
The relocations require very short time frames which means you are often spending all your time driving (within reason), and not as much of it actually exploring. It’s not always the case as some of the contracts can be significantly longer, but the longer ones are more rare.
Some of these rentals require you to average about 6-8 hours on the road, but most of them also offer extended days at an extra charge. It’s usually like $50 per day extra which is still a great deal, but just be aware of what stops you might want to make on the way and how many kilometers you can cover in a day.
Another downside is that if you think you’re going to save a ton of money going this route, you might be surprised. Camper vans are pretty thirsty, and petrol in these countries is not cheap. You also have to consider the fact that you might get some tickets at a hefty cost. We got a speeding ticket (and by ‘we’ I mean Jacob) that cost $400.
Watch out for those damn cameras.
However, if you find a deal that gives you a bit of extra time and will reimburse you for gas, you go with some friends and split costs, and you drive safely then you can definitely save a lot.
Great! Now where do I start?
I first heard about relocations while I was in Auckland, New Zealand and I was immediately sold on the idea. What backpacker wouldnt want to have basically free accommodation AND transportation all in one. But I was constantly faced with the one big question: WHERE THE HELL ARE THESE PEOPLE FINDING THESE AMAZING DEALS?!?!?
You’re might be asking yourself this same question right now. My immediate thought was something like this:
Camper van rental companies need to move vans…I need a van…I should contact camper van rental companies. HA!
I did a Google search for all the car/van rental companies in the area and sent them an email simply inquiring whether they did relocations and if I could sign up for one…I didnt hear anything back.
(It didnt matter though because at this point I was more interested in buying my own car and taking off anyway… so I did.)
It wasnt until I got to Australia and really thought about it before I actually found the best way to go about it. There are actually some websites I found which are dedicated to relocations that I found extremely useful and made my first booking. They worked so well that I even bookmarked them just for you.
- Imoova: This was the first site that I came across and although it was not my favorite, I think it is the most comprehensive. The cover deals in Australia, New Zealand, United States, and Canada (but I have never seen one for Canada so :/ ). They also have a very nice and straightforward user interface. I didnt like them though because the lowest price you will get is $1, the extra days cost a bit more, their fine print is a little scarier, and the lady I spoke to on the phone was not very friendly…yes that matters. Still, I do recommend them.
- Transfercar: This was my favorite site, but it is only available for the Australian market. They do offer free rentals, I found better deals, their fine print had some friendlier terms, and their rates for extra days was cheaper. Also their user interface is a lot prettier in my opinion. The biggest problem I had with them was just a bug with filling out some of their forms. It can be a little finicky which is why I linked straight to the search page and not the home page. If you have problems, just keep trying. You’re not alone.
- Self Drive Shop: To be honest, I didnt spend much time on this site because the other two were much better and all the search results I found here were on Imoova already. Still, it’s good to have another option. I linked to the relocations page already so just make sure you scroll right past that abysmal search box which works like garbage.
Should I know anything else?
Once again, if you are going to do a relocation, I would recommend going with at least 3 people and hold out for a trip that covers gas. When I did it there was two of us and no gas allowance so it go pricey. The extra person lets you split costs and driving time, and since these are relatively short trips, you shouldnt get sick of each other too fast.
Watch out for speed cameras and make sure you pay attention to parking signs and anywhere that you are or are not allowed to park overnight.
You can find a lot of places with free wifi. Just ask any restaurant that you walk into. But the most consistent and easy to find places that I can recommend are:
- Big fast food chains: McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King (Hungry Jack in Australia)
- Coffee shops: Startbucks, Peete’s Coffee, Gloria Jeans
- Local libraries: Get your book worm on son!!!
One more thing you might be interested in is places that you can shower. Unfortunately these are not as easy to find online or immediately obvious from the road, but some good things to keep an eye out for are public pools, gyms, camper van parks, truck stops, and of course campgrounds.
NOTE: If you think you might “shower” in natural springs or bodies of waters, please consider the environment and look into getting some eco friendly products before you go. Many soaps and shampoos are actually quite harmful to plants and animals which is “Not cool bro!” Here is a link to some of REI’s eco friendly camping soaps and shampoos (I highly recommend Dr. Bronners), and if you want to make a small investment for your long term outdoor hygiene then look into getting a camp shower.
And you should definitely check with your rental company and with some Tourist Information centers to see if they have some extra, complimentary road maps. We got one from an Information center which showed the main highways and what sorts of restrooms, rest areas, or camp grounds were along the way. Too nice!!!
Got any more awesome links and info?
- Australian Campsites: This is a pretty basic site, nothing special, but the campsite search feature is quite nice to have. It would be nicer if they had a map, but the search will return some results and information about the sites.
- National Public Toilet Map: This site was brought to my attention on the third installment of my first guest post. It was written by an Italian designer and traveler named Flavia who spent a very long time in her own self-made camper and she found this site to be a God send. Needless to say, if you are planning on spending much time
- Rankers: This is a nice interactive map dedicated to camp sites in New Zealand. At first I didnt really like the layout of it, but when I actually played with it a bit I saw that it was the best at giving me the information that was most relevant. That makes it a winner in my book. Tells you price, rules, bathroom details, maximum stay, and much much more.
- Camping.co.nz: This is a very well done site which is basically dedicated to an interactive road map of New Zealand. It does a great job of showing points of interest on the map from a macro view, but the details are a little sparse compared to the first one. It also offers smartphone apps.
- Department of Conservation Maps: This is a cool little interactive map that was made by the Department of Conservation. It offers things like campground locations, but also extra things like points of interest, great walks, historic places, visitor centers and more. I dont think it offers enough real detail like the first, and it’s also a bit slow. And note that by default nothing is selected so it looks blank.
- Where you can camp in New Zealand: This is just a good informational article by Newzealand.com which tells you everything you need to know about where you can and cant camp. It’s a pretty camper friendly country, but I would still recommend a quick scan.
- Toilet Map: Yeah, I know it’s a little weird to have a toilet map, but trust me, it will come in handy. A lot of these roadside toilets make a great place to set up for the night if you have no other option. At least you have some running water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, and of course handle your biz.
- Roadtrippers: This is one of the coolest sites Ive used. Rather than planning your route then seeing what fits in, this lets you do both at the same time. You put your start and end points then check boxes for what sorts of point of interest you might want, and it adds all the relevant dots right along your charted course. Really neat.
- Ultimate Campgrounds: This site makes it very easy to find a plethora of camp sites in any state you are in. They also offer a lot of useful information for each site, but it can take a bit of time to load, there is no legend to understand what the colors mean, and you can’t view multiple states at once making border territories a bit annoying.
- US Campgrounds: Ok, this site is in dire need of a facelift, but once you get past that, you will see that the map is actually quite useful. The map itself reloads any campgrounds when you move around, and as long as you follow the legend below you will be able to find what you are looking for. It has a lot of great information.
My final thoughts
Of the three countries I’ve mentioned, I have to say that Australia was the best for a relocation. The reason being that it offers the most variety for them, it offers many public bathrooms, BBQ’s, and even camp sites, and I didnt really mind driving the short deadline since most of the stuff between cities is, well, not much at all.
New Zealand was amazing for driving, but the deadlines on relocations are way too short to really get out and enjoy the country proper. You’d be better off to buy your own car. New Zealand is all about getting out of the cities and spending a lot of time in the country side. It has even more public facilities and caravan friendly towns, but it’s a freaking 3rd world country when it comes to wifi. You can still get a lot of value out of the links on this page either way you go. As you see above, it has a lot of good resources for it.
For the United States, I can’t really say a whole lot. The relocations themselves dont look too great, but I’ve spent a lot of time touring the west coast and I can tell you that it is one amazing country to drive through. However, being a local I think my experience is going to be different than yours so…
I put a lot of time, energy, and though into writing this post and putting together all these resources for you. I think it’s pretty dang comprehensive and quality. If you think someone else might find it useful, or you think it’s worth sharing, please consider doing so.