Embracing the open road: A journey into the thriving world of RV travel

Mar 11, 2024
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I hit the road last week in an RV. A recreational vehicle.

It was a giant 7.5 metre six-berth RV that I hired from Star RV for a three-day trip from my Gold Coast home to Yamba and Byron Bay. I loaded my phone with a year’s worth of Country Music playlists, channelled Clint Eastwood as Philoe Beddoe from Every Which Way But Loose and put the hammer down as I motored south on the M1.

It wasn’t my first RV rodeo. I travelled around New Zealand’s South Island many years ago and thankfully survived. But on that trip my wife insisted that we spend every other night in a five-star hotel, which was a good call for RV virgins like us. Australians, especially people who are starting a new retired life at 60, have fallen in love with RVs. And the call of the open road is loud and getting louder by the day for many.

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In its Caravanning and Camping State of the Industry 2023 report, the Caravan Industry Association of Australia (CIAA) released figures showing that almost 50,000 new RVs were registered in 2022. Those new registrations took the total number of RVs on our roads to more than 800,000.

Today’s RVs are sophisticated and come with every luxury imaginable. It is easy to spend upwards of $200,000 on a high-spec six-berth motorhome. If you don’t have the money to buy one, like me, then rent one for a few days to see if the RV lifestyle is one that you want to fully embrace. By fully embrace, I mean selling the house, packing up, and hitting the road full time for a few years.

Our Star RV rental cost us $340 a day, plus insurance. Campsite fees vary. At Calypso Yamba we paid $86 per night for a powered campsite. In Byron Bay we stayed at the Ingenia Holidays Park, and it cost $68 for the night. The three-day journey cost us $180 for diesel. My wife and I travelled with my cousin Peter and his wife Sue. Each couple bought a bag of groceries, some wine and beer, and Pineapple Lumps for dessert. Not having to eat out for every meal saves you a lot of money on the road. Our RV came with a fully equipped kitchen with an oven, gas stove, crockery and a myriad of utensils. Both camp sites had amazing bbq facilities, as well as pools, and direct beach access.

In Yamba, everything was accessible on foot. Although to be honest the trudge up the hill to the magnificent Pacific Hotel almost killed us. It was much easier coming down after a few drinks. In Byron our campsite was out of town, just next to the Byron Bay Golf Club. And because an RV is so big, you can easily fit things in like your golf clubs when packing for a trip.

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The briefing session at Star RV’s Eagle Farm headquarters was thorough. I learned how to remove the grey water that comes from the on-board shower and kitchen sink. How to empty the toilet waste container and how to put up the all-important awning off the side of the van. If only I’d have listened more attentively.

But luckily when you pull into an RV site and park, you are immediately adopted into some kind of loving traveller family. Our campsite neighbour Pete could see we were struggling putting up the awning. We’d taken in some of the STAR RV briefing notes, but neither my cousin nor I had remembered the part about locking the retractable arms into place. Neighbour Pete came to the rescue helping us get the awning up – he even told us about making sure one side was higher than the other to allow any rain to fall off – before engaging in a long, friendly, and interesting chat about his life on the road.

Over the course of the two days in Yamba, we bumped into a couple that both Peter and I had worked with in Wollongong many years ago. They both had high-powered jobs when we worked with them. Stephen was a media advertising manager and Maria was a marketing guru. No longer corporate citizens, they are now committed travellers. They spend most of the year on the road. When they are not travelling, they house sit. They no longer have a traditional home of their own.

“We spend eight weeks here in Summer down this end of the park in a shady spot,’’ Stephen said.

“Then in Winter, we come back for another eight weeks but we move down the other end of the park to catch Yamba’s Winter sun.’’

After Yamba, they are heading north to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast – to a campsite with million-dollar views right on the beach. They live a simple, but very attractive lifestyle. They live in the moment. They fish when the weather is good. They sit and read on rainy days. They buy locally produced meat and veg and leave as small a footprint as possible wherever they travel. They have electric bikes to get around in the towns they visit. It appears to be idyllic.

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While we were in Yamba we decided to duck across to Maclean, a town with strong Scottish roots about 20 minutes away. It was there I noticed that you could park your RV at the local Showgrounds, just on the edge of the Clarence River. Just 800 metres from town, these 10 amazing campsites are offered on a first in-first served basis for just $15 per night (maximum stay three nights). Most small towns offer the same service. We saw people camping in the Showgrounds in Alstonville as well. Small country towns, by opening up their Showgrounds and open spaces, are one of the biggest beneficiaries of the booming RV industry. According to the CIAA in 2022 “a total of 15.1 million overnight caravan and camping trips generated over 60.9 million visitor nights and $10.4 billion in revenue”. Much of that went into small country town economies which is great news.

FOOTNOTE: You can check out my favourite driving playlist on Spotify. It’s called Country Driving Songs. The list was put together by country music star Catherine Britt. Enjoy!

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