The search for a new home is never a quick one. Whether you’re looking to buy or to rent, a house, unit, tent or motorhome there are always so many things to think about and so many places to look!
Part One – Caravans
A few months back we posted about the first part of our search – where we considered luxury caravans and 4wds that would have been worth at least a year’s salary. After more consideration and a closer look at the finances, we realised that our budget fell way below our aspirations and we needed to rethink our strategy!
We soon figured out that the market for good, used family caravans was pretty small, especially in TNQ, and also that when buying a caravan we would need to factor in buying a new vehicle with more towing power than our current one. This meant finding not one but two vehicles that we knew nothing about!
Hubby became a regular on Gumtree. It became a daily ritual for him to be checking adverts and he knew the small details of almost every ad on there. We were mainly looking for caravans at first, but one night he flashed his phone at me declaring – ‘how cool would it be to travel in this!’
It was a bus – like an old school bus. Converted for a family of four and looking like the one that Otto drives round in the Simpsons. It was so far from our previous ideas that at first I had trouble imagining it. My main argument was that we would be limited in where we could visit – the bonus of the car/caravan set up being that you can detach and explore without taking your whole home with you. My other concern was that to drive the bus we’d need an MR license – it couldn’t be driven on a normal car license due to the weight of it and to get an MR license would set us back about $800 each. The other downside was that it was located over 1700km away in Brisbane.
The positives, on the other hand, were that we’d only need to buy one vehicle. And it looked really, really cool! And I could pretend to be Otto while driving it! We’d also be saving over $40k as the asking price for the bus was just $20k – and it was ready to drive away with nothing needing to be added.
Get some advice
There was only one thing left to do – ask the experts! Facebook has become my go to guide for all things travel – there are so many groups and pages for like minded people who are only to happy to share travel advice and destinations. I headed straight over to the TAWK (Travel Australia With Kids) page and got some sound advice instantly. I also connected with some other families in Australia doing what we hoped to do and asked them their best tips for finding a vehicle. Special shout outs to Our Family Getabout and Discover Family Travel for answering my very vague questions and giving us some inspiration!
The responses were pretty unanimous in their advice. Do your research. Follow Gumtree for a while so you get to know the market and get to spot a bargain. Talk to other families and see what they bought and how they have found it.
After following this advice we decided that for us, a bus would be the way to go. It worked for our budget, and as we would be travelling with 2 kids and a dog we thought we probably wouldn’t want to be doing too much offroading anyways – once we were set up at a destination we would be doing our best to explore it on foot or bike.
After many emails, calls and text messages to the owners we agreed to buy it! Hubby signed up for his HR license, we booked one way flights to Brisbane and got some time off work. We paid the deposit, signed a contract and ordered new baby seats to be delivered the bus location to be installed on the day, so we could have our first adventure driving back to Cairns. (with hindsight we should have hired baby car seats from Tree Hut Village and saved ourselves some money!) We called friends on the East Coast and locked in lots of catch ups. I realised with delight that we’d be passing Mon Repos at turtle hatching time – a once in a lifetime experience that I’ve always wanted to do – so we booked family tickets for that too. We opened some champagne and got really, really excited!
The first sign that things weren’t quite going to go to plan was a phone call 4 hours before our flight from the owners of the bus telling us that a part that they had ordered hadn’t arrived yet – meaning that there was a chance the bus wouldn’t be ready for us when we got there that afternoon. It was a Thursday – and we had our trip planned meticulously so we could get back to work for the following Wednesday. Never mind all the money we had spent on flights – the boys had packed their suitcases and I couldn’t even imagine trying to explain to our 3 year old that we weren’t going on holiday after all! The owners told us there was a possibility that the part could arrive the next day so our plans would only be delayed by a day – but when I asked her if she thought that we should come she said to us ‘I can only guarantee that we will try our best’. Probably the worst guarantee that I’ve ever got.
But we knew that we wouldn’t be able to get any more time off work for a while, we wouldn’t get money back on our flights and we already had our trip booked – so we decided to go for it!
Look Before You Leap
What started as an exciting adventure to go and collect our vehicle now became a leap into the unknown. We arrived in Brisbane and checked into our accommodation – checking our phones obsessively for news of engine parts arriving. By the Friday morning (the day we were supposed to be driving to Noosa) we still had no news – so we thought we’d do a bit of sightseeing in the meantime. It turned out that Brisbane is an amazing place for families and we found so much to do to entertain the kids. Best of all it was all free, meaning that we weren’t adding to the already rocketing costs of buying the bus. By the afternoon we had some good news – the bus would be ready on Saturday morning – meaning that we would be on the road by the afternoon and hanging out with the turtles at sunset on Sunday!
Collecting the bus!
On Saturday morning we checked out of our hotel, dragged all of our luggage and two over-excited kids to the station and caught the train to the location of the bus – about 40 minutes outside of Brisbane. It turned out that the owner’s brother was a mechanic so the bus was being garaged at his workshop.
When we got there we were surprised to see a mechanic apparently still working on the bus. It turned out not to be the owner’s brother but an independent mechanic performing a roadworthy on it. Note to selves – check that a vehicle has a roadworthy certificate before turning up to buy it!
Hubby went for a drive with the mechanic while he was doing the brakes test. Then hubby had a test drive himself. More mechanical tests, more test drives – we spent over 4 hours at the workshop and were looking at daylight disappearing along with our hopes of making Noosa that day. On a side note – a mechanical workshop is one of the LAST places on the planet that you want to be stuck for 4 hours with 2 toddlers. Luckily I had some emergency playdough and a LOT of snacks in the bag so we somehow managed to make it through with only one small battery related injury to show for it.
The mechanic seemed very reluctant to sign off on the roadworthy. He kept telling us stories of his 7 grandkids and smiling affectionately at our boys. Their presence seemed to give him an attention to detail that I have never before seen in a mechanic! He literally checked every nut and bolt – and during one of these checks a bolt snapped and suddenly there was oil all over the ground. The owner’s brother was furious, he told us a new bolt would take days to arrive. Dreams of turtles and catch ups fluttered away into the sunset and we resigned ourselves to being stuck in a remote workshop with two kids, a LOT of luggage and 2 brand new baby seats.
Meant to Be
I’m not sure if it was a kind mechanic, a Guardian Angel or simply a dodgy bolt that was in control that day – but whatever it was, and despite all the dramas attached – I am truly grateful that things didn’t work out.
As someone later said to us – the last thing you want while driving around remote parts of Australia is a vehicle with hard to get parts. If a bolt was going to take 4 days to get to Brisbane how on earth would we cope with a breakdown in Outback WA?
We managed to get quite an inexpensive Uber back to Brissie, luckily managed to get back into our accommodation and get some not too expensive flights back to Cairns. We delayed by a day so we could enjoy some more of the fabulous Brisbane family attractions and ended up having an amazing family holiday.
The lessons that we learned from this experience – if you’re not comfortable with something then don’t do it. The owner’s brother also told me a very spooky story about the bus while hubby was out on one of his test drives.
I am one of the most superstitious people ever, so this genuinely wasn’t the best sales technique to use on me! Remind me to tell you the tale if we ever meet around a campfire one night!
We also learned to make the most of every situation. What could have been a stressful few days ended up being a brilliant Brisbane holiday.
And finally – for a trip around Australia think about buying a common vehicle – one which will be cheap, easy and quick to get parts for.
So that’s exactly what we did!
Watch this space for the third and final part to our search for a motor home!