Vanlife. Oooft. The word just oozes freedom and adventure, doesn't it? You can make your way down the Great Ocean Road at your own pace, cook dinner under the stars, stop anywhere you like on a whim and sleep on top of a cliff or in the middle of a rainforest.
If the idea of cruising down one of the world's most scenic roads behind the wheel of a campervan gets you all hot and bothered, read on. We're going to share everything you need to know about hiring a van, from where to get one, to which rental company is best for you and where you can park it.
A bit of quick housekeeping before we get into things! To get your hands on a van you'll need a full drivers licence. It doesn't need to be issued in Australia but if it is not in English you will need a translation. The minimum age to rent a vehicle in Australia is 21 and if you are under 25 most companies add a surcharge.
Okay, you ready? Let's do this.
So I can pick up a van in Torquay, right?
Errr, no. Sorry to break this to you but if you show up in our hood looking for a van, we're sending you straight back to Melbourne. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. All the big companies rent out of Melbourne city or Melbourne Airport, so you'll want to pick one up there before heading for the coast.
You might find some vans from indie companies or private rentals in the bigger Victorian cities like Geelong and Warrnambool but Melbourne has all the big, reliable rental companies so you can choose the right van for your trip.
Choosing your van style
Choosing a van is never a one size fits all situation. Are you bringing your dog along? Do you need space to store a surfboard? Would you all like the luxuries including a shower or are you happy roughing it? Do you need cooking equipment or are you likely to eat out every night?
Make a list of what you'll be using your van for and make sure your chosen vehicle ticks all the boxes. The best bit about van travel is that it can be your transport, your bedroom and your kitchen all in one.
While that baby blue Kombi might look banging on Instagram, you need to prioritise substance over style. You won't be so enamoured with those cute fairy lights when you're eating cold baked beans because you forgot to check if this van had a stove.
What should you pack? Minimalism is the key here. You don't need a million things, just some clothes, food and water. While many vans come with bedding, the germaphobes out there might prefer to bring their own fresh set. I've slept on damp, mouldy bedding and it's not the most pleasant experience, by night three we gave up on the van and booked a hostel.
Be sure to check the transmission of the van when booking, the Great Ocean Road with its gorgeous winding roads is NOT the place to be learning to drive manual. When you pick up your van, check over it to make sure everything is in working order. Ensure you get a phone number to call in case things go wrong. Touch wood they don't!
Ever heard of vanpacking?
[Image by Court Jeremiah @courtredhanded_creates ] Vanpacking is a truly magical thing that has recently taken off in Australia. You get all the benefits of van life - your own space to sleep, eat and cook; along with all the best bits of backpacking - that hot shower you've been craving and a place to meet and mingle with like-minded travellers.
Bells Beach Backpackers offers vanpacking in Torquay from just $26 a night and you get full use of all the facilities. Plus, the staff and guests here are absolutely brimming with recommendations and hidden gems for your Great Ocean Road trip.
If you're stopping somewhere that doesn't offer vanpacking, apps like Wikicamps are invaluable for finding free campsites around Australia. Along the Great Ocean Road you'll discover tonnes of places to camp for free, both in the Otways and closer to towns. Just make sure you clean up after yourself and follow the golden rule - leave no trace.
Ready to get this show on the road? Here are our top five van rental companies to score some wheels:
Wicked Campers in Melbourne have a fleet of graffitied vans that will definitely raise a few eyebrows on the road. If you don't mind the attention you'll get with these colourful vans, you can pick up a two or three seater, starting from $50 a day.
While we love the cheeky humour of Wicked vans, we highly recommend asking for one of their 'tame' designs so you don't piss off the locals too much or scar children for life. A hippie van painted with flowers and peace signs? So fun! Crude and offensive sex jokes? That's a hard pass.
Hippie Campers are (surprise, surprise) all about that carefree, hippie lifestyle. They rent their vans out of Melbourne and will even help you plan your trip. These vans start at around $61 a day for anyone who wants a stylish but still budget-conscious home on wheels.
Mighty are a fab choice if you're travelling with a group of friends because they have vans that fit up to six (YES SIX!) people. Their biggest van has a whopping three double beds, if you can handle being in close quarters with that many people.
Another company one that operates out of Melbourne, their prices start at around $67 per day but they'll also price match if you find a cheaper price for a similar type of van.
These guys offer both van rentals and sales, so if you're thinking about taking up #vanlife full time, you can try before you buy. They rent their vans out of - you guessed it - Melbourne for as little as $29 a day. At that rate, you can afford to swap the goon bag for something a little higher on the shelf!
They also have a tonne of incredibly helpful guides to download on their website, including road trip itineraries and tips on van travel for beginners.
Jucy is a playful rental company that caters to all budgets, as evidenced by their aptly named camper, 'The El Cheapo'. While that name might sound a bit dubious, they pride themselves on their safe and reliable vehicles.
You can choose from a Melbourne city or airport pick up and prices start at $55 per day. We also have an inkling they might have a Black Friday sale coming up, hint hint...
We can't wait to see what wheels you turn up in Torquay with! Be sure to book in for a vanpacking sleepover at Bells Beach Backpackers. Pop in on your way home too and share your stories of life on the road, we love a good chat if you hadn't noticed. Written by Rachel Wagner. Bells Beach Backpackers Content Writer. CONNECT WITH US: @bellsbeachbackpackers
Rachel Wagner is a freelance producer who writes about the good things in life - travel, culture, creativity and how to tread lightly on our Earth along the way.
She previously flexed her creative muscles as a Podcast Producer for the Mamamia Women’s Network before she gave up the desk life to travel the world. Over the past three years Rachel has found her home in Melbourne, Scotland, England, Mount Buller and the Bellarine Peninsula. And now? Torquay baby!
Her top travel tip is not to be afraid of exploring a new place alone. You’ll be amazed at how many locals and other travellers you meet along the way, plus you’ll never have to say no to a spur of the moment adventure.