The problem with the '$1.00 per km' theory for doing the Big Lap

There's always plenty of discussion online about Big Lap trip costs, especially in Facebook Groups, and one of the formulas you often see is that it will cost you 'one dollar per kilometre'.

In other words if you do 40,000km on your Big Lap you'll spend about $40,000.

As far as super simple formulas go, it's not a bad one, but I think it is too oversimplified to be of any real use.

The big issue is that the cost will vary dramatically depending on who you are, how long you travel for and how you see yourselves actually doing The Big Lap.

It's not a 'one size fits all' kind of thing.

Let's dig a little deeper.

To illustrate the problem I've used my Big Lap Budget Spreadsheet to create a basic budget for two very different families trips to see how much difference there is between them and how close either of them get to the '$1.00 per km'.

Mark and Amy

A young couple in their 20's

Mark & Amy are having some adventure together before they settle down and have kids

  • They are recently married
  • They are travelling before they buy a house and have kids
  • They are driving an ex-rental Toyota Troopcarrier which they bought at an auction
  • They are sleeping in the vehicle
  • They are bush camping whenever possible, avoiding caravan parks
  • They are not spending much on tours or luxuries
  • They will look for casual work along the way to top up their budget
  • They are travelling for 12 months
  • They expect to travel around 35,000 km

These guys are all about maximising the adventure while spending as little money as possible. Their Troopy enables them to easily pull up and camp anywhere and they’re using Wikicamps to find great free camp spots.

They can easily find casual work along the way and don’t need to stay in caravan parks except when there is no free camp option. Even then they will look for a National Park if there is one available.

They are all about making their own fun rather than paying for tours, and given they expect to be out here doing it all again with their kids one day, they don’t really have a ‘once in a lifetime’ mind set.

They haven’t bought a house yet and what stuff they do have is either with them onboard or stored at their parents places so they have no real costs from anything back at home.

Mark & Amy's Big Lap Budget

Summary

After working and saving for a couple of years before they left, Mark and Amy sold their cars to buy their Troopy for cash and have $20,000 left over that they have allocated for their Big Lap.

Along with finding some work along the way to top up their budget by around $1500 a month, they have enough to travel for 12 months.

So with their $20,000 starting balance + $18,000 earned along the way, they will spend around $38,000.

They expect to travel around 35,000km in the year.

Money spent per Kilometre: $1.08

That’s actually pretty close to $1.00 per kilometre . . . but lets look at the Jones family . . .

The Jones Family

Mum & Dad and their 2 daughters who are 5 and 8 years old

The Jones family are having the 'adventure of a lifetime' with their two daughters and are more interested in the experience than saving money

  • They are renting out their house while they travel
  • They have a new 200 Series Landcruiser and caravan under finance
  • They are staying in nice caravan parks with good facilities for the kids
  • They are doing all the tours and side trips
  • They are not looking for work along the way
  • They are travelling for 12 months
  • They expect to travel around 35,000 km

These guys have been planning their trip for several years and want to go while their kids are young.

Their daughters are 5 and 8 years old so there is some home schooling along the way.

The Jones’s traded in one of their two cars on the new Landcruiser and they also bought a new caravan, both of which are under finance. They’ll be using them for years to come after their Big Lap so it’s a long term ‘lifestyle’ investment 🙂

For the Jones’s it’s all about cramming in as much adventure with their kids as they can because they know they are making memories. This is more important to them than saving money at every opportunity.

They’ll stay in the nice caravan parks with the jumping pillows and get on board the fishing tours and other side trips.

The Jones's Big Lap Budget

Summary

They have a mortgage on their house but they are renting it out which is recovering most of the mortgage cost each month. They also have agents fees, insurance and storage costs to pay on their house and furniture.

They have mobile phones and mobile Internet which will be higher than home broadband because they'll be on the Internet a fair bit, especially with the kids home schooling.

They’re keeping their private health insurance going.

They are not looking for work along the way but will still receive the usual government family benefits.

They’ve been saving for several years and have $100,000 set aside for the trip.

With their $100,000 starting balance and $38,700 income along the way, they’ll spend around $138,700 . . . or $3.96 per kilometre assuming they do 35,000km.

That’s a long way from $1.00 per kilometre!

Conclusion

In this example The Jones family will spend over 3x what Mark and Amy will spend doing The Big Lap and both will spend more than $1.00 per km.

In reality, most people fall somewhere in between the two, but the point is that everyone is different so generalising by saying ‘$1.00 per km’ is not really helpful.

I think the origin of the $1.00 per kilometre theory comes from Grey Nomads who own their car and caravan, travel slowly, have no costs back home and are very savvy at stretching their dollars.

But it’s not a 'one size fits all’.

This is why I created the Big Lap Budget Spreadsheet so that you could find out for yourself how much money you will need based on your situation and your idea of the ideal Big Lap trip.

So if you’re planning your own Big Lap adventure, or even if you’re just dreaming about it, download a free copy of my Big Lap Budget Spreadsheet so you can get an idea of what you will need.

Once you get started on it you'll see that you can keep massaging the numbers until you get the bottom line to turn green, indicating that you have enough money.

It's already been downloaded 31833 times and has helped countless people plan their own perfect Big Lap adventure and hopefully it will do the same for you.

Good luck.

Download your Free copy of my Big Lap Budget Spreadsheet

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4 thoughts on “The problem with the '$1.00 per km' theory for doing the Big Lap

  1. Clare says:

    Hello! Has anyone done the 'Big Lap' with children, in a bus with trailer & car vs. 4wd and caravan or camper?
    We are considering this as an option for our adventure, if anyone has experience I'd love to hear it. Thanks

  2. Julian says:

    Steve, our family of four did the Big Lap in 2015, our boys were 7 and 10 at the time. We watched all costs but did not compromise on anything. This included a $3000 flight over the Bungles and whale shark swims. We also free camped (11%) or stayed in national parks (17%) as much as we could. Still, 46% of the time was in caravan parks. Average economy was 18.6 l/100. Fuel ranged from $1.10 to $2.09 a litre ($1.40 on average). We covered 36,398 km in 372 days, spending $57,006. This is $153/day or $1.57/km. Our truck was a second hand 1HDFTE Turbo diesel 100 series manual Cruiser towing a new Jayco 14.44-4 outback van - both superb choices with no failures and no regrets. Both were sold after the trip at minimal loss. We did the Gibb RR, the Plenty Hwy and the Oodnadatta track without issue. We rented our fully owned 3 bedroom home for the duration and did not work. Cheers and keep travelling.

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