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$1,000 hack: How Aussie family (almost) travelled full-time for free

Image of Hannah Budge and family sitting on a palm tree at a beach
Hannah Budge and her family of five are travelling Australia – virtually for free. Here's how she does it. (Source: Hannah Budge)
  • Stay tuned for Part 2, where we break down all of Hannah’s specific free travel tips, including hacks, apps and Facebook groups. Sign up here to get it straight to your inbox.

Meet Hannah Budge, formerly a small business owner from the wheat belt in Western Australia, but now of no fixed address.

“We are just hanging out at the Dampier Peninsula, North of Broome – just at the foreshore. The kids are fishing and I am sitting here doing my work overlooking the ocean.”

She, along with husband Leighton Budge and their three beautiful boys, aged between 9 and 12, set off on a possibly-12-month caravan trip around Australia – with $1,000 a week allocated to make it happen – just before COVID-19 hit.

The new plan is to keep going for at least one extra year… because the huge holiday hack they have discovered along the way means they can unexpectedly afford it.

More from Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon:

So what allowed the Budges to tear up their budget?

The Budge’s budget… and buck-saving breakthrough

That first year, instead of spending the planned $52,000 for their family of five to full-time travel, they outlaid just $35,000.

That was all their camping costs, insurance, groceries, mobile phones… the lot.

What is their discovery to get all this at a surprising discount?

You can work – very little! – on farms, at tourist attractions, at accommodation venues… indeed all sorts of businesses, in exchange for a place to pull up your van. And even more.

“We’ve got time but we don’t have endless pockets. So we use odd jobs to travel pretty much for free,” Hannah says.

“If you’re willing to do anything and be adaptable, that’s how we’ve had our most amazing experiences.”

Take a three-day ‘gratis’ trip on Dundee-in-the-Northern-Territory’s best fishing charter.

“We did gardening and maintenance for two weeks – a few hours in the morning – and I did photos for them too. We were given a site and power… and we were given an amazing fishing charter which was worth over $2500,” Hannah enthuses.

Then there was Queensland’s Daintree.

Image of Budge children in forest
The Budge family was able to stay and live at the Daintree for free. (Source: Hannah Budge)

“This resort had been fully closed because of COVID, but us and another family pulled up and we got the place all ready to reopen within a week. So we got to live in the Daintree for free,” she says.

“We did maybe an hour of work each day.”

How did the Budges initially make their trip happen?

To fund the trip in the first place, the Budges sold their family home. Their ready-for-real-life house deposit is invested, waiting for them to feel like using it.

They also – in a move that many Aussies probably want to do – threw in their jobs.

“I had a cake-making business and Leighton was a farm manager working on the big wheat belt farms and we came to an intersection – I guess a crossroad – in our lives where we just thought: What do we want to do next? Where do we want to go?” Hannah said.

“We didn’t know where we wanted to live and what we want to do, so we thought we’d go everywhere and see everything and find where we belong.”

As a farm manager, Leighton already had “travel-able” skills; he’s a fitter and turner, and boilermaker by trade.

To get roaming ready, Hannah gave up making cakes and put all her energy into the photography she had started, initially to showcase her cakes.

And to amazing ends: at the first art festival into which she entered her pictures, she won every possible prize.

Hannah is now eagerly engaged wherever she goes by businesses wanting to improve their websites and up their social media presence.

The Budge family. (Source: Supplied)
Hannah's talent for photography has allowed her to work on the road – and she's in huge demand. (Source: Hannah Budge)

“We usually work for the experiences tourism operators offer too,” she says.

“We get offers left right and centre; we are always rejecting offers from people who need help and have somewhere for us to stay.”

Because Leighton worked in the agricultural sector, the Budges have also done two farm manager stints and are just about to head back for a third.

“We managed an Arabian horse stud. Which was interesting because we know nothing about horses!”

How does the Budge family do this?

Through Facebook predominantly, Hannah says. And it is the local Facebook groups that have proven to be goldmines for the Budges.

“If we like an area and want to stay longer or caravan parks are too expensive, we usually just join the local ‘buy and sell’ group and say we are happy to exchange our skills in photography or maintenance et cetera, for a place to park our caravan,” Hannah explains.

Yes; ‘free’ travel is almost that simple.

And, amid the COVID craziness, nothing beats the value of pure human connection. In terms of how they find each opportunity, the Budges love this the most.

“We find a lot of work in the country areas by just going to the local pubs. [It's also how we find] the best fishing spots and places to go!” Hannah says.

The family also camps for free behind pubs and other areas in rural regions, she added.

The Budge family. (Source: Supplied)
The Budge family. (Source: Hannah Budge)

“They often say ‘just buy a beer’ in exchange, and usually by the end of the first night [in the pub], we have three job offers, two businesses in town to buy and at least one marriage proposal, let alone free fruit and veg.”

“It’s all tongue-in-cheek, but the job offers are real.”

COVID-19 was both perfect and difficult timing

It might be said that the Budges timed their life flip to perfection.

“We left in February 2020,” Hannah explains. Where other kids are sitting at home in front of a screen, her kids' experience of the pandemic has been very different.

“They’ve sat around the billabong where Waltzing Matilda was written; they’ve been under the tree of knowledge where the Labor party was started; they’ve stood on the tip of Australia; they’ve gone opal mining and gold mining; and they’ve had an Aboriginal elder tell them all about the dreamtime ways," she says.

“We’re doing a home-schooling program. We talked to education departments and the kids’ [former] school and they all said they’d get much more out of this trip than conventional schooling.”

The Budge family. (Source: Supplied)
The kids in the Budge family are being home-schooled, but are receiving a very rich education. (Source: Hannah Budge)

But given the outbreaks and upheaval in the real world, how much have the Budges played frogger with hotspots?

“Our timing has meant a lot of planning and navigation challenges, and a lot of stress about when is the right time to cross borders. There is a lot we haven’t been able to do because of restrictions.”

“But again, it’s all about being adaptable. And taking opportunities when you see them. It’s basically about being willing to go where the wind blows you.”

What you do AFTER an experience like this

The Budges want to make clear that life on the road like isn’t all roses and ‘holiday’.

“You still have to work for your lifestyle and live together in a tin can; it’s just that your background is always changing!” Hannah says.

So, when ultimately they stop, where have they decided to make their new home?

“Unfortunately, we would love to end up on the Sunny Coast [in Queensland], but so does everybody else. We are just trying to work out how to get there because obviously we are coming into wet season up north and COVID season down south,” Hannah says.

In the meantime, she will continue to do a lot of photo editing of, and to the backdrop to, beautiful scenery.

  • Stay tuned for Part 2, where we break down all of Hannah’s specific free travel tips, including hacks, apps and Facebook groups. Sign up here to get it straight to your inbox.

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