Motorhome exchanges are a wonderful idea, not only do you get to use a motorhome suitable for the country you are visiting but you will no doubt make friends with the people you are exchanging with and be offered
maps, books and guidance to plan your trip.
We have done three exchanges "down under" and enjoyed 16 months in Australia and 6 months in New Zealand this way. We then went on to buy our own campervan in Australia - a small Hi-Ace pop top that we would never have dreamt of buying had we not tried out the motorhome lifestyle before hand.
Today there there a number of motorhome exchange sites on the Internet.
UK Motorhome - Exhange
Motorhome Holiday Swap
I suggest that if you place an exchange wanted advert you will get more replies by keeping your request as open as possible in terms of date, duration etc. You can always modify things nearer the time but it seems better to have options that you can turn down rather than no offers at all.
The exchange needn't be simultaneous and is probably better if not, enabling you to check your motorhome in and out and also to help out with any problems whilst it is in use. Leave copies of vehicle papers, insurance and instruction books in the motorhome. In addition we did a simple list on usage of appliances then duplicated it and cut out the appropriate slips to stick in the relevant places.
We had no written contract in the belief it would be difficult to word and probably be hard and expensive to enforce with people from abroad. A letter of understanding as to the agreed deal was what we ended up with. Finally if you don't feel comfortable enough to trust the people you are exchanging with then maybe you shouldn't be doing it. In the worst scenario we figured that any major costs would probably be covered by insurance and smaller bills could be off set against the costs we would have otherwise incurred in either renting or buying then selling a motorhome abroad.
We exchanged on the basis that the owner was responsible for tax, MOT (or the country equivalent) fully comprehensive insurance, and repairs due to wear and tear (including tyres). The borrower would pay for ongoing servicing plus any damage they caused. No mileage restriction would apply. It may be an idea to initially take a sum of money as a bond. We removed our clothing and personal possessions from the motorhome but made everything else available and left a grocery starter pack and cleaning materials. The easiest thing, space permitting, is probably to empty your vehicle in order to give it a thorough clean and then replace everything together so that the borrower can see what you have and where it goes. When you are borrowing their motorhome they may not have some of the things you like to have. Before dashing out to buy them it's worth mentioning it to the owners. On our first swap they didn't use their motorhome in cold weather but when we asked about heating they came up with a fan heater and hot water bottle. We actually spent very little buying items that weren't initially offered. If you can allow yourselves time it's worth spending a couple of days together initially to familiarise yourselves with the vehicle and do a test run.
There are many older vehicles in Australasia with high mileage but because of the climate this doesn't seem to cause the problems we have in Europe. Many are converted buses either done very well by a professional or poorly by the owners with many variations in between. Winnebago seem to be one of the few vehicles comparable with the specification of European manufactured motorhomes. If you really want to get out and see Australia an older motorhome or even a 4WD may be more suitable as some of the more interesting places are often down corrugated (very bumpy) dirt (very dusty) tracks which you probably wouldn't take a modern purpose built motorhome on. The lifestyle and climate in Australia are perfect for living outdoors (see BBQ section) so the size of the vehicle is less of an issue. We saw many modern purpose built motorhomes on the road in New Zealand but still a lot of old or homemade ones. If you are offered a vehicle which is older and/or of lower specification than yours you may want to offset the disparity by using theirs for a longer period of time. Beware of paying or accepting money as most insurance policies are invalidated if the vehicle is rented out. Make sure they have the correct category of driving licence for the weight of your vehicle. Prior to the exchange we asked for a letter from their broker to show any claims made on their insurance policy plus a copy of their driving licence. If they are planning to drive outside the UK they will also need an international licence and your written permission to take the vehicle overseas.
Try to get a floor plan of the vehicle and photographs of both the motorhome and owners.
Ask plenty of questions about their vehicle and don't make any assumptions. Whereas most European motorhomes have central heating an Australian one would be more likely to have air conditioning. Instead of double-glazing they would have fly screens etc.
You may want to ask some of the following questions.
For Australia are there "roo bars" on the front of the vehicle?
What type of gears does it have?
What size fuel tank and are there additional jerry cans?
What is the range of a full tank of fuel? (Petrol stations in the outback are scarce).
What type of battery charger is there?
Do they have a generator or solar panels and how big is the leisure battery?
Is there direct access from the cab to the motorhome?
What heating and cooling systems are there?
What type of fridge is there and if it's the condenser type how long will it run without sun on the solar panels?
What are the cooking facilities?
Is there a bathroom and what type of toilet and shower do they use? (Black solar bags for outdoor showering are common).
How big is the fresh water tank and is there a grey water holding tank?
Is there a hot water heater and if so what type?
Ask for dimensions for beds and internal height etc.
What facilities and for what duration could you expect to wild/free camp?
Do they have an awning, outdoor table and chairs?
Can you take their vehicle off road and if so to what extent?
Do they smoke or have pets?
When they borrow your motorhome which countries do they intend to visit?
Will they be having any visitors also staying in your motorhome?
A-V OF USEFUL INFORMATION
Barbecues are a great Aussie institution. Along the coast, in town parks, at rest areas and in many unlikely places you will come across a purpose built BBQ. Men usually cook armed with the obligatory beer - never criticise a man whilst cooking even if he is massacring everything! Aussie families gather together and each brings their own food and grog (alcohol).
The electric or gas powered purpose built type may cost $1 or $2 but are often free. These have a big solid flat plate, warm up quickly and you can pile lots of food on them. Aussies use a paint stripper to scrape them clean before and after use.
The second type is a basic concrete fireplace with a plate that can be swung over it. Wood is sometimes provided, if not bring your own preferably collected en route. First you light your fire and then with great patience wait until the flames have died down. Now you can swing the plate over the ashes and once it has warmed up you proceed as normal. There may be a hook to hang your billy (kettle) on. A variation of this is the campfire where you build your own fire (try to enclose it with stones) then cook over or in the coals. Australian Jack Absalon has written some excellent books with recipes and methods of camp cooking.
Note that in Australia and New Zealand if you are invited to a gathering or even into someone's motorhome you are expected to take your own grog (drinks) and often snack to share.
Australia: - Ants can be a problem and have been known to eat away at rubber tyres. A simple solution is to sprinkle cheap talcum powder on the ground in a circle around the tyres. Talc will also break up an ant trail as for some reason they rarely cross it. Flies in various forms are unavoidable in some areas but a fly net over your hat can greatly increase tolerance. You are less likely to encounter snakes, spiders and other notoriously dangerous things.
CAMPING - CAMPSITES
Australia: - Here you visit a caravan park to be allocated a site. A site with electric is called a "powered site" and an en-suite site is one with an adjoining building with your own toilet, shower and washbasin. If you see a concrete slab on the site you are expected to pull up alongside it and then spread your awning, table and chairs over the slab - do not park on it.
Most powered sites for 2 people cost between $18 (£7.80) and $22 (£9.50) but we paid as little as $10 (£4.35) and as much as $28 (£12.15) on occasions. Washing machines are usually available and take very large loads at the bargain price of $2 (85p). Often only a cold wash with just two rinses but it does get the load through in 20 minutes and seems to work well.
If you join one of their campsite chains such as Top Ten or Big 4 you get a 10% discount on each visit. In addition Big 4 membership offers discounts on some attractions within Australia and also campsite discounts in New Zealand, Italy and Great Britain.
CAMPING - FREE/WILD
Camps Australia Wide. Other booklets listing free or minimal fee camps are available for the North of W.A., South of W.A. and Tasmania. A further three booklets list bush camps and rest areas around Australia and two substantial paperback books "Priceless camping" serve the north and south of WA. Word of mouth is another good source of information and if you join the C.M.C.A. they have a WEB SITE listing free camps. It is common for campers to gather together round a camp fire and if you see one already lit feel free to saunter over with your drink and chair in hand. For us these were some of the best times in Australia and we spent our second trip going round visiting people we had met in this way on our first visit.
Australia uses dollars and cents. The current exchange rate can be found on xe We found ATM's at the airport and arrived with just plastic cards and drew cash as and when required. Nationwide Building Society does not charge for you drawing currency in this way from your current account. Note that in the Australian outback you may not be able to use credit cards but EFTPOS (SWITCH) seems to be widespread and cards can be used for purchases as little as $1.
Australians drive on the left as in Britain and it would be very unusual for you to be offered a left hand drive vehicle as an exchange.
Give careful consideration if you a planning trips off road. Conditions are very harsh and extreme and deaths still occur especially to the ill informed. There are many interesting books giving advice on preparing yourselves and the vehicle.
English is spoken but the accent and use of different words can cause confusion.
In Australia "G'Day mate how's it goin?" is usually just a friendly form of Hello and doesn't necessarily merit a reply of "very well thank you and how are you?" You definitely should not reply in the negative and reel of all your grumbles as that would mark you as a typical "whinging Pom". That is in addition to the misconception that we wash infrequently and drink warm beer. Take it all in good humour and you will have no problems, they may even microwave your beer for you!
Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia
Australia: - If you are a member of the RAC take your membership card. If you visit their offices they will supply you with free maps for South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. They also discount the free (wild) camping books and offer reduced price admission tickets to many major attractions. (Some offices will also accept AA membership cards).
We added additional people to our policy as named drivers. In Australia the road tax includes third party insurance and they then buy fully comprehensive cover if required. Ask to see their policy and try to take a copy with you.
Australia: - With a British passport you are normally issued with a 3-month electronic visa. If you apply to the consulate with supporting evidence of income etc. you can buy a 6-month multi entry visa that lasts for 4 years. This may be extended to 12 months whilst in Australia at an immigration office for an additional fee.
Australian High Commission. Visa Section. Australia House. Strand. London. WC2B 4LA. Tel 0891 600333
So what are you waiting for?
On the down side you may find damage to your vehicle which was not owned up to but compare that with the costs involved in either renting a vehicle or buying and selling a vehicle with the hidden extras of tax, insurance, maintenance, contents and depreciation.
On the plus side you will probably be met at the airport, need only to take clothing and a few personal possessions with you, have the correct vehicle and equipment for the country, have the chance to test a different type of motorhome and its facilities and undoubtedly have the time of your life. Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today, you may enjoy it and have time to do it again. Go for it.
Information on the New Zealand part of the exchange coming up soon.