No room on the Lap! Has grey nomadding becoming too popular?

Published: November 22, 2023

Summer is nearly here and it looks like it’s going to be another record-breaking year in our caravan parks and camping grounds.

The boom in the caravanning lifestyle after the end of Covid lockdowns, and the rise in the work-from-anywhere culture and the Instagram generation means that the ever-burgeoning number of grey nomads will have plenty of company in paradise in the months ahead.

Caravan Industry Association of Australia (CIAA) data for the March quarter showed a strong surge in caravanning and camping numbers, with people embarking on 4.5 million trips (up 24%).

The CIAA’s CEO, Stuart Lamont, was pleased with the numbers.

“We’re continuing to see Australians’ love affair with their country grow, spending more and more time in our beautiful regional and rural towns,” he said. “That makes the growth even more encouraging, knowing that 89% of these trips are being spent in areas needing the support.”

As most nomads know, the money they spend is rural areas is deeply appreciated by locals. However, it is hard to escape the conclusion that, in some more popular destinations, they are less valued.

As campsites in the ‘top’ destinations quickly book out in peak season, site fees have been rising sharply.

And it’s not just accommodation costs that might deter nomads from some spots. For example, from November 15, any adult using Tasmania’s formerly free Cradle Mountain shuttle bus service has had to pay $15 for the privilege.

More than 300,000 people visit the park each year, and Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service says the ‘cost recovery initiative’ will see revenue reinvested directly into maintaining critical infrastructure and protecting Tasmania’s natural and cultural values.

It’s probably fair to say that Cradle Mountain, and many other places around Australia, have become victims of their own success. Fragile environments are being threatened, and infrastructure at risk of being overwhelmed.

‘Overtourism’ is now a thing and, in some instances, travellers are being actively discouraged to prevent places from being ‘loved to death’.

Late last year, the small NSW coastal community of Seal Rocks issued an urgent plea for tourists to stay away after a traveller influx sparked traffic chaos. And a number of other coastal communities have taken a similar ‘enough is enough’ approach to tourism.

It’s the same story overseas. France, which has apparently lost 30% of its biodiversity in 35 years, has introduced tourist taxes and is encouraging people to visit less popular destinations. Elsewhere, Venice charges day-trippers to visit the city, Amsterdam is banning cruise ships, visitor numbers to the Acropolis are capped, and some US national parks have timed entry reservation systems.

So, where is it all going to end?

Experts say tourism numbers have been rising rapidly since the 1950s, have been turbocharged by the pandemic, and aren’t going to stop any time soon.

The takeaway … count your blessings, and enjoy it while you can!

  • Do you think the future of grey nomadding lies in ever more remote areas as the ‘top spots’ effectively become off limits? Comment below.

Are you a Grey Nomad member yet? Click here to find out about the discounts, competitions and other benefits on offer.


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Somewhwer along the line – * forward planning went out the window – Gov only seems to have a 4 year plan – yes the pandemic threw us a curveball, but we have been hearing talk about the number of baby boomers for a couple of decades and little has been considered apart from how are we going to pay all those pensions, some people have little if any concern for the natural environment and others are very passionate ( we just don’t seem to have the right balance yet), over the past few decades we have adopted failed models from eg the Reagan administration decided it would be a good idea to change up the model of caring for those with disabilities and mental illness in institutions ( there had been many claims of abuse ), rather than investing in improving existing infrasstructure, they decided it was better to put people out into the community, in shared housing ( this model did not work in the US and lead to many people living on the street) and sold off the institutions. Then I could be wrong but believe it was under the Howard Gov, we decided to do the same thing in Australia and now along with an affordable housing crisis we are starting to see the community housing models failings here ( institutions were sold off and most were on prime real estate so short term gain) and where do those people end up that really needed the security of the institution model, some needing full time care, the institutions definately needed a shake up and some big changes, but farming people out to a struggling community sector has not proven to be the answer in many cases. Then we adopted the NDIS ( which was always going to cost potentially more money than Australia could afford, much like in the UK ), so now we have some people with disabilities getting great assistance and others not receiving any or the system being rorted and many missing out as a result, limited checks and balances within the structure. Both these models have contributed to many more people being homeless, also our population has grown, after the pandemic housing prices and consequently rentals skyrocketed, people were able to work from home so decided to buy up rural properties ( much cheaper than in the city & many baby boomers sold off properties that they had been sitting on as rentals for a couple of decades to cash in on this trend, for some this was their super), increasing those prices in an even wider circle, now there are people in rural areas experiencing homelessness ( this has always been an issue with DV, mental health and disabilty issues, but on a more managable level), so more people living in cars vans and travelling around when they can afford the fuel, as they get moved on, people working and travelling, people feeling their mortality and wanting to spend time seeing all the beautiful places they have only read about ( lovin the life) and here we are the numbers are becoming overwhelming & we *did not put enough things in place to protect our beautiful areas. At the very least as individuals we can do our best to respect those areas and their caretakers, respect free camps, respect each other, respect the road and others who travel the same roads, travel lightly on the areas we visit- as in take nothing leave only footprints -remove your own rubbish-, understand that sometimes places we stay will be expensive ( that pays for the cleaning of an area, anything required to protect the environs even if that means travel on foot only or walkways or limited parking or limited entry ), we all need to be forward planners and do our own bit if we want to travel our very special and unique Country.

The only forward plans the government has is the following Elections Plans. Then it’s all about their obscenely well paid cushy job when they leave politics with inexplicable wealth considering they were public servants yet not very good at that. So no hope.

Alas, so true. HOOT gum’ment at the National level and all the way down to local gum’ment. Albo has lost touch with reality.

No good blaming just albo. All the governments since Howard have been doing the same thing. Just like scomo said.”Not My Job” is the mantra.

Finally! I’ve been waiting for someone to mention this. Many attributing the housing crisis to the short term rental industry, but it’s all hush hush regarding the glut of supported independent living properties being gobbled up by investors. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a support worker, and rely on this program for my income, however, take a drive through a new housing development in any socio-economic disadvantaged area, and play spot-the-van. Every second dwelling is a SIL. Where are young home buyers to get a chance to enter the market when conglomerates are driving up housing prices because the NDIS SIL income is a certain thing.

I think some of the problem can be attributed to local councils bowing to, in particular, caravan park large chains syndicates. By this I mean they dictate to council that if you want us to remain a big financial contributor to the area then close down ALL free camps within a specified radius. For example, try finding a legal coastal free camp on the NSW north coast. However, the kicker is these very same caravan parks substitute powered sites for cabins thus leaving less powered sites. Maybe it’s good business sense when you talk $$ return per m2 but remember this, these are the same caravan parks wanting free camps closed because they deem it as “competition”. My thought to that is do you hear motels complain when these C/parks install another 10 cabins in direct competition to motels?

Look at the town in Queensland a few years ago which closed all the free and cheap camping in the town due to pressure from the caravan parks because they wanted these people to stay with them
Well that soon backfired badly because patronage in those caravan park decreased, as did business in the other businesses in the town and Council soon saw to pressure from small businesses in the town to reopen the free and cheap camping as they town was bypassed by caravanning.
Any town which does that will soon see tourism in that town decrease and with that so too will the caravanning dollar.

You are spot on. The pension for a married man with a dependent spouse is less than $400 per week. (She might be a year or two less than pension age or no longer able to work). With caravan parks now charging $40 to $60 per night, how many grey nomads can afford that. And how many want to stay in cramped noisy caravan parks anyway? We would rather spend that money on the little cafes, gift shops ect.
It’s now a “stuff your town then” attitude to these towns that bow to Caravan Parks.

There have not been legal free camps near most of the beaches on the North Coast since the 70’s – many more people trying to do it over the past 5 years, making it obvious and drawing attention. I also think at the moment most of the CV parks are doing OK business wise, peek season they are full to capacity so I think it would be a minority trying to close free camps.

I think there’s a few other things at play here. The sheer number of caravans, campers etc that were bought new after the pandemic is crazy. It’s pushed second hand sales down enough to where almost anyone can afford one now. Being locked up for soooo long during the pandemic ppl are exploring locally like never before seen in Australia. Also who wants to be in mortgage prison with interest rate hikes that have no end date or paying exorbitant rent prices…..A $15k-$50k caravan is a much better way to live, move around, work casually or WFH, caretake property or housesit in between and pay almost nothing for any of it. We used to both work full-time, rent in regional Qld for $450 a week, rising cost of living pressures we gave up in March 2023, let our rental go, sold everything in our house and have been working casually, freecamping, house-sitting, caretaking properties and having a much better quality of life. We can afford to pay for medical, dining out, entertainment, rego, Insurance etc and never worry about overheads again….why wouldn’t others want the same thing?

So towns want Grey Nomads to stay away. A few years ago on my return to Gippsland from Sydney, rather than stay in a caravan park, I stopped about 30 kilometres out of Seymour at a rest area.
Next morning I went into town, breakfast at a small Cafe $15, then to Foodworks where I spent about $30.
Then to the local petrol station to get fuel, I needed both LPG and petrol so about $90.
Am I the sort of person the small businesses in these small towns want to turn away, I doubt it would be them?
You multiply what I spent by all the Grey Nomads who would have been in Seymour at the same time as I was, that is a lot of money spent in other towns like Seymour. Do these towns really want to see more, Seymour, of these tourists and their money, if so they are crazy? I will still go in and support small business.

Australia is the best country in the world for tourism & in popular times it is hard to get accommodation in very popular tourist areas, particularly along the coasts.
In some places the tourism has grown so fast, that the area has not been able to match the demand, but in others the session is so small or the traveler’s have such deep pockets, that their is little point in the businesses even trying as the return is to small.
We are currently on the road, we have been in both peak and off peak, but we have also been very surprised at the make up of the tourists, it’s made up of young families, roof top tenters, overseas visitors & grey nomads.
Each with their own agendas.
If you are in a caravan park on the coast, you may find grey nomads, that basically live at home in the summer, & in the caravan park in the winter, spending very little on tourist type things as they have been their done that.
The young and the families want to see & experience the country, if it’s worth it they will find the money to do it & the back packer wants to see it all as quickly & as cheaply as possible.
There are no perfect tourists, same as there are no imperfect tourists, just people out trying to enjoy Australia, in away that suites their budget, capabilities & timeframe.
If the full sign is up, you find else.
To think a country with the population of Australia will ever be full is a very long bow to pull, but there will be areas that have enough tourists or locals that have had enough of tourists, that is life.
We will also see places close as the Aboriginal people get control of tourist destinations and decide on fairytales being more important than access for other Australian or no longer want the hassle of running a property or tourist business or just keep pushing the prices up, till people stop coming.
( This has all ready happened in some places)
Care of the camping areas will be another big issue, we can’t keep crapping all over the place & still expect free or cheap camp sites.
It amazing seeing signs to puck up after your dog, in areas that are covered in toilet paper and other human waste. It may be we see sign to pick up after your lover, partner or spouse.
Respect our country, as you are the only person who can make that decision for you.

Well written Semaj, agree with what you have written. Unfortunately the free camps that we stay in are usually littered with toilet paper or the toilets are vandalised. As in most instances the minority spoil it. Will add that we are amazed at the number of young families that traverse our country. Love the site of kids riding bikes, climbing trees and having fun (no cotton wool wrapped around these kids)

We have been on the road full time for almost a year & it is becoming very expensive to travel Australia after Covid. We have visited hundreds of places & spent money everywhere we go.
We don’t stay in caravan parks unless we have to, because of the high cost & overcrowding. Free camping or low cost camping is a much better way to live on the road. If you can’t find a place to settle for a few weeks & keep moving the fuel cost is a killer, fuel as high as $3.60 pl in central Australia. Some caravan parks cost as much as $120.00 per night & even more in some places.
Some sport ovals allow cheap 72 hour parking & encourage campers to leave their receipts from money spent in town to show eye council the benefits of cheap camping.

Tassie local: we mark the seasons by the number of ‘vans’ on the road and gracing our free overnight areas. Please obey the rules of the road and give cyclists at least 1.5m when passing- particularly if you encounter us riding along our state’s narrow winding roads. Many of them have no road shoulders and the road edges are deteriorated so we have to ride in the traffic lane- as is our legal right to do so. Always remember that your mirrors and your caravans are wider than your cars when passing us. Judging from the number of bicycles attached to caravans… we are all friends here so leave the ‘us and them’ mentality at home and let’s all get to our destinations stress free and safely to enjoy a tasty Tassie coffee together at the local cafe this festive season!

“Top spots” very often refers to coastal area. Humans,by large, Just love being near the water. Rivers, lakes or ocean. Is why real estate with water views demands a premium. However, in the name of conservation, there are very limited areas of access to ocean frontage camp sites when there are thousands of Klms of coastline available but inaccessible. A favourite spot of ours right next to the beach in Tasmania, and now much more popular and hard to get a spot, actually had it’s space reduced for some reason. With all new caravans being sold these days being self sufficient, I’d like to see more coastline opened up with even just dirt road access, thus creating more ” Top spots”. This would mean an immeasurable percentage use of the available coastline compared, as I say, to the thousands and thousands of klms available. How much environment do the lizards and critters need?

Sold our van last year. Way too many people on the road. Used to love roadside/free/ national Park camping but has become so crowded and competitive to find a nice quiet camp. So many people on tight time constrictions racing dangerously by and not appreciating where they are and putting their lives in danger, not to mention others on the road. So many young families out there on a mission to do so much in limited time frames. The covid boom.

Been saying that for the last 5 years…..too bloody many…and everyone has a Camps book, so no secret places anymore…I guess I’m lucky, seen the best of it over the years…can’t see the sense of E-book…pre-book of National parks ….1st in best dressed…..seen camp spots half empty, but if you ring up to pay for a spot, you get..sorry sir , that site is E-booked……nobody turns up……guess I’m just a grumpy old bugger…

Our little country town in the Grampians swelled by the thousands at Easter time with all the tourists and Stawell Gift visitors. There is no way they would have asked people to stay away because of the extra traffic it caused. That’s business suicide! They closed the main st to traffic on the Saturday and turned it into an event, the shops employed extra staff, and the Lions club put on a carnival. Many of the businesses were kept afloat for the year by the influx of tourists at Easter and school holidays.

No Aust baby boomers just love photography ,nature and adventures

Glad we did it between 2003 & 2014 , uncrowded , welcomed everywhere. Living in the Noosa shire , grey nomads , backpackers, & , tourists are generally not recieved well , many are messy , hurting the environment, &, quite boorish.

Last edited 2 months ago by Michael Hancock

I feel as a resident of Cairns Nth Q that we are being choked with tourists and then a lot of those people want to stay for months or even permanently. It leaves a lot of us out in the “cold” so to speak they have taken over our peaceful lifestyle.This is not what i came here for 32yrs ago.

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