Do you want to go on a special adventure around Australia that’s not like your average road trip? Want to avoid Greyhound buses and form a tight-knit community with people from all over the world, while enjoying nature and celebrating life? Well then, hop aboard The Magic Bus! We spoke to Jake – the founder of The Magic Bus – and were inspired by his story…
Jake, lovely to meet you! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born in Perth. In my late teens, I booked a one-way ticket to England and spent about 5 years backpacking and working all around Europe. During my time there, I had a bunch of different jobs. I was a roadie for bands in the UK, I worked in a bar and restaurant in the Greek islands, I ran pub crawls in Amsterdam and managed a hostel in Milan in Italy. I also did a lot of sh*tty jobs in between, as well as trying to see every possible country I could over there in between! The only places I’ve missed are the Baltics and Scandinavia! Hopefully I’ll get a chance to nail them out at some point in the future. After that, I moved to South East Asia and worked in a bar. Later I got a job as a scuba diving instructor for about 3 years. While I was in Asia I spent a fair few months riding a motorbike through Vietnam and Laos and I travelled around Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia.
On your Facebook page you write:
The idea of the Magic Bus is to free camp and travel the roads of Australia chasing the sun. Seeing as much natural beauty as possible, as economically as we can. We want to form a little community of friends and travel around partying and getting to know new and interesting people from all over the world.
Tell us about the story of The Magic Bus. How did you get the idea?
The idea came to me when I got back from Thailand three years ago and started working in Australia again. I felt a bit empty and disillusioned from being away for so long. I spent about 8 months road-tripping and working with my car up the West Coast to Darwin. Then I got a job, a bank loan and just bit the bullet and bought a bus.
In the beginning, it was very different compared to now. No-one, including me, really knew what was going on. We just all jumped in from all over the world and started driving. When we got into towns, we made signs from the back of old goon boxes that said “Come jump on the Magic bus! Heading to Cairns tomorrow!” and wore them around our necks. It was pretty disorganised and money was hard. Those were some really broke times then I suppose, but so much fun all the time. After a year we started to be more well known and had a bit of a reputation and it was much easier to get people on. I can’t think of the last time I went out drunk with a cardboard sign, haha!
How often do you usually organise road trips with the Magic Bus?
The Magic Bus is pretty much in constant motion so as long as we have space people can jump on anywhere. We usually start trips from Perth in the winter heading North and in summer we start the trip from either Perth or Melbourne.
How can someone book a road trip with the Magic Bus?
When you talk about “we”, is there a group of people that organise the Magic Bus tours or are you doing it all by yourself?
Nah, I started the bus myself. Throughout the years though I’ve had a bunch of various people from lots of different countries help me drive or sometimes just hang on the bus for months so they end up helping me out.
Can everyone take part, or how do you choose who gets to join you?
We are open to anyone. Saying that though, we only have limited seats and we get more messages than we have spots. So firstly we try to make the bus 50% girls, 50% guys, and then we do our best to fill it with lots of different nationalities. From doing the bus for so long, I can also kind of tell from the people’s messages who will really get involved and be an asset and get along with everyone. Which is important when you spend a month with each other 24/7, as you can imagine!
Haha 50% girls – 50 % boys! Sounds like the start of many romantic stories. Are there many people that came together in the Magic Bus?
Haha yeah. Lots of relationships… A bunch are still together today. There are even lots of little Magic Bus families from people who were strangers when they jumped on and when they left the bus they all got a house together in Melbourne or other cities.
How do you finance the trips?
Yeah, unfortunately, it’s quite expensive for us. The bus and trailer with all the cool stuff inside constantly needs repairs and replacements, plus there’s all the bureaucratic government licenses and fees. Repayments to the bank for the loan. Let alone fuel and being able to eat. We have to charge something. Right now its $250 AUD per 1.000 kms travelled on the bus. It doesn’t matter if it only takes us 2 weeks or a month.
What is included in the price?
That price pays for all fuel, cooking gas, cooking and other equipment, cost of the bus/trailer, insurance and any other expenses that come up with the bus like tyre/mechanical repairs, registration etc. All you really need is yourself and your tent, which we can sort out once you jump on. You could just share with someone or buy a cheap one from Kmart for 20 AUD. We all cook together, so food works out cheap as well (only about $3 each a day). Other than that you will just need a bit of money for National Park fees and for alcohol! We free camp almost everywhere so the costs of living are pretty low.
Do you change the itineraries or is it always the same route?
The places we go and stop change every time. We run the bus on a mini democracy system, so we all vote on where we go and how long we stay etc. Generally in Australia, most people tend to want to see similar things so there are not too many disagreements.
What is your favourite trip and why?
My favourite trip by far is up the West coast. It’s just so isolated and beautiful. You can go swimming with dolphins, snorkelling with whale sharks and manta rays, see a bunch of sharks and turtles, go sand boarding, fishing etc. And in my opinion it has some of the most beautiful national parks, like Karijini National Park.
Have you ever gotten in serious trouble on one of your road trips with the Magic Bus?
Haha, I don’t know about serious. But yeah sure. We have been 300 km from the nearest town with limited water and had the radiator explode and been stranded for a few days while hitchhiked into town to get supplies and parts to repair the bus. But honestly, I feel that’s all part of the trip. Sometimes things go wrong, but you just solve the problems and move on. A bit like all parts of life really. Later on, you can laugh about these things!
Wise words! What has been your best Magic Bus moment?
I know it’s going to sound super cliché, but I’ve been doing this for years now. There are just too many to choose from. Honestly, the whole rides have just been a blast for me!
What is your favourite road trip song?
Tokyo Police Club – Frankenstein. I have been jamming that song through the speakers of the bus since the first bus years ago. Countless people have made videos of the bus since then but alas I don’t make them or choose the music so it never comes up haha. But yeah, that would be the one. Anyone who has ever been on the bus during its history will know my love for it. I may have even destroyed it for some by playing it too much haha!