How to plan a road trip in Australia

Taking a road trip across Australia is bound to be an exciting, fun and unforgettable adventure. Hitting the road with your own set of wheels is a freeing and exhilarating experience, and there’s nothing better than being able to stop where you want, when you want to explore every nook and cranny of this huge and fascinating continent.

However, while one of the best parts about taking a road trip is this ability to be spontaneous, there are a few things you should think about before heading out on your big journey.

Choosing a vehicle

After all, if you’re doing the campervan thing (which can save you tons on hostels) then the van you choose is going to be your home for the next few days, weeks or months. If you are doing a trip of three months or longer, you may want to consider buying a vehicle, which will require a whole lot of research in itself. However, if you’re going on a shorter trip, renting is usually the easier option. Traveller’s Auto Barn is a great rental company (they sell vehicles as well) that offers some of the best vans at the most competitive prices and would definitely be my choice for best value. If you’re going on a trip longer than a week, I would especially recommend springing for a deluxe campervan as they offer a lot more space and comfort for only a slightly higher rate, and I can guarantee it will leave you less cranky and there will be a lot less fighting between you and your travel partner(s)! For shorter and quicker jaunts, check out the rental relocations offered by most rental companies, where you can find great deals as low as just $1/day for trips between major cities.

Pick your travel companions

As I mentioned, fighting can happen pretty easily between travel partners. Whether it’s your partner, best friend, or some random travelers you met in your hostel, if you aren’t traveling solo, you might want to do a test drive with your selected traveling companions. Taking a short road trip to somewhere within a few hours of your initial home base could be a life saver. If you’re at each others’ throats after just a few days together, obviously an extended trip isn’t going to work. You’re going to be spending nearly every waking (and sleeping) minute together. You’ll be squeezed together sleeping in the back of the van (or tent, or snoring over each other in hostel bunks) and working together to figure out directions, choose destinations, split costs, share meals and much more. Your lives are going to be seriously intertwined for the duration of your trip. So no matter how great you think you get along with someone, it is well worth trying each other out first.

Finding accommodation in Australia

Invest in the CAMPS book (also known as “The Bible” by many campers and caravanners) if your van doesn’t already come with it. It is a bit pricey (around $40-50) but you can probably get a secondhand copy for much cheaper (try Gumtree), and you can sometimes find them at the visitors center in some cities. It will save you a ton with free/cheap campsites, which are sometimes more fun spots to socialize or in quite interesting locations. Otherwise, while caravan parks tend to be the best for amenities and comfort (and often your only option if you want power), there are often other options. Some hostels might like you set up camp in their parking lot (and use their amenities) for a small fee, and often camping in national parks can be inexpensive as well as a much more scenic and memorable experience.

Budgeting for fuel

Always allow more for petrol then you think you’ll need. If you see a cheap price, fill up there and then because prices vary greatly place by place and hour by hour! The further out you get from civilization, the higher the prices will be, and you’ll just have to rely on advice from fellow travelers on where to find the best priced petrol. (You can check prices in some areas online or find out about the cheapest petrol stations on the local radio or TV news.) Sometimes you’ll just have to settle for the one place within range of your tank. On a related note, do your food shopping in big bursts at Coles or Woolworths (or IGA in WA). Often if you spend over $20-30 you can get a few cents off each liter at their associated petrol stations (Shell and Caltex, for Coles and Woolworths respectively).

Driving, driving and more driving

If there’s one piece of advice I could give for getting the most out of your road trip, it would be this: Always take the scenic route. You will see more, experience way less traffic, and will almost never regret it. That being said, my other piece of advice would be: Don’t drive at night. You will hear this a lot in Australia. Dawn and dusk are also  risky as animals come out by the roads at this time and hitting a kangaroo (or emu… or camel!) will not only scare the crap out of you but also probably do some damage. Even outside of these times, be careful and watch your surroundings, as sometimes animals will still venture out in the road in the middle of the day. Finally, and most importantly, remember that Australians drive on the left side of the road, so be aware and practice driving somewhere less trafficked at first if you’re not used to it.

Packing the necessities

There are two things that are more necessary to an Aussie road trip — really any trip in Australia — than anything else: sunscreen and insect repellent (especially if you’re van doesn’t have screened windows!). With those two things your body (and future health and sanity) will be covered day and night. Sunglasses, a hat, swim wear, a towel, thongs (flip flops) and a good pair of walking shoes will ensure you get the most out of your trip. And if you’re venturing further off the track, a good supply of drinking water is also a necessity. You might also want to consider extra petrol and spare parts if you’re really heading off the beaten track. Also, to give some added value to your trip, I highly recommend you bring binoculars. Just a small pair will really enhance your experiences anytime you find wildlife about, and they can be difficult to pick up on the road (at least for a decent price).

Keeping entertained (AKA staying sane)

The distances are far in Australia and drives can be very long. Make sure you bring some good sources of entertainment. Check whether your vehicle has a CD player, ipod hookup, etc. and prepare some music accordingly. There will likely be long stretches where you’ll receive little or no radio reception. Also, the sun goes down pretty early in many parts of Australia throughout the year. Then it’s just you and your van. You may find people to mingle with around your campsite, but otherwise you’ll probably want something to keep yourself busy. DVDs of movies or TV series can keep you busy if you’ve got a laptop or DVD player and a powered site. Otherwise, a good book will never let you down, and be sure to at least have a deck of cards handy.

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