This post is sponsored by Allianz Roadside Assistance
I was sitting on my couch, pouring another glass of wine when my best mate asked ‘When are you off on your road trip?’
‘Tomorrow.’ I replied.
‘Whhhhaaaat?’ She screeched, gulping her wine and grabbing her bag to leave. ‘I have to go so you can pack!’
‘I’m already packed!’ I said and I pointed to two tiny, identical black bags sitting next to the door.
She shook her head and settled back down on the couch. ‘You’ve been away all week! When did you have time to do that?’
The truth is, I’ve had a LOT of practice at packing for road trips. For a start, I grew up in Canberra where the most interesting thing to do on a weekend was drive to Sydney so that happened quite often. I now live in Melbourne, but I drive to Canberra several times a year. It’s a 7-hour drive, so it’s not short but we’ve got the whole thing locked down. I pack snacks and frozen water bottles in our esky. Mr Smaggle buys a thrilling audiobook for us to listen to. We stop in Holbrook for a coffee and we each take turns being the passenger/driver. We’ve got this situation locked down.
Road trips have become slightly more interesting since we sold my car and now we only have the Smart Roadster which is one of the smallest cars in existence. It’s a great little car but it has very minimal storage space so packing has become somewhat of an art in the last few years. We also camp in that car and manage to fit everything we need for an overnight hike in its tiny little boot.
I often have people asking about road trips, camping and travel (because we do so much of it!) so I thought it was about time I put together an epic post for going on the ultimate Australian road trip.
I’ve teamed up with Allianz Roadside Assistance this year to bring you all the info you need to be one of those easy, breezy travel gurus. You know the kind of people that have great tans and wear headscarves all time? Yeah. One of those.
Here are my top tips for the ultimate Australian road trip.
1. Check the weather
This tip is pretty obvious but don’t assume it’s going to be 30 degrees everywhere you go on your Australian road trip, because it won’t be. Especially if you’re travelling somewhere like Melbourne where the weather can change very quickly. Make sure you dress in layers so you can rug up if it gets cold or strip down if it gets hot. Also pack plenty of water on hot days, you’ll need it. Hot tip: Keep sunscreen handy and make sure you put it on your hands if you’re the driver. Sunburnt fingers are more painful than they sound.
2. Buy or borrow some decent wheels
Depending on the type of driving you’re doing, you’ll need a decent car like an SUV. Hiring cars in Australia can be prohibitively expensive if you’re travelling for a long period of time, say a few months, so buying or borrowing seems to be the best bang for your buck. Check out Car Sales or GumTree. There’s a culture around buying cars for road trips in Australia so you shouldn’t have a hard time finding something for a decent price. Then when you’re done with your car, you just sell it at the end of your trip! Definitely do your research first though. If you’re going on a shorter trip, it may be cheaper to hire a car so you don’t have to pay rego and insurance.
3. Get those wheels serviced
When you buy a car, make sure you get it checked by a local mechanic. In most states in Australia, you can’t sell a car unless it has a valid roadworthy certificate so you’re fairly safe buying a car but getting it checked out before you head off is a great idea. Just get your mechanic to check the oil and radiator at the very least, it won’t cost much and those are the two things most likely to get you into trouble on hot Aussie roads.
4. Consider a caravan
You’ll save heaps on accommodation because campsites are much cheaper than hotels. You can usually book a camp spot for a caravan for about $20 to $60 per night. Note: Do your research and respect local councils and their rules and only camp in designated legal camping areas.
5. Use Airbnb
It’s a great way to find affordable accommodation that’s a bit left of centre. I rarely stay in hotels these days because I love experiencing the weird and wonderful world of Airbnb. Sometimes you’re literally staying in someone’s house while they’re away and other times it’s a designated little flat that’s properly set up for guests. I’d say we’ve stayed in over 20 Airbnbs throughout the world and we’re yet to have a negative experience. We’ve stayed in all sorts of places; a dairy farm in Byron Bay, a converted schoolhouse in Castlemaine, an off the grid eco-cottage in Daylesford and they’ve all been wonderful in their own unique way.
6. Sort out your roadside assistance
I’m collaborating with Allianz in bringing you this guide so I’m obviously going to suggest Allianz for roadside assistance. You absolutely need roadside assistance though, you know why? Anyone who has what you need (like a tow truck or a jerry can of fuel) can charge a fortune for it, because you need it and they have it. Roadside assistance is worth every cent, especially if you actually end up using it and you probably will, driving a second-hand car around Australia. Allianz have an awesome standard package that’s pretty darn perfect for Australian road trips. It’s got towing up to 50kms, battery service, flat tyres, emergency fuel and locked or loss key services. That covers many things that could go wrong on your Australian road trip and that’s just $99 for a year with no joining fee. The premium version is the same but for $169 per year you get taxi and emergency travel benefits if you are more than 100km away from home, which is awesome if you need to fly home to Sydney or Melbourne after your car breaks down in Darwin. The premium version also offers towing of up 200km in regional and remote locations, which is mega helpful if you’re going bush on your trip.
7. Pack a decent first aid kit
It’s far more likely you’ll need a First Aid kit for Band-aids for minor cuts or Gastro-stop for food poisoning but then there’s the snakes. Even if you grew up in Australia, if you’re travelling through outback areas there are creatures out there beyond your wildest nightmares. However, the likelihood of you being bitten by a snake is very low. If you avoid snakes they tend to leave you alone, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Also, make sure you keep your First Aid kit handy. You don’t want to be rummaging around in a car boot full of garbage while brown snake venom slowly courses through your travel buddy’s veins. You can buy great little First Aid kits at chemists and camping stores.
8. If you’re going remote, get a satellite phone
Do you watch the show I Shouldn’t Be Alive? It’s horrifying and fabulous. Each episode covers two to three amazing survival stories of people who have been in plane crashes/got lost bushwalking/were on boats that sank. That kind of thing. You know what most people say at the end of that show? I wish I had an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) or a satellite phone. They seem like an unnecessary expense but each survivor of that show will tell you they would empty their bank account for an EPIRB or satellite phone at that crucial moment. You really only need one if you’re going remote though. If you’re in populated areas, you should be fine without one. Hot tip: EPIRBs are easier to buy and are cheaper than satellite phones.
9. Get an offline GPS
Internet in Australia is super dodgy, super patchy and super expensive so if you’re going on a road trip don’t waste your data on a map that can be downloaded. You also can’t trust that the internet will stay strong on an 8-hour Australian road trip. We frequently drive from Melbourne to Canberra which is abou7-hour highway drive and for at least a quarter of that trip we have no internet at all. Thankfully it’s a very boring drive and we know the way well but you really don’t want to be stuck somewhere without access to a map. Hot tip: Bad internet is an Australia-wide issue so don’t assume you’ll be fine in a city. I cannot express to you how terrible our internet is and how important it is for you to not rely on it. Hot tip: You can use the Google Maps app to download areas so you can access it when you’re offline.
10. Budget accordingly for fuel
Fuel prices vary throughout Australia depending on the population and the time of week when you’re buying petrol so be on the look-out for cheaper service stations. You can also use the website Motormouth to find the cheapest petrol near you. It’s also worth calculating the cost of petrol vs the cost of flying to particular locations around Australia. Australia is enormous and you might find it’s cheaper to fly to the Northern Territory and start your road trip there than it would be to drive to the Northern Territory from the east coast. You also need to consider how many people are travelling in your car. If you’re transporting four people, driving anywhere will almost certainly be cheaper than flying but if there are only one or two people on your trip, you might be able to save yourself some time and money by flying for some legs of your travel.
11. Try to avoid driving at night
It can be really tempting to drive at night but if you’re in rural areas this is incredibly dangerous, particularly if there aren’t any street lights where you’re driving. Kangaroos are attracted to light and if the only light they can see is your car on a deserted road, that’s where they’re going to head. Some kangaroos are enormous and can do serious damage to your car, so it’s best to avoid night driving altogether.
12. Be respectful of the traditional custodians of the land
Particularly if you’re travelling through central and northern Australia. If you’re travelling to see sacred sites like Uluru, make sure you seek out ethical tour groups. RT Tours Australia offer tours that are led by local Indigenous people. Jungala also offer tours with Aboriginal guides and Rainbow Valley Cultural Tours do visits with traditional custodians.
Mr Smags has started amusing himself on our road trips by taking terribly unflattering photos of me sleeping. What a keeper.
13. Choose your travel buddies wisely
I’ve always been a firm believer that you shouldn’t marry anyone who you haven’t travelled with. You really want to know how someone is going to behave when they’re hungry, tired and trapped in a train station before you put a ring on it and the same thing applies with long road trips. Do a short weekend away with someone before you commit to a full-on road trip. And if that weekend was awful, don’t travel with them. It’s not worth it.
14. Pack binoculars
This is just a little thing but far out binoculars are amazing. We have a little travel set that we take everywhere. My favourite is getting up on the roof of the tallest building I can find and just looking at the people below. I’ve also spotted some amazing birds and wildlife in the bush. It’s such a lovely, relaxing activity.
15. Come up with an emergency plan before you leave
Last year Mr Smaggle and I spent a month in Bali and one day we hopped on our scooter and went to a nearby town that had an abandoned resort. We paid the guy at the front to let us through and spent a magical afternoon wandering around this incredible, empty hotel. We were walking up the steps to the roof when all of a sudden Mr Smaggle stuck out his arm and said ‘Stop. Don’t look, walk very slowly back down the stairs.’ With my heart racing, I crept backwards down the stairs and he followed slowly after me. Turns out there was a whopping great lethal Malayan Krait snake waiting at the top of the stairs. We escaped unharmed but over lunch, we panicked as we realised we didn’t have phone reception and would have been screwed if anything did happen. From then on we always have an emergency plan for when we’re travelling. For example, if Mr Smaggle got bitten by a snake, I’d tie my headscarf around his leg to compress the venom, then run for help. This saves me from jumping up and down screaming ‘What do I do? What do I do?’ when something goes wrong.
16. Pack lots of offline entertainment
Cards, a Kindle well-charged and stocked with books, actual books, magazines. You can’t always get decent internet in Australia (which is great because it gives you a bit of a break) but if you don’t accommodate for this, you’ll get mighty bored stuck in outback Australia with nothing to do.
17. Find all the ‘big’ things
There’s the Big Lobster in South Australia, the Big Ned Kelly in Glenrowan, the Big Merino in Goulburn and the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour. There are definitely more of these ‘big’ things dotted around Australia so keep an eye out for them and make an album of you visiting them on your Australian road trip.
18. Don’t skip the smaller towns
There are some incredible country towns in Australia so make sure you stop off along the way to visit them. Some of my favourites are Busselton (WA), Berry (NSW), Lakes Entrance (VIC), Barossa Valley (SA) and Byron Bay (QLD).
19. Go to tourist information centres
That’s always the first place I go when I hit up a new place and they always have all the information I need. Obviously, because they’re information centres. We once went to Bendigo and nearly missed the Wool and Sheep Show and a display of vintage cars we didn’t know were on until we went to the information centre. I would have been so sad to miss a wool show.
20. Pack light
Just because you have the space doesn’t mean you should fill it. It’s so much easier travelling when you only pack the essentials and you don’t want to be lugging around a bunch of stuff you’re not going to use. Also when you’re road tripping, you’re sitting down in the car most of the time and no one sees you, so you might as well go full-comfort in that situation.
21. Have plenty of breaks
It can be really tempting to smash out a full day of driving but you’re not doing yourself (or other road users) any favours if you push it on the roads. Take your time, allow for plenty of breaks and keep your driving per day to a minimum.
22. Check ahead for toll roads
Road tolls can be horrific in Australia because you can drive right through one and not even know you did it until you get a bill in the mail. It’s cheaper to pay the toll before you drive through the toll booth and you can do this online for most major toll roads in Australia.
23. Watch your speed
Speed limits change constantly in Australia and speeding fines are pretty hefty here. You can get fined up to $1000 for speeding in Queensland, so make sure you pay attention to road signs and keep within the speed limit. Watch out for road works too, if you’re on a highway and there are road work signs that say you have to do 40kph, that’s an enforceable speed limit which means if you’re doing the standard highway speed of 100kph and you don’t realise you’ve driven through roadworks you could lose your license for driving 60kph over the limit. Also, it’s just safer to drive at the speed limit.
24. Take the scenic route when you can
Don’t rush a road trip, if you see a sign for Australia’s tallest tree or a lavender farm or a maze, go and check it out. That’s the beauty of road trips, you never know where they might take you. For example, we drove past Kryal Castle recently and we are so going back. They do murder mystery nights that look like so much fun.
25. Get friendly
If you’re in a small town for a few days, make friends with the locals. They generally know the best places to hang out and will have all the insider knowledge on what you should and shouldn’t miss while you’re in their neck of the woods.
26. Do some planning, but also be flexible
Have a rough plan of what you’re doing but also make sure you’ve left time to spontaneously stay a few extra days in a town that you’re really loving.
27. Plan something to collect along the way
It could be charms for a charm bracelet, magnets for your fridge or lapel pins. It doesn’t even need to be something you can buy, you might like to collect drink coasters from pubs or bottle caps from beer.
28. Don’t try to do everything
Australia is HUGE and you will never see every corner of it, so don’t try to fit too much into your trip. Our beaches, cities, towns and national parks are the best bits so don’t spend too much time on the highways because they’re quite boring and dull.
29. Ask the locals where to eat
They always know the hidden gems and in my experience, locals are always super honest about their towns. They’ll often tell you the places to avoid as well. This tip is particularly useful in popular tourist areas because the locals know which restaurants are awesome and which ones charge too much for those tourist dollars.
30. Pack plenty of emergency snacks
You never know when you’ll get stuck in traffic and for how long so always have a box of muesli bars, nuts or dried fruit handy.
31. Bring a spare car key
And keep it in a locked box outside your car. You can buy lock boxes for cars from Bunnings and that way you’ll always have a spare key OUTSIDE your car for whenever you get yourself in trouble.