Tips for a worry-free Aussie road trip

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For decades, musicians and writers have waxed poetic about the open road; Willie Nelson’s song “On the Road Again” and Jack Kerouac’s classic “On the Road” have extolled the virtues of hitting the road.

There’s nothing quite like a classic road trip – a dog-eared map impossible to re-fold correctly, the rush of wind flowing through rolled-down windows and endless possibilities for adventure.

But, before you hop in the car and set your sights on destinations unknown, we have some tips to help you plan the ultimate journey — wherever the road may take you!

PRE-TRIP: What to do before you leave

Richard Riley, Ayers Rock (Uluru) via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Richard Riley, Ayers Rock (Uluru) via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Use the buddy system. Travel with family or friends. Determine who will share the responsibilities of driving, who will navigate and who will plan the meals, rest stops and accommodations.

Decisions, decisions. Determine where you want to go and plot the farthest point. There are plenty of popular road trips in Australia. One of the most famous being the Stuart Highway from Adelaide to Darwin. Regardless where you are heading, you should determine how long it will reasonably take to get there. Don’t plan for more than eight hours of driving per day. Once you know how long it will take, add an extra day or two in case of unforeseen delays.

Budget. Once you have chosen the destination, calculate the following costs to ensure you stay within budget:

  • Fuel
  • Meals and snacks
  • Accommodations
  • Sightseeing
  • Souvenirs

Plan but don’t over plan. Traffic jams and unforeseen detours are inevitable. Luckily, apps like Waze update traffic and road conditions in real time. Poor weather and traffic accidents can also put the brakes on your trip.

Schedule wisely. It’s no fun driving in rush hour traffic. Plan the start of your day before or after rush hour and plan to be finished driving before the evening rush.

Tune up the car. Be sure to check that your car is in tip-top shape. Consider a professional inspection if you aren’t handy.

Consider renting a car. If you are going more than 1,500 kilometres or your car is older, you might consider renting a car. You won’t have to worry about the maintenance, and it may be equipped with GPS and roadside assistance.

Don’t get stranded. Consider signing up for a roadside assistance and/or rescue program.

Don’t over pack. Stick to one bag per person so that all your gear fits in the boot – leaving you plenty of room to stretch out in the car and stash treasures found along the way.

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GET PACKING: What to pack

Samantha Marx, We ended up not traveling with friends, and so the car was packed to capacity! via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Samantha Marx, We ended up not traveling with friends, and so the car was packed to capacity! via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Prevent having to constantly pull over by keeping these items at hand:

  • Satellite radio. With satellite radio, you get to enjoy music and talk radio (almost) without interruption.
  • Map it. It’s best to have an old-school paper road map or atlas as a backup should your phone or GPS die or break.
  • Esky. Pack a hard-sided cooler with snacks and water. Freeze the water bottles and they can double as ice packs. Water is the best drink to pack because if it spills on you or the car, it’s easy to clean up.
  • Cleaning supplies. Keep the car and yourself clean with pre-moistened wipes for your hands, bleach wipes for quickly cleaning the interior of the car, paper towels or napkins and small plastic bags for trash.
  • More essentials. Don’t forget these tiny but important items.
    • Pocket Knife
    • Telephone car charger
    • USB cigarette lighter adapter for charging electronics
    • License and registration
    • Car insurance paperwork
    • Spare car key (put this in someone’s pocket in case you accidentally lock the keys in the car)
    • OTC medications like aspirin and Pepto-Bismol
    • Cash for places that don’t accept credit cards

Things to pack in the boot:

  • Spare tire
  • Jumper cables
  • Basic tools like a tire iron, lug wrench, jack, fire extinguisher and emergency triangles
  • Survival kit with the solar blanket, flashlight with fresh batteries and an extra set of batteries, bottled water and extra energy bars. If you are driving in the winter, also include an ice scraper, snow brush, hand warmers, gloves and hats.
  • First-aid kit
  • A few days’ supply of clothes and toiletries packed in soft-sided bags like backpacks and duffel bags, which take up less space than bulky hard-sided or wheelie luggage.
  • Rain gear
  • Comfy shoes like runners and loafers. Don’t wear thongs or shoes that slip off easily when driving.
  • Laundry hamper or organisation crate to keep clothes, toys, beach gear and other travel goods organised.

HIT THE ROAD: Tips for driving the open road

Image: Ilya Terentyev, iStock

Ensure smooth traveling by incorporating these driving tips:

  • Use bypass routes to avoid construction.
  • Avoid driving during rush hour which is typically between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Stop to take walks and naps. Plan stops in the afternoon and, if driving at night, in the middle of the night when drivers tend to feel most sleepy.
  • Avoid fatigue or zoning out by channel surfing on the radio. Mix it up with music and talk radio. If you can, switch driving responsibilities with others in the car.

Tip for reading a map or atlas:

  • Study the legend (the group of icons located in a box on the map or at the front of the atlas) to decipher the maps. Use the atlas to map out scenic routes, avoid long-term construction projects and highlight rest areas.

ON THE ROAD: Expect the unexpected

Kevin Dooley, Road trip to Buckeye; Tire Shop #3 via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Kevin Dooley, Road trip to Buckeye; Tire Shop #3 via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Flat tire. You hope it doesn’t happen, but it is inevitable that at some point, you might get a flat tire.

What to do if the car breaks down:

No matter how prepared you and your car are, sometimes breakdowns occur.

  • Put on your hazard lights.
  • If it is safe, place emergency triangles 25 feet behind the car or hang a cloth on the antenna or the side-view mirror.
  • If it is safe, get everyone out and go behind a guardrail. If the road is heavily trafficked or not safe, stay in the car and keep your seat belt fastened.
  • Call your roadside assistance company.
  • Wait for help.

Don’t expect to have phone reception:

Phone reception becomes a little patchy as you drive out of the main towns and in some areas coverage may be non-existent. Opt for Telstra as they have the best rural service.

Combat carsickness:

Try to prevent motion sickness before it happens, but if it does, here is what to do:

  • Avoid excessive alcohol.
  • Don’t eat fatty, greasy or spicy foods.
  • Don’t travel on an empty stomach.
  • Avoid eating smelly foods in the car.
  • If you are prone to motion sickness, sit in the front of the car
  • If you are prone to motion sickness, avoid reading in the car.
  • Keep your gaze fixed on the horizon or a fixed point.
  • Look out the window and see the twists and turns in the road before they occur.
  • Roll down the window.
  • Consider taking over-the-counter medication like Dramamine.
  • Wear motion sickness wristbands that apply pressure to trigger points on the wrist. If you don’t have the wristbands, place your thumb on the inner arm 1.5 inches above the crease of the wrist, according to WebMD.
  • Eat or drink something with ginger.

GAME ON: Classic road trip games

Always Shooting, Morning Mist via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Always Shooting, Morning Mist via Flickr CC BY 2.0

One of the best ways to beat boredom on the open road is to play games. Rather than playing cards or checkers whose pieces can go flying when traveling over a speed bump or making a quick turn, these interactive games are easy to play, free and fun.

Start a scavenger hunt: Have each passenger make a list of things to spot like grain silos, billboards and wildlife along the way. The first person to spot them all wins.

I Spy: One player looks around and chooses an object other players have to guess. He or she says, “I spy with my little eye something that begins with” and then inserts the first letter of the name of the object. Be sure you don’t choose something that is whizzing by the car.

20 Questions: As the name suggests, one player thinks of something and each person in the car takes turns asking a question to try to determine what the “thing” is. Questions like ‘Is it an animal, vegetable or mineral?’ and ‘Is it edible?’ are common beginner questions. If you reach the 20th question and are still stumped, everyone gets one final guess before the ‘thing’ is revealed.

Name That Tune: Karaoke-style, each player takes turns singing a song and the rest of the players have to guess it. Variations include hitting the ‘seek’ button on the radio and seeing who can guess the name of each song first.

Picnic Game: The first player begins with ‘I went on a picnic and I brought’ and then inserts an item that begins with the letter A. The next player repeats the sentence and includes what the player before said plus adds an item that begins with the letter B and so on. The key to this memory game is remembering and reciting all 26 items at the end.

ON THE ROAD: Make the most of the journey

road trip
Dine and dash. (Image: Espen Sundve, Stopping for food via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Traveling to the destination is just as much as fun as reaching your final stop. Make the most of meals along the way with these tips.

Where to eat:

 Don’t just stick to fast-food joints and run-of-the-mill rest areas.

  • Check the cooler. Stocking your cooler with snacks and water will reduce the number of pit stops and keep you from eating junk food 24/7. Re-stock as needed at rest stops and grocery stores along the way.
  • Talk to strangers. Ask locals for advice on where and what to eat.

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Tips for a worry-free Aussie road trip was last modified: June 27th, 2019 by Lauren Mack
Author: Lauren Mack (9 posts)

Lauren Mack has traveled to 40 countries on five continents, including Cuba, New Zealand, Peru and Tanzania. For many years, she called China, and then Taiwan, home. Countries at the beginning of the alphabet, particularly Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are on her travel bucket list. Lauren is a multimedia travel and food journalist and explorer based in New York City.