1. CREATE YOUR BUCKET LIST
Do you dream of flying over the Bungle Bungle Range, canoeing with freshwater crocs, or racing camels through the Red Centre?
The best trips begin with a big map of Australia and a long list of all the places you really want to see.
PICTURE CREDIT: David Bristow
Get started by circling 10 places on your map that you’ve always wanted to explore. Think of those places that, in your most stir-crazy and daydreamy moments, you picture yourself discovering.
Perhaps you heard about them from a friend or in a magazine such as this one; perhaps you can’t even remember how you heard about them in the first place. Whatever their origin, I’m talking about the places that have been nagging at your mind for a long time.
Next, circle another 10 due to host 2019’s best festivals, sporting events or natural phenomena (think nesting turtles, Morning Glory clouds, and whale watching).
Finally, locate 10 places that give you unique opportunities to engage in your passions, whatever you are into, be it fishing, bushwalking or paddling. And, don’t forget to include the passions of your travel mates!
Here’s the fun part: attempt to join all your hotspots into some kind of loop, making use of 4WD tracks and detouring to those secret camps your pals have been raving about.
You might not be able to hit all your targets, but you’ll be able to hit many. And with some solid ideas about where to go, you are off the ground and can start plotting your travel route.
2. DON’T GET CAUGHT UP ON TIMING
North for winter, south for summer: it’s the travelling trend most people follow when exploring Australia and it’s a good way to experience clear skies and mild temperatures. Bear in mind, though, that while the Top End is more comfortable to visit in June, all that good weather draws a crowd, spiking campsite prices and luring a lot of anglers to the water’s edge.
The flipside is that during Darwin’s rainy off-season, those verdant landscapes and thundering waterfalls somehow make the summertime humidity easier to bear. And once winter approaches and the far north’s skies clear, there’s a lot attracting travellers south too, such as the Victorian Alps, Tassie’s trails, or south-west WA’s Jarrah forests.
The truth is that on a long trip, you’ll rarely arrive in every destination at precisely the right time. So, while it is a good idea to jot down the ideal season to be in the places you want to visit, be flexible and don’t be afraid to go against the flow of traffic.
My list currently looks like this: Cape York (May, before the corrugations get bumpy); the Red Centre (June, for the Camel Cup); Mitchell Plateau (July, again, corrugations); Ningaloo Reef (November, for mating turtles); Tasmania (January, to watch the yachts cross the line). You get the idea.
It’s important to remember that the single best time to hit the road is when your car’s packed and you’ve locked the front door.
3. GET REAL WITH YOUR RIG
Are you and your rig really ready for offroad travel? Have you serviced your vehicle? Are you powered up for off-grid stays? Do you have the gear and supplies you need to get yourself out of trouble in a remote tight spot?
Prepping your camper trailer for adventuring might be the most time-consuming task you need to tackle before leaving home, but once you are rocking it offroad, you will be happy you took the time to check, service and properly stock your camper.
If you don’t already own your dream rig, set a realistic budget and look at as many different configurations as possible.
Investigate models, sizes, shapes, layouts and price tags. Look for features that will extend your time off the grid, keep you out of holiday parks and save you money: permanent rooftop solar panels, a good bank of deep-cycle batteries, LED lighting, an energy-efficient fridge-freezer, and voluminous water storage.
Searching far and wide will help you to determine what features you want on board and give you the confidence to recognise a winner when you find it.
4. MOTHBALL YOUR HOME
For most travellers, having a home to return to once the adventure ends provides much-needed peace of mind. More than just a place to call home, your house can be a psychological anchor when you are feeling otherwise footloose on the road, so you’ll need to consider how you want to protect it in your absence.
Home owners have four real options: to lock it up and leave it, secure a house-sitter, rent it out or sell up. Which you choose very much depends on how long you plan to be away (and if you actually want to return).
For trips of six months or more, a renting tenant can help finance your trip, which is good if you don’t mind packing away your possessions. If you go down this path, hire a property manager to handle tenant issues, because only when you are far off the beaten track and out of mobile reach will a water pipe burst back home.
If you do decide to rent your property, consider how the extra rental income might impact your income tax or pension. You may need to inform Centrelink of any changes.
Securing a house-sitter is the perfect option for short-term travellers, especially if you are leaving behind pets, or a treasured garden, or are worried about possible break-ins or damage to your property during fire or storm seasons. Ask friends and family to recommend possible candidates or find a sitter online at RSPCA-approved aussiehousesitters.com.au.
Short-term travellers with trusty neighbours could simply lock up the house and leave it, but if you do this, inform your home insurer. Non-disclosure could affect any damage claims you make, or worse, void your policy altogether.
Finally, for brave, seasoned travellers who know that life on the road is for them, selling the family home can finance long years of travel or give you the funds to relocate to a new address somewhere brighter!
5. DISCONNECT YOURSELF
When you leave home, a stack of essential household services need to be put on hold: everything from mail and newspaper deliveries to gym memberships, internet and Netflix.
The easiest way to deal with your mail is to redirect it to a friend or family member and have them get in touch when anything important arrives. Even better, go paper-free and sign up to receive the bulk of your mail – bank statements, insurance documents, bills, Medicare and vehicle registration updates – by email instead.
If you are moving out for good, you will also need to disconnect the electricity, gas and water, and set your pool cleaner, babysitter or lawn mowing service free. When liberating yourself from ‘normal’ life, it helps to pin down your departure date to give yourself something concrete to work towards, ticking off a batch of tasks each week in the lead-up to your escape.
If your departure is going to be permanent, allow plenty of time to sort and sell off your belongings, listing big-ticket items such as furniture on Gumtree, eBay or Facebook Marketplace on a Friday to tempt weekend buyers. Host a garage sale, donate household items to charity, or box up your treasures to store with friends or in a storage unit until you return.
6. PACK FOR ADVENTURE
Think lightweight and compact, durable and useful, and choose multi-functional items where possible, because if a piece of equipment can’t perform more than one task, you don’t want it on board.
That includes tools, kitchen gear, clothing, the lot. Don’t include any waste-of-space, single-use items and don’t include anything too fragile to survive the drive.
Make a list of the gear you intend to take and scrutinise the value of each and every item before packing it. When it comes time to shop, buy the best quality you can afford, preferably Australian-made, and be prepared to pay more for lighter, more energy-efficient and more compact items.
7. KEEP IN TOUCH
With an increasing number of Aussie towns offering free public wi-fi, teamed with a more reliable mobile network, it has never been easier to keep in touch with friends and family while travelling. Only snail mail has trouble keeping pace, but any post office will hold mail for you, provided it is addressed to you under the care of (c/o) that particular post office.
Alternatively, when you need a batch of mail sent to you, visit australiapost.com, sign up for a 24/7 parcel locker and select the closest of 280 locations. When your parcel arrives you’ll receive a unique SMS code and have 48 hours to pick it up.
If you’d rather not burden a friend with handling your mail, sign up with a postal forwarding service (try Landbase Australia, Aussie Mailman or Trail Mail).
8. OUTLINE YOUR BUDGET
If you want to put a price tag on your next big adventure, start with fuel. Download Fuel Map (by WikiCamps) to track fuel prices and locations in the regions you’ll be travelling through and determine roughly how many kilometres you can afford to drive each week.
Estimate how many nights a week you are likely to spend in paid accommodation, including national parks. To these costs add food, national park entrance fees, your monthly phone and data plan, standard vehicle expenses (registration, insurance and auto club memberships), and allow a contingency for vehicle repairs and a few bucket list splurges too.
Most travellers find that they spend far less living on the road than they do at home and everyone agrees that it is better to pay to enter a national park than a car park.
9. MAKE WAY FOR TOYS
You’re going to want to maximise the fun you have on the road by participating in the activities you enjoy. But paying for tours and rental gear can seriously dent your budget.
Therefore, it pays to bring along the toys you need. Love surfing? Tie down the board. Got a passion for paddling? Load a kayak on top. If you have the gear already, that’s great – but even if you don’t have it yet, it can still be worth investing in.
You can make up for the initial expense of these items with the money you don’t spend over time. If you’re fishing, you don’t have to pay for dinner. If you’re riding your bike, you save on petrol. And if you’re snorkelling, you don’t have to hire the snorkel. And so on.
All the while, you’ll be keeping yourself fit and simplifying things by taking entertainment costs off the regular expense sheet. You’ll even potentially learn a new skill, if the activity is something you haven’t done before.
Finally, work out how to pack this gear so that it doesn’t impact on setup routines or compromise your fuel efficiency.
10. MAKE IT PAY
Working and travelling are surprisingly compatible. If the idea of being a digital nomad interests you, try to negotiate a way to continue your usual job (or parts of it) while travelling.
There are short-term, seasonal and relief jobs aplenty in remote areas where communities are hungry for skilled workers.
I’ve met travellers working as locums, filling short maternity or parental leave vacancies. I’ve also met travellers giving owner-operators a well-deserved break from their roadhouses, remote holiday resorts, small town motels and caravan parks. I clearly recall one happy couple renting out canoes at Adels Grove. They were the envy of our Lawn Hill campground.
If you only want to cool your heels for a month or two in a new, beaut location, look for a seasonal gig in retail or hospitality, help bring in the harvest (it’s a fruitful way of earning an income), or join Outback Helpers Scheme and be paid in cash or kind for assisting on an Aussie farm or station.