Many of us dream of going on an Australian road trip, be it an epic journey around our great continent or simply a weekend away to the coast.
Regardless of where you’re going or for how long, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of throwing your bags in the back, putting on some tunes and hitting the open road.
“The best way to see what this vast country of ours has to offer is on a classic Australian road trip,” say popular travel bloggers Caz and Craig Makepeace from Y Travel Blog.
“Especially if you have kids like us, road trips make family travel more practical, cost-effective and allow for so much flexibility. Instead of flying from point A to B and missing everything in between, the journey becomes just as memorable as the destination.”
Australia is an enormous country and driving distances should not be underestimated.
That said, Australia is an enormous country and driving distances should not be underestimated. If you’re underprepared before you depart, your dream road trip could quickly turn into a nightmare.
Running out of fuel or getting a flat battery in the middle of nowhere can ruin your adventure, not to mention be dangerous. Here are some checks you can make ahead of your departure to help ensure a stress-free getaway.
The ultimate preparation begins with getting roadside assistance, so you know that whatever happens throughout your journey – small or large – you’ll be safe and back on the road in no time.
Obviously, you’ll want to fill up before you leave, as running out of fuel along any stretch of road isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time.
It’s wise to re-fuel when you get the chance — even if you think you have enough fuel for the next phase of your journey. Even better, eliminate the guesswork by finding out in advance where the petrol stations are located on your route.
It’s wise to re-fuel when you get the chance — even if you think you have enough
If you’re planning to drive vast distances and in remote areas, carrying spare fuel is often necessary as opportunities to purchase fuel can be scarce. What’s more, headwinds, terrain and fuel quality can increase fuel consumption.
A common practice — endorsed by Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council — is the use of colour-coded metal or plastic containers for carrying extra fuel: red (unleaded fuel); yellow or black (diesel); blue (water — food-grade plastic if it’s for consumption); orange (ethanol). For added assurance, it’s recommended you label each container.
It’s easy to forget about checking your lights before you leave home, but if you’re going to be driving on long stretches of open road in the dark, you’ll definitely need to check that every light and indicator is working.
Even if you plan on arriving at your destination before nightfall, you may experience unpredictable delays or hit unexpected weather.
Also, consider carrying spare bulbs for a long road trip — at least one for each light — and particularly for journeys to remote areas. It’s also worth packing spare light fuses.
Avoid running low on oil and harming your engine by performing the necessary checks before you depart.
You can do this yourself (the level on your dipstick should be halfway between minimum and maximum) or take your car to a mechanic, who can also help you to top up all water reservoirs, check the health of your car’s battery, and make sure your suspension and tyres (including the spare) are in good condition.
On big road trips, your vehicle becomes much more than just your mode of transportation; it’s also potentially your biggest asset in potentially dangerous situations — and your greatest liability if you set off unprepared.
Top up all water reservoirs, check your car’s battery, and make sure your suspension and tyres are in good condition
Use this checklist to minimise your risks:
- make sure you know how to change a tyre; and that you’re carrying a toolkit that includes a high-jack, a wheel spanner and a ground plate (for changing tyres on loose or muddy ground)
- pack a spare fan belt and radiator hose, especially if you’re travelling to remote areas
- stow a torch, spare batteries and portable phone charger
- carry plenty of water in the Outback — 5-7 litres per person, per day, with extra for the car
- plan your trip in detail and bring paper maps (so you don’t have to rely only on your GPS or mobile-phone maps)
- tell others where you’re going and your approximate arrival times
- check your roadside assistance membership is up to date
- if your car breaks down, stay with it.
You’ll need to be extra careful when travelling in remote areas where roadside assistance may not be available.
If you’re planning an Outback trip, speak to a roadside assistance provider like Budget Direct before you depart. They’ll let you know which geographical areas they service and what you’ll need to do if you have a breakdown or emergency in an area beyond their reach.
Australia’s official tourism website, Australia.com, advises having a roadworthy vehicle fitted with GPS and two spare tyres before setting off on any outback journey.
Check road conditions before beginning your journey, stay with your vehicle if it breaks down and avoid travelling in extreme heat conditions
“Check road conditions before beginning your journey, stay with your vehicle if it breaks down and avoid travelling in extreme heat conditions. If driving a conventional vehicle through remote areas, drive slowly on unsealed, dusty or narrow roads and always check road conditions before turning off major roads.
“Mobile phones have limited coverage in remote areas, so check your phone provider for coverage.”
According to Lonely Planet, our wildest road trip stretches across Australia’s northwest corner — a road running from Darwin to Broome that takes you through a vast wilderness: “This is a land where there are areas larger than Ireland without a single town.”
Australia’s roads, particularly in remote areas, can be monotonous for drivers: long and straight and with very few landmarks.
Driver fatigue is a significant problem in Australia; fatigue crashes are twice as likely to be fatal than any other types.
Tiredness and an ability to function well don’t really go hand in hand: Being awake upwards of 17 hours has a similar effect on performance as having a blood alcohol content of 0.05.
According to NSW Road Safety, signs of driver fatigue include:
- drifting out of your lane
- unintended changes in speed
- drowsiness, heavy-feeling eyelids, and microsleep
- loss of concentration.
It’s recommended drivers rest for at least 15 minutes every two hours
It’s recommended drivers rest for at least 15 minutes every two hours and not drive at all during the hours they’re supposed to be asleep (e.g. 11pm – 7am).
Avoid long drives after work, when you’re likely to already be fatigued, and avoid driving longer than 10 hours in one day.
Temporary solutions such as turning up the radio, winding down the window, and drinking coffee will only work for so long; ultimately, the only safe solution is sleep.
New to Australia?
If you’re travelling in Australia for the first time, you’ll want to acquaint yourself with the country’s road rules, including speed limits and unique road signs. The Budget Direct Traffic Laws tool can help you with this task.
You’ll also need to be on the lookout for wildlife on the road, particularly at dawn, dusk or nighttime, when animals such as koalas and kangaroos tend to cross.
Many locals drive with their headlights on in remote areas, even during the day.