How to Plan the Ultimate Road Trip Across Australia

Road trips have always been deeply rooted in the Australian way of life. And in a post-COVID world, there has never been a more opportune moment to explore the vast expanse of the continent. Many people now have the flexibility of remote work, which leaves the door wide open for new methods and extended timelines for exploration.

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Whether individuals choose to embark on this cross-country road trip in an RV, camper van, rental car, or their trusted vehicle parked in the driveway, undertaking such an adventure in Australia is undoubtedly rewarding but also requires careful planning. Here are some tips gathered from experienced road trippers.

Planning the route: East, West, or a bit of both

One of the most crucial aspects of planning a cross-country road trip in Australia is determining how to traverse this vast land. It’s common to hear discussions about the “east” route, such as the drive from Sydney to Brisbane, or the “west” route, covering the journey from Perth to Adelaide. To avoid having to make a choice, some opt for a mixed route.

The primary consideration when planning the route is to align it with the places that inspire. The choice of destinations could include the Great Barrier Reef, the rugged Outback, the scenic Great Ocean Road, and the charm of the southwest coast. The chosen destinations dictate the route, which, in this case, may involve travelling from Sydney to Queensland and then heading west toward the Red Centre.

Begin by creating a list of desired destinations using Google Maps. You may be pleasantly surprised by how naturally a route takes shape. You may also be astonished by the relatively short travel times between these destinations. For example, it’s possible to complete the journey from Sydney to Melbourne in just ten hours.

It’s also essential to recognise that everyone has different driving endurance levels, so plan accordingly. If you can only handle a few hours of driving at a time, don’t expect to cross the country in a matter of days.

Plan ahead for national parks

One of the exciting aspects of a cross-country road trip is the ability to be spontaneous. For many, accommodation is not booked until the day of arrival, allowing for a flexible itinerary. However, this approach may present challenges when visiting national parks, where accommodations tend to be booked months in advance.

National parks are a magnet for travellers in Australia.

Many national parks, such as Kakadu National Park operate on a first come, first served basis. Conversely, others, like Kosciuszko National Park, may have restricted access due to winter snow. Thorough research is essential for a successful trip.

Don’t overspend on accommodation

One of the most significant budget considerations for a cross-country road trip in Australia is staying within budget constraints. While savings can be achieved by avoiding air travel, road trips can still be costly. Knowing the budget and adhering to it is essential.

Accommodations are often the most substantial expense. For those without rent or mortgage payments during their journey, setting a budget of $3,000 per month for accommodation is a common approach. Breaking it down, this budget equates to roughly $100 per night. A quick look on Airbnb shows what can be secured for this price. To stay within this budget without resorting to camping or parking in remote areas, consider using resources like Trusted Housesitters, or Aussie House Sitters online networks where travellers can find free accommodation sometimes in exchange for looking after pets.

When Trusted Housesitters is not an option, using Booking.com, can be a cost-effective alternative. In cases where hotels within the budget aren’t available, campgrounds like those managed by Big4 or Discovery Parks offer affordable camping and cabin options.

Additional money-saving tips for your road trip

Using tools like Petrol Spy, which maps out the fuel prices in the area, can help you find the cheapest petrol. Exceeding the speed limit can reduce fuel economy by as much as 40%, which becomes apparent when driving in regions like the Northern Territory, where speeds can reach 130 km/h.

Choosing to avoid toll roads can lead to considerable cost savings. While this might slightly extend your travel time, the savings can be substantial. For instance, a journey from Sydney to Melbourne can incur substantial toll charges.

Dining out can be a significant expense. While it’s tempting to sample the culinary delights in each destination, narrowing your list to the absolute “must-try” eateries can keep your wallet in check. To avoid dining expenses, invest in a cooler to keep stocked with essentials such as sandwich ingredients, protein bars, and water. For those seeking a bit of indulgence, assemble a selection of deli meats and cheeses to create on-the-go charcuterie boards.

What to pack

Packing the car is a delicate balancing act. You want to be prepared for different scenarios, but overloading your vehicle should be avoided. When it comes to clothing, less is often more. Having a single carry-on bag each can streamline the process when checking in and out of accommodations daily.

Essential items for the car include a first aid kit, a dash cam for recording incidents, portable cell phone chargers, extra USB cables, jumper cables, a spare tire, bed sheets, a pillow, and an air mattress designed to fit in the boot when the backseats are folded down. If your boot doesn’t have a cover for concealing your belongings, consider using a sheet to protect them.

It might also be worth considering a Wi-Fi hotspot, especially if you need to work remotely while on the road. A reliable internet connection can transform your car into a mobile office, allowing you to stay productive during your journey.

Before hitting the road

Ensure that your vehicle is in good working order. This includes checking the lights, car features, and all systems to ensure they function correctly. Keep an eye on your oil levels, especially during long journeys. Other maintenance tasks to consider include monitoring the air filter, windscreen wipers, spark plugs, and coolant levels.

Stash a spare key in the glove box, along with your car’s insurance information. For those renting a car, ensure that it comes with unlimited kms and consider investing in comprehensive insurance coverage or verify that you’re adequately covered through your credit card. Unexpectedly high expenses from a car rental agency can put a damper on your road trip, so it’s best to be prepared.

Be ready for the unexpected

Even with meticulous planning, unforeseen challenges may arise. However, maintaining an open and flexible mindset when facing unexpected situations is crucial to ensuring they don’t spoil your journey. In such cases, it’s important not to panic. Trust that you’ve done your best to prepare, and you’ll find a way to get back on track.

Remember that inconveniences can be exacerbated by exhaustion, so it’s vital to take care of yourself while on the road. Consume nutritious food, stay hydrated, and get a restful night’s sleep before embarking on a long day of driving. Ensure good ventilation in the vehicle, especially if you’re feeling drowsy. If you need to take a short nap, find a well-lit and secure area to do so. This shouldn’t be seen as a chore, as driving at your best is what will make the journey immensely enjoyable.

Australia is a vast, captivating, and intriguing country. So, load up your favourite road trip playlist or tune into engaging podcasts (we highly recommend “Stuff You Should Know”). Enjoy the adventure and relish the stunning beauty that Australia offers.

Remember, a road trip across Australia can be a transformative experience, providing an opportunity to explore the unique landscapes, cultures, and natural wonders of this incredible country. Embrace the journey, adapt to unforeseen circumstances, and create lifelong memories along the way.

Related: 10 Australian Road Trips You Need to Experience at Least Once In Your Lifetime

Related: Hit the Road and Take on One of New South Wales’ Most Scenic Drives

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