If retirement or long service leave has finally come your way, the urge to get away might be unstoppable. But it’s worth answering a few questions first, or reviewing the answers you have decided on a long time back, such as, what’s the best time of the year to travel? Are there places to avoid? Is a motorhome the best transport? What route should I travel? What do I need to take? What should I do before I leave?
A great source of advice based on experience is a caravan and/or motorhome club. Club members are more than happy to chat about their experiences. Some clubs are based on brand names, others are geographically based. Go to a few meetings before joining up – it’s best to find a group to your liking and with similar interests. And if you have not already bought a motorhome, then don’t let that hold you back – it’s usual for people to gain information and experiences by attending some club outings first.
As a starting point, check the Australasian Touring Caravan, Motorhome & Camping Club at http://atcmcc.org.au. Also check the extensive list of travel websites at www.motorhomesaustralia.net/links.html
Another information source is the CRVA, which has affiliates in states and territories: www.welovethiscountry.net.au
A wide-ranging internet site with answers to many questions and issues is www.exploroz.com. Searching under topics such as Itineraries & Planning, Motorhomes, Trips with Kids or Camping will reveal a mass of authoritative (and some questionable) information.
WHERE SHALL I GO?
In winter, most travellers from the colder states head to warmer destinations. Target towns like Broome, Cairns, Darwin and the like can be booked up well before the winter gets under way, so be prepared to go to lesser-known destinations that are sometimes just as pleasant but less expensive. Does it really need to be a beach destination? Or would an inland place like Charters Towers, Qld, Broken Hill, NSW, Mildura, Vic, Coober Pedy, SA, or Marble Bar, WA, be just as good?
On a smaller scale, the northerners migrate south when the Wet and the humidity make things uncomfortable. That happens to coincide with the period when the southerners wish to play on their beaches, so again, there’s a logjam beside most bits of water – not that there are so many of them apart from the ocean at the moment!
IS THERE A BETTER ROUTE?
People have different ambitions when they travel. Some want to get from one place to another as quickly as possible, others intend to savour the trip and take in all they can on the way. However, there are some things to ask yourself – or ask others.
Safety on the road should be a major consideration. Generally multi-lane roads are safer and less exhausting to travel, but it can be rewarding to travel along what used to be main roads. After a freeway has been built, these former highways can become lightly trafficked and can be quite attractive propositions.
WHERE SHALL I STAY?
Select a route with plenty of caravan parks or lay-bys. Many experienced drivers set up well before dark, for two main reasons. The first is that the risk of striking wandering stock or wildlife is much higher in the evening. The second is that stopping early means that you have more chance of getting an overnight site if you didn’t book ahead.
Head for the caravan park laundry block to get the gossip on routes and overnight stops that rate well in the view of others and to share your own experiences in return. Also check the user reviews of campsites, caravan parks and localities at Badger’s Australian Caravan Park Reports, http://home.vicnet.net.au/~badger04. Some of the reports can be out of date or tainted with a personality component, but at least you’ll gain some insight from experienced travellers.
A word of warning. Country people know this, but many travellers who are attracted to riverside camping aren’t aware that big trees along river edges can unexpectedly drop large branches. Redgums are notorious but they’re by no means the only trees that do this. Check with locals about the wisdom of staying under any trees in the area before establishing your campsite.
Another word of warning. In crocodile country, keep your entire site well away from possible access by crocs. Camp at least 50m away from the water’s edge and at least 2m above the high-water mark. Don’t clean fish or leave food scraps at your campsite (and check that previous campers haven’t done so), and be particularly careful at night and during the breeding season from September to April.
MAIL AND BILLS
Pre-paying accounts is a good idea for peace of mind. Arrangements can also be made with Australia Post to have mail forwarded to a nominated post office by a specified date. This ensures that bills or other mail needing attention are waiting for you (most accounts can be paid at post offices and agencies these days). There are also a number of commercial mail-forwarding businesses, such as Landbase Australia (phone 0408 686 461), that post mail to an arranged address. These generally have the advantage that if your agenda alters, you can phone the forwarding agency and modify the mail destination.
Check your house, health and other insurance policies, and tell your insurer that you will be away if that’s a required condition in your insurance policy. They will then advise you whether a loading applies. Perhaps relatives will house-sit your property. And do make sure that you have a current Enduring Power of Attorney in place so that a trusted person can act on your behalf and make the necessary financial transactions while you are away.
WHAT SHOULDN’T I BRING?
Surprised to see this as a heading? Travellers have a tendency to take too many non-essentials with them and to overlook some important things. You won’t need numerous pots and pans, gadgets, or many clothes. Bear in mind that everything weighs something. After you have packed the motorhome, take it all out and weigh it. It’s a certainty that you won’t use half of it. Surplus weight tests vehicles, uses additional fuel and decreases safety.
You will manage with a billy, a frypan and a saucepan to cook everything except oven-based items. Reliance on frozen foods is not a good idea; dehydrated foods are fine. Tinned foods are heavy and because they are packed cylindrically, they are usually space-wasters. Carry minimal fresh fruits and vegetables – you will have to give them up at fruit-fly exclusion zones and food-and-quarantine stations. Nuts and dried fruits are safe to carry and are nutritious.
WHAT SHOULD I BRING?
Spare vehicle keys (car and living area) should be kept in a secure place not obvious to others. Bring spare spectacles and prescription sunglasses. It’s prudent to have more than one credit card that’s kept separate from the others. Other items include your Medicare card, personal insurance details, driver’s licence and contact details of a wide range of acquaintances including trusted neighbours. Have vehicle warranty and insurance details on hand. Will you need repeats of medical prescriptions or additional medication? Read the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s safety notes at www.flyingdoctor.net/Travelling-In-Outback-Australia.html. Part of preparation is knowing how to deal with a range of problems. For instance, there’s little point having a first-aid kit if no-one knows how to use it. A first-aid course is money well spent – visit www.stjohn.org.au
Anyone contemplating solo travel in isolated areas should have good communications equipment and know how to use it. CB and UHF radios simply are not up to the task of long-distance transmission, and mobile phones are largely useless outside major population areas. Renting a satellite phone or an HF radio is not all that expensive – check the Yellow Pages under “Radio Communication Equipment &/or Service” for suppliers near you. In some circumstances, a distress beacon may be worth considering – see http://beacons.amsa.gov.au
Always take a little more drinking water than you think you might use. Have a spare container with water in case your main container leaks. If you’re not sure that the water is safe to drink, boil it or use sterilising tablets.
Ensure you carry the basic tools needed to change the wheels or to tighten something that’s loose. Have the vehicle serviced thoroughly before leaving and carry any recommended essential spares, particularly if you drive an exotic vehicle.
– Lloyd Junor