Planning Your Trip

Scott Heiman — 4 March 2021
Avoid nasty surprises by being prepared; it's the smart way to travel


Once again, it’s that time of year when folk with itchy feet are looking at the calendar, allocating slots for holidays and booking leave for some kind of trip. With most international destinations inaccessible, our Great Southern Land is (as it always has been) a great alternative.

Some people like to ‘wing it’ when they hit the road, enjoying a sense of freedom on an itinerary unfettered by deadlines or locations that must be achieved every day — which is fine up to a point. But this kind of free-wheeling approach can have its drawbacks, like missing a must-see attraction down a side road or arriving at a van park with no booking at the end of a long drive only to find it’s full.

Whether it’s a Big Lap odyssey, a multi-week roadie or a long weekender, if you think a trip is worth doing, the five-Ps principle applies — proper planning prevents poor performance. My family and friends might call me ‘Captain Clipboard’, but no one has ever complained that we didn’t get the absolute most out of every trip.


Daydreaming about exotic places, attractions and events is a pleasant, even essential, part of the exercise. The enjoyment of any journey begins as you study the maps and guide books, firing up your imagination, building a sense of anticipation and eagerness for D-day to arrive. 

On a more practical note, planning serves to identify the best routes (and alternatives, if they don’t work out), camping options and realistic targets in daily mileage and driving times, ensuring that you arrive at a destination safely and with plenty of time to enjoy what’s there. One mistake many people make is to travel too quickly. In their eagerness to do the trip, they don’t leave themselves enough time along the way to kick back and smell the roses. Leave some slack in the itinerary to take unexpected opportunities, or deal with unforeseen glitches, without throwing the whole holiday into disarray.

It’s also important to plan fuel stops and re-supply points. This is not such a big deal in populated areas with plenty of towns along the route. But when you venture into the remote interior, where fuel pumps and general stores are sometimes days apart, such considerations become vital, if not life-preserving. Planning will also alert you to border crossings that may entail quarantine restrictions on food in transit (dump it or eat it, don’t risk the fine), and identify Indigenous lands for which you’ll need a permit and where alcohol prohibitions usually apply.


So much for theory, now let’s get down to the details — starting with the vehicle that you’re relying on to get you through the trip (and back) safely.

If you’re reading this magazine, chances are you’re among the hundreds of thousands of Australians who have invested serious dollars in buying a van that suits your lifestyle and the vehicle that’s best matched to tow it. And you are probably protecting these valuable assets by regular servicing and maintenance. But don’t assume ‘she’ll be right’ by relying on the scheduled service you had done six or twelve months ago. Before any trip, especially a long and arduous one into the outback, have both vehicles checked from the ground up to ensure, so far as is humanly possible, that they are roadworthy and able to handle the worst Aussie roads can throw at them.

Journeys like a Big Lap can span tens of thousands of kilometres, so it’s prudent to program an interim service along the way, especially if you plan to cover a lot of rough stuff. Also, if you’re venturing into remote areas, where servos and mechanics are few and far between, carry some vital fluids (like engine/diff oil, brake/clutch fluid, bearing grease), spare parts (hoses, belts, filters, shock absorbers) and a box of basic tools and equipment to carry out do-able roadside maintenance or repairs. A DIY workshop manual might also come in handy.


A few accessories can prove useful and make life on the road a bit easier and safer, especially for long distance touring — like upgraded suspension, bull bar, snorkel, driving lights, roof rack, spare wheel or jerry can holders and portable compressor (make sure the hose is long enough to reach the van tyres). A pull-out awning (attached to the roof rack) will provide some quick shade for smoko on the road or a barbecue on the beach when you’ve left the van in the holiday park. Consider installing a portable fridge on a slide in the back of your car. Sure, it might take up a chunk of space but the advantage of having an additional 50-odd litres of cool room can’t be overstated — as a back-up in case your van fridge packs it in, and to extend your time between shopping stops.


Leaving the blacktop for the ‘path less trodden’ is liberating but raises the possibility that you and your rigs might get stuck in the landscape, or you are called upon to assist some other motorist in that situation. When the going gets tough, the tough reach for the recovery gear. This might include some basic stuff like a tyre repair kit, long-handle shovel, snatch strap, sand boards, a Terfor winch or one mounted to the bull bar. Heaven forbid that you should ever have an on-board fire, but have a couple of extinguishers handy just in case and know how to use them.


As members of a 4WD club years ago, we went on many trips in convoy that made a dash-mounted UHF almost obligatory for training and other purposes. We still have the same unit (a GME) but have worn out several aerials through vibrations at the bull bar attachment. It’s only a mid-priced unit among the many available on the market but it’s perfectly adequate for trading banter when you’re in convoy or chatting with other travellers on the road.

Scanning can alert you to random road trains in the vicinity or you can monitor and communicate on a designated frequency with trucks or road plant when transiting construction zones with blind spots. Also, having your co-pilot use a hand mike to guide you when reverse parking into the caravan site will avoid sharing your ‘discussions’ about placing or alignment with the rest of the park, except those who happen to be tuned to the same frequency.

These days, mobile phones are almost indispensable in daily life but don’t rely on them too far away from civilisation. In the boonies, the only sure way to communicate with the outside world is by satellite phone. If you’re travelling into remote areas, a sat phone can be a lifesaver if things go pear-shaped. Make sure you keep it charged and your airtime credits are up to date. Another handy device is an EPIRB (or similar) and there are lots of these on the market to suit your land- or water-based needs.

My wife, Elizabeth, is our chief navigator because she has good spatial awareness and an unerring sense of direction. Our back-up guidance system is a dash-mounted Garmin Overlander (reviewed in Caravan World #601), which is equally useful in city or offroad situations. The Hema HX-1 is another excellent product. For the big picture, you can’t go wrong with Hema’s hard copy maps and atlases. Our travelling library also includes relevant guide books for the nitty gritty on specific areas.


Hope for the best and prepare for the worst, as the saying goes, and when it comes to the health and well-being of the passengers and crew first aid should be top of your list. There are several kits available on the market for tourers and it’s a good idea to keep a couple handy — one in the car and one in the van. When I say handy, I mean easy to get at in a hurry. The last thing you want to be doing in a crisis is hunting through the back drawer of the truck or utility locker of the van to break the kit out. 

Having at least one kit at the ready is a must but only part of the exercise. You need to know how to use it in a variety of situations, like snake bite or a broken bone. This means more than just sticking on a bandaid or dispensing a Panadol. Most kits come with a DIY first aid manual and you (and at least one other person with you) should take the time to read it. 

Better yet, sign up for a course with St John Ambulance (or similar) and get some hands-on training from the experts. Your life, or that of someone with you, might depend on it. And don’t forget to pack any regular medication and an up-to-date repeat script, if necessary.


At home, a daily routine makes it’s possible to keep a handle on your diet and maintain a healthy eating regime. But when you’re on the road, especially during a long day in the saddle, it’s easy to indulge in ‘fast food’ to keep the momentum ticking over — the all-day brekkie, coffee and cake at the village bakery or lunch at the local pub. Try to resist the carbs and make healthy choices whenever you can. Plan ahead with pre-prepared snacks or a picnic from your on-board larder and save a few bucks in the process.

For the main event at night, there’s something about cooking on a campfire or the Baby Q Weber that really adds to the enjoyment of the great outdoors, no question. But sometimes, after a long haul or when bad weather makes outdoor cooking a drudge, it’s great to be able to pull out a pre-cooked meal from the chiller and sit back with a cold one while it heats.

These can be particularly useful on first nights in camp after faffing around to set up, or on last nights to avoid dirtying pots and pans that have to be washed and packed for off early next day. Also, pre-cooked or kryovaced meals can be frozen to stretch the provisions further and save on space that might otherwise be taken up with perishables. 


After a long day’s drive, one of the great enjoyments of camp life is, ironically, being able to sit down — not on a wooden picnic bench or one of those tiny backless tripods that only accommodate one cheek, but on a fair dinkum camp chair. There are lots of them on the market — lightweight, portable, folding (in different ways), reclining, with head rests, lumbar supports, attachable side tables or pockets for drinks, phones or insect repellent. Whatever, the most important thing is to have one that suits you best, so that you can relax around the campfire or with a rod beside the creek or take a nana-nap under the coolabah tree. Isn’t that what it’s all about?


Feature Trip Planning Things to remember Be prepared The Five P's


Scott Heiman