CREATE YOUR OWN PATHWAY
Deciding where to travel, and when to leave, is one of the most exciting parts of planning any Big Lap. The stock-standard ‘north for winter, south for summer’ itinerary has been the rule of Aussie travel since road tripping began, and, for mild temperatures and clear skies, it makes sense.
But the problem with this popular travel flow is how many of us join it, crowding out campgrounds and roadside rest areas, spiking peak season prices and stealing the serenity we travel so far to experience.
On a Big Lap, it’s near impossible to see everything in exactly the ‘right’ season and it’s crazy to even try.
And since you’re never going to tick it all off in a single Big Lap, try instead to find your own reasons for travel, and use your passions to shape your adventures. Stop thinking about what you should see and create a list of what interests you. Seek out fascinating routes to tackle, rather than focusing on big-ticket destinations, and don’t worry about where all the Hot Lists would have to spending your time.
Are you chasing rivers to paddle, surf breaks or fishing spots, towns with great museums or magnificent national park walking trails? If you love history, consider a route that has you following the footsteps of a famous explorer, recreating their famous, ill-fated exploits and visiting sites and camps along their historical routes.
Consider too that while peak seasons indicate when each destination is at its best, it takes more than clear skies to make a journey memorable. I love travelling during the shoulder seasons — a month or two before or after the rush — because when there’s less hustle and bustle, I rarely have to book ahead and can explore at a more leisurely pace. Wherever your Big Lap takes you, don’t rush. Factor in time for inevitable, unexpected delays caused by weather, breakdowns, and the destinations that grip you and make it impossible to leave.
CULL YOUR GEAR
CULL — it’s the yardstick I use to pack for every trip, ensuring that all the gear that makes it on board is Compact, Useful, Lightweight and Long lasting. My partner likes to pack enough tools to rebuild a LandCruiser, but we both agree packing smart everywhere else saves weight, reduces clutter, streamlines our setup routine and saves fuel, too.
To choose the right gear, start with your list of essential items (or pile everything you intend to take on the lounge room floor), and use the CULL test to scrutinise the value of each and every item. From kitchenware to sports gear, power and charging solutions, outdoor clothing, recovery gear, lighting, camp furniture and more, try to prioritise high quality, compact and lightweight items that are as multi-functional as possible and tough enough to survive the drive.
Buy the best quality gear you can afford, preferably Australian-made, and be prepared to pay more for energy efficient, Earth-compassionate items too.
If travelling with kids, get them to narrow down to just a small box of toys each, bearing in mind you’ll have to find room for boogie boards, cricket bats and bicycles that will likely get more use than a stack of toys.
For each family member, choose a lean, functional wardrobe of versatile clothes and shoes for all seasons, and don’t forget a jacket that’s both wind and waterproof, comfy shoes for bushwalks, quick-dry towels, and sun protection essentials (hats, sunglasses, reef-friendly sunscreen).
When you’ve finally got everything assembled, gather at least one armload of surplus, non-essential items and put them back in your cupboards.
Once you hit the road, you’ll be amazed at how your routines simplify and how little you use so many of the things you considered ‘must-have’ at home.
Leaving home on a Big Lap — for at least six months or more — is a lesson is how deeply rooted we are to our own home bases. Everything from mail and newspaper deliveries to gym memberships, internet and Netflix need to be put on hold, along with the gas, water, phone and electricity, and perhaps a pool cleaner and lawnmower too.
When liberating yourself from home life, decide upon the exact date when everything gets switched off, and give yourself a group of tasks to tackle each week in the lead-up to your escape. If you haven’t yet gone completely digital, now’s the time to sign up to get your bank statements, insurance documents, service bills, Medicare and vehicle registration notifications via email.
Decide whether you are going to put your belongings into storage, sell them or donate them to friends, family or a charity, and make a timeline of when everything needs to go. If you have big-ticket items such as a spare car, boat or furniture to sell, give yourself plenty of time to sell on Gumtree, eBay or Facebook Marketplace, and list your ads on a Friday to keep them highly visible to weekend buyers. Alternatively, host a garage sale a few weekends before your departure to try to sell everything at once.
Renting out your house or apartment can help finance your trip, but you are going to need to find a trusted property manager to handle tricky tenant issues when you are out of touch and off the beaten track. If you do decide to rent your property, consider how the extra rental income might impact your income tax or pension, and adjust your home insurance policy before you go.
An easy way to keep your suspension from sagging is to ditch hard copies and go digital. Put everything that entertains you — books, music, movies and magazines — on an iPad or laptop, and prepare to be amazed at just how much weight and space you save. Ditch hard-copy travel guides and invest in an in-car navigation system and download your favourite camping apps on to your phone (start with WikiCamps and Petrol Spy).
GET SNAIL MAIL
On long trips, it makes sense to redirect your mail to a friend, a family member, or to a destination somewhere along your chosen route where you plan to spend a chunk of time. Any Australian post office will hold mail provided it is addressed to you, c/o POST RESTANTE, the name of the town, state and postcode.
Alternatively, register for an Australia Post MyPost account and get packages sent to you via the nearest 24/7 parcel locker.
There are around 400 locations across Australia, and when your parcel arrives, you’ll receive a unique SMS code and have 48 hours to pick it up.
PACK YOUR TOYS
Taking toys gives you the tools to explore, but I’m the first to admit that packing them without compromising weight and impacting setup routines can be a juggling act. There are basically three places you can strap down toys: on top of your 4WD (ideal for car-topper tinnies), on the caravan (limit this to a lightweight kayak or surfboards at most), and at the back of your 4WD or van (perfect for a collapsible tinny trailer or bikes, plus your spare tyres too).
Kayaks, canoes, SUPs, surfboards and inflatable boats are fairly easy to manage, as long as you can find room for the paddles, PFDs and the pump too. I’m also a big fan of carrying bikes, especially when you have kids on board, to explore campgrounds, small towns and national park trails, to keep fit, save on fuel costs and get you to places where cars just won’t go.
Small toys worth their weight include USB-rechargeable head torches for night walks and spotlighting after dark, binoculars for wildlife watching and durable, inexpensive boogie boards for floating through inland gorges and riding waves, too.
FLOAT YOUR BOAT
You need to love your fishing to take a boat on any caravanning adventure, but if that’s the way you want to explore Australia, it’s not impossible to set up. You’ll need a roof rack, boat loader and your tinny, whose combined weight must be compatible with your tow vehicle’s rooftop capacity (around 200kg for a 200 series LandCruiser, but half that for a Prado).
Aim for a tinny from 3.5–3.85m maximum (around 75kg), which is large enough for two to three people flicking lures and wrangling fish, and decide if you need a collapsible boat trailer to get it to the water’s edge, or whether you are going to only launch from the 4WD and slide the boat into the water yourself.
If you do take a boat, you’ll also need to find room for an outboard motor (a 15hp four-stroke will weigh about 45kg), fuel tank, life jackets, fishing rods and tackle too. A fibreglass boat will save you around 25kg on a standard tinny (but cost you more) and although it won’t get you offshore, a folding boat is a good compromise for its weight and space.
If you add a boat to your 4WD, be aware of the potential for roof rust from saltwater as you won’t always have fresh water on hand to wash it down.
Pricey at the outset, national park entry passes will end up saving you money, enticing you to see more destinations and spending very little in the process. National park campgrounds are a good deal too, especially if you seek out those offering hot showers, because facilities are generally far better cared for — by travellers and staff — than roadside freebies.
If travelling during shoulder and off-peak seasons, you can expect cheaper caravan sites and more attractive ticket prices, especially across the top of Australia. When making a booking, don’t be afraid to ask about any discount that describes you — a senior, family, local, off-season traveller or early-bird diner. Most holiday parks will knock 10 per cent off if you flash a motoring club or seniors’ card, while some will allow young kids to stay for free or offer ‘one free night’ deals for longer stays. Tourist operators are used to paying booking agents upwards of 10 per cent commission, so when you book a tour directly, they may be happy to pass that saving onto you.
GET OFF THE GRID
Not everyone wants to find themselves far, far away, but if you’re a solitude seeker, you’re going to need the capability to carry extra water, slow your use of it, and power your way through long stays off the grid. A generator is a good backup, but solar panels are clean and green and easily pay for themselves on a Big Lap. Just ensure that you have ample batteries to store all that power and use it frugally when staying off the grid. Apart from whatever is mounted on your rig, a folding, freestanding panel allows you to secure shade in hot climates without compromising your power.