Big Lap checklist
Planning head off around the Big Block? This handy checklist will help prepare you for life on the road.
Have you reviewed your proposed trip and identified potential hazards, including weather and road conditions, fuel and water resupply points, and resources such as mechanical, electrical, and medical support?
Planning a trip is half the enjoyment, so don’t skimp on the planning. It’s no fun for anyone turning up to a fully-booked van park after a long day on the road.
And planning is not just about identifying routes, camps, attractions and events; it’s also about setting 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. When planning your trip, allow for rest breaks or refuelling every two hours.
Consider the direction you want to travel. If you travel anti-clockwise around the country, you should have a following wind all the way up the east coast and across the Barkly Highway west to the NT due to the south-east trade winds that blow around the high pressure systems. This can make a huge difference to fuel consumption. The same applies going down the west coast and across the Nullarbor Plain, where winds are very strong. You don’t want the prevailing wind against you.
Have you and your travel companions had a recent full medical check-up? Do you carry a comprehensive first aid kit in both your car and caravan? Is your first aid training up-to-date? Have you had a pre-trip medical?
It pays to consider any health matters well before departure – arrange check-ups, organise vaccinations, and obtain scripts for regular medications to last the duration of the trip. Consider asking for ‘Regulation 24’ scripts for any medications that may not be easily available in isolated places, and pick up all the repeats before you leave.
Obtain advice from your GP about the need for further checks and carry copies of all your medical information that would be useful in an emergency.
Do you have an effective communication system that will work reliably when out of mobile phone range? And if so, do you and your companions know how to use it effectively to connect with the appropriate authorities?
Telstra has by far the best coverage for mobile phone and wireless broadband but, in remote areas, our mobile phone service is still quite unreliable, although an extension aerial mounted on your RV can often be effective in increasing the mobile (and internet) service range.
Anyone towing a caravan should have an in-vehicle UHF CB onboard, regardless of where they’re going. This recommendation comes despite the fact UHF CB (ultra-high frequency citizen band) doesn’t like the large lumps and bumps of the countryside such as hills, making them more suited to short-range communications. Out in the open you’re likely to send and receive signals up to about 18km. The cost of a UHF radio is relatively minimal in the overall expenditure of your rig and you will find it an excellent investment for contacting oncoming and overtaking trucks, finding out about road conditions, and just talking to other travellers.
A good GPS is also invaluable. While not always 100 per cent accurate, they are very helpful in navigating through unfamiliar towns and cities.
You can’t necessarily plan for every emergency, but, should the worst happen, you can at least be sure of help if you’ve packed a sat-phone. A satellite phone will cost between $750 and $1300 and provide fewer problems. Even when you add in a $22 SIM card and $70 for around 100 minutes of talk time over two years, you are still financially better off when compared to the cost of HF.
Some providers allow you to make calls for around $0.77 per minute. However, buyers should beware that incoming calls can be extremely expensive, hitting the $20 per minute range. And some deals see customers paying exorbitant monthly fees, while others charge none. It’s worth noting, too, that some sat-phones will not dial 000 for emergencies. On the downside, satellite phones only work outdoors or hooked to an external antenna, which must be pointed skywards.
In an emergency situation, if you fail to get through on 000, try 112. This emergency number will be responded to by another carrier that has coverage, if your carrier does not cover that particular area.
4. MECHANICAL SKILLS
If travelling with others, are they competent to share the driving/towing and can they safely un-hitch or hitch-up single-handed?
Are you all able to manage basic mechanical or electrical repair tasks? This is important as one of you may be disabled due to accident or illness.
Do you carry an appropriate toolkit and other safety-related resources including mechanical and electrical spares, good tools and recovery equipment, extra fuel and extra water?
Do you have the ability to assess and un-bog a stuck trailer or caravan and assess the safety issues of hazards such as water crossings?
Can you safely use potentially dangerous recovery equipment such as snatch straps, winches and jacks?
5. PREPARE YOUR VEHICLE & VAN
Have you checked your vehicle and caravan are fit for purpose and thoroughly serviced prior to departure?
It’s important to have a full service on your tow vehicle and RV before heading off – ideally at a caravan workshop with experienced staff. Check your tyre and battery condition and consider changing them, if required, and pay particular attention to springs, shockers, wheel-bearings, brakes, wiring and couplings. Check dust-proofing. Seal any holes in the underbody, and at cupboard and body joins. Check at night with bright lights on in the van.
Ensure both your van and tow car are protected from stone damage with decent mudflaps, a stone shield on the van and heavy-duty plastic for the rear window of your tow vehicle.
Make sure your mirrors are robust and won’t fold under wind pressure from passing B-doubles and road trains.
Carry an insect screen for your radiator to guard against overheating in locust country.
And, importantly, check your insurance policy is up to date and your rig is adequately covered. Accidents do happen and most policies allow for recovery and alternative accommodation.
6. PREPARE YOUR HOME
Who, if anybody, is going to look after your home while you’re away? Are you going to sell up, rent it out, get a housesitter or leave it vacant?
Whatever you do, make sure you have appropriate insurance cover which, admittedly, can be difficult to obtain for extended periods. Check your home and contents insurance – many policies limit cover in your absence to about three months.
The proposed duration of the trip impacts on your decisions regarding the maintenance and security of your home.
After organising your house, don’t forget to make arrangements for your mail and bills while you’re away. These can be redirected or paid by direct debit.
Are your van and vehicle to within the legal weight limits once fully packed?
Exceeding the van’s ATM, vehicles GVM and/or packing either incorrectly affects their safe handling and may void your insurance. Make sure you visit a weighbridge with everything on board to satisfy yourself that you’re travelling safely and legally.
Loading the van correctly is an art worth acquiring. In short, take as little as possible and travel as light as you can. Check and re-check your van’s contents and cull any items living in the back of cupboards. Ensure your rig is evenly loaded and within both the van and tow car manufacturer’s maximum weight restrictions, with all fluid containers full.