Australia covers a huge area and, compared to other destinations, most of the country is not well-serviced by public transportation. When travelling around, the options are flying or taking a train but driving yourself is the best way to experience the countryside. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your Australian road trip.
Australian road trip tips
We’ve had plenty of adventures and near mishaps while on an Australian road trip.
One incident that pops to mind happened in 2015. We were downright fortunate when we were in the back of Bourke and the only petrol station’s diesel nozzle simply wouldn’t fit the fill tube of our van.
It was bizarre and we could’ve been in a desperate situation as we had more than 100km to drive to the next petrol station. But as this wasn’t our first road trip around Australia, we had purchased an extra gasoline tank to take with us.
Even for experienced road trippers, an Australian road trip requires careful planning. Driving around Australia is slightly different to driving across Canada or the USA.
So here’s my list of 13 key things to keep in mind for your Australian road trip.
1- Remember which side of the road you are on
If you’re not from Australia, don’t forget that Australians drive on the left. But don’t be put off as you’ll get used to it quickly. However, do pay attention at intersections and when turning.
2- Drivers License
If your existing driver’s license isn’t in English, carry a translation or consider getting an international driver’s licence.
3- Review the road rules
Rental companies typically have driving rules (and often videos) to help visitors get oriented. So do take the time to review the rules and watch the videos.
4- Avoid driving at dusk
Avoid driving at dusk and dawn when animals are hazards on the road. Native Australian wildlife like kangaroos, wallabies and wombats can get dazzled by your headlights and cause accidents on the road.
5- Do your research on rentals
Renting a vehicle is the most common option for visitors planning a road trip around Australia.
It pays to research your options online before you arrive in Australia. Pay particular attention to the limitations and costs of insurance.
For example, our credit card’s insurance policy covers a car rental but specifically excludes camper rentals.
When planning your Australian road trip itinerary, remember that some roads are off limits for standard rental vehicles and you may need to rent a more expensive 4WD vehicle.
6- Consider purchasing a vehicle
As an alternative to hiring, for longer visits, consider purchasing a vehicle with a guaranteed buyback price from an organisation like Travellers Autobarn, which has buyback policies ranging from 50% (after 12 weeks) to 30% after one year.
7- Be prepared to camp
When planning your Australian road trip itinerary, keep in mind that some places have long stretches without any accommodation or food stops.
So be prepared to camp. There are numerous excellent campsites in Australia and caravan parks are common.
Many road pull-offs have some services such as toilets, running (not always potable) water and free gas “barbies” (barbecues).
Pick up a copy of the ubiquitous Camps Australia Wide books (or app) for details about nearly 4,000 sites.
8- Buy a GPS
Although most rental agencies offer GPS (satnav), buying a new GPS device may be more cost-effective if you intend on renting for more than 10 days.
If you already own a GPS, check the manufacturer’s site to see if you can add up-to-date Australian maps before you leave home for your Australian road trip.
Besides a GPS, here are some other things to tick off your road trip packing list.
9- Think about the type of vehicle you need
When we went on a road trip along the Savannah Way in Queensland, we rented a small van. While the van was quite adequate, having to prepare meals from the back was sometimes a bit awkward.
On a more recent trip, we rented a larger van, complete with an internal food preparation area, from Britz. The taller Britz camper allowed us to stand up while inside and came with a fridge, which we found really handy in the sweltering heat.
10- Check your vehicle
Before you leave the lot, take time to do a thorough check of the vehicle and provided amenities. Identify all dents and scrapes before leaving so there’s no confusion about existing damage (tip: take photos).
Are cooking utensils, cutlery, bedding on board?
Ensure that everything works on the vehicle and that you know how to turn on lights and open the petrol (gasoline) tank fill cap.
If equipped, have the agency demonstrate how to operate the propane stove and water pump for your sink.
Answers to questions will be hard to find while on the road in the middle of nowhere.
Australian road trip etiquette
11- Watch out for Road Trains
Perhaps you’ve heard of Road Trains? These are enormous trucks doing long-haul cartage up to 53m, at least. If you intend on exploring the Australian Outback while on your Australian road trip, you’re likely to come across them, especially in areas where there isn’t a railway line.
Passing a Road Train is awkward but entirely doable. On narrow backcountry roads, drivers should pull off their side of the road, such that at least the shoulder-side tires and half of the vehicle are on the shoulder itself.
Prepare yourself for road trains by slowing down and pulling off when the coast is clear. And never, ever, try to pass on a bridge.
12- The biggest tip of all?
Always ensure you have lots of potable water. A road trip around Australia covers long distances, and the Outback gets very, very hot. Ensure you have at least one multi-litre container and extra bottles on hand at all times.
Eric Fletcher is an Australian road trip fan who has travelled around Australia several times at his own expense.
Here are more ideas on what to see while on your Australian road trip.