Everything you need to know about road tripping in Australia

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Of all my travel adventures, the best thing I've ever done was a one year road trip around Australia. Yes, an entire year!

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I’d just finished university and I arrived in Sydney with a Working Holiday Visa and a dream to see as much of this enormous country as possible. My boyfriend and I bought an old VW campervan and drove around the entire coast of Australia.

When we ran out of money (because it was an expensive trip!) we’d stop and work for a few months before packing our van back up and hitting the road.

Australia is the most incredible country for an epic road trip thanks to the diversity and sheer enormity. We saw vibrant cities as well as the vastness of the outback with miles and miles of flat red dust. We saw pristine beaches, dense rainforest and kangaroos, camels, koalas and dolphins. We learnt to scuba dive and fish and met the most wonderful, friendly people along the way, many of whom we still call our friends today.

Driving in Australia is pretty easy for us Brits. Australians also drive on the left and the road systems are simple with directions clearly signposted. When travelling between cities it’s difficult to get lost as it’s often one long road taking you from place to place. Melbourne can be a little trickier to navigate due to the tram system but you’ll quickly get the hang of it!

If you’re planning on road tripping in Australia, here are some things to think about - besides travel insurance! - before you set out on your incredible journey!

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Should you buy or rent a vehicle?

This one really comes down to how long you’ll be in Australia and how much flexibility you have. If you’re visiting for a month or less then it’s probably easiest to rent a vehicle. If you’re visiting for longer, you may wish to consider buying something as you could save yourself a lot of money.

It’s worth considering that you’ll need a permanent address to buy a vehicle and it’s easiest to buy, sell and tax a vehicle all in the same state.

We bought our campervan and we were lucky enough to sell it one year later for almost exactly what we’d paid for it. We’d had it serviced and bought two new tyres but, other than that, we hadn’t spent anything on the van so we were very lucky!

You do hear about travellers who aren’t so lucky and they buy a vehicle and quickly realise it needs a lot of money spending on it. There’s also the risk you can’t sell it when you’re finished and you also hear about people giving cars away because they have a flight to catch!

Buying a vehicle is a risk but it is much more cost effective if you’ve got plenty of time on your hands. If you do plan to buy, you can find second hand vehicles in exactly the same way you would at home with online auction sites like eBay, Gumtree, Facebook ads and local car dealers.

Car or campervan?

It really depends on your budget and how confident you are at driving. Cars are cheaper and they’re easier to maneuver around busy cities, but campervans make life much easier!

You have much more storage space in a campervan and you won’t need to constantly pack and unpack your belongings. You can sleep in a campervan and relax during the day, and there’s also no faff with putting up tents or the expense of finding hostels or hotels for the night. If you can afford it, I’d recommend a campervan.

Do you need an international driving licence to drive in Australia?

If you plan to drive in the Northern Territory of Australia then you’ll need an international driving licence. For all of Australia’s other states you can drive on a foreign driving licence provided it’s in date. (Accurate as of March 2019.)

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Practical safety tips when driving

As I’m sure you’re already aware, Australia is hot! It’s hot, dry and overwhelmingly massive. It’s no exaggeration when people say you can drive for days without seeing another person and it’s not uncommon to travel enormous distances without passing a petrol station. It’s for this reason you need to be really careful when driving in Australia.

Always make sure you have a can of fuel in the car, plenty of water for yourself and water for your vehicle too. When you’re driving in the outback it’s best to stop as often as you can to refuel and make sure there’s plenty of food in your car because the gas stations often serve little more than pies.

Where should you stay?

Many people have the dream of driving to a secluded beach where they’ll light a fire, pitch a tent or set up their bed in their campervan. In theory, this sounds like the dream but in reality it doesn’t really work.

It’s illegal to camp on the beach so if you’re spotted the police will quickly arrive and move you along. There are some places where you can get away with it but it can be quite stressful not knowing if the police will arrive at any moment!

Many travellers who don’t wish to pay for campsites often find themselves sleeping in car parks as it’s unlikely anyone will know they’re asleep inside the van - not exactly the Australian road trip dream! You also have the problem that there are no toilets or showers, so even if you do manage to ‘stealth camp’ you’ll probably want to check into a campsite, hotel or hostel every few nights for a hot shower!

We stayed at campsites most nights. Campsites can vary massively from family-friendly resorts with swimming pools, restaurants and bars to simple fields with little more than a shower block and a long drop toilet. You can find campsites online at sites such as Find a Camp and we also found they were well signposted when you reached a popular area.

If you’re in a car rather than a campervan, you’ll also have the option to stay at hotels, motels, hostels, Airbnbs or other private accommodation providers.

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Keep costs down with beach BBQs

One way we kept our travel costs down when road tripping in Australia was by cooking all of our own food. Eating out in Australia can be expensive and it’s really easy to prepare your own meals thanks to Australia’s abundance of public BBQs. The best thing about Australia’s public BBQs is that they’re mostly really well looked after. The BBQs are gas and you’ll find them on many beaches and parks.

If you’re buying a campervan, look for one with a simple gas hob and possibly even a fridge which will make preparing your own meals even easier. We didn’t have a fridge but got by with a cool box (called an Esky in Australia!) and we’d visit a shop almost every day for fresh food and ice.

Driving at dusk

My final tip is to be very careful driving at dusk. This is the most common time for accidents and is also a dangerous time for kangaroos. Around dusk you’ll see a lot of kangaroos around the roads and, a little like rabbits, they get caught in the headlights or will jump in front of your vehicle in a panic. But unlike rabbits, kangaroos can be huge and can do a lot of damage to you and your vehicle.

Those are my tips for road tripping in Australia. I hope you have a great journey!

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