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Ten Things to Know when you drive across, around or up and down Australia

I've recently returned from driving from Ashburton to Perth and back in a campervan with two kids. In the interest of helping other misguided people on pursuing this adventure, here is a countdown of the advice I received that I found very helpful and the things I wish people had told me.

In order of importance:

Should you wish to read the whole story of the trip I didn't really want to go on but ended up enjoying (kind of), check out my travel blog (free downloadable PDF) Trapped in a Campervan.

S.Craze Trapped in a Campervan
Download PDF • 9.75MB

#10      Packing Cubes are definitely the way to go

Generic no-name packing cube

Packing cubes are fabric bags that help organise your clothes inside your suitcase. When you are in a campervan or caravan, you do not have space to store suitcases. But you can still take the packing cubes. They are great because:

  • They are soft and can be shoved into shelves

  • They keep clothes organised and minimise the whole hassle of having to push bits of cloth in to get the door to close

  • They can be colour-coordinated by person

  • They provide a finite amount of space for each person, i.e. “if it doesn’t fit in this cube, you can’t bring it with you.”

  • They help distinguish your clean clothes from your dirty clothes

#9 Plan your route and book ahead if you can

Get yourself a really big paper map.

There’s lots of free camping across Australia, especially on the Nullarbor. There’s also lots of caravan parks too. If it’s still daylight, unless it’s the week after Christmas or Easter, you can usually just rock up and there should be a spot.

But the reason you book ahead is not because of scarce availability. It’s to reduce the arguments about where you’re staying that night.

It also gives your kids the security of knowing where they are for the night. Even the most easy-going kid likes that kind of thing.

If you do want to wing it (and there’s reasons to do that further down) at least decide who is the one making the decision for the night. This can be fraught with difficulty because…

#8  The internet coverage is sketchy

Map book with camping sites

Make sure you have a print book of campsites as back-up because if you’re not in a town, the internet often cuts out around 10 minutes from one. It’s going to depend on your specific provider (I am with AldiMobile who are backed by Telstra) and where you are. If having regular internet access is important to you, get it sorted before you go.

In my experience, NSW and Victoria were pretty good because they have more towns close together. South Australia was adequate until you head west but Western Australia is pretty bad. Southern WA also had far more Optus coverage than Telstra. No, I don’t know why.

Most long-haul travellers have a StarLink connection. This is Elon Musk’s satellite internet. On the ground, it looks like this:

"Ground control to Major Tom"... Starlink

I hear it’s not that fast but if you must have internet, it’s the most reliable way to get it even if you do have to give money to a nutcase like him. If not, your best bet is to schedule all your internet needs for when you’re in or near a town.

#7  Think about how to accumulate power

Caravan with solar panels charging

Gone are the days when camping trips were opportunities to live simply with an Esky full of ice and a gas lantern. These days, when people camp, they generate enough power from their solar panels to run a small African nation.

My sister has a coffee machine, computer, Thermomix, air fryer, and washing machine in addition to a fridge, freezer, the van lights and the TV. Of these, she insists the Thermomix is the most important. I don’t even know what it does beyond make quite delicious strawberry daiquiris.  

My sister's van

The point is that everyone’s power needs are different. Not only that, they can change during the trip. If you want to make sure you can run your fridge and charge your phone, consider investing in a solar panel.  If you hire a campervan, a solar panel will be included as standard. However, if you can’t live without your iPad, Thermomix and coffee machine, you’ll need to up your voltage because those suckers are black holes of power.

If you don't need too much, consider investing in a portable charger. These are good for charging lower powered items like phones and cordless earphones without the need to plug in anywhere. They also come with a helpful light that is good for navigating your way to the toilet at 2 am.

#6        TravelMap is the future

I was keen to document the journey but also wanted a way to map it so the kids and our family and friends could see where we were, where we’ve been and where we’ll go next.

The goal was also to not have 450 photos of various places that I look back on and think, ‘now where was that?’

Surely someone has thought of a solution to this perennial issue. Our enquiries revealed that indeed, someone has. It is an online service that combines the map, journal and photos called  It was started by a French guy who was cycling around Australia and wanted a way for his mother to see where he was and when. He developed it into a map and photo/blog service that you can use to store photos at each location and write a spiel about what you did there. It cost E30 for access (no subscriptions!) and he’s not some corporation so the money goes straight to him. It was excellent; that's why I'm giving him a plug.

Screenshot of our TravelMap interface

The best part is TravelMap can take all your photos/blog/map and organise them into a coffee table book of your journey. It’s not that cheap to produce but it means the kids have a memento of the trip they can have forever with their mother’s sarcastic commentary included.

You are going to need the internet to use TravelMap so see #8.

#5 Food prep is very helpful

If you think food is getting expensive in the city, it’s going through the roof in rural Australia. Fresh food relies on regular, long haul truck drivers to bring it in, usually from the nearest city. Some items, like bread and meat, are frozen first and flown in. This means the quality can be compromised as it is older, will cost more and not last as long as you’re used to.

The fast food chains may appear in larger towns but they’re nowhere to be seen in the smaller ones. Local fish, chips, pizza and burgers often close by 8 pm and sometimes don’t open on Sunday.

If you’re plan is to buy cooked food every night, good luck because it will cost a fortune.

Having a few vacuum sealed meals is essential, especially after a long day of driving. Australia is really really big and it’s tiring driving all day. It’s very helpful to just put on a pot for pasta and warm up a vacuum sealed pre-cooked pasta sauce.

#4 The Nullarbor crossing is not as bad as you may think

The roadhouses look a bit better than this now.

If you’re crossing the Nullarbor and are worried about fuel, don’t be. There are fuel stops every 200 km (maximum). It’s not cheap fuel (around $1 extra a litre than a town in some places) but it’s there.

Electric car charging at a roadhouse

If you’ve got an electric car, every roadhouse has a charger powered by cooking oil from the roadhouse kitchen. The people who owned the car above told me it takes about 40 minutes to an hour to charge (depending on how many chips the roadhouse has fried) and they get about 500 km out of the car per charge. You need to stop every two hours to drive safely anyway, so it’s more than doable.

It is definitely tiring doing the drive because it’s very straight but also windy. You need to pay attention. Other drivers are mostly friendly and will acknowledge you with a little wave as you go past. Unless they are truckdrivers or people stuck behind a road train, then they'll ignore you. That said, it’s a full three days drive (WA alone takes a day to cross), so if that bothers you, consider doing the Nullarbor Links Golf Course.

My son hacking a way at the Golden Horse hole in Norseman

This is the World’s Longest Golf Course and runs from Kalgoorlie to Ceduna. You can start at either end by registering at the relevant Tourist Information Office. There’s a $70 fee and you can hire a few clubs for $30 too. The holes are set up either at an established Golf Club or a roadhouse along the way.

It’s a 78 par course and you’d have to be really amazingly good to do it on par. It can be windy, dry and hot at the holes, plus there are various creature holes your ball can disappear down. That said, the record is held by a semi-professional female at 70 par so it can be done.

It’s lots of fun and breaks up the drive with some exercise.

#3 The age of your kids will determine your enjoyment level

“You’re only as happy as your most miserable child”

Sage advice if ever there was any. My kids are 12 and nearly 10. In hindsight, this was the perfect age. They were old enough to:

  • be left alone in the van so we could go out for a walk

  • sleep without any assistance from us

  • go to the toilet/camp showers by themselves

  • ride around the camping grounds unsupervised

  • be entertained by devices while we had some ‘private’ time

  • walk a fair distance without whinging (much)

  • not smell like the teenage boys they’re going to be soon.

We saw lots of people with pre-school age children. If this is your jam, go for it but be prepared that you will never get a break. If you've got tweens or teenagers they will whinge about the lack of internet access. Its a Gen Z thing.

#2 You are going to need HEAPS of $1 and $2 coins to do washing

We live in an increasingly cashless society. But when it comes to doing your washing at a laundromat/caravan park cash is still king. Some newer laundromats take credit cards but most of the caravan park laundries are coin-only.

You may find there is a mix of credit card and coin-operated machines. In a busy caravan park, the coin one is most likely to be available. But if you don’t have coins, you’ll need to be there when the office is open (usually 9 am to 5 pm). There’s also no guarantee that the office will even give you change, especially if you don’t have cash notes.

Not only that but every washing machine across Australia has different coin configurations. Some do a wash for $4 in $1 coins; others for $5 in 2 x $2 and 1 x $1; others are $6 in 3 x $2 coins. You don’t know what you’re going to get so if you only take one piece of my advice, get yourself a massive stack of $1 and $2 coins. Like $50 worth. You are going to need them.

#1 Historical weather information is now completely irrelevant

This cloud arrived on the Nullarbor in late November and still hadn't left by mid-January

Australia is now in its fourth year of highly bizarre weather. For example, we crossed the Nullarbor in mid-December and needed to wear a jacket because it was overcast and a bit chilly. In normal times, it would be 40 degrees Celsius. When we came back again in mid-January, the height of summer, I noticed it seemed greener than it did last time. Turned out it had rained every night for weeks.

Storm bringing strong winds but no rain in Smoky Bay, SA (December)

There's no seasons anymore, just weather. There was floods and bushfires in other parts of Australia. There’s nothing you can do about it. You may need an extra day somewhere because it rained for days in December and all your bath towels haven’t dried properly and are starting to smell. You may need to abandon bush camping because the heat is so extreme that you need to run the air-conditioning. If you can factor in some flexibility into your trip planning, then do that.

Don’t worry what people will think, just pack for all seasons no matter what time of year and do what makes you happy.

This is why my sister takes a Thermomix camping after all.

The beauty of WA's wildflowers

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