Life Travel Top tips for hitting the road on the great Australian road trip Updated:

Top tips for hitting the road on the great Australian road trip

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Dreaming about driving off into the sunset? Travel writer Lee Atkinson spent the best part of a year doing a lap of mainland Australia.

Here are her top eight tips on what you need to think about before hitting the road, from how long you’ll need to whether you need a 4WD.

Plan where to go when

As a broad rule of thumb if it’s summer, head south; if it’s winter, head north to the tropics, or aim for the red centre where days will be warm and nights can be very cold, but at least there won’t be any flies.

The wet season can make travel tricky anywhere north of the Tropic of Capricorn between November and May.

Decide how long your trip will take

You could spend a lifetime and still not see all of Australia but if you want to do a lap, allow at least three months, a year if you don’t want to rush.

On the other hand, you’d be amazed at how far you can go in just four weeks and you can drive Australia’s longest shortcut – the Outback Way from Perth to Cairns via Uluru and Alice Springs – in less than a fortnight.

Boab on the back road from Wyndham to Kununurra
The wildest places in Australia are almost always at the end of dirt roads. Photo: Lee Atkinson

Choose what to drive

You don’t need a 4WD to drive around Australia, but an SUV or something with low-range gearing will mean you can get to more of the most beautiful bits, because the wildest places are almost always at the end of dirt roads.

Whatever you drive, make sure it’s had a service before you leave home.

To tow or not to tow?

If you’re planning to spend most of your time on main roads and want to stay in towns and caravan parks, a motorhome, caravan, or even a hired campervan is a great option.

If you’re planning a short trip for a couple of weeks then it’s probably not worth investing in a van or RV – there are plenty of motels in most towns and pubs usually have great-value rooms if you don’t mind having to use a bathroom down the hall.

And try Airbnb, you’ll find them everywhere these days.

But if your idea of a good time is taking the roads less travelled and getting out into national parks and wild places, an off-road camper trailer or a tent is a better choice.

Kings Canyon Resort
A motorhome or even a campervan can be a good choice. Photo: Lee Atkinson

Pack essential gear

Never travel without a first-aid kit and a fire extinguisher and always carry extra drinking water, even if you don’t intend leaving Highway 1.

A spare tyre in ready-to-go condition is another must have – if you have the room, a spare spare is even better.

And don’t even think about leaving home without an up-to-date road service membership with your state auto club.

Decide what to do with the dog

Many caravan parks – and even some motels – will accept well-behaved pets on a leash, but always check before you book rather than on arrival.

Pets are not allowed in national parks, even if you’re only having a picnic, so travelling with a dog will restrict your camping options to state forests.

Upgrade your phone

Even on main roads mobile phone coverage is non-existent outside of town limits and, when you do have a signal, chances are it will be Telstra’s – most other networks don’t work outside of capital cities.

If you’re heading off the tourist trail or into remote areas, hire (or buy) a satellite phone so you can call for help if needed, wherever you are. Try satellitehire.com.au or rentasatphone.com.au

Map it out

Getting lost and ending up somewhere unexpected can be fun – sometimes – but more often than not, you’ll just end up screaming at each other.

Don’t rely on the mapping app on your phone – invest in a good GPS.

We used Hema Navigator, which features off-road tracks and out of the way camping spots as well as major highways.

Lee Atkinson’s latest book, Explore Australia by Camper Trailer, is published by Hardie Grant Travel. RRP $39.99.

(Main photo: Lee Atkinson)