Featured | Ingenia

Road trip tips to plan for the big lap

We invite Marg McAlister, former editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine, now retired and living at Ingenia Lifestyle South West Rocks, to tell us a little more about how to plan for a big trip in a caravan around Australia.

There is absolutely nothing like the feeling of sitting down to plan ‘The Big Lap’. You feel as though the whole world is opening up before you, with all kinds of adventures lying around the next bend.

Some RVers simply jump into it with both feet: “We’re retired! Yee ha! Let’s buy a van and see Australia!”, while others have had years of shorter trips under their belts.

Which way should you go? Do you follow the coastal route with a bit of the Kimberly thrown in and a detour down the middle, or do you follow your nose and have just the broadest of itineraries?

What we found on our Big Lap was that a year wasn’t long enough. It ended up being thirteen months, but there was a lot to go back to.

And that’s fine. That’s good. Because once you’ve experienced life on the road, there’s nothing you’ll like better than the feeling of having endless more places to explore.

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The Basics of Planning Your Trip

To plan your trip properly, you need to know:

  • The time frame and budget
  • Where your RV or rig can travel (Off-road? Set up for free camping? Gazetted roads only?)
  • Your own physical strength / limitations
  • The direction you intend to travel
  • The best time of year to be in certain localities
  • Your ‘must see’ destinations.

The Countdown to the Big Lap

6 -12 months out

  • Research route and destinations (keeping weather/seasons in mind)
  • Decide on trip financing, including sell/rent house or house-sitters
  • Decide on RV – motorhome or tow vehicle + van. If buying new, order in plenty of time
  • Set tentative departure date.

3-6 months out

  • Set up bill pay options
  • Clear the decks – house clean up
  • Investigate storage options if needed
  • Establish budget
  • List must-sees and plan basic route.

1-3 months out

  • Arrange services or repairs for RV and tow vehicle
  • Check that RV is compliant with state laws on your route
  • Take out membership in caravan park chains
  • Get National Park permits
  • Shop for any additional gear needed (including grey waste containers)
  • Book ahead for any sites required in peak periods
  • Research free camps and budget camps and include in route
  • Any necessary legal safeguards – wills, power of attorney, enduring guardianship.

1-4 weeks out

  • Create checklist and pack RV (paying attention to correct weight distribution)
  • Book caravan parks for first section of trip
  • Have a farewell party!

Staying Safe on the Road 

Safety on the road is perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when you are planning the “Big Trip” around Australia, however Marg McAlister says it is something that needs consideration before and during the trip.

“Most importantly, you’ll  need to have a safe, roadworthy vehicle and a van that are both suited to the area in which you plan to travel.  Owning the latest 4×4 with winches, tow ropes, CB radios and other bells and whistles isn’t going to help much if you travel into rugged off-road areas while towing a lightweight van not designed for the task. You may get away with it – but it’s more than likely you won’t,” Marg said.

Marg suggests if you are travelling with a partner, can both of you handle towing the rig if one is ill or not able to do the driving and set-up?

“Twice during our trip we came across a travelling duo where one of them was seriously ill. They were unable to continue travelling until the driver had recovered.  This created additional expense and required major changes to their travel plans. 

You’ve probably heard the saying “criminals don’t take holidays”. Practice common sense when securing personal belongings and avoid risky situations where possible.

“Free camping is a popular and economical way of travelling. However, exercise care when choosing a camping spot. Road side rest areas close to towns, with poor facilities, sometimes attract the local ‘hoons’ and may not be the best choice. Tell-tale signs of possible trouble at any camp spot include broken glass, empty alcohol containers, “wheelie” tyre tracks and excess rubbish. Sites that are popular with other free-camping travellers are generally the safest,” Marg said.

On driver fatigue, Marg said it can be avoided if you share the driving chores, but they have found, as have many others, that one person tends to do most of the driving.

“We try and set ourselves somewhere around 300-350 kilometres or approximately 4 hours of driving a day, plus a break mid-way.

“Towing a van does take extra concentration and effort. Pace yourself and enjoy the trip. 

“Finally, make sure someone knows your general travel arrangements. There is no need to check back home with family every time you hop into the car, but arrange a regular “phone home” call so someone knows you are safe, well and enjoying your journey,” Marg suggests.

Author: Marg McAlister, with permission to reprint from Caravan & Motorhome magazine.