Seasoned travellers Mark and Dorothy Griffiths spend at least four months of each year exploring Australia, and present some of their tips and advice based on their experiences so far.
Travelling Australia with tents, campers and caravans is a national pastime. Whether you’re out there for a few weeks or many months, there are great experiences to be had. But sometimes optimism and high hopes are tarnished by the realities of life on the road…
1. SLOW DOWN AND ENJOY THE RIDE
After a working life of two-week holidays, it takes a determined effort to enjoy a relaxed pace of travelling instead of eating up the kilometres. And there are benefits to slowing down. You see the details instead of just the highlights. You have time to think about what you see and appreciate the subtleties. To help us break old habits, on long trips we try not to travel more than about 1000km per week on average. This generally gives us enough time to explore, see the sights and relax.
In the end, though, it’s a balancing act. Sometimes it’s wise to resist the desire to see and do everything. Keep a few experiences for future trips. Make enjoyment the key objective when travelling – definitely not distance, speed or ticking off a list of sights.
2. LOOK AROUND
Once in a while on a long trip we need to devote a couple of days to cleaning our rig, as well as some major laundry time. On such occasions, the site you occupy in a campground can make all the difference. You need plenty of space with no through traffic to dry things out. On such occasions, we always walk around the campground before we check in and specifically ask for a suitable site. We also take a few minutes to note down all the good sites in a campground before we leave. This is useful information to store away for the next visit and to pass on to other travellers.
3. MAKE THE FIRST MOVE
Have you ever had that sinking feeling when you see new neighbours setting up their gear? The kids, the bikes, the boat, the washing machine outside the tent (yes, really!). It’s enough to make you despair about the prospect of peace and quiet. Rather than mumble curses and radiate grumpiness, get chatting and befriend them. Usually you will find them to be quite nice. And if you need to ask them to turn down the music, it’s better to ask someone you already know than to make this request your first contact. So take the initiative!
4. KEEP THE ESSENTIALS TO HAND
Some would have you believe that disaster will strike unless you carry a tonne of spares, such as engine bits, several wheels and a mobile workshop with welding gear. We are all for being prepared but, in our experience, most minor mishaps can be fixed with a combination of gaffer tape, rope, fence wire, shock cord, heavy-duty cable ties, a tarp and a few basic tools. This is our ‘easy access’ kit. It has enabled us to cope with bits shaking loose from vehicles, shattered windows, ripped canvas, excessive rain and the need for extra shade. Of course, we do carry a lot of other stuff, from tin snips to 10A fuses, but happily most of it stays packed away.
5. USE EAR PLUGS
Doof, doof, doof: the scourge of all travellers. Some people cannot live without ‘wallpaper’ music, and the more beautiful the place, the more likely you are to suffer, it seems. Our advice is to always carry ear plugs for those occasions when you want to hurt the person who has played the same noise five times, or wound the hoons celebrating at 1am.
6. BEWARE OF FESTIVALS
In blissful ignorance we arrived in one small community just before a local festival. The campsite was pretty empty and we found a great spot in a shady corner. All seemed fine until two huge motorhomes parked either side of us with awning guy ropes pitched across our towbar. Apparently we had set up in ‘their’ space. It seems they occupied our corner of the campground each year during the festival and they were not going to budge.
Rather than fight it out, we dragged our trailer and attendant gear 10m further away from them and carried on. The next day, we moved on before the deluge of festival goers arrived for three continuous days of partying. So research thoroughly, remember that discretion is sometimes the better part of valour and always carry an extension lead for your power cable. You never know when you may need those extra few metres.
7. NEVER ASSUME YOU WILL BE ALONE
Part of the lure of travelling is to experience the space and silence. When we started on the road we were naïve enough to believe that this great land of ours is pretty empty. Well, that may be true but you wouldn’t know it travelling ‘season’.
Once, we arrived at Palm Valley campground in mid-afternoon to find it utterly deserted. What bliss, we thought! But by the time we returned from a couple of hours’ walking there were about 10 groups there, including a tour bus full of lively young people. So consider solitude an unexpected luxury, not a right.
8. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Just when we think we have seen and heard it all, we are floored by some new experience. Perhaps our most thought-provoking moment was the sudden, fatal heart attack of a fellow camper pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It’s at these moments you realise that no amount of preparation will cover all eventualities. You have to take what comes your way and make the best of it. You’ll probably be surprised by your own resourcefulness when the chips are down.
9. GIVE YOURSELF TIME OUT
We always get cabin fever at some point during a long trip. Consequently, we program in a couple of nights in a city hotel every four or six weeks so we can make use of hot water, explore the city without worrying about transport and sleep in a king-size bed. On a recent trip we parked the trailer in an out-of-town campsite and hit Darwin city. It was great to be able to visit the sunset markets and eat in a restaurant – all within walking distance of our accommodation. And as for the cooked buffet breakfast… need I say more? After the bill is paid (usually a ‘gulp and reach for the credit card’ moment), the idea of simple living on the road has renewed appeal.
10. RECORD YOUR TRIP
When we are too old to travel, we hope we’ll at least be able to reminisce about our past trips. So we’ll need a library of comprehensive trip diaries, fuel usage statistics, maps and GPS records, as well as thousands of photos, videos and sketches.
Well, maybe. We have learned that it’s easy to get too ambitious in the recording department. We once watched a family of five walk around Kings Canyon, each with a digital camera on quick-fire setting. But none of them actually looked at the canyon for more than a few seconds. I imagine they finished the walk with about 3000 photos between them.
Our solution is to be as disciplined as we can be about completing our trip diary each day, editing our photos as we go and processing everything as soon as possible on our return home.
11. DON’T DROWN IN PAPER
If you like touring, then about once a day you will be drawn towards a tourist information centre. Don’t be fooled: these bright and airy places are dens of temptation. They are filled with rack after rack of leaflets, brochures and other stuff all whispering ‘pick me’. Before you know it, you have a fist full of free maps that you don’t need, a list of B&Bs on the other side of the continent that you won’t visit and a postcard of the local town hall that you will never send to anyone and never put into an album.
After a few weeks on the road there will be free paperwork stuffed into every nook and cranny of your vehicle. After a few trips your home will become a storehouse of out-of-date information. Our advice is to resist what you can, read what you can’t and recycle as you go. Donate generously to campsite laundries and fellow travellers, and clear out all gathered paperwork after each trip.