Big trips require big investments in time and money. Here are some tips to ensure you get a good return.
So, the time is fast approaching to take that long-planned caravan trip, or you’re already on the road and want to make the most of your hard-earned time and money. There are a number of ways to maximise your experience.
If you have a hobby or interest, bring along the toys you need: fishing gear for the fisherfolk, binoculars for the bird and animal lovers, a torch for spotting nocturnal animals, a pick and shovel for fossicking, an inflatable kayak, a surfboard, you name it.
Also, choose an itinerary that meets your interests: if the kids are coming along and they love dinosaurs, then Australia’s Dinosaur Trail in Qld between Winton, Hughenden and Richmond won’t disappoint.
Planning ahead will reduce stress on travel days. Pick a destination that doesn’t involve too much driving and allows for a few stops along the way.
Knowing where you are going to camp is important. Choose a campground or caravan park based on your needs: does it allow dogs, is there a pool for the kids to swim in, and is it within walking distance to the shops? If you have a large rig, ring ahead and make sure there is a large site for you.
Becoming a member of one or all of the caravan park associations will give you a discount each time you check into one of your affiliated parks – you can join at any participating park. A holiday or annual pass to each state’s national parks will also save money on entry fees, though (small) camping fees will be extra.
If you have a road atlas that includes maps of various towns, you’ll already know how to get to your destination. A laptop with wireless broadband internet access will allow you to research caravan parks and national park websites and to log onto maps. You can also log on at libraries, cafes, etc.
Plan to arrive while there is plenty of daylight.
If time is limited, you are better off concentrating on one region rather than covering vast distances. For example, if you only have a month, focusing on the Qld section of the Savannah Way is better than attempting the entire journey from Cairns to Broome.
There are also a number of websites that will help you find temporary jobs. This sort of work can extend your time on the road and give you years of touring instead of just weeks or months.
Information centres are great sources of, well, information: look for a blue or yellow italicised ‘i’ to indicate accreditation, which means you’ll get unbiased help. They generally have free maps of the region, along with brochures and other publications. If you have a special interest, such as bushwalking or birdwatching or 4WDing, ask for specific help on that. Also ask about guided tours, ranger-led tours in national parks and so on. Often tourist information centres have displays that lend an insight into the area.
If you’re a member of an automobile association, you’ll have reciprocal membership rights in the other states which entitles you to free or discounted maps, accommodation guides and the like at branch offices and other local outlets.
Of course guide books and field guides can also enhance the journey. Don’t overlook information from locals and other travellers either: they can often point you in the direction of unexpected adventures or experiences. And as you travel, keep an eye out for points of interest along the way: free museums in small towns, memorials, botanical gardens, interpretive and nature walks, historical sites – the list is endless.
Small, guided tours might at first appear expensive but are often well worth the money when you consider the cost of fuel, wear and tear on your vehicle, the advantage of local knowledge and the chance to meet like-minded travellers. They sometimes go to places that are impossible to get to without a 4WD or that may even be closed to ‘normal’ visitors. The key to a good tour is a small operation in a small vehicle; the larger the bus operations aren’t nearly as personal.
For the lone traveller, a camp setup that is easy to manage is essential. A campervan might be the go, or a camper trailer that is easy to erect. A small van will also work so long as you can hook it up on your own.
When travelling alone, it won’t be long before campground neighbours have invited you over for nibbles and drinks. Staying in national parks will allow you to join ranger-guided activities and to meet other campers. Information centres will be able to provide details of local clubs such as the historical society, bowls club and walking club that welcome visitors.
Perhaps the greatest source of marital strife when travelling is reversing the caravan onto a site, and then hooking up again to leave. Find a way to work out this aspect of travel ASAP, and everything else should be smooth sailing.
Another aspect to long-term travel for couples is that, after a period of time in the one place, you might become bored. The Volunteering Australia initiative has a website called GoVolunteer where you can find volunteer opportunities that might just be the highlight of a trip. Also Conservation Connect can alert you to a nearby national park that may need volunteers to plant trees or help rangers clear invasive species.
Getting involved in a hobby such as fishing or fossicking will also enhance your travels. Tours, like those mentioned earlier, are also great for couples if the budget allows.
The main priority for travel with children outside school holidays is education. The first contact should be with your children’s school to develop a program you can work on every day to keep up their studies. Don’t underestimate the time that this will take.
Travel in itself is an education, and the amount of educational information that is out there is staggering. National parks almost always have interpretive centres and signs explaining the geology, the flora and fauna, both indigenous and exploration/settlement history, and guided walks and talks hosted by rangers. By taking full advantage of this, your children won’t just keep up with school back home but be way ahead of the game.
A late afternoon spent watching kangaroos in the Grampians, Vic, followed by some reading on the reproductive behaviour of marsupials, is a lesson with a lot more impact that it would have in a classroom.
Occupying children on travel days may seem like a challenge, but again, there is an opportunity to learn. Give each child a map and points of interest along the way, such as historic telegraph stations and WWII sites along the Stuart Highway. Assign camp chores and, to give parents a break, bring along bicycles so that children can go off for a ride.