5 Essentials For An Australian Roadtrip — The Long Term Travellers (2024)

Adventure TravelAustraliaOutdoor Travel

Written By Sam Harper

The Australian summer is in full swing, and locals and visitors alike can be found all over the country hitting the beach, planning epic bushwalks, or heading out on the open water with surfboard, sailboat or snorkel set in tow. Although there are endless activities that can be experienced while the country is at it’s warmest, my favourite was always combining these with an epic Aussie road trip. No visit to the land down under is complete without one.

In our year living in Australia, some of my favourite memories come from our adventures on the road; whether it was winding our way along the gorgeous Great Ocean Road, cruising the sandy beaches of Esperance, wildlife spotting on our journey across the Nullarbor, or driving along the red sands of the Northern outback. It is true what they say that driving in Australia is like driving nowhere else on Earth.

5 Essentials For An Australian Roadtrip — The Long Term Travellers (1)

From all of our adventures on the road, including living a superb van life for months in our beloved 4WD (one that we are in the midst of writing about), we’ve put together 5 essentials to make your Australian road trip a success - things that we’ve learned both the easy way and the hard way after thousands of kilometres driving across this vast and formidable landscape.

Before you hit the open road….

Just before getting to our list of essentials, here are a few things to think about before you get behind the wheel, especially if you’re visiting Australia from abroad.

These bits aren’t meant to turn you off, we’ve just always found it better to have a heads up about a few things. A hefty ticket or a wildlife encounter gone wrong can certainly change the tone of your trip, and managing expectations beforehand can make sure you’re set up to have the best time.

The Left Side

Australians drive on the left side of the road, like the UK, South Africa and New Zealand. If you’re visiting from a country that drives on the right side of the road, it does take a bit of practice as your instincts will get the better of you. Head somewhere remote to practice before heading anywhere with loads of traffic. Unlike the UK, Australia uses the metric system, so you’ll see distances displayed in kilometres, not miles.

Have a Valid Licence

If you’re the one planning on driving, make sure you have a valid licence and, depending on which state/territory you’ll be driving in, an international driving permit. Make sure your licence is current, in good standing, and that you’re only driving the vehicles in which your licence allows. You’ll see both automatic and manual transmission down in Aus, but most 4WD are manual, so keep this in mind if you’re planning on going off-road.

Head to Gov Australia’s site and choose the state you are looking to drive in to get clued up on traffic laws and licence requirements.

Traffic Laws

Traffic laws are very strictly enforced in Australia. Some laws change depending on which state or territory you’re driving in, so make sure you read over the laws in place. In our experience, officers won’t be lenient if you claim you’re just visiting and didn’t know.

Speed limits in particular should be followed. Even as much as a few kilometres over the limit can land you with a ticket. Look for a GPS that displays current speed limits as some roads will still have limits but may not be well sign posted, residential areas and school zones are particularly well enforced. Out of all the states/territories we drove in, we found Victoria to be the most strict.

Other traffic laws that should be on your radar is that seatbelts should be worn at all times, and mobile use while driving is illegal. You will be pulled over and given a ticket if you are seen touching or using your phone in any way - even if it’s for directions. Make sure you pre-program your GPS before you head off, and stop safely in a layby if you’re needing to make a call or change your Maps location. It goes without saying that drinking and driving can incur serious penalties. The legal limit for Aus is having blood alcohol under 0.05 if you hold a full licence (it's 0% if you hold a probationary licence). If you’re headed for a night out, just appoint a DD or book a cab in advance.

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Wildlife on the road

Be aware of wildlife on the road! There is a very good chance you’ll see wild kangaroos, emus, wombats, echidnas, and livestock, especially if you’re heading somewhere remote. The good thing about Australia is that most roads are quite long and flat, meaning you can see for miles ahead of you. Try not to swerve if an animal does take you off guard, but be travelling at a speed that allows you to slow down safely.

If you do see a kangaroo or wombat on the side of the road, and it is sporting an ‘x’ mark on it, don’t be too alarmed. This simply means local conservation groups have been by to check the deceased animal for infants in their pouches, which they then take to raise until they are ready to be re-released into the wild.

Rest Stops

Rest stops can be seen frequently along roadsides across the country (especially in more remote areas), and unlike other places around the world, it is actively encouraged that you use them to take a break or get some rest. Driving times are long and road accidents unfortunately happen often with tired drivers. If you’re feeling like you are nodding off on a particularly long drive, pull over and make use of a rest stop, it’s what they’re there for.

Toll Roads

Some motorways around Australia’s largest cities (Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne) have tolls, meaning you have to pay to use them. You can do this by either paying for an e-tag or pass in advance, or pay up to three days after you use the road. Try Linkt, which is an easy way to navigate this payment by opening an account on their online site and/or downloading their app.

Crossing Borders

Depending on how far you’re headed, it’s likely you’ll pass a state border and you may encounter checkpoints that require vehicle searches and/or a declaration of what you’re driving with. When we were crossing the WA/SA border, Steve and I didn’t realise you couldn’t bring uncooked food with you across (disease/insect control). As we had just gotten a shop, we turned round to the nearest beach and had a beach picnic where we cooked off everything and ate all of the fruit we had just bought so it didn’t go to waste.

If you’re renting a vehicle, triple check if there are any requirements of staying within the state you rented from for insurance purposes. If you’ve bought a vehicle, just be wary if you’re moving to another state before it’s due for a service/ MOT. You may have to go through changing your rego/ plates to the new state. Another reminder that traffic laws may be subject to change after you cross that border.


Finally, if there are severe weather warnings where you’re headed, change up your route or consider another destination. Weather events can be wild in Australia, and especially if you have a car that’s not fit for purpose, you may find yourself in a bit of a bind. Below is a photo from a particularly interesting trip where we found ourselves driving after some flooding - luckily our friend had a ute with a snorkel.

Without further ado, here are 5 essentials to make your road trip adventure a success:

  1. A vehicle fit for purpose

First things first, you’ll need a vehicle that’s fit for purpose. In a place as vast as Australia, you’ll want one that’s reliable and that has been recently serviced.

If you’re planning a holiday (shorter term/ less than a month), renting is the most obvious option. Campervans are very popular for exploring the country’s best tourist routes. The Sydney to Cairns East Coast route is a very popular route (for good reason), as well as the southern coast of Victoria; Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road. If these two journeys are in your sights, a campervan will do you just fine, and the rental companies will make sure you have all the amenities you need. Due to the popularity of these areas, there are quite a few amenities along the routes which means there are more service stations (servos) and food options dotted along.

If you’re headed for any kind of off-road trip, whether that be a dirt road, beach drive, into the snowy mountains or the outback, make sure you rent a 4WD. Be completely transparent with the rental companies about where you’re planning on going and what you want to do in your vehicle. They’ll be able to help you choose a 4WD that can be equipped with things like a built-on roo bar, spare tyres, snorkels or high suspension.

You’ll want to keep the same things in mind if you choose to buy a vehicle, say if you’re staying longer term (6 months or more). Re-read what we mentioned above about rego/plates if you’re buying in one state and plan to take it to another state. When you purchase the vehicle, get it serviced straight away and ask the garage or mechanic to talk over a few things- especially if you are going to take it away from the main roads.

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2. Extra fuel

From our time living in the outback, we realised just how important and essential carrying extra fuel is, and knowing exactly where the next fuel stop will be. One of our first encounters, driving over 5 hours to get to Broome on the North-West Coast, saw us without jerry cans and running on fumes until we came across a completely random servo, marked with a small wooden sign that was pure luck. We definitely learned our lesson there.

By the time we were setting up to drive across the Nullarbor, we had opted for a vehicle with a reserve tank. As we were driving and living in our 4WD that we had converted, we didn’t want jerry cans of fuel in the vehicle but were aware of the distances between fuel stops. We had tested how long both our main tank and reserve tank would go for while driving from Perth to Margaret River, where there were plenty of stops. All of the service stations around Esperance and Norseman offered us the same card when we were topping up: a list of all of the servos within a 2,000 kilometre radius which proved invaluable.

If you do find yourself run out of fuel, don’t leave your car. You may be out of service, but stay put and wait for someone to drive by. It’s not worth chancing your luck walking with the temperature extremes and just overall personal safety.

3. Sufficient provisions

Especially when driving in rural and remote areas of Australia, pack enough food and water to be able to sustain yourself for at least a few days, depending on how far you’re intending to travel. Stops may be infrequent and the towns and facilities will become further and further apart.

With our longest road trips, we had fitted out our 4WD with a camp-style kitchenette in the back, with an esky (cooler), outdoor folding table, camping chairs and a butane cooking stove. We brought along heaps of canned goods, non-perishables, and gallon tanks of water, and picked up fresh food whenever we happened upon a shop (we mentioned it briefly above, but try not to buy heaps of fresh food if you’re planning on crossing a border). This was a great option for us, and we definitely recommend it for whatever road trip you have planned.

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4. Some mechanical knowledge

We consider this an essential because depending on where you’re headed, you might be a long way from the next stop. If you get a flat or puncture a tyre, overheat your engine or have lights on your dash come up, having some mechanical knowledge, at least in the context of your vehicle, is going to be needed.

Calling the local mechanic may not be an option depending on where you are, because not only may you be out of service, but the local might be hours away. Our advice is to either take a small course before you go, get a mechanic friend to teach you the basics, or learn by yourself- there are plenty of resources online to get to know your vehicle intimately. Like we mentioned above, if you do find yourself with a breakdown that you’re not able to fix, stay with your vehicle and wait until someone passes.

There are a few safeguards you could put in place if this is something on your mind. You can let family or friends know your basic trip details so that if you don’t check in, they can contact services and let them know your intended route. Another safeguard would be considering renting or buying a satellite phone. The number for emergency services in Australia is 000.

If this is a bit too much for the experience you want to have, no bother. Just stay within a few hours radius of the cities or other more mainstream destinations, where amenities are set up for tourists and other travellers, and avoid going further inland.

5. A sense of adventure (and patience)

This one is super important! Australia is so vast that you’ll no doubt have days that are just hours and hours of driving, sometimes with little change to the surrounding landscape. You’ll glance at the map and see, even after days, that you’ve made it a tiny distance on your map from where you started.

What you’ll need from yourself, and from your travel companions, is a sense of adventure. You’ll need good chat, decent car games, similar tastes in music, and an appreciation of all the weird and wonderful things that Aus has to keep roadtrippers thoroughly entertained around the country.

Coming across them by chance is all part of the fun, so we won’t spoil it too much, but for one example, you can definitely expect to see at least one “big thing”. Usually inexplicable, Australia has a number of “big things” that are pretty hilarious and odd. A favourite of mine was the giant Kangaroo holding a jar of Vegemite at the SA/ WA border (just in case you forgot what country you were travelling in).

There’s also the more interactive experiences, like the longest golf course in the world, spanning 1,365km over 18 holes across the Nullarbor links. There’s more cultural experiences, like enjoying the Silo Art Trail, so keep your eyes peeled for the silos and water towers on your journey. And of course, the road signs are unlike anywhere else. There’s not many other places in the world that have signs to look out for wild camels, or signs that boast about having the world’s longest straight road.

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If you’re planning on heading to the land down under, whether it’s for a couple of weeks, months or years, you absolutely won’t regret heading out onto the open road. No matter where you go, you’re guaranteed to have a super unique and awesome experience. Stay safe and have fun.

Happy Adventuring!

Australian Roadtrip Essentials

Sam Harper

5 Essentials For An Australian Roadtrip — The Long Term Travellers (2024)


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