Impromptu trips are great. No plan, no schedule, no worries! At least that’s what Alex thought when she hit the road north with some random surfers. She learnt the hard way so you don’t have to.
It started with two boys I barely knew, a poorly packed Hilux, surfboards, and not much else. I was embarking on a trip to Red Bluff Station – a surf break 126km from Carnarvon (a town nine and a half hours from Perth) in Western Australia – with a couple of washed-up, disorganised wave chasers. Long-haired hooligans who knew almost everything about the ocean and very little about planning.
They brought only wetsuits and surfboards, with a T-shirt or two thrown in for good measure. Seemingly crucial items like plates, forks, and sunscreen simply slipped their minds.
Thankfully, I, as the ever-organised, over-packing type, remembered to bring a single plate, bowl, knife, spoon, fork and pot. And we lived off that.
This is a tale about being stranded in the middle of nowhere, everything you really shouldn’t do when camping, and some things you really should!
1. Don’t: Arrive in the Dark
Leaving for a 10-hour drive at 2 in the afternoon is not the wisest decision you’ll ever make. Especially, when it’s the middle of winter and it’s pitch black by 7pm. To say I was terrified, as I watched hundreds of kangaroos frame the edges of the road while we drove through the eerie echoes of darkness, would be a grave understatement.
We arrived at our slice-of-paradise destination to nothing but blackness and a star-studded sky – at a humble 1 o’clock in the morning. Much to the dismay of some unhappy campers as the Hilux chuffed through the campground
Arriving in the dark only sets you up for failure when you’re tasked with a tent, galing winds, and you forgot to bring a torch.
2. Don’t: Use Your Phone as a Torch
Invest in a headlamp. Stop the silly business of thinking it’s an unnecessary waste of money. Save the hassle of trying to balance your iPhone against the salt and pepper shaker, spend the money, and make your life a hundred times easier
We didn’t have one and trust me, setting up the tent took a whole lot longer than it needed to. At 1am.
3. Don’t: Forget Sunscreen
Some may say it’s a no brainer, but for others sunscreen will slip your mind almost as easily as it slops on. If you’re planning an adventure, don’t forget your sun protection, getting burnt to a crisp can really ruin your trip.
I’m the type to wear a tinted zinc every single day of the year. Rain, hail or shine. It doubles as foundation and moisturiser, as well as sun protection, so why not secure its spot in your toiletries bag.
I’m also the type to forget really important things when going away on trips. Tent pegs, passports, you get the gist. So, knowing I had already packed my zinc, I proceeded to forget the sunscreen. Quite the frustration when you’re over one hundred kilometres from the nearest town, let me tell you!
Don’t rely on borrowing it from your neighbours, sometimes they bite!
Oh and while we’re here, hats are also a good idea!
Read more: A Guide To Reef & Ocean Safe Sunscreen
4. Don’t: Leave Your Tent Doors Open
When I was younger, I used to live in a tent. At least you’d think I did if you listened to my Mum. I’d run amuck with my brother and sister, constantly leaving the doors wide open, allowing the freshly minted aircon air to escape, letting rogue birds in, insects, and stray cats.
Don’t leave your tent doors unzipped unless you’re a fan of spiders and creepy crawlies. I’ve shared tents with people who enjoy that way of life; the constant buzz of mozzies in your ears while you’re trying to sleep and fresh bulging bites the next morning. I don’t endorse it.
This leads me to my next point.
5. Don’t: Forget Mozzie Repellent
I think I’ve given this explanation enough. Just don’t!
We forgot mozzie repellent on our trip to Red Bluff and were almost eaten alive.
6. Don’t: Forget to Pack Enough Food
While planning for our little escapade, I was the only one who thought to pack food. I packed adequately for myself, but definitely not enough to sustain an extra two constantly starving, surf-depleted boys. Safe to say it wasn’t long before we were down to rations. We were all out of food in three days, except for a couple of rogue baked bean cans.
Read more: A Guide to Your Camp Kitchen
The three-day mark was when things began to get interesting. While sitting on the beach and watching the sunset, one of the boys, Will, decided he had far too much Uni work to do, so it would be best for him to head back to the big smoke to take on his Med degree. So much for a three-week trip…
It was his car we’d taken, so he really could just up and go if he wanted to. The decision was made, he’d be off the next morning, but he assured James (the other guy) and I that his mates would be up in a day or so and would bring us more food, water and gas (as we were running painfully low).
Will also said we could grab a lift with them up to Exmouth, another coastal town, five hours north of Red Bluff and then back home to Perth. Little did we know, that plan was very much not… planned.
7. Don’t: Leave Food Unattended
Ooft, this is a fun one. Not.
Will left and a day later his friends came along, bringing with them some food. At that stage, James and I were two poor, starving, underprepared rookies, who were lucky enough to have van-life pros as neighbours who gave us sympathy food.
Will’s friends arrived in the middle of the night and left our shopping bag full of food on the ground outside. We woke in the morning to half munched bread and a few cracked eggs, not to mention mangled fruit. No thanks to the weird and wonderful beasts who took the open invitation to the best meal of their life.
This experience taught me a couple of things. Firstly, plan ahead and pack enough food. Secondly, never leave your food unattended, especially in the middle of the night.
8. Don’t: Rely on Unmade Plans
After waking in the morning to little more than we began with, we went over to meet and thank the boys who brought the food.
Upon bringing up our Exmouth plans, we discovered the boys had had no idea of the little arrangement. To our dismay, they said they couldn’t commit to taking us further north, not to mention home, because they didn’t have enough car space.
Ah, wonderful. Nothing like being stranded in the middle of nowhere. We had no ride north, but that was the least of our problems. The issue was getting home.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, so when I was offered the opportunity to hitchhike back to Perth with a duo of reef-battered boys en route to the Margaret River doctor, I couldn’t pass it up. After one eventful week, I was finally on my way home.
Sometimes it’s the things that don’t go to plan that make the trip a standout. When things go wrong, you have to step through them and work out a solution.
Read more: Can You Ever Really Fail an Adventure?
Despite all that went wrong, my trip to Red Bluff was one of the best trips of my life. I met so many incredible people who taught me so much. How to be spontaneous and how to let go of what you’ve been holding onto, lessons of resilience and survival. It was a trip where absolutely nothing went to plan, but I got more out of it than I ever imagined I would.
So go travel. Explore. Venture into the unknown. Maybe, just maybe, it will be the best thing you ever do. But there is a limit to how free you can be; learn from my mistakes and you’ll avoid getting into the least desirable situations.