Thinking of road-tripping around the country? Doing a lap or half-lap of Australia? Look no further! Zoe answered the most frequently asked questions.
We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Country on which this adventure takes place who have occupied and cared for this land and water for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
I travelled around Australia in the back of a 4WD for six months. Whenever it comes up, I get asked a lot of questions.
‘You lived in a car for half a year!? How did you…. Y’a know…. go to the toilet? Did you shower…?’
After having my overseas gap-year plans dashed, my partner and I hurriedly brainstormed other ways to get out there and explore. Australia was the natural option (aren’t we lucky!) and so during those early lockdowns, as the first waves of coronavirus washed up on Australia’s shores, we bunkered down and built a bed frame and drawers in the back of the 4WD.
As soon as lockdowns lifted and borders opened, we were off! We began the East Coast pilgrimage north, in awe of the eucalypt forests, crystalline waters and seemingly perfect waves of the surf coast. We ventured all the way to Cape Tribulation and the renowned Daintree Rainforest (which has just been returned to its Traditional Owners), headed west across the Savannah Way to Darwin, down the Red Centre through Alice Springs and into South Australia.
All up, we travelled for six months, doing half a lap of this big beautiful country and barely even scratching the surface.
Here are the most common questions asked by aspiring road trippers or people who are just intrigued about living on the road.
What was the highlight? Your favourite places?
This, by far, is the first question that people ask and is, by far, the hardest to answer. I could give you a highlight or an amazing story from every single day on the road. Sharing experiences in some of the most exquisite natural places on earth, with some of the most wonderful humans, makes for a magical combination.
There were a few places that stand out, largely for their natural beauty:
- In NSW: Gillard’s Beach Campground (Mimosa Rocks NP), Samurai Beach campground, Seal Rocks, Crescent Head, Bellingen, the waterfalls and rainforest of Dorrigo NP.
- QLD: Noosa, Double Island Point/Cooloola beach drive, K’gari (Fraser Island), Magnetic Island.
- A boat trip (we got a good deal) around the Whitsunday Islands and our time in Airlie beach.
- All of Tropical North Queensland – the enchanting rainforests, waterholes and coral reef ecosystem!
- The entire Northern Territory was a highlight. Mataranka springs, Nitmiluk NP (Katherine Gorge), Kakadu and Litchfield NPs, The MacDonnell Ranges (Tjoritja) are all breathtaking.
Where did you stay?
My number one piece of advice for people travelling around Australia is to get WikiCamps (or something similar)! WikiCamps was our road-trip-bible on where to stay – the best $8 we spent (no this is not a paid ad!).
Read more: WikiCamps is our number 1 too! Explore more outdoor apps.
We adjusted the filters to include only ‘free’ campsites, places to fill up our water and fuel stops (which were super important in remote areas where every fuel stop counts). On a few occasions we stayed in state forests in NSW (where you’re allowed to camp) or ‘stealth’ camped in a street somewhere, parking at night to sleep and leaving at sunrise. In many parts of Australia, it’s illegal to sleep in your car, so make sure to check local council regulation.
We mostly stayed in free camps and national parks, many of which are paid campsites where the fees go to conservation of the park and maintenance of the beautiful campgrounds – no qualms paying for those beautiful sites to be preserved!
Being Aussies ourselves, we were lucky to have a number of connections scattered around and stayed with family and friends. These were some of the best times that we had and allowed us to live as locals (not to mention the home cooked meals, showers and a kettle that boiled water instantaneously!).
You lived in a car! How did you stay clean? What about showers (and toilets!)
I get asked this question surprisingly often and I think my answer surprises people. Obviously, everyone is different, but I felt the cleanest I ever have while travelling. Your body definitely adapts (and maybe your sense of smell does too!).
We would go weeks without a ‘proper’ shower, using the icy beach showers or bathing in waterholes. There is absolutely nothing better than showering under a waterfall.
Read more: Staying Safe Around Swimming Holes
Admittedly, we did get a bit grimy hiking and sweating under Australia’s lethal sun and unfortunately there’s not always a swimming hole handy. In these cases, baby wipes and deodorant were our saviour. We’d do a dance and sing, ‘baby-wipe shower, we’re having a baby-wipe shower!’
Really, there are showers everywhere if you seek them out; national park campgrounds, life-saving clubs along the coast, even lots of service stations have free showers (not that we used them, but you could…).
The toilet situation was equally easy, you’d be surprised at how many public toilets there are once you start to look. If we were really in the middle of nowhere, we’d dig a hole! I now pride myself on my pro bush-tinkles.
One of the pillars of outdoor travel, whether you’re hiking or road tripping, is ‘leave no trace’, so when you do your business in nature, make sure to dig a deep hole more than 100m away from a water source and take your toilet paper out with you!
Read more: How To Poo in the Bush
Was it expensive?
It was a (pleasant) shock how little we spent travelling for half a year. Each of us spent a bit over $6k all up, so $1k per month, or $250 a week. Compared to the overseas travel we’d both planned to do, or paying rent, it was markedly cheaper.
In saying that, we were very conscious of spending as little as possible (we were real stingey buggers). Our attitude was: cheap, cheap, cheap, unless we feel like we’re missing out. We paid for national parks passes, fuel, food, campsites and a few hostels, and not much else, eating out rarely, sleeping in some pretty derelict free camps, seeking out cheap fuel and buying fresh local food and specials.
By not eating out or staying at accommodation too often, we could splurge on experiences like getting our diving certification and eating out at an amazing Japanese restaurant on my birthday. It’s all about balance!
For those who are major budgeters and economics savvy, my partner made an excel spreadsheet of our expenses (I know, he’s a nut). Here’s where we spent our money:
Did you feel safe?
Living in the car was like being inside a little cocoon. Because we could lock ourselves in, it felt really secure.
We only had one truly scary moment, free camping in a state forest near Jervis Bay, NSW. It was dark and we were reading in bed when we heard gunshots. Being a state forest, we assumed it was people hunting, nonetheless it was pretty scary.
On a few rare occasions a campsite would feel eerie and unsettling, so we’d just move on.
We took a satellite phone with us (mainly for long hikes), but it’s a good idea to have an EPIRB, PLB, or a sat phone while travelling – just in case.
Living in such a small space for so long, did the two of you get sick of one-another or fight a lot?
This is more of a personal question, but asked a lot. Relationships are as varied as all the people you meet, so my answer may not help everyone.
For us, it was great… travelling together and camping is the best way to truly get to know a person and understand your relationship. Things will inevitably come up and you’ll have to work through them, but you’ll also be sharing so many amazing experiences that bring you together.
You’ll each have bad days, get frustrated and need some space, but communicating, being sensitive to another person’s moods and needs, and being open and honest about how you’re going is essential.
Maybe you’ll work out it’s not meant to be, or maybe you’ll realise that you are the best team. An experience like living on the road brings out the absolute joys of living in a partnership and it also brings up some of our deepest insecurities and troubles. There’s nowhere to hide living in 2m2 with another person for six months. If you’re worried, don’t be. It’ll teach you a lot about yourself and about one another.
My Mum did the maths and worked out that living 24/7 on the road for six months is the equivalent to being married for seven years! So, if we seem like an old married couple now, it’s because we kind-of are.
Did you meet heaps of people?
Yes, we sure did! This was one of the best parts of travelling. We met other travellers, locals, of all different ages, from all different walks of life. Being friendly to people and having a chat opened us up to some of the most incredible lives and led to some of the deepest, life-long friendships. Don’t shy away from saying hello to strangers!
What stood out as the major differences between the states and territories of Australia?
I don’t think I fully appreciated the vastness of this country and the distinctiveness of the states and territories before embarking on this adventure. Australia. Is. BIG. Spanning vastly different climate zones, not only does the climate and geography vary significantly between states and territories, but the culture in each place varies markedly too. It was a real reckoning; Queenslanders really don’t care about the footy. [Editor’s Note: AFL]
Do you feel proud to be Australian?
James’s Dad asked us this question one night over the phone and it was a tricky one to answer. Some people might say ‘bloody oath yeah!’ straight away, but I just couldn’t find it in me to say ‘yes’ unequivocally. Travelling through this vast country was a privilege. I brushed up against the most incredible natural environments in the world, met some of the most enchanting, wise and fun characters and learned so much about this country I call home.
First Nations people have called this land their home for 65,000+ years, their sovereignty was never ceded. To have the money and time to travel – to explore, to learn and to think – is a privilege.
I’m still reckoning with the colonial history of this land, my place in Australia and how it can be better; how I can use my privilege to make it better. Voting to have Aboriginal Australians represented in Parliament, being an ally and platforming Aboriginal voices, educating young people (and all Australians!) are some steps. I read Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World by Tyson Yunkaporta while travelling through the NT and recommend this book to everyone. The film In My Blood It Runs is also a must-watch.
As young caucasian Australians we found that some other Australians would make horrible racist remarks to us, expecting agreement. We were horrified. Encountering mainly travellers from overseas, we also heard way too many horror-stories of abuse taking place on farms (where backpackers have to do mandatory work for their visas). We also came face-to-face with rampant ecological destruction, saddened by how much land had been cleared to make way for industry, farming, and sprawling suburbia.
I hope to be able to say ‘yes, I’m proud to be Australian’ one day, when we have reconciled with our colonial past, begin to value and protect ecosystems for their inherent wealth, stop greedily exploiting the land and its people, create a culture of valuing the diverse backgrounds of all Australians, welcome those seeking asylum on our shores with compassion.
One day I hope I can say I’m proud, but that day isn’t today. There’s much work to be done. Travel has only made me more passionate and driven to seek a better Australia.
Travelling around Australia, our ‘home’, has taught me so much. I wholeheartedly encourage others to get out there and open themselves up to this big, beautiful island. There’s so much for all of us to learn, and I hope that this has answered some queries about road tripping around Australia! Hopefully one day I’ll see you out there on the road!
Ready for your own road-tripping adventure? Start planing your trip here.