How to Plan a Trip

Getting ready for the road, be it a three week trip or a three year trip might seem something of a daunting task, whether you are a 4WDriver, tow a camper trailer or caravan or drive a luxurious motorhome. In this article we assume that you have already chosen the itinerary and now need to go about setting up your vehicle and planning the logistics of the trip.
Created: June 2008
Revised: September 2009
Latest Feedback: September 2016

Intinerary

From then on, there are a number of logistics to be thought about – everything from making a trip budget to getting your mail forwarded, so start by putting together a list of every trip requirement you can think of and put them in a practical order. Here are items to think about. See Making Your Itinerary.

Budget

This is going to vary for just about everyone but whether you are planning a short trip or an extended one, unless you have access to a money tree, then budgeting is a necessary evil. It would be a shame to be half way through your lifetime dream trip and run out of the folding stuff!

Oddly enough the two most expensive items that most people incur when travelling begin with the letter ‘F’ – food and fuel! Calculating your weekly food bill shouldn’t be too hard – you know what you eat at home – there’s your starting figure, then factor in how many times per week you think you'll eat out. Clearly, if you stock up in major centres, prices will generally be less than what you'll pay in smaller towns, however its always nice to contribute to smaller communities so plan to stop and sample something local along the way too.

Fuel Costs

Calculating fuel costs is much more of a challenge. It basically comes down to calculating your proposed trip kilometres and working off your average fuel consumption to get your litre usage. Once you have that figure then get an average cost per litre and multiply it out. There are a few publications and websites that have distance calculations and fuel cost figures to make it a bit easier. See our: Trek Fuel Consumption Database for the full list of fuel consumption data. This data has been submitted by site members and users who have logged their fuel usage after travelling on one of the treks. Obviously, fuel costs vary across the country, so you may wish to search through our Australia-wide National Fuel Prices for daily updates and trend reports.

Other Costs

Other trip costs to be budgeted for include caravan park fees, vehicle maintenance, known medical items, laundry charges, phone calls, outings, photography expenses and reading material. Not to be forgotten are those back home costs, if you have a family home somewhere – council rates, energy costs and mail redirection. As a loosely applied average, $100 per day for a couple works out to be about right.

Ongoing Costs Back Home

Most people will still have ongoing costs occuring back home whilst they are on their travels. Obviously, this depends on how long you travel for and what arrangements you have made for your home. Any house maintenance requirements should be organized. For example: pool care, lawn mowing and clearing out the mail box. Regular checks on the house if it is empty by a friend or relative should be done and items like the mail cancelled. Mail forwarding, if it is not being done by someone can be handled by one of the excellent commercial mail forwarding services. See our Staying in Touch when Travelling article for more about these. Also, don’t forget to consider if you'll incur kennel or cattery charges for the care of family pets that aren't coming along on your trip.

Research

As stated at the beginning of this article, before you begin planning the logistics of your trip, you really ought to know exactly where you're going. So make sure you read our Making an Itinerary article first.

If you are planning a lengthy trip then it’s essential to undertake some research – how far you intend to travel, places you’d like to see and things you’d like to do, restrictions, permits and suggestions for best time of year to travel to certain locations. If you have to return from your trip by a certain date, you'll have a better chance if you have prepared a schedule, even if its just an outline. It can be surprising how quickly you'll lose track of time when you get out on the road and become part of the travelling community.

Rather than have a bundle of maps to keep tidy, it’s a worthwhile investment to purchase a good quality road atlas to cover the whole of Australia and then as you move around visit the tourist offices to get local maps and information. Depending on your computer skills you might also prefer the option of using digital maps (stored on your computer). For more information about this see our Navigation topic containing a number of detailed articles and links to mapping software in our Shop.

Communications

There’s a varied selection here – all have advantages and disadvantages and it’s a good idea to have a couple of options set up. Most people have a digital mobile phone, sadly there are many places in the bush where there’s no reception. CDMA mobiles improve things slightly and satellite phones work just about everywhere but are very expensive to use. In the radio transmitter/ receiver department, there are CB/UHF radios which work well over short distances and HF radios for long distance communication. The latter is quite expensive to set up and a bit specialist but if you are going bush for long periods of time, then HF radios can be used to hook into the Flying Doctor network if there is an emergency. For a more detailed review of each option see our Communications topic for detailed articles on each of the options mentioned above.

People who like to communicate in writing with others on a regular basis either visit internet cafes or take a notebook computer (laptop) along and hook up to the internet as, and when they can, through their mobile phones.

Of course there is always Australia Post and Telstra landlines. Both still work remarkably well and there are a few commercial enterprises that will act as post restante facilities for a fee. Your incoming mail is readdressed to them and when you want to collect, you simply advise them of where you will be in a few days time and it all gets posted on.

Staying in Touch when TravellingWith today's technology, staying in touch with our friends and family when travelling is relatively easy. Using the internet, sending email, mobile phones, satellite devices, and online tracking services for both emergency and position logging are all discussed in this article along with tips for how to manage your postal mail. See Staying in Touch when Travelling.

Photography

This may sound obvious but give some thought as to how you are going to keep a photographic record of your trip. There is of course, the choice of either still or video photography, depending on your preference. With still photography there is now the further choice of either digital or film technology. Digital is very much the ‘in thing’ and certainly convenient for many people but don’t assume that film cameras are no longer any good. Indeed, quite the opposite, with many professionals still using film because of things like print quality and not wishing to spend hours at a computer manipulating images. Without getting into the pros and cons argument, it really comes down to how you wish to view and store your photographic efforts. Don’t forget that when using print film, some labs, as well as printing your pics, can now scan them to disc as well, which means you can easily pop your favourite photos into an email to send to all your friends and family during your trip for very little cost.

Taking Great PhotosPhotography is a way some people record the places they've been, special moments in life, or is a way to express creativity. No two people see the world in the same way and this is evident in the various styles and views people show in their photographs. Since the popularity of digital cameras, more people are enjoying photography and sharing photos via computers, emails and websites. See Taking Great Photos.


Note - one of the benefits of becoming an ExplorOz member is the ability to upload your photos to a Members Gallery. This way, for no additional charge, you can even have your photos published on the internet during your trip to allow your family and friends to view them easily. For more information click on Membership.

Preparing Your Vehicle

Maintenance/Repairs

Getting your 4WD or tow vehicle, caravan or motorhome in top mechanical order is mandatory. If there is anything mechanically wrong then get it fixed before you leave. It is very expensive and can be time consuming to effect roadside repairs out in the middle of nowhere.

Items on a caravan or trailer to be checked include brakes, bearings, suspension and tyres. All those items often get ignored and need attention whether they have been used regularly or not and tyres can simply perish by doing nothing. Consult your local caravan servicer/repairer if you don’t feel confident about handling the job yourself. If you have a van that’s been on the road for a few years, then have a good look at the chassis for any signs of damage or cracking, especially around suspension and body mountings. Any problems should certainly be dealt with sooner rather than later.

Lights, electrics and gas systems should also be checked. Running lights in particular can be a problem if moisture has been able to get inside the lens cover. If your RV hasn’t been used for a while, then it’s prudent to check all the appliances to make sure they function. Don’t forget to inspect the power lead if it’s a few years old – for a nominal fee it can be “tested and tagged” by a licensed electrician.

Spares

It’s something of a dilemma in deciding what spares to take along but there are some basic things which should be on board.
  • Fan belt

  • Any other belts that the engine might have

  • Radiator hoses

  • Spark plugs

  • Engine oil

  • Coolant

  • Spare wheel and tyre to suit caravan – some owners get matching tow vehicle and trailer wheels – means two spares for each vehicle.

  • Insulating tape

  • Electrical wire

  • Spare light globe selection

  • 12V fuses
Spare Parts and ToolsKnowing what to take on a trip must firstly begin with specific requirements to keep your vehicle running and how to conduct roadside service if the vehicle breaks down. If you are driving a 4WD vehicle then this means you need additional gear such as recovery equipment, and since mechanical breakdown in a remote area could mean certain death for the vehicle occupants, you must be able to conduct basic bush maintence and have the tools and spare parts to get the vehicle moving again. See Spare Parts and Tools.

Tools and other equipment

Deciding what tools to take along depends to some extent on your mechanical ability. It’s worth nothing that basic items should be carried because even if you don’t know what to do, there might well be someone else around with the knowledge. Make sure you have anything unique to your particular vehicle. It could be frustrating to have a spare fan belt but not the ‘special service tool no. 5678’ required to change it! Consider the following.
  • Assortment of spanners, screwdrivers and socket set to suit sizes on car & caravan.

  • Wheel brace to suit wheel nuts on car and caravan.

  • Decent jack to suit car and caravan.

  • Tyre gauge.

  • Can of WD40 or similar.

  • Wheel chocks.

  • Blocks for placing under corner stabilisers when ground is soft or under a wheel when site not level.

  • Simple multimeter (if you know how to use it) for electrical checks.

Hitching Up

Packing

A casual look around the average caravan park reveals that far too many travellers overload their rigs. It’s a fact that all 4WDs and Recreational Vehicles have a legal design weight on what they can carry and many travellers seem to like to test this out. If you have been caravanning/motorhoming for a while, then it might not be a bad idea before loading your RV to unload everything first and see what you haven’t used for a while. If you are new to RV’ing, then resist the temptation to fill every cupboard the first time you travel!

Speaking of cupboards, in many RV’s they are usually lots of empty space, which does make things tricky for keeping stored items still when moving along. Some people resort to towels and pillows to keep things well packed. Alternatively there’s anti-slip matting which works very well and some clever people build little racks for breakables like plates, cups and glasses.

Weight

Before setting off into the sunset with a caravan fully packed, it’s a good idea to check out both the all-up weight and the ball weight of the loaded van. That can easily be done by driving the van to a weigh bridge and without unhitching, take a weight measurement with just the van wheels on the weigh bridge. That will give you the weight on the axles. A second measurement should be taken with the van unhitched and both the van wheels and the jockey wheel on the weighbridge. This will give you the all up weight. By subtracting the axle weight from the all up weight, you will get the weight on the jockey wheel (ball weight). This, to give a good handling combination, should be about 10 per cent of the all up weight. If it is not, then it will be time to move some stored items either backwards or forwards in the van. If there is still a problem, then it’s time to seek some specialist advice.

Keeping Level

In addition to getting the weight ratios right, having the van level also adds to driving stability. This may require modification to the ball mount or towing hitch to get it and the caravan tow hitch nearly level – a more common problem with larger 4WD’s. However, especially with larger vans, having a weight distribution hitch is almost mandatory as well. Don’t just assume that beefing up the rear suspension of the tow vehicle will fix things because it won’t In effect a weight distribution hitch transfers weight from the tow vehicle rear wheels to the front wheels, thus making the entire rig much more stable. Again, if you have a problem with this, then seek specialist advice.

Preparing a Vehicle for TowingEveryone who intends to tow a caravan, or indeed any sort of trailer, needs to be aware that various tow vehicle and trailer combinations can behave in slightly different ways and certainly different from just driving the tow vehicle itself. See Tow Vehicle Setup.

Shakedown Trip

If you are new to this kind of travel or have just purchased a brand new rig, and if contemplating a lengthy trip, it is worthwhile doing a much shorter trip first. Even if it is only a week, this will give an excellent idea of what RV travel is all about, items you may or may not need and should also show up any faults that can be rectified before undertaking lengthier travel.

After all that, you are just about ready to set off!

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