The great road trip guide

RACV RoyalAuto magazine

Ah, the freedom of the open road. The chance to explore at your own pace, stopping where you want, when you want. The wind in your hair, the sun on your face, the ... lack of accommodation because you didn't book ahead.

The boredom of eating at service stations because you've mistimed your lunch stops  and nothing else is open. The sinking feeling that everything would be so much better if only you'd planned your trip instead of winging it. Sound familiar? Whether you're a road trip regular or a first-timer, a little bit of planning goes a long way. Here are our top tips to help your road trip go smoothly.

Before you go

  • Work out where you're going and which route you'll take to get there. The fastest route may not be the most scenic or enjoyable; see if there are alternative routes that allow you to take it slow and enjoy the ride. Need help planning a Victorian trip? There's heaps of trip-planning info here, including accommodation and things to see and do.
  • Factor in plenty of rest stops. This will help you to stay alert and resist the temptation to 'push on' to the next major town. A list of rest stops in Victoria is here. Further afield, more than 60 venues in NSW are taking part in the Free Cuppa for the Driver scheme, and a handy app shows their locations. Driver Reviver stops can be found in many parts of Australia, and the National Public Toilet Map website or Apple app is also worth checking out (especially if you're travelling with kids).
  • Find out if there are any attractions en route, and check if they offer discounted entry to RACV members.
  • Book accommodation/camping sites in advance. Big-name restaurants or winery tours may also need to be booked ahead.
  • Decide which car you're going to drive. Is your car the most suitable, or is your road trip companion's car more comfortable/suited to the terrain/fuel efficient/roomier? Do you need to buy a new car for the trip? If so, an RACV car loan can help.
  • Would you be better off hiring a car? A coastal road trip in a rented convertible is much more fun than in a cramped hatchback with no air-conditioning.
  • Save on fuel by pre-purchasing Woolworths WISH Gift Cards.
  • If you're taking your pets on the road, book pet-friendly accommodation. Lonely Planet's Travel With Dogs is packed with tips, although you might prefer to book your four-legged friends into a boarding kennel/cattery instead.
  • Make your house look as though it's still being lived in while you're away. You could organise a house-sitter, or just ask someone you trust to collect your mail and water your garden while you're away. If you plan to be away for a long time, suspend subscriptions to newspapers and have your mail redirected. Install timers on your lights and program them to switch on/off at appropriate times. And secure your home with RACV before you go.

Check your car

  • If possible, have your car serviced before your planned getaway. You can save on a service by taking your car to an RACV accredited service centre.
  • At the very least, before you set off, check that your car's brakes, battery and tyres (including the spare) are in good condition.
  • Clean all the windows (to aid visibility) and vacuum the interior (trust us, long-distance driving is much more enjoyable in a clean car).
  • Make sure you have a first-aid kit, torch and spare batteries, at least two litres of water, a small tool kit, jumper leads, rope, a jack, a tyre pump and pressure gauge.
  • Connect your smartphone to your car – the Connected Vehicle app can help you find cheaper fuel, avoid congestion and even remember where you parked.

On the road

  • Whether you're a driver or a passenger, learn to recognise the signs of driver fatigue. The Too Tired to Drive checklist is an easy way to work out if you should be driving. Print it out and take it with you. Above all, don't drive if you're tired – it can be fatal.
  • Remember all those rest stops you planned? Take them! And take the unplanned rest stops, too – seeing wacky roadside attractions is part of the fun of a road trip.
  • As tempting as it may be, do not broadcast your road trip (or any other holiday) over social media. Posting about being away from home is akin to sticking a flashing sign on your roof saying “Burglars welcome”. Save your posts and photos for when you're back – uploading them later on is a great way to relive your trip, too.

Tips for travelling with kids

  • Before you go, ask older children/teenagers to research some of the stops. This helps them to engage with the road trip planning and they can act as tour guides along the way.
  • Pack plenty of healthy snacks, drinks and activities. These can all be offered in a lucky dip style to add an element of surprise to the trip.
  • It's easy to give kids an “electronic babysitter” but better to encourage them to look out at the landscape. After all, isn't that part of the point of a roadtrip? Engage younger children in a game of “I spy”; there are lots of other in-car game ideas, plus downloadable colouring-in pages.
  • Check out the National Public Toilet Map website or download the Apple app.
  • Avoid motion sickness by taking regular rest stops and having kids look out the window. Pack motion sickness tablets and sick bags just in case.
  • Play age-appropriate audiobooks and/or music. They might not be your favourite, but it's better than listening to complaints.

Tips for travelling with friends

  • Once you've decided where you're going, put one person in charge of each planned stop and ask them to research the area. They might like to find out a bit about the area’s history or at least Google what kinds of activities, restaurants etc are on offer there. This minimises the overall research time and allows each person to be a tour guide at least once during the trip.
  • At some point, everyone will want some me time, so allow for this when you're planning the trip. Also ensure there are enough stops that suit everyone's tastes – you might have to compromise to achieve this!
  • Discuss costs (petrol, food and other expenses) before you go, so that everyone knows what to expect.
  • Decide what kind of accommodation will suit everyone and book accordingly. Better to be prepared than to discover along the way that one person wants five-star hotels and someone else has budgeted for a backpacker's hostel. RACV resorts and Star Rated properties offer something for every budget.
  • If you're planning to camp, make sure you have enough camping gear for everyone – and that someone knows how to put up the tent/s.
  • Make sure everyone's luggage will fit in the car, especially if your car is small. If your friends tend to  overpack, consider having a luggage limit – just as if you were getting on a plane.
  • Ask everyone to bring along a playlist/mixtape/CD/USB stick (depending on the age of your car – and your friends) of their favourite songs. Play each one in turn. If everyone hates everyone else’s taste in music, decide on a fairly neutral radio station and stick with it.
  • Remind your friends to bring their phone chargers. Share charging time between you equally.
  • Take turns driving and navigating.
  • Planning to visit lots of wineries? Nominate a designated driver.

Things to remember

  • If you're heading interstate, check the road rules before you go. Western Australia and NSW enforce double demerits points during holiday periods.
  • Don't rely solely on sat nav. Maps are available at RACV shops.
  • Take a hard copy of important contacts (including RACV's phone numbers) in case your phone is damaged, lost or stolen while you're travelling.
  • Driving a convertible with the top down? Wear sunscreen – and hang on to your hat!
  • If you and/or your travelling companions take medication, ensure you have enough for the trip.
  • Give someone a copy of your itinerary, or at least tell someone where you're going and when you plan to return.
  • Make sure any mobile devices are charged and that you've packed the chargers, too.
  • RACV's Show Your Card and Save program offers lots of discounts – take your membership card with you.
  • Check that your Roadside Assistance is up-to-date.
  • Above all, remember – it's about the journey, not just the destination, so enjoy the ride!