Whether you’re someone who loves to travel with detailed itinerary in hand or you rather take each day as it comes, there is a certain amount of pre-trip planning that is necessary when embarking on a trip in your camper trailer. There are all kinds of unknowns on the open road, and some will always catch you off guard, but as a general rule, the more you plan ahead the more capable you’ll be of taking these unknowns in your stride.
Towing a big rig can be a daunting experience if you’re a first timer, especially if you’re not a confident driver. It goes without saying that strapping a couple of extra tonnes to your vehicle will drastically effect manoeuvrability, braking and reversing — but over time it will become second nature.
If you’re a complete novice or just out of practice, there are plenty of courses around the country that can teach you all the necessary skills and allow you to practice them in a safe, controlled environment. This is highly recommended as being in control of a large tow vehicle/camper trailer combination comes with added responsibility on the road.
A term derived from nautical circles; a shakedown is where a brand-new ship is taken out prior to any serious adventures so that the particulars of that vessel can be discovered under working conditions, minus the consequences. Prospective trailer-haulers are similarly advised to take their shiny new camper on a test run before heading on an extended trip.
This is best done by fully loading your camper and then heading off for a night or two. Remember, a shakedown is more than just a lap around the block — it’s about seeing how everything works in practice, how best to pack things, how to set up and any additional bits and pieces you may need to acquire. It’s much easier for all involved to discover there is a limitation with your camper trailer a short while from home as opposed to 3000km away in the middle of the Simpson Desert.
As with the items you’ll be packing in your camper trailer, the art of route mapping is a very personal matter. Some folks like to simply pack their camper and go wherever the wind takes them, others however, especially if they have children or a limited time in which to travel, may want to have a more detailed plan.
Once you’ve figured out the direction you’re heading, it’s good to ask around for advice from friends and family who have done a similar trip. There’s also plenty of advice available online which can help you to identify points of interest and other handy tips you may not have considered.
If you’re planning on heading off the grid for an extended period, an offline map is an indispensable companion. Relying on mobile data or phone reception for you mapping needs is a dangerous risk in a country as vast as Australia. The Hema HX-2 Navigator is Australia’s most advanced sat nav, which includes over 40,000 Hema-verified points of interest, and can be used on and offline.
Also, the humble paper map with a pen-drawn route is great to have as a backup. You never know, your devices may malfunction on you, so you’ll need a contingency plan in place. Being stuck in the middle of nowhere is stressful at the best of times, let alone completely away from civilisation with no way of figuring out where you are and no way to find help. Bringing a paper map with you is not only handy with navigating but it also may become the most precious souvenir when the trip is over.
Once you have your route planned out (if that’s what you wish to do), then you can start setting daily itineraries. When planning your travels, the facilities available along your chosen route — campsites, fuel stops, dump points, points of interest and so on — may dictate the order in which you do things. Remember also not to get caught up in the minute-to-minute movements of your itinerary — the hallmark of a good itinerary is knowing you can break it. Some days you may wish to leave a place early or you might love a spot so much you’ll want to stay way longer than first planned. As long as you have a good itinerary and know what’s ahead, you can always shuffle things around and enjoy the freedom.
As with picking your route, picking a campsite is a largely subjective process. Some may like the freedom and ambiance of a free bush camp while others prefer the amenities and convenience offered by a caravan park. If you’re heading on a long trip, you’ll likely do a combination of both — and you will need access to power, water and sullage from time to time (remember to book in advance).
Camping with dogs
Just like us, our animal companions enjoy a change of scenery. If you’re prepared to take on the extra planning that’s required, bringing your dog/s can be an awesome addition to any trip. If your dog is well-trained and sociable, then you’re off to a good start. Above all else, ensure you’ve packed all the required items for your furry friend and that they have regular access to drinking water. You’ll most likely need to keep them tied up in certain spots, so make sure to pack a decent length tether and possibly a stake.
Also, you must check ahead to see if dogs are allowed at all your destinations. Some campsites will not allow them, others will require them to be tied up and national parks are a no-go. This is best checked well in advance of departure as the last thing you want is to be stuck with nowhere to stay because no one will accept your dog.
Running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere can be a highly stressful situation and a frustrating one — simply because it can be so easily avoided. Find out how far you can go on a tank with a full load and look for large gaps in your route. Apps such as FuelMapAustralia can make this task a breeze. Also, remember to always have some backup fuel stored in jerry cans with you.
Repairs and roadside assistance
Although mechanical problems should be attended to by a professional, it’s a good idea to study up on a few of the more common, easily fixed issues so you can make the odd repair on the road yourself. However, in the event of a mishap that can’t be fixed with a basic tool kit or roll of gaffer tape, you’ll want to know where your nearest repairer is located.
If you’re unsure of who to contact in a roadside emergency, your camper’s manufacturer or insurer may have a call-out or roadside assistance service. No matter what the issue is, it’s always best to have issues seen to sooner rather than later.
If your trip does not include any off-grid travel, usually a mobile phone with cellular reception will suffice for any communication needs. However, if you’re heading out bush, you’ll need a radio or a satphone (satellite phone). Although radios are more expensive to set up, they work out cheaper in the long run as they don’t incur ongoing costs. UHF (Ultra High Frequency) radio is the most common for recreational use. You don’t need a licence to purchase a UHF, however, it is not suitable for communication over long distances.
Satphones can be used to make phone calls just like a regular phone, but they communicate directly with satellites rather than cell towers. They’re simple to use and better for private conversations than radios, however, call costs can be high, so it’s usually recommended to use them for emergencies only. Keep in mind that satphones don’t often work in areas of heavy tree cover or in deep gorges — they prefer wide-open skies.
Due to the enormity of our fair nation, many roads far from civilisation are seldom used, so it’s important to be able to access information on road closures and conditions and be able notify others of the same. For your convenience, we’ve listed the road reporting authority for each state:
ACT: Call the Canberra Connect Call Centre on 12 22 81 or go here
NSW: Call Service NSW on 13 27 01 or go here
NT: Call the NT Urgent Road Faults line on 1800 246 199 or go here
Qld: Call RACQ on 1300 130 595 or go here
SA: Call Traffic SA on 1800 018 313 or go here
Vic: Call the VicRoads Traffic Management Centre on 13 11 70 or go here
WA: Call the Main Roads Customer Contact Centre on 13 81 38 or go here
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