For those of you thinking about running away from home, the importance of undertaking thorough research before hitting the road cannot be overstated.
Changing Gears: how to run away from home
Next year thousands of Australians of all ages will, like Toad, seek the open road, travelling for months or even years. If this is your dream but lack of organisation, lack of time to plan, or a fear of the unknown have held you back, Kate Johnston helps you take the leap.
Remember when the Great Australian Dream was the house, the hearth and the Hills Hoist? It’s now replaced by running away from home – for a long time! It’s worth taking the time to address the who, what, when, where and how of packing your life into a motorhome or caravan and taking to the road. We asked the experts for their practical guidelines for hassle-free travels.
So what’s the plan?
Start planning your trip by asking these basic questions:
How are you going to pay for the trip?
When is the best time to go?
Where do you travel?
What do you take, what do you leave behind – for instance, emotional baggage.
Who do you go with?
The time of your life
Is there ever a good time to say goodbye to family, friends, house and hedge? It’s a personal decision, but there’s no denying the influence of the weather in choosing when to go where.
“Travellers usually go north in winter and south in summer,” says Samantha Lazarou from Winnebago Industries. “Check with state or territory tourism bodies for best times of year to travel.”
Perhaps your taste buds will lure you into hitting the gourmet highlights, or your nose for a good story will lead you on a literary trail. ”Many people plan their itinerary around Australia’s huge range of arts and craft festivals and local markets,” says Samantha. Or maybe “all play and no work” makes the cherry-picking season sound like fun? Following the fishing season may incite a feeding frenzy, but you might prefer to feed your soul with some jazz and blues.
It’s a major lifestyle change, so make sure you’ve talked about all the issues with your travelling partner/s. Be honest about your hopes and fears for the trip: how you imagine it will work on a day-to-day basis and what you most want to get out of the experience. It will mean less time debating and more time delighting.
Proper preparation can take a number of months. Think ahead. How long do you really want to be away? Some people mightn’t like the idea of being miles from home on important anniversaries or birthdays, family events, HSC/VCE exams or the due date of a much-anticipated grandchild.
Need to know: Note school holidays – caravan parks charge double.
Do you know where you’re going?
So how do you work out where you want to go? “Make a basic plan but know that this will change,” says Samantha. “It’s inevitable you will meet people whose stories of interesting places, things to do and roads to avoid will affect your plans.”
Sometimes the highway to heaven will get you where you want to go but taking the low road brings surprises. Everyday will feel different, and staying flexible is part of the fun.
Lee Atkinson, author of On the Road, says experience has taught her to opt for depth not breadth. “Once on the road, take your time! Decide to see less and explore regions in detail. Stay longer in one place. With petrol prices so high, it makes more and more sense.”
And when it comes to petrol, think about the timing. “Check the opening hours for petrol stations in remote areas,” says Lee. ”They can still close at 5pm weekdays and 12 noon on the weekends.”
Need to know: For a comprehensive guide to public toilets across the country, go to www.toiletmap.gov.au
Need to know: Froggyswebs.com has a fuel watch that tells you the cheapest fuel prices in each state.
I get around – but in what?
Before you even buy a map, you’ll have to navigate your way through the many vehicle options. Whether you choose a motorhome or a caravan, there are a number of ways to make the decision less stressful.
“Consider renting or doing a deal to take a short trip as a trial run. It will give you a feel for the vehicle and can help to iron out the practical issues,” says Samantha.
And let’s face it, just as we tend to take more stuff than we need, we tend to think bigger is better. “Think seriously about how large your rig needs to be,” says Lee. “Remember you have to manoeuvre it around caravan parks, shopping centres and national parks. Many people who utilise caravan parks find they use the indoor shower and bathroom less than they thought they would, and often move to a smaller vehicle for their second trip.”
Of course, the little things do count. A “Claytons” trip will help to simplify packing and preparations for the long stretch. ”You’d be surprised how much it can help to have sorted out such things where it’s best to put cutlery, plates and even shoes,” says Samantha.
Don’t rush the decision – get the vehicle that suits your specific needs, not just the biggest or latest model.
Need to know: travellers with disabilities can find a heap of information at www.nican.com.au
Buy now or pay later?
With such a major purchase it always pays to shop around. You’ll be amazed at the difference in deals. Don’t hesitate to ask for flexibility in financial arrangements, as there are a number of ways you can structure the purchase depending on your personal and financial needs.
“Some people sell their homes to buy a motorhome,” says Samantha. “Some pay 50% now, 50% later. There are also deals where you pay 50% now, go travelling, then the dealership will buy the vehicle back from you when you return.”
If you’re buying a motorhome, think of it as an asset like your home. “A motorhome often retains value or even appreciates, if it’s well-maintained,” says Samantha.
Try before you buy
Before you buy a motorhome, you can join the Winnebago RV Club, which gives members the opportunity to try vehicles out, ask informed questions and get the inside story from friendly, more seasoned, travellers. The club also offers discounts on rental vehicles if you want to try one out on a short trip.
Need to know: Watch the height restrictions at bridges. Know the height of your vehicle, and don’t forget to factor in any air-conditioning unit on the roof. Also know the weight of your vehicle – older bridges have weight restrictions.
Home away from home
Your new home will need TLC as it takes you across the continent. Look after it and it will bring you hours of hassle-free pleasure. Both Lee and Samantha agree on the importance of making sure your vehicle is in good working order.
Before you run away
Get your vehicle serviced.
Buy a spare battery for emergencies.
When you’re packing, stow away every single thing. Even one book can be a deadly missile.
After you’ve packed, check the vehicle’s wheel alignment.
Know the gross vehicle mass and post-packing, the combined mass of your vehicle and load. You can weigh it at your state’s Road Traffic Authority (RTA) – a bike or surfboard can make a real difference and the weight does impact on petrol usage.
Samantha recommends joining an Auto Association. “Depending on your level of membership,” she says, ”they can offer the reassurance of evacuation should there be an emergency and you need to fly home quickly.”
Need to know: remember fruit fly restrictions. Freecall 1800 084 881 for a reminder of the borders through which you cannot take fruit.
On the road
Regularly check water and oil levels and tyre pressure.
Watch the battery use – running fridges and other gadgets can drain it, especially if the fridge is an older fridge. Turn off appliances at the power point.
Keep your windscreens clean. The glare at sunrise, sunset or from headlights at night can reduce vision and make driving more tiring. Don’t forget to top up the windscreen-washer bottle.
Check the sealants around windows and hatches, as they can become dry or shrink in extremes of weather.
Take a load off
So what to take and what to leave behind? There are those who wouldn’t dream about running away without their pet. Fido’s food, furnishings and fleas will need to be considered, although these days there are a range of pet-friendly caravan parks and camping grounds.
Need to know: FFI – For Fido’s Information: read Holidaying with Dogs (2005, A “Life, Be In It” Publication) or go to the website www.holidayingwithdogs.com.au
Once you arrive and set up camp, a bike can make getting around simpler and more pleasant. Do you really need that surfboard? Realistically – what is going to lie around unused and taking up precious space? Part of running away is being prepared to shed the security blanket. And like all travelling, you always end up coming back with more, not less.
A basic survival strategy should include a quality tool kit and first aid kit, but equally as important is housecleaning equipment, insect repellent, a camera and a good book – just not a library!
You might be tempted to stock up on food, but unless your intention is to go outback and stay outback, part of the fun of touring is visiting farmers’ markets, trying regional taste treats or preparing seasonally-based meals.
Storage is going to be an issue, so ask yourself, should it be the sleeping bag or linen? And if it’s the latter – how much linen is too much? How often do you want to be washing sheets?
Good maps can make all the difference. Samantha recommends Hema maps, and State Auto Associations offer good maps free to members. You can also utilise the local information centres for free maps of the area.
If you or any of your travelling partners is left-handed, try to anticipate any relevant issues. They may not be able to live without their left-handed vegetable peeler!
Need to know: For true-blue cooking the Aussie way, read Explore Wild Australia With The Bush Tucker Man, Les Hiddins, 2003 Explore Australia Publications $34.95
There’s no place like home
We focus so much on the road ahead, but if you’re leaving a home behind you, there are a few things you won’t want to forget. “Remember to cancel your home deliveries and ask neighbours to collect the mail,” says Lee.” And it might be worth installing a light timer so it looks like someone’s home.” Also, organise for any ongoing bills to be paid by direct debit.
Of course, it’s important to get travel insurance. You may need vehicle as well as personal travel insurance. If you are going to be living in a motorhome as your primary residence, you should check the relevance of your current house and contents policy with your insurance company or broker. Also make sure they are notified that you won’t be in residence or using your house as a residence for an extended period of time. Ask what the insurance ramifications of this are.
Need to know: If you do a first aid course, you often get a discount on a first aid kit.
Lines of Communication
Many people run a business from the road, and they can’t do without mobile phones and email. Or if you feel out of touch without your personal computer and don’t have a laptop, a Blackberry could be your new best friend: it’s a pocket-sized wireless email, SMS, telephone, Internet and Intranet device.
There’s a wide range of Blackberry’s available. See some of them at www.phoneshop.com.au.
If running away means isolation but you need to stay available to family, satellite phones can keep you in range. There is a new government subsidy for the purchase of a satellite telephone for those who live or work in remote areas that aren’t serviced by Telstra. For more information on whether you qualify and how to apply, go to www.dcita.gov.au/satphone or call 1800 674 058.
Running on empty?
Of course, you can’t ignore the financial realities of taking to the track. It is possible to earn money while on the move.
And with today’s mobile technology, it’s easier to work and play at the same time. “Some people make their motorhome their ‘motoroffice’ and run their business from wherever they are,” says Samantha.
Helena Gibson from Clearview Retirement Solutions says making the decision to purchase a motorhome or caravan could affect your Centrelink benefits, especially if you decide to sell your home and make a motorhome your principal residence.
A motorhome is considered an asset, and depending on its market value, could disadvantage you through the loss of benefits by taking you over the asset threshold, especially if you no longer own a regular home. You could consider downsizing your primary residence, if you need to free up some funds through selling the home.
Contact Centrelink to find out details about the advantages and disadvantages as they pertain to you.
Need to know: A motorhome is considered your principal residence if you are away for more than twelve months, and this distinction could affect your Centrelink benefits.
Alone again, naturally: no excuse not to go
Travelling solo is common, and good fun! To get you into the swing of things, look into the caravan and motorhome ‘Solo Clubs’. “The Winnebago RV club runs ‘solo safaris’ into more remote areas,” says Samantha. “Participants travel in a convoy and guides are available to help with the organisation of touring into isolated areas. Our club website also has a chat forum for making contact with other solo travellers, picking up tips and asking questions of those who have gone before or are about to go.”
Books – remember, ordering online can be cheaper. (see review in bookshelf online below)
The Grey Nomad’s Guidebook
Hardie Grant 2005
On the Road: 40 Great Driving Holidays in Australia by Lee Atkinson, New
Holland Publishers 2005
Holidaying with Dogs, A Life Be In It
Following are some useful websites:
www.nican.com.au – for travellers with disabilities
This article was first published in Your Life magazine, summer 2005–06, Issue 21.