As part of our Big Trip around the world, we decided to hire a campervan and explore Western Australia in the smallest van imaginable. We learnt a lot of things along the way and thought we’d share our discoveries as hindsight really is a wonderful thing.
1. Definitely rent a van with no floor space as it will be half the price of other vans. It will give you many more stories of ‘remember when it was so windy and wet outside that we had to spend 10 days playing Uno in a small cupboard and almost killed eachother’ -type stories. You will also have nowhere to escape the flies and attempt to eat with fly net on your head. More hilarity guaranteed.
2. Despite how it can sometime be annoying, rejoice in your husband’s anality and attention to detail. It is this which saved your family from certain death. We were on our third van before we could drive out of the rental place. The first had no braking system, the second no Air con and no pop-top bed. On the plus side, we got some kit for free as the manager was so embarrassed.
3. BORING BITS: Batteries- have one for leisure and one for the vehicle- also solar if possible. We all like cold wine and for the children’s beds to be accessible, but both things drain the battery and no-one wants to be stranded.
4. Toilet- don’t carry round a porta potty if you don’t need it. Space is precious and even the National park sites have toilets.
5. Be aware of your van’s capabilities- for instance, you might be annoyed to drive for 4 hours to go to visit Kalbarri and not actually be able to get to the gorges. Check the map legend because after all that driving and fuel, it might be annoying to realise that your 2 Wheel drive doesn’t cut the mustard.
6. Stock up: The more remote the place, the more things cost. 1 litre bottles of water cost $6.50 in Coral Bay- this can seriously cut into your wine budget. Fill up your jerry cans before you go into the Bush as most of the water taps on the campsites are bore water and not drinkable. It would be awful if you had to drink nothing but wine, and as the recommended amounts are 5 litres of fluid per person per day that might make driving a challenge. There is no way we needed that much, but we took it anyway. Water, I mean.
7. Savour the diversion of the Roadhouses! Some have roadkill taxidermy, many have instruments and bookshops- our favourite was ‘Billabong Roadhouse’ near Hamelin Pool, which had all of the above. Others shouted at you if you dared to use the bathroom after filling up with fuel. It takes all sorts after all, and is a welcome diversion from the endless roads. Tiredness kills.
8. Leave early: not just to get into the Air con (though that’s a good reason too) but the risk of a kangaroo jumping in front of your van is much higher at dusk and dawn. We didn’t drive after 4pm unless we had to on rural roads. This also means that you have plenty of time to set up camp, make dinner and let the children get all that pent-up energy out their system just in time for sunset.
9. Snacks! I gave the boys a box of snacks and drinks when we start out- that way I don’t have to stop to buy expensive snacks at a roadhouse and they don’t keep asking for them. Dried fruit, bottled water/ cartons of juice, cereal bars and crackers go a long way and are healthy nibbles. Also if they are busy with the crackers they might not notice YOUR Kitkat. Win.
10. Don’t underestimate the value of emergency mints and sickbags!
11. Complaining: Our kids were great, especially seeing as we don’t do screens in the car. Sometimes though, the ‘are we there yet’ questions came too thick and too fast. I initiated a treat at T-1 hour if complaining and/or fighting was kept to a minimum. This meant that the ‘1 hour till we get there’ mark became a celebrated milestone of each journey- hilarious really, as that would have been considered a long journey at home..
12. Pack light and keep organised- our packing cubes from the rucksack fitted beautifully under the seats of the van. This might have been because we didn’t have enough clothes as we thought that WA was always warm! Oh, how we laughed at our ridiculous assumptions as we huddled around a campfire in Margaret River in November with a t shirt over our knees. OK- so pack light but not not TOO light.
13. Playlists: keep it varied with upbeat tunes and some that the kids recognise too. I tried to do playlist themes that people had to guess. Ok, this happened exactly once when I managed to get Napster when we stole wifi from Mcdonalds. The only albums the boys wanted were Ed Sheeran and Adele- none of us can listen to them any more. Ever. Again.
14. As a Brit I didn’t know this before - but everywhere EVERYWHERE has public barbeques! Amazing! So don’t shell out on hiring a rubbish one that explodes in your face from the rental company, as you’ll feel really silly.
15. Arrive early for the National Park campsites that you can’t pre book. Sometimes they are 1 in and 1 out for a space (ie Lucky Bay) and totally worth an early start for. Kangaroos hopping around the campsite was sweet joy to us all.
16. Audio books- If you have children (or even if you don’t) download some good stories for when the weather is unexpectedly harsh. Unless you want an evening actually talking to eachother of course. You wouldn’t be doing a road trip with people you actually like though, would you?