Before I get started, I want to say that I am, one hundred percent, a complete amateur when it comes to road trips. When Dom and I decided to buy a van and drive up the east coast to Queensland, we really just did the bare minimum to the van in order to make it sleep-able, but I still want to share our tips with you guys in case you find it useful!
make sure you're buying a reliable van
When it came to buying a van, we DID NOT want to buy a backpacker's van. Yeah, they're cheaper and sometimes look cool and come with awesome stuff already (like bed bugs), but in reality, most backpackers don't give two shits about their van. They drive it hundreds of thousands of miles across the country and then sell it to the next backpacker. We decided to do things differently, so we bought a van off a tradie who had been using it for work. Turns out he was a mechanic (double win), so we knew it was reliable and taken care of! We spent about $5,000 AUD to purchase and register it, and then another couple hundred on the interior (wood for the frame, a bed, pillows, all that good stuff).
After Dom put the interior together (with absolutely zero help from me.. i'm useless when it comes to building), we sat down and made our road trip plan. I honestly hadn't even thought about where to stay along the way... I literally pictured us parked up next to a beach every night, but in reality, that's not really allowed in Australia! Instead, we found the app WikiCamps, and it is the holy grail of campsites. This app is awesome: it tells you where the free campsites are, which ones have showers, bathrooms, power, yada yada yada. It even has a section where people can post photos of the site, which definitely came in handy!
Figure out your *rough* driving plan
Our aim was to do things quickly and get a lot of miles done each day, but we knew we wanted to see some of the highlights along the way. I mean, we couldn't drive through Sydney without stopping for cotton candy at Luna Park, right? After a while of planning it out, we decided on our *rough* itinerary:
Day 1: Melbourne
Day 2: Sydney - stop for sightseeing & exploring
Day 3: Byron Bay - check out the beaches & town
Day 4: Middle of Nowhere - drive, drive, drive!
Day 5: Whitsundays
Stock up on food
Food along the highway in Australia is like 100x more expensive than anywhere else (ok, that's a made up number, but it's really freakin expensive). We were on a pretty tight budget, so we decided to skip the roadside food options and make our own sandwiches instead. We ate A LOT of sandwiches on that trip, and I can no longer look at peanut butter and jelly the same way again. We bought a cheap $30 cooler from Big W and chucked in ice with the essentials: bread, milk, tim tams, and water (don't worry, we had lots of other non-refrigerated snacks too). After that, we were ready to hit the road without killing our bank account!
Remember that not all roads are free
We learned this the hard way after paying over $50 in administrative fees from the toll roads in Sydney. Before your trip, just google the roads you will need to pay tolls on and sign up for the automatic pass beforehand. It will save you stress, time, and money!
Watch out for kangaroos, koalas, and emu's, oh my!
They're everywhere, and they have no fear of the roads, so stay alert, because they hitting one of these guys can kill you.. knock on wood. You're usually okay during the daylight hours, but anytime before 8am and after 4pm, your chances of seeing them go wayyyy up, so if you're driving in the morning, evening or nighttime, keep your eyes peeled.