“It’s a road trip! It’s about adventure! . . . It’s not like we have somewhere to go.” — John Green, An Abundance of Katherines.
In Western Australia there exists an unspoken hierarchy of travellers, with the mighty road trippers topping the list. And considering bus services are sparse and tours tend to be pricey, most travellers are turning to their own set of wheels as the preferred method of getting around the country’s outback.
After 30 days, 7,364 kilometres, $1,500 in petrol costs, countless litres of wine and more than a dozen road kill cows, my travelling partner and I joined the ranks of hardened road trip warriors.
We conquered the state where the red dirt of the desert meets the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean in our trusty steed – a van named Victor.
Yet rugged and beautiful Western Australia proved to be an unexpected test of our resilience. Victor’s too. We ran out of fuel, got chased by cyclones and survived a fly sighting of biblical proportions.
Although it isn’t only the negatives that transformed us from complacent commuters to robust vehicle Vikings. From the sunsets at Yanchep’s abandoned beaches, to the satisfaction of covering vast distances while listening to carefully crafted road trip playlists, these are things that travellers won’t be able to experience without taking off on their own.
For those seeking adventures outside of the confines of the typical tourist trail and wish to trade that for the confines of four wheels, an extreme daily caffeine intake, and the open road, here are some pros and cons to road tripping Western Australia in a van:
Convenience: Sunset beers at the beach have never been easier or more convenient. Who cares that the camp stove has a tendency to blow up when you can cook your dinner on one of the coastal lookouts in Kalbarri. The epic Instagram pictures hashtagged “dinner with a view” and the numerous likes make the singed eyebrows worth it.
Absolute freedom: Travelling with a tour, backpackers may miss out on the wicked, wacky or weird stops in between destinations. With a van, if you want to stop and take a picture with a two-metre termite mound on the side of the highway or stop and admire the Big Lobster at Dongara, you’re completely free to do so. If that means stopping in at Wycliffe Well in the hopes of spotting UFOs that frequent the area, then nothing is stopping you (except maybe your travelling partner’s disdain). Even the smallest things have the potential to become some of the greatest moments on your trip.
Hidden Gems: You are more likely to stumble across the unadvertised, local spots with your own set of wheels. Small beaches with beautiful views and small towns with big personalities are frequent occurrences driving up the coast (except Leeman. despite praises made by a well-known travel publication franchise). Some of the best beaches in the country are found on the under inhabited coast of Western Australia. Being the only people on the endless stretches of beautiful coastline can lead to an inflated sense of grandeur. This is why…
Bragging Rights: From that little known beach you camped on last night, to the dangers and horror stories you’ve faced on the road, it gives road trippers a slight edge in their carefully accumulated cache of travel stories. “Oh, your greyhound broke down? That sucks. Well, when we were off-roading in our two-wheel van, we hit a rock and cracked our axel. I had to walk two hours in 40 degree heat until I had reception to call for a lift and then had to wait a week in Woop Woop until it was fixed.”
Monotony: The rush of endorphins that first day driving make the kilometres melt away. When those wear off, you realize you’ve signed up for a whole lot of driving with a whole lot of nothing to look at. The west coast and the outback can be spectacularly beautiful. It can also be boring as dirt. 700 kilometres of unchanging landscape and no reception makes the mind wander to deeply hidden places of the psyche.
Prepare to be a little lonely: Whether you’re staying in a caravan park or free camping stealthily on the side of the road, there is going to be a lack of people to hangout with. Morris and Shirley are great, but sometimes you miss the company of other backpackers and the late night goon sessions that generally accompany them. On the road, you go to bed when the sun goes down and get up when it rises because there’s nothing else to do once it’s dark out. Everyone thinks they’re going to be different, party all night and drive all day. Then nine p.m. rolls around and bed is starting to look awfully appealing.
Responsibility: It’s all fun and games taking your two-wheel van off-roading until you break down 300 kilometres from Doon Doon with no reception or chance of rescue in sight. People die in Australia’s outback, and if your mighty vehicle isn’t kept in good working order, you’re increasing your chances of becoming dingo bait.
Campervan crazy: No matter how wide open the road is and how many kilometres stretch away in all directions, that van is going to get smaller and smaller as your trip wears on. Give yourself extended stretch breaks and take up a hobby. Read a book, count rocks, do anything to take your mind outside of the steel frame now encompassing your entire being.
Travel-worn travel mates: As much as you love your travel partner, there will be times where you want to run her over and leave her carcass for the emus to pick at. When you start to feel like this, just remember, she’s probably feeling the same way about you and if you pick your teeth at the table one more time, she’ll lose it. Sit back, relax and appreciate that she loves you even with all your bad habits and was still willing to undertake such an amazing and challenging adventure with you.
Travelling by van is about being malleable. The road is unpredictable and you never know what life is going to throw at you and that’s half of the adventure.
Remember, it’s a rite of passage to get through the bad things that inevitably befall you on the road. Breakdowns, flat tires, empty fuel tanks, hitting animals, getting lost in a ‘no service’ zone to have anyone come save you. All of these things and more have happened to the numerous road trippers – young and old – that came before you, and will certainly happen again to those who follow. Don’t panic. Crack open a beer as you ponder your new level of maturity and realize this is what it means to be an adult.
If that fails, refer to the ‘bragging rights’ section mentioned above and think about how good of a story it’ll make when all is said and done.
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Originally published in Go World Travel