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THE OPEN ROAD . . . 

OVER the past 57 years ‘thecountrydriver’ has driven the length and breadth of this magnificent country of ours. But a solo, long-haul trip – one of over 2000km – was never done.

At one with the open road

At one with the open road

OVER the past 57 years ‘thecountrydriver’ - aka Darryl Starr - has driven the length and breadth of this magnificent country of ours.

And not just on the mainland, as 26 visits to Tasmania gives you a hint as to my favourite driving state.

Admittedly, most road trips – long and short – were done during my working life as a motoring and tourism writer at The Border Mail, a multi award-winning regional daily newspaper based in Albury-Wodonga.

The motoring gig (road testing and other motor-related yarns for a weekly automotive lift out guide) was a solo effort, except for press launches of new vehicles where you co-drove with another motoring scribe – or manufacturer representative.

Those launches took place all around the country (I didn’t get many overseas trips), meaning I got to drive the best - and some of the worst - roads in every state of Australia.

But a solo, long-haul trip – one of over 2000km – was never done.

Not even the numerous trips I have done across the Nullarbor, and the thousands of weekly round trips to Melbourne to swap press vehicles for The Border Mail or thecountrydriver, didn’t quite cut it either, around 700km being the norm.

Until now.

Beckoned by a call from family in Queensland, I made the decision to drive – rather than fly - the 3000-kilometre round trip from Albury-Wodonga to the Gold Coast region of southeast Queensland and back solo.

Too daunting? No. My wife and I have driven it before, but this time I was going to take the inland route, which I had not travelled for almost 50 years – then with others.

But before you ask, no, not in an electric vehicle.

While the range of travel for EVs continues to increase, there is still the issue that charging stations are not as readily available as petrol stations. Especially along the route I was taking.

But that is for another time.

My stead is a 2020 Kia Cerato Sport+ sedan, with the only must options being a full-size spare wheel, rather than the standard temporary steel one, and LED headlamps replacing the standard halogens.

A full-size spare wheel is a worthwhile investment for any driver travelling long distances, especially in regional areas where help could be hours away, while the brighter, whiter light of the LEDs are perfect for picking out straying animals and wildlife on the road at night.

A wayward kangaroo or wombat can ruin your day in a split second – day or night.

With this extra gear, plus the full complement of features which come standard with the Sport +, it was the perfect companion for the trip.

My chosen outbound route was via the Hume and Olympic Highways, and Goldfields Way to West Wyalong, then the Newell Highway to Coonabarabran.

The Oxley Highway would take me to Bendemeer, and the New England Highway to Armidale and on to Tenterfield.

From there it was into Queensland to Warwick, then across the Great Dividing Range via the Cunningham Highway to Ipswich, then via the M1 to Burleigh Heads.

So, I had accomplished the first ‘must do’ few steps of making a long journey by yourself – planning your route, know your driving limits, and setting your own pace, allowing time to explore and stop off at points of interest.

There was no rush, so I allowed three driving days with two overnight stops – Dubbo and Armidale - which divided the trip into (almost) three equal distances.

Accommodation was booked prior to leaving and I made sure I had plenty of stored music to get me there and back.

My chosen route is not the shortest, and there is little chance of getting lost, but the Cerato Sport+ variant does come standard with sat-nav – just in case!

With the car packed right, fuel tank full, and cheerio’s done, I headed off, knowing full well everything was (hopefully) in hand.

My return journey was via the shortest route, the Pacific Motorway to Sydney, then the Hume Highway to Albury-Wodonga, with overnight stops at Raymond Terrace, and Mittagong, the latter my spiritual home.

Would I do it again?

You bet I would, as a long-distance road trip means freedom. Doing it alone gives you even more.

It can be daunting when you start your planning, knowing that you must do all the driving and all the navigating.

It can also be physically and mentally taxing – if you let it.

So, what are the benefits of a solo road trip?

There are many, especially if you are in no rush.

You can take any detour you want, listen to any radio station or stored music, and you can change your schedule, provided you haven’t made firm accommodation bookings.

The longer the trip, the more you will settle in to enjoy these benefits, plus there is the perfect opportunity to experience the real value of being one with yourself for hours on end.

During my 60 years of driving, I reckon 4.5 million kilometres behind the wheel is a conservative estimate, and on many drives, solo or otherwise, I've learned a few things about how to plan, pack, navigate, stay safe, and have fun.

Planning a road trip alone – in point form

1. Know your driving limits.

I can drive up to eight hours in a day, but not two days in a row. Other people have a limit of three or four hours.

This can be due to sitting for that long or from pure boredom. You need to know your limits. To plan your trip, you need to know how long you can drive each day, what distance you can cover, how many breaks you need, and whether driving at night is an option.

I recommend you stop and refresh every two hours. A walk around a wayside stop to stretch your legs and clear your head does wonders. As does a powernap.

I always stop where there are trucks – for added security.

2. Set goals for places you want to see and explore.

 

In my case it was Tenterfield, a town I had driven around and flew over, but never through.

It was made famous by singer Peter Allen who was born and raised in the town (as Peter Woolnough) and penned the song ‘Tenterfield Traveller’ which was released in 1972.

If there is a place or something you want to see, plan your trip accordingly, especially if it means driving off the beaten track.

3. Set a pace. Don’t rush.

Getting the pace right is a big part of a trip's success. It’s important not to squeeze too much into too few days. If you do, you'll miss lots and find that you spend all your time driving, rather than experiencing destinations.

4. Book your accommodation in advance

If you have mapped your course and you need to stay a night here, or a night there, book your accommodation. I recommend booking direct, that way you have quick access if a problem does arise rather than go through a third party. In most cases it is also cheaper.

5. Make sure your car insurance is up to date.

 

Take out travel insurance if you intend being away from home for a long time, and check to see if you are covered by roadside assist.

 

If you are renting a car for your journey, check with your insurance company that you are covered, and before driving the vehicle from the lot, check and double check that any scratches, dents, windscreen chips, interior wear, or damage etc that you notice is shown to the representative.

 

Take date stamped photos if need be. And make sure you have your roadside assistance phone number on hand – just in case.

6. Pack right, pack smart.

 

Travelling solo means that you may only need one large and one small piece of luggage. Having just one bag to carry makes life much easier, and keep everything in the boot, rather than have items on the back seat for prying eyes to see.

7. Navigation. Know your route

 

If you haven’t got sat-nav, use Google maps on your smart phone. I also do a bit of map scrolling on Google maps on my home computer first just to get an idea of the areas and towns I am going to be travelling through just in case I make a wrong turn.

8. Is your vehicle ready for a long trip?

 

Have it serviced and inspected at least a week before you leave so if something wrong is detected, you have time for any repairs to be carried out. Check tyre pressures, that all lights are working, the vehicle is clean inside and out – especially all the windows - and that the fuel tank/battery is full before leaving.

9. Stay in touch.

Let someone at home know your route, when you leave, and when you arrive at your destinations. A quick text message will do. If you have Wi-Fi (McDonald's and coffee shops are always good bets for free Wi-Fi), use any messenger system or send a quick email. That's all it takes. 

10. Create a playlist.

There are times to listen to local radio, but chances are you'll get bored of it and, possibly, be out of range of a station. Whether your playlist includes audio books, music (you may want to get Spotify), lectures, or all three, be prepared with what will keep you happy, interested, and alert as you explore on your road trip alone. 

11. Drive to the conditions and within the law

Most road rules across Australia are similar, but if you are driving in a different state/s, be aware that some rules are different.

If you are intending to be away from your home state for an extended period, a simple on-line check before you go may is a worthwhile investment.

Slow down, save on fuel, and enjoy the scenery, but be mindful of what is going on around you.

12. Road food.

Hungry? Looking for a coffee or lunch stop?

We are all tempted to do the grab-and-go bit, either ordering a quick meal at the self-serve in Maccas, KFC, Hungry Jacks etc, or line-up at the drive-through.

If you are in a hurry, great, if not, most towns along the way offer a variety of eateries, whether they be a café, a bakery, or the local pub.

Small town restaurants are almost always casual and affordable, with the best of them colourful places enjoyed by locals and savvy travellers.

Ask a local and they will point you in the right direction.

Why not enjoy great local flavours that sometimes are the highlight of any road trip.

Not only will you be satisfied, but you are also helping a local community.

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