My Top Ten Road Trip Tips (or, How to Road Trip with Your Friends Without Killing Each Other)

I recently come back from a five day trip away with my friend Joi. In the past we’ve gone to Mexico together, to Great Keppel Island, on a cruise along the Queensland coast (with two other friends), and even on a one day “Monopoly tour” of London.

This time we ventured on the road, driving from Melbourne to the South Coast of New South Wales, also known as the Sapphire Coast. Being in a confined space for an extended period of time with people you know, or even complete strangers for that matter, could be a recipe for disaster, so we were pretty pleased that our first road trip, which covered over 1,400 kilometres, was such a success.

road map marking Melbourne to Merimbula

On that basis, in case you and your friend(s) have decided to hit the road together, here are my top ten road tripping tips to keep you from killing each other.

Establish the ground rules before you set out; this will help avoid arguments and misunderstandings later on:

1. You may have a detailed itinerary or you may, like us, set off with a general direction in mind but without a specific plan. Either way, it’s critical that you agree on your approach to the road trip before you head off. This includes agreeing on the accommodation budget as well as whether you’re going to take the ‘roads less travelled’ or stick to the beaten track. Make sure everyone’s comfortable before you proceed and don’t assume anything. (You know what happens when you assume!)

2. Be open and honest with each other about your needs, without making it all about you. You can’t read each other’s minds so it’s best to speak up about your own needs while understanding and respecting your friend’s needs too. It’s about compromise.

Joi and I agreed that we would speak up if we were feeling too hot or cold in the car, if we were driving and were too tired, if we needed to stop to stretch our legs or go to the toilet or eat something or even if we needed to nap. We had a “driver gets to choose the music” rule but also a “music veto” sub-clause that meant if the driver chose music that the other person just couldn’t stand, the other person could veto it.

view of Victorian State Forest through windscreen with feet on dashboard

On the road:

3. Share the driving – or be prepared for lots of breaks. No one likes driving for hours on end without a break, not to mention it can be quite dangerous. So either take a break while your friend drives or take multiple breaks to stretch your legs and/or get some rest if you’re the lone driver.

4. Bring up-to-date paper maps with you; don’t just rely on your smartphone or sat-nav. If technology (or mobile reception) fails you, you can always rely on the good ol’ fold out touring map. We found that we used our hard copy maps 95 per cent of the time.

5. This may seem obvious but… always keep an eye on how much petrol you have left, keeping in mind how long your next block of driving is. You can fill up as you go or wait till you’re under a quarter tank full and then fill up; whatever your strategy you absolutely do not want to run out of petrol in the middle of nowhere.

6. Bring your own snacks so you don’t need to buy something every time you need to munch. There’s no guarantee that you’ll find something suitable to eat in every small town you stop at so have your own supply. I’d suggest a combination of healthy and not-so-healthy goodies (there are times when only chocolate will do).

7. Keep water in the car with you. The last thing you want is to get dehydrated as you’re driving and if you have it in the boot of the car with the rest of your supplies you’ll likely go several hours without drinking.

Sign at entry of Eden Killer Whale Museum

Off the road:

8. You’ve decided to stop somewhere for the night and you don’t have accommodation booked. There are a couple of options at this point to help you get the right accommodation and each has its pros and cons:

  • Head to the local Information Centre. The pro is that you get help from volunteer locals who do all the hard work for you (ie make calls to check for availability, etc). The con is that unless you ask questions or volunteer a bunch of information about your taste/needs/budget, the volunteers will make some assumptions and you may end up in some place you wouldn’t have picked for yourself.
  • Get out your smartphone and look for accommodation online. The pro here is that you feel empowered that you’re seeing all the options and can decide on something that suits you (based on the info and photos provided, of course). The con is that not every local place may be listed or discoverable online. Also, you have to do the ring-around yourself which can be a bit tiresome when you’re at the end of a long day’s drive.

Merimbula Aquarium and Wharf Restaurant

9. Know your budget. If you are intimately acquainted with your budget, or even if you just have a rough amount in mind of what to spend per day on food and accommodation, you will be able to make little adjustments along the way without blowing your budget. For example, choosing bargain accommodation for a night or two might mean you have the money to splurge on a classy dinner or more expensive accommodation later on.

Most important of all:

10. Give each other space when it’s needed. This is true for any trip away with friends but especially so if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in a confined space together. Maybe one of you wants to do something and the other doesn’t, perhaps one (or both) of you is feeling a little moody… whatever the reason, if you sense a bit of tension in the air, give each other some space till the tension clears. You don’t have to be in each other’s pocket all the time.

Happy road tripping!

water crashing on rocks at Tathra

Have you been on a road trip? Was it a success or an epic failure? Feel free to share your story and your own road trip tips.

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