Last year I drove across Australia from Sydney to Perth – alone.
Everyone has an opinion on travelling alone, and for every expression of excitement or admiration, there were the negative Nancy’s – Aren’t you worried you’ll be lonely? Are you sure you can put up with yourself for that long? Aren’t you scared?
These genuine questions from people prepared me for some of the worst, and inevitable moments of travelling alone – the loneliness and yes, occasional fear.
There were a few surprise discoveries along the way, both good and bad, that I hadn’t expected from my solo road trip.
1. The Playlist
Right, this is literally what the navigator is for – maps, snacks and sorting the music! It’s just about ok (and legal? I think?) to press the next button but what happens when you’re just done with the whole playlist? Gone are the days when you can pop out a CD, changing Spotify playlists requires thought, and a little bit of concentration.
Truthfully, it’s easier just to pull over but it is a huge pain. Queuing up dozens (sometimes hundreds to be honest…) of songs is the way forward. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail and all that.
2. The Money
The more you drive you realise – most people road trip with a buddy because it’s damn expensive to do it alone! Obviously, the petrol is your responsibility – and it adds up quickly when you’re doing big mileage in a station wagon from the 90s.
However, the little things that you don’t think are expensive – like $5.00 for a carpark. Now, split 4 ways, its small fry. But when you’re visiting a few national parks a week and you have to pay $5 (at least) each time, it adds up. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t skip a few because funds were running low!
3. The Sleeping Space
Aw yeah buddy! That tiny little space that the rental company could sleep 3? Not when you’re by yourself – that is prime starfishing real estate.
To be completely transparent, I did not have enough room to starfish at all, but it was nice to know that if I’d completely rearranged the car or risked leaving more things outside overnight, then I could’ve.
4. The Cold
I guess this one is location and season dependent… But good god, no one tells you that Melbourne reaches freezing point in September! With no other body heat to help warm the car, there were a few nights where I woke up in the middle of the night with a nose like ice and had to run the engine to defrost the inside of the windows.
A hot water bottle (and both of the sleeping bags that came with the car…and my coat) was my best friend. I also got really jealous of travellers I saw with dogs, purely because I wanted something big and warm to spoon!
5. The Washing Up
You literally always have to do the washing up. Everytime you cook. Twice, maybe three times a day. And if you leave it overnight? It’s still there in the morning. The audacity.
If you leave washing up outside overnight in Australia, you might wake up in the night to find a kangaroo and a possum quietly sharing the congealed baked beans in your pan. I left them to it.
6. The Decisions
I know it’s a stereotype that women can never choose what to have for dinner, and it’s never really been a problem I had. But making every single decision for weeks on end is really, really exhausting.
What to eat and what to buy is the easy bit, you’re pretty limited by a lack of fridges and freezers anyway. But where to go! You have to pick the itinerary everyday, find somewhere (preferably free) to sleep that’s not miles out of the way, decide when to take a detour to a swimming pool or proper campsite for a shower, Spotify playlists… It’s surprisingly exhausting and after a while I started fantasizing about someone telling me what to do!
7. The Singing
Alright the truth: I get performance anxiety whilst singing in the car with other people. There, I said it. It’s not that I have a bad voice, I can hold a tune, I’m just never sure what level of enthusiasm is appropriate to give Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” in front of other people…
Alone on the other hand… Girl, you belt out that early noughties emotional ballad, there’s no-one to judge you now!
8. The Gross-ness
I won’t get too detailed with this one because, well, who wants to know? But suffice to say that, when you’re road tripping Australia on a budget, free campsites are the way forward. And most of the free campsites have no shower facilities and only long drop toilets. I imagine in the summer it’s easier as you can use the beach showers, but it’s not that appealing when it’s 8oC…
Let’s be honest, there were more than a handful of times when showers didn’t happen for a couple (loose term) of days and baby wipes came in very handy… But was anyone around to smell me? I rest my case.
9. The Elderly
Well, it was bound to happen eventually. After a while, even the sound of your own voice sounds
It’s a very popular thing in Australia that older couples buy a caravan and spend their twilight years driving around the country, basically doing whatever they like. I always felt a little scruffy next to their sleek camper vans in my beat-up, dust-stained old Ford.
But, without exception, whenever I pulled up next to one of these rolling retirement homes, I would always be greeted by the couple, and usually their dogs. They were always friendly and usually very curious about why a young girl would want to drive alone across this vast country. The explanation often elicited rheumy-eyed anecdotes of their exploits during the 60s…
Curiosity was normally followed up by offers of food, drinks or use of their microwave and I spent more than one evening chatting with these couples over a mug of tea. I think they felt a grandparent’s responsibility for me and I was always surprised at how generous and accepting they were.
10. The Views
Driving across Australia, some of the views are simply breathtaking. Looking down the Bunda Cliffs – huge, towering cliffs that seem to go on forever – is a truly humbling sight. As is gazing out over the cobalt coloured Southern Ocean and knowing but there’s nothing but water between you and Antarctica.
I won’t deny, though, that there were times when I saw something that made me laugh, or smile that I didn’t miss having someone to share it with.