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Five golden rules when travelling in Australia

About Kathleen

Having it all and enjoying every minute of it .... mostly

Photographer, traveller, adventurer.

You are never too old to go on an adventure.


Australia is a big country and it can be dangerous. Avoid these mistakes and you should be OK.

I’ve just been reading somebody else’s story about the problems they had travelling around Australia for a year. The tears were rolling down my cheeks while I was reading. Not at their misfortunes, but because they chose to use Optus as their telecommunications provider! In the outback!!!

Beware crocodiles.

Beware crocodiles

I really shouldn’t laugh at anybody else’s mistakes. God knows I’ve made enough of my own,t (yes, that's my tent in that blog).

Read more from Kathleen Swinbourne: Just do it: Travelling the Simpson Desert solo

Looking around, other people have made some pretty laughable mistakes, as well. Here's just a few:

Choosing a provider other than Telstra for telecommunications

As much as I hate to promote them, Telstra is the ONLY provider that has decent coverage across the country. I can’t count the number of times I have had people ask to use my phone in the outback, including in the towns, because they had no coverage. Optus, 3, Virgin, Vodaphone, or any other providers are okay in the cities, but once you get outside them … forget it.

I pay $95/month for all calls and 10gig of data. If I need more data I can purchase it on an as-needs basis (yes, I've needed extra, even with 10gig a month, but usually because I'm streaming rugby remotely). I hotspot my laptop to the phone to upload blogs and do anything else I need to. I use the phone to connect to social media, use Google Maps as a GPS, I google information about places we’re visiting, and do whatever else I need to do on the web.

Underestimating the strength of the sun

We all do it, even those of us who have spent our lives here ... get sunburnt, that is. And if we can do it, imagine what’s going to happen to skin that’s not used to the sun.

I’ve hosted visitors from the northern hemisphere who’ve come straight from the middle of their winter to the middle of our summer. And the first thing everybody wants to do is get outside in the sun to warm up, usually on the beach. All I can say is, it’s not a good idea to go to the beach when you’re jet-lagged and likely to fall asleep.

The sun in Australia is hot. Remember that hole in the ozone layer? It’s over Australia. Do not forget to use sunscreen. Every day. Even in winter.

We didn’t have sunscreen when I was a kid and I remember summers when we couldn’t lie down or even have a sheet over our backs because we were so sunburnt. Our skin would blister and we’d have competitions to see who could peel the longest strip of skin from somebody’s back. It’s no wonder so many people have skin cancers now. And it still happens to visitors, a lot.

If you do go hiking or anything else in the sun, don’t forget water. Lots of it. And wear a hat

Not doing any research

Don't we love having a dig at tourists who know nothing about Australia (we call it "taking the piss"). Those people who have seen a picture of a kangaroo or koala, or of Bondi Beach, and think that’s our life. No, you will not see kangaroos jumping down the main street of Sydney, and yes it does rain here, and it gets cold. And Neighbours or Home & Away aren’t reality TV.

Over or underestimating the wildlife

I once watched a show on National Geographic or Discovery Channel about the in the world. I think all of them were found in Australia. Crocodiles, funnel web spiders, inland taipans, brown snakes, great white sharks, irakandji, blue ringed octopus. The list goes on.

But you know what? In all my travels I have never seen one – except for crocodiles, they’re everywhere in northern Australia. Don’t swim. Really. DO NOT SWIM. Saltwater crocodiles ARE found in fresh water.

That’s not to say dangerous animals aren’t there, but they don’t spend their time lying in wait for human prey – well, except for crocodiles. That said, it’s still wise to be careful.

If you corner a snake, (even accidentally, they sometimes get into sleeping bags because it’s warm), or put your feet into your shoes and squash a spider, they will bite. And those bites can make you very, very sick, or kill you.

At the other end of the scale, cute and cuddly animals can be dangerous. Watch out for Drop Bears. If you are walking under gum trees keep a look out. Drop Bears are so named because that’s what they do – they drop onto you from the trees. And they have a sharp bite. You can ward them off by spraying fresh urine on your head and neck.

And watch out for cows.

Having the wrong vehicle

I’ve written before about how you can ,  but if you do want to go off road, you need to be prepared.

A poxy little all wheel drive SUV is not going to cut it. There is a reason that everyone in the Territory refers to anything other than a Land Cruiser or a Hilux as “just a car”.

Have you ever read the Girl With A Dragon Tattoo series of books? I loved them. I read them all one after the other, over just a few days. I couldn’t put them down. Until it came to the section where Blomkvist tracked Harriet to a sheep station in outback Australia. When he arrives he’s met by somebody (I can’t remember who) in his Jeep. That’s where the books lost all credibility for me and I nearly stopped reading. Nobody in the outback has a Jeep!!

If you’re going to stay on tar, or even well-graded dirt, you don’t need to go all Daktari, but if you are going off road, be prepared. You need a real 4WD with high clearance, recovery gear and good communications gear, including a satellite phone (and yes, a Jeep will do).

Not having a safety plan

This is the biggest mistake people make. Outback Australia can be very harsh, it’s very hot in summer and the sun is very strong. And there are large distances between places, especially for those used to the European landscape.

If you’re driving through the outback you need to have a plan in case something goes wrong, like you break down or get bogged. And that plan should be DO NOT LEAVE YOUR VEHICLE. If you do, you might die.

I can’t stress this one enough. Make sure you’ve got plenty of water on board. At least 10 litres per person, plus whatever smaller bottles you have. Our Cruiser has a 40L tank, and I carry a 15L container in the Vitara. I also have a 1.25L bottle in the fridge and 600ML bottle to drink from while driving. All are refilled regularly.

And stay with your vehicle. That way, you have shelter from the elements, water to drink and you are far more likely to be found. People have died in the outback because they’ve gone out looking for help, and the only reason they were found is because somebody followed the tracks from the car after the car was found first.

If you keep this in mind, you’ll have a fabulous time. Australia is a beautiful country and I highly recommend you take as much time as you possibly can to travel around. You’ll love it.

I’ve even been out there with just a girlfriend for company, as well as on my own. We made some mistakes, sure, but we had an amazing time.

What recommendations do you have for people travelling in Australia?

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