A few weeks ago, we met a German couple who are spending a year in Australia, aiming to drive around the whole country before their twelve-month visas expire. As we had a similar setup, a car with a rooftop tent, and a similar route – we ended up meeting them time and time again on campgrounds and other places.
The similarities got us talking and we spent many great nights and days together. But there was one thing that made us as travelers differ from each other: the way we travel.
We were having a picnic in a park when we started talking about our travel plans for the near future
The Germans could tell us their exact plans for the coming days, even for coming weeks. They intended to explore the botanical gardens and the zoo in Rockhampton, go see a Singing Ship, spend a night at Emu Beach and then slowly make their way towards Bundaberg for a brewery tour and Hervey Bay to spend at least five nights on Fraser Island.
Then they asked us how we plan our travels. Our answer was, and is:
“We plan as we go, take one day at a time.”
I could see in their faces that they thought it was a weird way to travel, that they couldn’t do the same. And in a way, for me, a person who loves planning, doing research and writing lists, this is a very weird way of travelling.
But I’ve grown to like it. I even prefer it that way.
Let the Road Signs Guide You
In Asia, we couldn’t really ‘plan as we went’ because we didn’t have a car and the countries’ infrastructure are more confusing than logical for tourists. In Australia, however, the road network is great and easy to navigate, and we don’t have to follow a schedule.
That has enabled us to do our road the way we want to do it.
What ‘taking one day at a time’ means for us is that after we’ve woken up and had our breakfast, we pack our tent and belongings in the car and hit the road. We have our general direction we’re headed towards, usually a bigger city such as Cairns or Brisbane, but what we’ll do that day and where we end up staying the night is still a mystery.
We have a few different apps on our phones that help us find day-time rest areas, campgrounds and points of interest. They are helpful when we try to find a place where to have lunch, sleep or fill our water tank, but otherwise we let the apps be.
Instead, we keep our eyes open and follow the road signs.
My favorite places so far we’ve randomly visited have been a beautiful windmill park in Atherton Tablelands, Australia’s tallest single-drop waterfall Wallaman Falls (268 meters), a bushwalk route in Bowen and a morning above the clouds up in Eugenella Park (as seen in the photo for this post).
All these attractions were unplanned – and unexpectedly beautiful. That, somehow, makes them all even more valuable than the expected things.
Seeing What Others Don’t
Many of our decisions our guided by our low budget. Most often, we opt for free campgrounds instead of those that cost. We choose the free attractions rather than the guided, costly ones. We make our own food on the gas stove instead of going to restaurants and cafés.
It can be seen as a trade-off. Some paid campgrounds are awesome (we did stay at one that used to be nudist park a couple of years back – few places have been as relaxing as that campground) and of course, it would be awesome to go diving on Whitsunday Islands, see the wild koalas on Magnetic Island or the dingoes on Fraser Island. I would love to visit cafés, bakeries and restaurants and gorge on meat pies, fish and chips, artisan made ice cream.
But when seen from another perspective, we are actually experiencing something most tourists are not. It feels like many places we drive through or take a lunch break at aren’t visited by tourists – in a way, they are untouched, and that the road signs we follow guide us to places other tourists have overlooked. The Wallaman Falls, for instance, are visited by approximately 100,000 people per year. In contrast, the Fraser Island is visited by 380,000 people every year.
In other words, we end up seeing something most travelers don’t.
The Ultimate Freedom
By choosing something that feels like the opposite to what most tourists do, I feel a bit rebellious – and it feels right. It feels like we are making our own, unique Australian road trip by choosing the things most people don’t. Our plans aren’t dictated by “20 best things to do in Place X” lists found online or by what other people expect us to see. We make our own decisions and it feels like the only right way to do it, without the obligations.
Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing bad about wanting to go diving to the Great Barrier Reef or drive on the sandy beaches of Fraser Island – I would most likely do that if I had the opportunity. The tourist attractions are attractions for a good reason – but there is something even more awesome about doing the “rebellious” thing, the thing no one else does. The things we want to do and see.
Also, I think somehow, as the world is so interconnected and the Internet allows us to see most of the world attractions, seeing the random things becomes the thing while traveling – to see things you cannot find online. To see the odd vehicle memorabilia museum next to the gas station in a small village or chatting about writing with an elderly lady in the twilight at a rest stop.
For many, this might not feel like the way they would like to travel, like it seemed to be for the German couple. Some people prefer to have some control over their plans, a schedule to hold on to. I get it – I’m like that when it comes to certain things. For us, however, traveling without ‘must-sees’ seems to be the best way to do our Great Australian Road Trip.
When we don’t plan ahead, we get the ultimate freedom of being on a road trip. By letting go of control and expectations, we stop restricting ourselves from giving opportunities to random things.
So, in case someone in the future wonders out loud why we didn’t see “any of the sights” while we were in Australia, I won’t feel bad. Instead, I’ll recall all the odd, beautiful things we encountered on the road while lightheartedly driving from one location to the next without plans, without schedules, and without the pressure of following in the footsteps of most tourists.