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Tips For Long-Distance Driving

Australia has well over half a million kilometres of road, so we’re lucky enough to be able to answer the call of the road and just head out to drive and drive and drive. It’s a road trip paradise, where you can drive through 35 degrees of longitude (or three time zones) without any hassles with passports and visas and all the rest of the palaver involved with driving long distances in places like Europe, where 35 degrees of longitude will take you through a minimum of five countries (the route that covers this many lines on the map crossing the least borders will take you through France, Germany, Poland, Belarus or Ukraine and Russia).

Some people go on long road trips for fun – for them, the trip there is part of the holiday or even the holiday itself. For others, it’s more of a necessity, as their job requires it, or the family is so big that it’s cheaper to shove everyone in the Honda Odyssey and drive from A to B rather than flying.  But no matter what your situation is, it pays to be prepared and possibly even to change your driving style.

  • If possible, don’t drive alone. Have someone with you who will be able to share the driving or, at the very least, help relieve the monotony of the more boring bits of scenery by talking to you, or scream loudly if you look like you’re falling asleep at the wheel.
  • Stay hydrated.  No matter how good your air-con system is, you are going to need fluids. It’s a mistake to limit your fluid intake while driving long distance so you don’t have to stop to pee all the time.  If you’re dehydrated, you may end up making dumb decisions. OK, don’t guzzle vast quantities but don’t underdo it.
  • Plan to stop for a break here and there rather than doing it all in one long bash.  Have a look at the map before you set out and have a think about where would be a good spot for a break. However, your stops along the way don’t have to be at settlements – you can stop in the middle of nowhere and admire the sheer expanse of the world.
  • Fatigue is your enemy, especially on a long straight stretch of road.  Taking breaks and sharing the driving can help relieve the fatigue, but there are a few other tips that help. Avoid eating carb-heavy meals, as these often make you feel sleepy. Also don’t use some driver aids such as cruise control, as if you’re more active in your driving, you’re less likely to nod off.
  • Caffeine is a double-edged sword. It may make you more alert but it will also stimulate your bladder.
  • Be prepared for the worst. If you broke down in the middle of nowhere, would you be able to cope?  Pack more water and food than you think you are likely to need just in case. A jerry can full of petrol/diesel in the boot wouldn’t go amiss as well, especially if you’re doing the Nullabor.
  • Choose your music wisely.  A long-haul drive is not the time for slow, relaxing music, as this may soothe you off to sleep, especially at the end of the day.  Go for the faster and more upbeat music, or else keep your mind stimulated with a talking book.
  • If you start feeling tense and achy in your neck and shoulders, sleepy, hungry or desperate for the lavatory, stop, even if you haven’t reached your planned stopping point.
  • Let someone know your estimated time of arrival (approximate) and the route you’re taking so if something goes badly wrong, they’ll know when and where to start looking.
  • Try not to drive long distances at night, especially if you’ve been driving most of the day. The road is even more hypnotic at night, with the constant, regular flash of the centre line and the cats-eyes and little else to look at… a sure-fire recipe for getting into a trance state.
  • Better late than never. You are not in a race, so don’t try to beat the “official” time suggested by the AAA (e.g. 1 day and 16 hours non-stop for Sydney to Perth).


  1. Gordon Hamilton says:

    Don’t drive long distances with the airvent closed all the time. Occasionally you do need to close of the vent. If you drive with the airvent closed you will just be rebreathing the air within the cabin of the vehicle. This will lead to you simply going to sleep at the wheel. The more people in the vehicle the quicker the available oxygen in the air is consumed. Wind down the window and clear out the stale air every so often if you must travel with the vent closed.

    Regards carrying the jerry can of fuel in the boot if driving the Nullabor. I suggest this is an extra hazard that is not really necessary. I have driven across several times. If you plan your fuel stops and top up regularly rather than trying to get maximum range out of a tank you can do it quite comfortably. Gordon

    September 24th, 2013 at 1:52 pm

  2. Sally says:

    Thank you Gordon, that sounds like good advice! I do always wind my window down every half hour or so, no matter what weather, it really makes a difference. Have not driven across the nullabor for a few decades now and never needed spare petrol then even, so wondered about that recommendation myself, now that cars get many more Ks to the tankful.

    September 24th, 2013 at 3:26 pm

  3. Phil Spencer says:

    Powernaps work. Unfortunately I often need to travel alone, and I’ve found myself nodding off, especially after lunch (shall have to remember that lo-carb suggestion in future). So I’ll stop somewhere with a bit of shade, put the seat back a bit, and let Captain Nod take over. I’ll usually only doze for 5-10 minutes, but the eyelids are MUCH lighter afterwards. Don’t overdo it though – I’m told a 30-minute nap can sometimes leave you full of sleepy-body chemicals, so paradoxically worse of than no nap.

    September 24th, 2013 at 5:02 pm

  4. Steve says:

    If you can’t spell “Nullarbor”, then don’t even apply for a driver’s licence!

    September 24th, 2013 at 11:29 pm

  5. Owen Humphreys says:

    All modern cars bleed in about 10-15% of outside air if you put the airflow on “recirculate”. You are not able to shut off the outside air totally, so the chances of running out of oxygen are nil.
    RACQ advises NOT to carry jerrycans of petrol in your car ever. It’s a high risk hazard in the event of an accident. They do not mention diesel fuel jerrycans. However, you can refuel just about everywhere on the coast roads, so if you plan your long distance trip fuel stops long before you run out of fuel, you should have no problems. This does not apply to outback and desert trips. You will need to organize fuel dump stops, or carry diesel with you.
    Plan your trips so that you have a good night’s sleep before you leave, and stop to have a walk around, a drink, and stretch every two hours. Set a maximum number of hours a day to drive, say, about 6, and go no further.
    If you find your eyelids starting to droop, you must recognise that this is probably your first and only warning, and you must stop immediately, and have a sleep. If you ignore this first and only warning, your next stop might be in the radiator of a semi-trailer or with a tree growing where your seat used to be. You can fall asleep with your eyes open.

    September 24th, 2013 at 11:40 pm