A funny thing happened on the way to Cape York. We were five women, driving the 4WD track together. Other travellers always said ‘But you’re travelling alone!’. To which we replied ‘Well no, actually, there are five of us…’.
What they meant, of course, was that there were no men with us. That was a few years ago and it’s more common now to see women taking road trips together, though solo women driving long-haul are still rare. In true Girl Guide fashion, it’s good to be prepared.
Travelling solo frees up the front seat for driver-revivers: these are essential when that next roadhouse/camp site/scenic spot is taking forever to appear. When the pleasure of silence wears thin, music, podcasts and one-disk audio books are a must: writer Nicholas Rothwell’s The Red Highway is a fantastic companion for the 2834kms of Stuart Highway heading through the centre of Australia.
Solitude and sociability
Enjoy the extended periods of solitude. They’re a chance to stay completely aware of the present and also to ponder those big things – the meaning of life, that great unwritten novel - especially on a road of great beauty like the 4WD Gibb River Road, its 650kms meandering through Western Australia’s Kimberley region.
Roadhouses offer an opportunity to socialise – there’s always a bar and restaurant and accommodation of sorts. On the Nullarbor’s long unwinding 1675km across the continent, they are at roughly 200km intervals and often staffed with travellers passing through. Take a break from the road and encounter some earthy - and maybe eccentric - characters.
Even if you’re planning to stay at roadhouses or motels, it’s good to have Plan B. So if it’s possible to sleep in the car, set it up permanently to do so. It doesn’t matter if you don’t – you can stow gear on top but know a bed’s there if you unexpectedly arrive somewhere remote and beautiful and want to stay. A pair of well-worn men’s boots left outside the car can be comforting if you’re unused to being quite so alone.
An old net curtain makes a decent mosquito net, and if privacy is an issue, a sarong or two make decent curtains. Alternatively a swag - a bedroll - makes a great travelling companion. And if it pours it’s much easier than a tent to leap out of and roll up, before retreating to the car.
To pee or not to pee? Check outdoor shops or online for a ‘whiz’, a funnel-type gadget that allows women to pee discreetly in the most public or awkward of places – great to use from a tent or car when it’s raining.
Safe and sound
Check the spare tyre before you leave. If the wheel nuts are over-tight it’ll likely take the brute strength of a bloke to get the bloody things undone - and it’s better to find that out before getting a puncture on the roadside.
Expect to be out of mobile-phone range most of the time: if you’re a regular e-communicator, let people know you won’t be for the duration. Roadhouses have landlines and, sometimes, internet access.
There’s often more traffic outback than you might expect. If you do have a breakdown (mechanical, rather than mental), sitting it out at the roadside is all that’s needed. Become part of the scenery for a while. Think of it as more material for that unwritten novel.