The fine art of the Christmas road trip

The fine art of the Christmas road trip


Sometimes the best thing about Christmas is the road trip that seems to happen around about the same time. This year it’ll be a 2000-km lap from NSW through the ACT, into Victoria and then back again. The only real decisions that need to be made are what to pack, and what to drive.

A critical consideration in deciding both of those issues is the likely weather for the duration of the trip. On this front (if you’ll excuse the pun), I usually defer to The Companion. It generally takes him a bit of time to come back with an answer, so I’ve learned to time my question so we have an answer before we depart. It’s not helpful to learn three days into the trip that it’s likely to rain heavily, and to be stuck in a car known to leak and get a bit draughty in bad weather.

Three to four days, usually, is what it takes to get a long-range forecast that will cover all or most of our time away, because The Companion takes forecasting seriously and consults widely and apparently with a range of obscure and often highly confidential sources. He’s muttered things about contacts in the military but to be honest I’m not fully across it.

As we speak he’s in the middle of this forecasting process, because we’re three days from departure, but I figure the answer will be one of two things: it will be fine, or mostly fine while we’re away, in which case a convertible vehicle is an option; or it will rain or mostly rain, in which case a fixed roof is preferable. So I’m currently making tentative plans, but no commitments, involving options from both camps, and can leave the final decision until closer to departure time. Ditto clothing and footwear.

I’ll also use an online mapping service to check the intended route. Nothing wrecks a great drive quicker than hitting kilometre after kilometre of roadworks or traffic jams; map apps are pretty good at this but what I’d really value is something that will tell me exactly where I’m likely to encounter caravans or mobile homes on one-lane roads going uphill. Either that, or a device to physically remove these hazards from the road.

The Companion has offered to use a drone-based solution to check the route ahead, so we can at least be forewarned about what’s ahead, but I’ve declined because I cannot for the life of me see how he can successfully pilot a moving drone from a moving car when he can still barely pilot a drone accurately when he’s stationary and actually watching it.

Anyway, if the weather is going to be fine, or mostly fine, then I’m narrowing down the choice to one of three cars, two of which have soft tops, which are convenient to put up and down in a bit of a hurry, if need be, but not great when it’s really wet; and a hard-top convertible that is a bit more of a hassle actually to convert, but more weather-proof when the roof is up.

Alternatively, if the forecast is bad then it’ll be a fixed-roof vehicle, and I have two that I’m tossing up, one of which is all-wheel-drive and one is rear-wheel-drive, and a bit of a beast if it’s really wet – especially on the leg of the trip across the Great Dividing Range where the road gets a bit twisty and it can get a bit dark in forested areas.

It’ll all become clear in the next day or two; I’ll choose the car and pack the appropriate clothing and we’ll get going. It’s one of life’s great pleasures to start the engine and pull away from home on the start of a trip – the lure of the unknown, and all that. There will be family and friends and laughter and arguments and food and drink and good times and it will be energising and exhausting and immense fun.

But it’s also great when you reach that leg of a long trip when you know the next stop is home. Sometimes you have to go away to really appreciate what you’re coming back to.