So, should I rent a car or not?
If you’re planning on staying in a big city, chances are having a car might prove to be more hassle than it’s worth. Melbourne for example has an extremely extensive public transport system, and you’ll find that parking a car down-town is expensive and inconvenient. However, if you plan on venturing out of the cities, then a car is a fantastic way to see the countryside!
In both New Zealand and Australia (and most other countries too), you must be 21 to rent, but under 25’s might pay more than older drivers would. Also, if you’ve had your license for only a short time, you might find some additional restrictions. But, that’s it. Basically all you need for most countries is a full license and a credit card (NOT a debit card though, no NETS accepted here!). If your license has no English printed on it, you’ll want to get an international driver’s license.
Do check for any age limitations and regulations before renting your car.
What kind of car is best?
If your budget is tight and you’re travelling light, you’ll definitely want to get a compact car to minimise the cost of fuel on your travels. If you feel like driving, driving, driving across the country you’re staying in, consider renting an RV/camper van-type vehicle so you can really get out there. The advantage of this is that you’ll save on hotel fees too. If you’re worried about the conditions of the roads, you should perhaps look into a 4wd/SUV type car. How steep are the roads on your journey? For big hills and mountain tops, however, go for something with a little more horsepower. However, small groups travelling on well-maintained roads over medium distances should probably just stick with the standard sedan.
With the right car, you can be a happy road trippin’ family!
What about insurance and other costs?
Insurance is another tough choice to make, but as you never know what could go wrong overseas, it’s best to err on the side of caution. People who are convinced that because they are very good drivers they don’t need to get much insurance always fail to take into account that the roads are filled with not-very-good drivers, drunks, or just plain distracted people. It is therefore advisable to fork out a bit more for complete coverage.
What about hidden costs to look out for? Youth charges are something that catch some young travellers off guard. You should always watch out for toll roads and bridges too. Google maps will help you chart your routes and should also inform you of these tolls. You should also be careful of the varying costs of petrol in the different places you go; for example, countryside petrol stations generally charge more than those in urban areas. Finally, don’t forget to check about parking fees, which some forget to factor into their budgeting calculations.
With these tips, now you’re all set to enjoy the ride and the view.
What to pack for a road trip?
- Maps (digital or foldable paper ones)
- Smartphone (portable wi-fi)
- Music (CDs, MP3s or Spotify)
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Bottled water
2. Inspiration for road trip itineraries
1. Australia (Great Ocean Road)
One of the most popular road trips from Melbourne is the one where you conquer the Great Ocean Road, a 243 km long road that runs from Torquay to near the Southern Australian Border. The four-hour drive will inspire you with jaw-dropping panoramic coastal views, where dramatic waves along the Instagram-worthy shorelines. You’ll also see a collection of massive limestone formation called the 12 Apostles and further down this road, you’ll also come across less touristy areas like the Loch Ard Gorge.
Best time for a road trip: November & December during Australia’s Spring/Summer. How long: At least 4 nights to travel to Adelaide via the Great Ocean Road; the more relaxed the itinerary, the better you’ll enjoy the trip. Lorne or Apollo Bay are good places to stop on the 1st night, Port Campbell, Warrnambool-Port Fairy have enough going on to merit a 2-night stay, and Mount Gambier or Naracoorte are good places for a final night’s stop before continuing onto Adelaide.
The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s best road trips.
2. New Zealand (North Island)
Auckland to Wellington is a great route to discover the grandiosity of New Zealand’s North Island. Explore Hobbiton before driving the Thermal Highway where you’ll discover the island’s geothermal delights – like bubbling geysers and volcanic craters. This route will help win(e)d your way through the vineyards of Martinborough, capturing the very best of the very picturesque North Island before arriving in Wellington, the southernmost capital city in the world, and a fun, lively place to boot. In a car or camper, you can make the most of the outdoors New Zealand has to offer. You’ll also probably be able to make friends with some gregarious locals.
Best time for a road trip: November & December, when you’ll find pleasant temperatures and quiet sights before the Christmas peak season. How long: You can do a road trip in 12 days, but 16 days gives you time to linger around.
New Zealand’s North Island is a driver’s paradise.
3. Malaysia (Penang)
Locals know Penang is a major attraction due to its legendary status as a foodie’s mecca. There are many things to digest while driving through the E1 Lebuhraya Utara – Selatan (E1 North – South Highway). About an hour’s drive out of the capital city of Kuala Lumpur along the highway takes you to a small area of villages called Sungkai, home to some local hot spring inns called the Felda Residence Hot Springs. You can stay a night here or simply stop by and enjoy a some therapeutic relaxation in the hot springs pool for a few hours.
Going down the highway to Penang will eventually lead travellers to the town of Ipoh, another Malaysian burgh with good food, amazing architectural attractions, rich history, and cultural heritage. Foods to try in Ipoh include its famous Ipoh Chicken Rice, Ipoh Keow Teow, Heong Peang biscuits, and white coffee. After filling up your tummies, make sure to check out the eerie but beautiful (and supposedly haunted) Kellie’s Castle, once the home of an eccentric British planter. Returning to the highway after Ipoh will bring you to a place called Taiping, just over the border in Penang state. Taiping is home to the beautiful Lake Gardens Park and Maxwell Hill, which are perfect for nature lovers.
Best time for a road trip: Pretty much any time of the year! That’s the good thing about visiting our friendly neighbours to the north, although you might want to give the school holiday season a miss if you want to avoid the crowds. How long: At least 3 days.
Lovely drives await you on the other side of the Causeway.
4. Australia (Southern Queensland)
Sunny Queensland is a prime spot for a drive with some loved ones. After breakfast, take the Pacific Motorway south from Brisbane to The Gold Coast. Today you could visit a famous Rum Distillery at Beenleigh (making sure that one of you is the designated driver, of course), see breathtaking natural scenery or dive straight into their theme parks like Dreamworld or Sea World. If you drive straight though, it’s a mere 80 km, though there’s so much to see and do that you could stretch your trip out nearly indefinitely.
The next day, continue to play tourist by checking out the Surfers Paradise hub, or chill out by strolling in peaceful South Stradbroke Island. Submerge yourself in fresh local produce, breathe in scenic views of rainforest-covered mountain ranges and hang out at different beaches. Wave goodbye to the 35 famous beaches of the Gold Coast on the third day and take the high road north to the Gold Coast Hinterland and the Tamborine Mountain, 45 km inland, if you want to explore further.
Best time for a road trip: February How long: At least 4 days
Sunny Queensland is the perfect spot for a beach-side drive.
5. Taiwan (Northeast Coast)
Taiwan, or more specifically, Taiwan’s Northeast Coast, is full of stunning natural landscapes, lively night markets, and traditional towns just waiting to be explored. Better yet, it can be done in a long weekend!
To start, head to Keelung, a harbour city located just a few hours from Taipei. The town is beautiful on a clear day when the mountains that surround it are visible and the sea is a beautiful blue. Keelung is home to a few eccentricities worth checking out but the main draw is its night market, Miaokou, one of Taiwan’s liveliest and largest. Try the Pao-Pao Shaved Ice, one of the market’s specialities.
Continuing down the coast, you’ll encounter the Yehliu Geopark, most likely the strangest from any landscape you have ever seen. In this park stand around 180 unusual rock formations in various stages of sea and wind erosion. Spend an afternoon exploring the park’s natural marvels, jump back in your cars and drive on. About an hour away from Yehliu lies Jiufen, a quaint old gold mining village built into the hills off the coast. The main tourist attraction is Jiufen Old Street, a winding road filled with street vendors and handicraft shops. Near the town stands Teapot Mountain, a moderate half-day hike. If you’re willing to stretch your legs and sweat for a few hours, you’ll be rewarded at the top of the mountain with one of the best views in all of Taiwan. For the beach at the end of your trip, go to either Wai Ao or Wushi. Both are black-sand beaches with a great view of Turtle Island out in the distance.
Best time for a road trip: June to August How long: At least 4 days
Taiwan’s east coast is an underrated haven of natural beauty.