The Great Australian Roadtrip isn’t a particularly solemn coming-of-age tradition. It’s a hormone-charged departure from the familial nest, that almost unanimously looks to emulate the high-energy euphoria of sexed-up National Lampoon films. Regardless, the freedom to throw together a group of mates, lash the surfboards to the roof of the Kombi and head into the great coastal unknown has become somewhat eponymous with the twilight years of one’s adolescence in the Wide Brown Land.
Over the break I undertook this baptism of petrol and body odour, and I think it is high time fact was separated from fiction.
First of all, the Great Australian Roadtrip is the most expensive rite of passage since your Year 12 formal. Forget the Tim Winton-esque, happy-go-lucky surfer dudes who miraculously live off salt water and good times, because whilst you tear up the road, the road tears up your bank account. When factoring food and petrol, alongside unexpected occurrences such as car and surfboard repairs and the realisation you forgot to pack undies, you’re likely to blow 500 dollars or more. It appears that even the most innocent form of freedom comes at a cost.
Secondly, you will never get more rapidly sick of your own music. The stereotype of you and your mates singing along to Life is a Highway and Born to Run (and let’s be honest, Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles) is almost entirely unfounded. After the first hour of open road, you’re more likely to be buried in an Instagram feed than a singalong. Whoever said it’s the journey that matters, not the destination was probably on their way to a paint drying demonstration.
Finally, don’t expect to revel in the roughhewn romanticism of being a travelling wayfarer, because camping and living on the road is just downright uncomfortable. After the first couple of days, be it a trip to Bell’s Beach, Uluru or up to Splendour in the Grass, the smell of your own body, and your friends’ bodies for that matter, will be enough to make you miss a warm shower and a soft bed. Whilst there is a sense of carelessness and irregular continuity to sleeping under the stars and waking with the dawn, in the immortal words of ginger-prophet Ed Sheeran: “it’s not a homeless life for me, it’s just I’m home less than I’d like to be”.
And yet, for all its ups and downs, I think in many ways that the Great Australian Roadtrip is a very fitting rite of passage in our sheltered and comfortably digitised society. Spartan boys were required to venture into the countryside and callously slaughter helots. Our great-grandfathers had to sit in diseased-ridden trenches and run at machine guns.
If sleeping in a car, surfing all day and listening to Hiatus Kaiyote is all I have to do, then let’s hit the road, Jack.