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Monday, December 11, 2017



Melbourne, Australia Self Drive Road Trip - The Plan

A tram in Melbourne CBD all dressed up for Christmas
Every trip starts with a plan. 

As novice travelers, we had to plan doubly hard. The kids had not been on a plane before so we decided to visit Australia. The airplane ride being a long haul one, would by itself be an experience by itself for them. We also planned to show them how their dad used to live as a student in Australia. Any amount of stories we had told them about this before would not match what they would see with their own eyes and experience by being there.

Since we were novice travelers, we decided to do everything in a step by step method.

First, we had to get passports.
Read Mistakes To Avoid When Making Or Renewing Passport For Children 18 Years Old And Below which was written during our passport application process.

Next, we needed Visas to travel to Australia.
It's very easy to get one online now, no need for queuing or waiting. You can apply for an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) online. An ETA provides authorization to travel to and enter Australia and is electronically linked to your passport. The fee is Aud $20. All you need to do is visit this site to read and follow the instructions carefully to apply for an ETA.

Next, we needed air tickets.
Image taken by kid No. 1 during the flight
We decided to fly MAS instead of Air Asia since its the kids first plane ride. As with most things these days, we booked online too. One quick note on this. There are several ways to check in a flight on MAS including counter check in, kiosk check in, web check in or mobile check in. We did a web check in and printed out our boarding passes 2 days before leaving. (Counter check in is not available to economy seat passengers). However, we could not do a web check in upon returning because we had no access to a printer. We also could not do a mobile app check in because it was not practical to do so on 4 different mobiles. There was no kiosk at Melbourne airport for kiosk check in so we went to the counter. Apparently, whichever method you choose to check in, currently, you still need to go to the counter to be sighted and to get your boarding passes.

In order to go through airport security as quickly as possible, we planned not to check in any baggage. We also made sure all the stuff we were carrying complied with airport security requirements including getting prescription for medication we were carrying on board, making sure liquids were in 100 ml or less and in plastic resealable bags and making sure our luggage was in the right dimensions and weight for hand carry. Planning these little details help make sure you have a smooth uneventful travel experience.

Next, we needed a rented car since we planned to do a self drive road trip in Melbourne, Australia.
Image taken by kid no. 2 when returning the rental car
We decided to rent a car online from Avis. When renting a car online, you need to specify the pick up and return locations, time and date, pick a car type and specify your add ons. We decided to add on GPS and a mobile WIFI because we wanted to stay connected. (However, the GPS was not a car feature, it was a mobile one which was good enough though misleading and the mobile WIFI which was stated as available online was not available when we got there). These are minor issues and we were generally happy with the car. In Melbourne, you can drive with your overseas driving license. We watched some YouTube videos to familiarize ourselves with driving around Australia. We were not too worried about the suburbs but driving with trams and doing the hook turn did leave us a bit nervous. We were a bit worried about tolls too but then we didn't have to because tolls are electronically charged as your car drives through and the car rental company will auto deduct your credit card for payment of tolls.



One other issue was staying in touch during the trip. 
This is a good article on the best phone plans for travellers in Australia. However, we did not take up any of these plans. As soon as we arrived at Melbourne airport, we immediately received a text message to turn on roaming at a charge, which we did because it was so convenient. So no mobile WIFI in the car became a non-issue. In fact, with roaming and Google Maps app turned on, we didn't even need the GPS. Strangely, Google Maps was much better than Waze when we were there for some unknown reason.
Tip: Did you know that you can save google maps routes offline? That is a useful feature to have if you do not have a data plan. However, data roaming was useful to us because we needed to be able to make local phone calls to land lines in Australia in case we couldn't check in on time which did eventually happen.

Finally, we needed to book our accomodation.
In order to book accomodation, you will need to have a detailed itinerary, especially if you are on a self-drive trip. The duration of our flight was 8 hours leaving KL at 9.50 pm and arriving at Melbourne airport at 8.45 am (3 hours ahead of KL). We planned to collect our rented car at the airport and immediately drive the Great Ocean Road passing Torquay, Lorne and Apollo Bay up to Port Campbell. 300 km driving and one night at Port Campbell booking was required. Next day, we planned to drive from Port Campbell to Grampians, then to Clayton bypassing Ballarat and Melbourne. Another 515 km driving and 2 nights at Clayton required. From Clayton we could drive to Phillip Island and back, another 250 km of driving. Finally we would drive from Clayton to Melbourne CBD (20 km), return the car and spend a night there before leaving Melbourne for KL. One night at Melbourne CBD required.


View from our room at Holiday Inn Flinders, Melbourne
Tip: When booking accommodation in a new and unfamiliar place, it helps to do a little research by using Google Maps Satellite view. We were going to stay at Holiday Inn on Flinders, Melbourne. Google Maps showed that one side of the hotel was facing a car park and another the back yard. In fact, we were about to be assigned those rooms but we requested for these side rooms with a much better view (after our research with Google Maps) and was rewarded with this view instead. Looking down, you can see the trams and people rushing to work which was fun.

It took many hours of reading and research to come up with that plan. With that plan, we booked online for a Motel at Port Campbell, a serviced apartment at Clayton and a hotel at Melbourne CBD. We also booked online for our Phillip Island tickets to skip any queues. All we had to do was print out our own tickets and that was it.

Checking the weather and what to pack.

Everything was planned in detail but then the week before we left, we read about the airport closures and saw the flight paths which appear to be longer possibly because of the Mount Agung eruptions. That was worrying.

Unpredictability of  Melbourne weather from an internet meme. Origin unknown
Melbourne weather can be kind of crazy with 4 seasons in 1 day. We had planned to pack summer clothes because we read about it being very hot just before the start of summer but then a couple of days before our departure, we read that the BoM (Bureau of Meteorology) had issued an unprecedented severe weather warning for heavy rainfall for the entire state of Victoria where an entire month's of rainfall was expected in 3 days (when we were expected to be there), “It is an event that poses a threat to life, there will be a massive amount of lightning, there will be roads cut, flood waters.......most significant rain event for many years .....This is a very, very big weather event, we are in uncharted territory,.......I think this event will turn farms into lakes."

What to do now!? Everything has been booked and paid for. Will we have to stay in our hotel room the entire time? Will we even manage to drive to Port Campbell? Find out in Part 2 on our self drive road trip to Melbourne, Australia.

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