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The 80% Packing Rule

Don't worry, everyone packs too much for their trip around Australia - the secret . . the 80% packing rule!

Lumbering out of the driveway on day 1 of our Big Lap we quite simply had WAY too much gear on board. In fact, as you may have seen in our film, we were trying to work out where to put the last bag and I joked about holding it on my lap . . . not a good idea given I was driving and also doing most of the filming!

So at our first camp in Bright we set up the camper trailer and unpacked our gear and stayed a few nights but when it came to leave it took us fully 4 hours to pack up everything and get going – not ideal!

The problem was twofold.

Obviously we simply just had too much stuff, a lot of things ‘just in case’ – extra bedding, extra clothes, an extra small fridge etc.

I think we’d packed with the view that we had to take everything with us that we might possibly need in the next year and were afraid to leave anything out.

The result was that we were literally at 110% of capacity because we had stuff piled up between the girls on the back seat and between the front seats and had loads of other bits and pieces either cable tied or ocky strapped to the trailer and boat rack.

Besides the extra weight, the biggest problem with filling every available space is that it dramatically increases the time it takes to set up and pack up camp because getting everything back in is a bit like a 3D jigsaw puzzle.

You have to get the boxes of food in first and the right way around, the boat motor goes in this way . . . the camp lights battery only fits in once everything else is in place . . etc.

We soon realised that having so much stuff with us was much more of a liability than we’d every considered and it was detracting from the enjoyment of the trip.

We started leaving things out.

On the drive from Bright towards Echuca, Jen’s fold up sun lounger which was strapped to the top of the roof rack, blew off and ended up on the side of the road. We heard it come off and I pulled over and went back to retrieve it but on the way back to the car I had second thoughts and left it leaning on a power pole on the side of the road to be picked up by a more needy traveller.

Sara finding some shade in our Tambo Camper Trailer

After our crash that had us stuck in Melbourne for 10 weeks or so we left a lot of things out like the spare room for the camper trailer, the second fridge, the spare bedding, about half our clothes, a box of books and a lot more.

In fact when we headed off again the camper trailer, back of the Landcruiser and roof rack were not completely full.

This is where we came up with the 80% rule.

The idea is to only fill your available storage to about 80% of capacity, rather than filling every available space – and a place for everything and everything in its place.

The result was a dramatic improvement in setup and pack up times because things fitted in easily.

The reality was that we didn’t miss any of the things we left out and we appreciated the ease and freedom that came with the new lighter load.

During the trip it fluctuated a bit, but by the time we were 12 months in we had it down to a fine art and we could setup in about 20 to 30 minutes and pack up in less than an hour.

So, use the 80% rule when planning for your trip and you’ll be happier for it.

And when it comes to deciding what to leave in and what to leave out, if you have to stop and think about it, you can probably live without it . . . ‘If in doubt, leave it out!’

Happy packing.

Check out The Big Lap Film Series to see what it’s REALLY like to pack up your life and spend a year or more driving around Australia.

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Steve Baile
Steve Baile
I’m the founder of Expedition Australia, a writer, filmmaker & adventure travel junkie. Passionate about my family, health and fitness, hiking, 4WD touring, adventure motorbikes, camping and exploring as much of the planet as I can.


  1. Hi Steve,
    We watched your DVD and loved it and have just watched it a second time! inspired by your lovely family and by a few blogs I follow we have decided to do a six month lap, leaving in March this year. We are in the stages of working out what we need to pack and how we will fit it all in. We have three girls, 3,5 and 7.
    My questions are:
    Did you take a portable toilet?
    How much bedding will the kids need? (they have stretcher beds with a sleeping bag and a blanket)
    Do you think it is worth taking the kids bikes? or would a scooter be enough for them to play with?
    Do you think a cargo barrier is necessary? We have a 2012 pathfinder. My husband is of the opinion we don’t need one, but Im worried if we have an accident all our suitcases and fridge might fly around and hit the kids in the backseat.

    Thanks for reading. I have a blog that I am writing for our trip so I can send you the link if you’re interested in reading it.


    • Hi Shantelle,
      Glad you enjoyed the film and are planning your own trip.
      Here’s some answers for you . .
      Yes we took a Portaloo which lived on the roof rack – but we never needed it. Always managed to find an alternative including behind a few trees.
      We had stretchers too with sleeping bags and blankets and that was enough. A set of warm PJ’s and a couple of spare fleece blankets ($10 from Kmart) should do it.
      Take the bikes if you can but scooters are a good alternative. Depends how much your girls are into their bikes. If you’re planning plenty of off road then they will get pretty dirty and dusty if they are attached to the outside of your rig.
      I’d take the cargo barrier. We didn’t originally but after we rolled the car I put it back it. Fortunately none of our stuff flew into the backseat but that was luck more than anything. The other advantage of having one is that you can stuff your bags etc into the back more tightly knowing it isn’t all falling into the back seat.
      Would love a link to your blog and if you want to share any articles on our site here just let me know.

  2. My husband was given you Big Lap DVD for Chrissy, as we’re going on a round trip through WA & the Top End & back to Adelaide. The DVD was fabulous enjoyed every moment. When you reached Adelaide & the end of your journey we both said how sad we were it was over, not only for you & the family but for us as well. Phil (my husband) happens to be a spreadsheet man so was very excited when I downloaded the Budget Spreadsheet for him (he’s a sad sad man). Anyway hope all the girls are doing well & keep on the good work, when we get going would love to send you some pics etc of our (bound to be interesting) journey as well as spectacular scenery. Again thanks for all the hints & enthusiasm as well as sharing your adventures
    Les & Phil

  3. Have watched the DVD over again and again, absolutely love it and now we want to do the trip ourselves. Even one of our daughters have asked if we could do it next year. The only problem is, we just opened up a camping store about 6 mths ago and we would have to sell the business before we go. So maybe shorter trips might have to do for a while…

  4. we loved the movie big time and now we are planning our 10 week trip to port douglas from melbourne, was there many dog friendly places on the way port douglas, we’re taking out kids out off school but my son is in year 9 and they get an lap top so they can send his work to him and he can send it back when he finishes, did you meet any other people who did this i hope we arint doing the wrong the wrong thing with him.

    • Geoff. We took our boys out of school for 18 months to take them around Aus. I was worried but the wife seemed to think it was ok. Turns out she was right (again) as when they got back they were about 6 months ahead of everyone else. With us assisting and being the proxy teacher they had instant access to help instead of waiting for the teacher to help 30 other students. Don’t stress, your kids will thrive and not suffer at all. Life experience will outweigh anything else. Enjoy!

  5. Hi Steve, have watched your DVD and love it….we are planning our big lap early 2016…l have a couple of questions for you. …..
    1. How did u choose which direction u went and the time of year that u left?
    2. Did u take a laptop or a tablet/ipad?



  6. Have just read your 22 Tips pdf and you have some great ideas there – we did a 6-month trip up to NT and then across to WA, and back through SA – would agree with all your comments.

    Regarding how to determine how much gear to take on a trip – Our recommendation is that you always do one or two “shake-down” trips before heading off on the trip “proper”.

    We head away for a weekend just to become familiar with the setting up / packing away process and to make sure battery re-chargers / solar panels etc. work; then we do a 1-week or 2-week trip away. When we return home from that 2nd trip, we usually toss out a load of items as we realise that we won’t need them on the road.

    We did a 2-month trip around Tasmania with a TV aerial strapped to the bed – we didn’t use it once (purchased a digital TV aerial that converted our laptop to a TV and used that instead). We removed the full size TV and aerial for our next trip!

    Pushbikes are also an item that you could probably do without – we took our pushies on the same trip around TAS and only used them once. They took up way too much room in the tray of the ute for no reward. We now have a special bike rack welded to the back of the caravan so if we tow them around on our next big adventure, at least they won’t be taking up valuable space in the ute.

  7. Hi Steve,
    We have enjoyed your DVD series enormously. Our last trip was in 1973 in a VW Combi with pop top roof. We are ready to go again (post retirement) in March 2017 and are following a lot of your ideas and plans – thanks. My question at the moment is – How long did it take you to get to Broome from Melbourne? We have been told it is necessary to book camp ground space there a year ahead?!! But how do we know when we’ll be there?
    Best wishes to you and your girls!
    Judith & Michael

  8. Just watched your DVD and it is awesome. We started our trip from WA in December 2015 quick trip through SA to get over to tassie while the weather was good. February we too found out we were having Bub number 4 so our travels have been put on hold. Can’t wait to get back into it. Thank for spreadsheets. They are awesome.

  9. Hey Steve, love your stuff! Watched your videos & just watching the SA trip now! Do you have a packing list for the big lap? My Partner and I are leaving from WA. Still 4 months til we leave, but I’m trying to get the packing prepared, as I don’t want to overpack!

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