Escape the beaten track by staying at a place you’ve never heard of
Gleaned from a thousand misadventures, here’s what I wish I’d known from the start: tips and tricks to improve RVing life and simplify your travels.
STAY AT A PLACE YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF
Is that possible you ask and why would you want to? Popular travel routes draw crowds and if you stick to the must-sees, you’ll only meet everyone else. Strike out on your own and you’ll find your way into the lives and hearts of Aussie locals whose ideas for exploring their own little patches of paradise just might lead to the discovery of your trip!
CARRY A SECRET STASH OF CASH
Yesterday I walked into a bar with a ‘Cash-only’ sign on the till and after a flash of horror at the very thought of leaving without a longed-for ale, I remembered my emergency stash of cash. This little lifesaver comes in handy more often than you might think, especially on outback routes where power cuts and EFTPOS meltdowns can strike unexpectedly.
If (like me) you’ve ever lost your credit card (or in my case, my entire wallet), your secret stash of cash can tide you over until your card is cancelled, replaced and delivered to wherever you are on the road. Be warned though, making use of that emergency roll of cash relies on you remembering where you put it, so don’t be too obscure or you’ll only stumble across it when you are emptying the rig back home at journey‘s end.
WASH OFF MOSSIES
Because I live in the tropics and am surrounded by dusk-time mosquitoes for most of the year, I’ve discovered the world’s cheapest mossie hack: take a shower. You heard right, and the reason it works is because mosquitoes are expert detectors of body odour – caused by the bacteria that cultivates on our skin when we sweat and don’t wash it off – and lactic acid, which we expel through our skin through sweat. When you wash without using perfumed soap or spraying fragrant antiperspirants, mosquitoes at least, are much less attracted to you.
DOWNLOAD THE EMERGENCY+ APP
When you are remote and things go wrong, this free to download, government-funded app can help pinpoint where you are and mobilise emergency services to get to you as quickly as possible. It’s called Emergency+ App and it uses the GPS functionality of your smart phone to establish your precise location in the event of an accident. All you have to do is click on the app, hit ‘call 000’, read your GPS coordinates off the phone screen and help will be on its way (emergencyapp.triplezero.gov.au).
BECOME A STARGAZER
You’re sitting around a starry night campfire and wondering what’s shining above? Simply turn your phone into a telescope by pointing it at the sky and let GoSkyWatch tell you what constellations, stars and planets you are looking at ($5.99, iOS only). SkyView is a similar, slightly cheaper alternative ($2.99).
Another handy app for easy, up-to-date blogging is LiveTrekker, which is free to download too. It lets you create a digital journal of every adventure, tracking your route and allowing you to upload photos and videos and share the whole thing with friends and family via Facebook, Twitter, SMS or email.
STRIKE A LIGHT
GET ECO-FRIENDLY LIGHTING
Outdated and unnecessary, single-use battery reliant devices are officially a thing of the past now that USBrechargeable devices are cost-effective and readily available. Give the earth (and your budget) a boost by replacing all your battery-reliant torches and lanterns with USB-rechargeable, long-lasting LED models.
I keep a nifty little LED torch within easy reach at night, secured with Velcro straps to the ceiling just above my head in the perfect position for night-time reading. I can easily grab it to guide my way to the toilet (without waking anyone else on board) or to find my way outside after dark. Being LED it uses very little power and since I can plug it into the car’s cigarette lighter or the van’s inverter to recharge, I’m keeping toxic batteries off my shopping list and out of landfill.
HAVE FUN WITH FOOD
When a friend suggested I get some high-edged plates to stop dinner from sliding onto our laps when eating al fresco, I went searching online and discovered the Frisbee plate! It’s the second best thing you can do with a Frisbee, and after dinner and a quick clean-up, there’s no better way to dry your dinner plates than by flinging them around to each other. The kids will love it!
GET A GRIP
If you routinely climb a ladder to grab kayaks or gear off the roof of your caravan, you can reduce the chances of slipping off dewy or wet ladder rungs by rolling out a strip of adhesive grip tape. Glow-in-the-dark grip tape is perfect for early starts and late arrivals too ($26 from Bunnings).
INSTALL REAR DOOR LIGHTING
Do you ever find yourself rummaging through the back of your vehicle after dark, hunting with a torch for whatever it is that you should have unpacked during daylight hours? You could don a head torch but with LED strip lighting you can illuminate the big picture – no batteries required.
You’ll find it in auto electric shops (such as Jaycar) for around $19-29 per strip. Simply plug it into your cigarette lighter or if you are 12V savvy, wire it into your second battery wiring system on a switch. Secure one or more strips to the ceiling or cage at the back of the 4WD.
UNLEASH YOUR ‘INNER BACKPACKER’
Travel towels are not just for backpackers and easily trump traditional, heavy cotton towels when travelling because they require much less water and detergent to launder, dry almost instantly and are both compact and lightweight. Microfibre travel towels have come a long way in terms of comfort and can be wonderfully super-sized for post-shower wrapping or spreading on your favourite new beach.
TURN KIDS INTO SCAVENGERS
If there are kids in your rig, you’ll know that there are times when you really need to keep them occupied and out of your hair so that you can get stuff done (or simply relax!). My favourite trick is to draft scavenger lists of things the kids need to find around camp: peculiar leaves, bright stones, strips of fallen bark, flowers, snake skins and feathers, which can be turned into something creative too.
Tailor your lists to suit the age of your kids, the landscape you’re in, and how far you want them to roam from your campsite. If the campsite is a little bare, take them on a walk instead and have them gather their treasures while you stretch your legs and take a deep breath.
CREATE ‘WRITE AND WIPE’ MAPS
Paper maps might be old-school but they remain a great way to reveal the big picture when you are planning a new travel route. Kids love them too and if you stick yours inside an oversized plastic holder or zip-lock bag, and hand the kids a white board pen, you can help them draw your route as you travel and visualise how much more distance you have to cover.
Mark on the map the towns and places that you’ll stop to explore, eat and play so that kids know what’s ahead of them, and share as much information and history about each spot as you can.
PACK A PARTY BOX
There’s always something to celebrate when you are travelling – birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year or simply a darn good sunset – and happy days need never be missed when you have a party box on board. Pack a small stash of paper party hats, sparklers, bunting, birthday candles, a packet of instant cheesecake and an emergency bottle of bubbles or port, and you’ll be all set to throw a party with very little effort in the most remote locations.
Simply ask over the neighbours or switch on Skype to reconnect with friends and family who might be celebrating back home too. Being prepared to party is especially important when travelling with kids, and it’s surprising just how good a little party perk-up can make you feel when you are missing pals from home.
Candles left burning in glass or terracotta pots can get seriously hot, quickly becoming a hazard when there are kids or clumsies about. This ingenious, fruity lighting hack uses a tea light candle to turn an orange into an aromatic, organic candle that won’t burn your hand when touched.
Simply cut the top off an orange, squeeze out the juice and drink it, and then pop in a tea light candle. The orange’s skin insulates the tea light so that it doesn’t get too hot to hold and gives off a lovely zingy scent too. Reuse the orange light again and again, and then compost it when you are done!
SLOW THINGS DOWN
It’s tempting to travel too far and too fast when you start exploring Australia’s seemingly endless landscapes. There will always be more to see than you can possibly squeeze into a single journey so don’t try to cram too many kilometres into each day.
With a less ambitious itinerary you’ll have time to really absorb every destination, experience them to the full and relax in the company of other travellers and locals too. If your time on the road is limited, set a tighter loop away from home and simply slow down.
INSTALL SOLAR SAFETY
Awning guy ropes, low branches around camp and uneven terrain outside the rig can become trip hazards after dark, so mark them with solar garden lights to stay safe. If the ground is too hard to stake out your lights, balance them in upturned garden pots to create warm, glowing camp lights.
PACK AN UNDERWATER WINDOW
Wherever I go, whatever the season, I always pack a mask or swimming goggles. They are my go-to toys for exploring coral reefs, rivers and tropical hot springs, underground caves and freshwater ponds and I am constantly amazed how often I put my head underwater to get a window on these wetlands. Compact and cheap and easy to stash, my mask is usually teamed with a snorkel and fins and perhaps a wetsuit to ward off the wintertime chill, but essentially it’s the mask that does the work, revealing so many new worlds I might otherwise never see.
SAFEGUARD YOUR SURVIVAL
When you prepare yourself and your rig for the worst, you safeguard yourself against some mighty worrying situations. But more than that stash of emergency food and water, the spare tyres and tools, first aid kit and a satellite phone, you need to know what to do if the worst unfolds. To gain the confidence to deal effectively with any emergency in the bush, do a first aid course (or download the First Aid – Australian Red Cross App) and school up on survival techniques with the SAS Survival Guide (iOS, $5.99). Alternatively, watch a lot of Bear Grylls.
NURTURE A SELF-SUFFICIENT MINDSET
There’s genuine freedom in being truly self-sufficient but solar panels and LED lighting are just the start. It’s what you plug into your system that makes or breaks you, so leave your power-hungry kitchen appliances at home where they belong and pull back on all those devices that do little more than keep our eyes off the view. Controversially, that might include your beloved coffee machine (or blender or bread maker), and perhaps using the microwave less and the campfire more. But cultivating a self-sufficient mindset goes even further still. Develop your hunter-gatherer skills (at least with crab pots and fishing rods), minimise water wastage (and stretch your time in the wild) and learn how to maintain your rig and keep all your gear and gadgets running well too.
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Written: Sun 01 Sep 2019
Printed: September, 2019