Get clued up like a millennial on your family holidayNot everyone can (or wants to) drop all contact with the outside world when they’re travelling, so we tell you the best ways to stay connected while you’re on the road.
WORDS JANIE MEDBURY
For many campers and caravanners, your average mobile phone should be sufficient if you want to stay in touch with family and friends, but a lot depends on your provider. It’s common knowledge that Telstra tends to have the best nationwide coverage (99% of the population, to be exact). That being said, Optus and Vodafone aren’t too far behind at 98.5% and 96% respectively, and both are reportedly spending big bucks in an effort to improve their (your) regional coverage.
If you want to have phone reception at all times though, your best bet is a sat phone. Instead of receiving signal via land-based towers, sat phones get it from orbiting satellites. They cost around the $1000 mark, and while you can’t use them to text, they are invaluable when you need to make an emergency call. You will need a service provider, which involves a monthly fee, so research the best plan for you. If you only need a sat phone as a once-off, you can hire them for under 10 bucks a day. Alternatively, you can invest in a Cel-Fi GO – the only legal way in Australia to boost your mobile signal. Read our review in Issue 17.
For basic internet use on your mobile phone, you can opt for a no contract SIM-only plan that bundles calls, texts and data. These plans can cost anywhere between $15 – $100 a month; many plans nowadays have unlimited calls and texts, so it’s the data that you’ll really be paying for. If you’re only using the internet to browse the web or check social media a few times a day, a 3-5GB data plan should suffice. However, if you’re planning to play games and binge watch Netflix as well, you’ll need a lot more than that.
Families who need internet on multiple devices should purchase a small wireless modem or dongle, which typically range from $40 to $100 (you’ll also need a broadband plan for it) – that way, you can get WiFi on all your smart devices, including mobiles, tablets and laptops. If you’re using multiple devices at once, RV Wi-Fi is a great (and legal) way to boost your internet signal while you’re on the move – you can read our review of it in Issue 23 (hint: we loved it).
While it may be one of the easiest things to go without while you’re travelling, TV is an essential for some folks – especially for families with kids – as a source of news and entertainment; it’s also a great way to unwind after an action-packed day. It’s easy enough to put a TV in your caravan but getting reception can be a problem when you’re on the move.
There are a few different types of antennas that you can get for your RV, each with pros and cons, including: an uncovered satellite dish (this is large and can only be used when parked); satellite dish in a dome (smaller but less reliable); portable satellite dish (tricky to set up); and a crank-up antenna (usually provides local channels). In order to access the satellite service, you’ll need to get a VAST set top box and subscription after proving that you’re eligible.
Alternatively, you can download an app that uses your device’s data connection to stream live TV, however you’ll need a lot of data, and as mentioned in the previous point, this can get expensive. If it’s all too much money and effort, you can always just count on DVDs and go cold turkey from ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!’
While radio might not be your most pressing concern when you’re hitting the road, it’s hard to pass up on a free source of news, traffic updates and entertainment – you just need to make sure you can get a good signal. If you have a TV antenna, you can use this to get signal to your FM radio – you just need a TV-FM splitter, which lets you add another receiver to a single antenna connection. These are generally inexpensive. If you need your ABC fix, worry not, as you should be able to tune into most AM stations (almost) anywhere you go. Of course, you can also listen to the radio using an app, but it will chew up your data.
Those who are going remote should consider a HF radio, especially if you don’t have a sat phone. HF radios are great in an emergency, because they allow you to make calls direct from your vehicle, contact the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) or find someone nearby to assist you. However, you will need to take into account the membership and licensing costs. On the other hand, a UHF radio is designed for more basic use, suited to short distance or vehicle-to-vehicle communication.
With the widespread use of smartphones and tablets, many of us rely on navigation apps like Google Maps to guide us when we’re travelling. The downside to this, though, is that eats up your data and drains your device’s battery, which can be problematic on longer trips. This is where Hema Maps offers a solution (at least, when it comes to data); they offer an interactive offline navigation app specifically designed for 4WD, camping and caravanning.
Of course, you could always just get a sat-nav for your vehicle. While sat-navs can be expensive and aren’t updated as often as GPS apps, they have the benefit of a bigger screen and they don’t rely on data. You also don’t need to worry about charging them. No matter how you choose to navigate, always go old school and bring an actual paper map as a back-up, just in case technology fails (it’s been known to happen).
Good old snail mail – as much as we’d like to ignore our bills, it’s probably not a wise idea, especially if you’re away for months at a time. Obviously, you don’t have access to your letterbox while you’re out on the road, but there are ways to get your mail to you (sadly, it doesn’t involve owls or ravens). The simplest option is to have a friend or family member collect your mail, or have it redirected to their address, but you might not have someone who is willing (or reliable enough) to do that for longer periods of time.
In that case, you can either get AusPost to hold your mail (the fee for this starts at $53.10 for a month) or you can use a forwarding service, such as Landbase Australia or Aussie Mailman. For a fee (which can start from as little as $20 a month), the forwarding service will hold your mail until you advise them of a forwarding address, or you can ask them to open up and scan your mail, which they will then forward to you in an email.