Has modern tech robbed us of the serenity of going bush?
Words Morgan Lane
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Modern conveniences (or ‘mod cons’) have become such an integral part of our everyday lives we find ourselves incapable of being untethered from our precious technology; we can’t even go to the bathroom without smartphone in hand. Before you try and tell me how ridiculous I am, think about the last time you sat down to do your thing without a piece of technology within arm’s reach…
Newspapers have become smartphones and tablets; the Internet is replacing libraries as our source of information. We have the world at our fingertips, where social media gives us real-time notifications of our friends’ movements. The web brings you live updates of your favourite rom-com and at any given moment you choose, you can video-chat with someone on the other side of the world.
Have we become a society that can’t unplug, even while in the great outdoors? Take a look around any caravan park and you will see enough technological devices to work as a back-up for NASA. Don’t get me wrong, I love my gadgets and Internet connection as much as the next person – but have we gone too far? As a kid, I recall camping as a completely different experience to the one I have now. There were no mobile phones or laptops, no generators running TVs, no air-con or washing machines. I was armed with a Walkman, a packet of AA batteries and my Bananas in Pyjamas film camera.
We live in an age of technology – where our car locks the doors for us when it picks up speed, voice recognition will call people on command, windscreen wipers sense rain and turn on by themselves… for the most part. You can wire your house or RV to be fully controlled by your smartphone. And let’s not get started on the remote stereo system that ensures everyone in the caravan park is listening to Barry pumping out Earth, Wind and Fire while he makes his breakfast.
Today you can have a roaming Wi-Fi connection, TV satellite, on-road and off-road GPS units, heads-up speed display, washing machines and microwaves – almost anything you can think of can be set up to be used on the road. Are we missing the point of off-road travel? Has being in the midst of everything Mother Nature has to offer been passed up because there is no mobile connection available? What happened to leaving your Nokia 3310 in the glovebox for a weekend of toasting(or burning) marshmallows by the fire… where the only form of contact was with those around you, or any new friends you stumbled upon along the way?
How often are we passing up beautiful and remote free camps because our vans need to hooked up to mains power, landing us right back into another crowded caravan park. Where is the sky so full of stars, the kind of sky you experience when the only light pollution is your campfire and head torch?
However, it isn’t all bad for team technology. Mod cons have significantly assisted in making life on the road considerably more achievable for just about anyone who wants to get out there and explore what this country has on offer. Don’t have a paper map of the area? No problems, a GPS unit will get you anywhere you want to go across the country. Keeping track of your budget is a breeze with online banking, which you can do from your handy smartphone or tablet. Mod cons can be as much of an aid as they can be a hindrance.
So, the next question is: Which mod cons are a help, and which are a hindrance?
The ability to stay in contact while you travel has resulted in a generation of people who can work while living on the road. A portable Wi-Fi set-up will keep you in touch with your job back home, a laptop ensures you can attend video conferences and your mobile can receive your emails. All of this from the passenger seat of your vehicle. It also means you can Facebook all of your outstanding campsites so your friends back home don’t miss out.
Air-conditioning is another one of those things that can really make life on the road a little more comfortable. No-one said that by having a house on wheels you couldn’t enjoy the simple pleasure of cool air in summer or a warm-up in the middle of winter – this is Australia after all, and Mother Nature can get pretty rough with her weather at times.
GPS units have become a popular addition to a traveller’s arsenal, with the teams over at HEMA and MudMaps really stepping up the game for the off-road community when it comes to straying off the blacktop. Incorporating both city and outback information makes this generation of GPS devices a useful addition both during and after travel.
Temperature-controlled water systems are another desirable mod con that no-one can fault – who doesn’t love a hot shower, after all. Boiling the billy over the fire to heat up water, then doing the washing-up, is a tedious task that I personally am kind of glad to see the end of.
Solar power has come on in leaps and strides over the past few years, making power on the road simple and cost-effective. Roof-mounted panels can charge your batteries as you explore through the day, or a foldable blanket on the bonnet while you pull up for lunch can give you that bit of extra juice for the afternoon. Save your neighbours the hours of generator drone and soak up the sun’s rays to power up.
A washing machine in your van may save you time and money on caravan park laundries or finding the local coin-operated machine in town. But when you can spend under $100 on a device like the Scrubba wash bag, do we really need a washing machine?
I do love a good bag of microwave popcorn for an afternoon snack, although a billy on the fire or grill with some corn kernels is just as good. Microwaves draw some hefty power to zap yourself a frozen lasagne at lunch time. Most vans and motorhomes come equipped with a microwave and oven/grill set-up which, to be honest, feels a little like overkill. We spend our lives slaving away in the kitchen at home; do we really want to be trapped indoors (while we travel) to microwave a Lite ’n’ Easy frozen meal? Grab yourself a hotplate or a gas burner and enjoy cooking al fresco.
These are right up there with washing machines. High power usage, high water consumption as well as grey water disposal. Not all caravan parks may be set up to handle high levels of grey water, which could create a problem. Vans running drinking water, a washing machine and a dishwasher may find water capacity a problem; and the limitation of needing external power can narrow your potential camp options. Unless you are running a four-course dinner menu for the duration of your trip, that nifty hot water system and a good old hand wash will do the trick.
Most RVs today come standard with either a television included, or the cables available to have it as an optional extra. You really can bring your home with you with this one. Movie in bed before you call it a night, or happy hour with your temporary neighbours? One of the best things about hitting the road is the people you meet – and while watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in your slippers is certainly a fine way to relax, it is also a way to pass up what can easily be called a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The neighbours next door with the happy-hour platter and jack russell puppy enjoying the sunset may not be there tomorrow. Pet the puppy!
It’s one thing to watch a DVD in your van, it’s another thing altogether to fire up the satellite to make sure you don’t miss an episode of My Kitchen Rules. Televisions are hands-down an integral part of today’s society. Reality TV, history programs, the news or even a good old soap (don’t lie, we all have that one weakness) are something we often plan our day-to-day lives around. However, when you hit the road, do you want to rush through dinner just so you can find out what happens in the latest episode of Neighbours? We have all been parked next to that one jerk who runs the generator through the evening to watch TV. Don’t be that guy.
One of the best things about travelling is that there are few rules; you are largely free to do it your way and that includes what mod cons you bring with you. While we may not all see eye to eye, it all comes down to your personal experience… and you are probably wondering who I am to tell you that TVs are bad. And you’re right.
However, as a bright-eyed 25 year old who isn’t on team technology, I am all for less tech and more Mother Nature. Some of my best days as a kid were spent soaking up everything that was found off the beaten track. Even as a teenager glued to my mobile phone, I always enjoyed the chance to leave it at the bottom of my bag and really enjoy the serenity of the great outdoors – without hearing my next-door neighbour watching The Biggest Loser. In saying that, one of the perks of caravans and motorhomes is the ability to have (these days) what feels like an apartment on wheels, and with it comes modern conveniences like microwaves and TVs.
So don’t be afraid to use that washing machine; just remember to take a moment to disconnect and bask in the great outdoors – they don’t call it ‘great’ for nothing.