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Making tracks around Oz (#6) - more tips for everyday camping
March 15, 2017

Welcome to issue 6 of Making Tracks around Oz!

I hope you enjoy this month's articles:

  • How to carve out everyday ‘escapes’
  • Books, glorious books…but heavy!
  • Recipe: Old-school popcorn
  • Joys and pitfalls of using GPS

As always, please let me know any feedback you have. I look forward to hearing from you...

How to carve out everyday ‘escapes’

We all dream of the big trip, but what about all the trips in-between? If you are planning a trip around Oz, the best way to prepare is to spend lots of time camping beforehand. If you’ve come back from an extended trip, then you’ll be eager to get back out there as often as you can.

But in the fast-pace of everyday life, months can slip by before you can get away.

Kid’s activities, socialising with friends and family, and weekend commitments can all get in the way of getting away. Next thing you know it is Easter holidays or winter is creeping in and your opportunity is lost, or the camps are full.

To avoid disappointment, book camping well in advance.

Sounds like an ad for a caravan park or theatre show! What I actually mean is slightly different. The only fail-safe way I have found to prioritise camping is to pull out the family calendar and block out the weekends or time periods we expect to go camping. I never know where we’ll go at this stage, but I do know when we can go.

Book three months ahead, or even longer if you can.

I usually sit down just before the start of each school term, after I know what our general commitments are, e.g. weekend sport, school events, other planned or expected activities. I then schedule 2-3 camping trips over the term, with at least two weeks in between each. Once they are in the calendar, it means we won’t book other activities over the top, and we can legitimately say “Sorry, we are camping that weekend”.

I guarantee you’ll go camping far more often.

As each camping time period gets closer, you might decide not to go for lots of reasons. Or an unmissable event might override your plans. But ultimately, I’ve found that pre-booking camping trips in this way results in lots more weekend escapes. If you have friends that you like to camp with, it also means you can easily offer certain weekends to them, since you have already carved out the time.

But where to go?

We have a list of great weekend camping spots within a two-hour drive from Brisbane, and we’re always on the look out for more. Build up your own list of places you love, or that others have recommended. Then work your way down the list, or choose a location based on the best time of year to go, or on what type of camping experience you feel like.

Also think about check-out times, we like to choose places that are flexible on late check-out for weekend escapes, or where there is no official check-out time. Enjoy!

Books, glorious (heavy) books

I’ve always been a big reader. Turns out my kids are too. Kumar likes reading, but doesn’t like lugging big piles of books around the country. I’ve now got a Kindle, which takes the weight out of my book load, but our kids devour books faster than our bank balance can cope – so we had to find a better (cheaper) option.

The kids’ cycle time on books can be less than a day.

On our first trip around Oz, the kids were little and loved picture books. My paper-white Kindle doesn’t offer much of a picture book experience, so we took a selection of books from home. As we got bored of them, we picked up ‘new’ ones from op-shops and markets, and ditched the old ones. But, the choices weren’t always exciting. Even now, they can read a paperback in a day or two, and unlike the old picture books, they don’t get re-read.

Enter the hero of this story: your local library.

When we are at home, we are at our local library at least weekly. If only your library card held power interstate or outside your local council! Thankfully now, with the online revolution, it does.

In recent years, two online borrowing apps have emerged. I’m no expert, so I am sure there are others – but your local library is likely to use at least one. Our library uses Borrow Box and Overdrive, and the books on each vary slightly.

It’s like having a mobile library in your pocket.

Essentially, you set up the app on your electronic device and create an account using your library card…then voila! You gain access to a huge collection of books to borrow, you can even place a hold if you are after something specific.

Of course, the biggest challenge with using these apps is internet accessibility (and download limits). But you only need to be online to borrow books, once borrowed you can read them offline. We just add it to our list of things to do while in mobile/internet range. The kids choose books while we are filling water or doing other ‘in-town’ jobs before heading back out into no-man’s land!

You need to be a library member to get the benefits.

Before you leave on your next big trip, join your local library and find out how it works. It helps if your kids have their own devices so they can each read at once, but otherwise a shared device can work.

And for an instant physical book hit, remember you can pop into local libraries on-the-road for story time or just a visit. Enjoy the air-conditioning and read a few picture books or magazines, or use the internet. Local library staff are usually just happy to see you there!

Recipe: Old-school popcorn

When was the last time you cooked popcorn? Without a microwave or popcorn maker? The wonderful thing about popcorn the old-fashioned way is that you can make it with the simplest of set-ups…almost instantly.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup popping corn
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tbsp oil (n.b. choose one with a high smoke point, not olive oil)
  • 1 tbsp butter (or olive oil if you are out of butter)
Steps:
  1. Heat oil in a large pot with a lid on the stove until it reaches a high temperature.
  2. Once it seems hot enough, drop one piece of popping corn into the pot. If it spins, the oil is hot enough. If not, wait a little longer.
  3. When the oil is hot enough, add the remaining corn and salt. Put on the lid on, and give the pot a gentle shake to coat the corn. Then listen.
  4. The corn should start to pop within 30 seconds, then will reach a peak after a minute or two, then start to slow. Once it slows down, it is time to remove it from the heat, so it doesn’t burn.
  5. Remove lid and give the popcorn a quick stir to check it is mostly popped. Be careful, it will still be really hot.
  6. Move popcorn over and add butter to the bottom of the pot, then stir through. Butter should melt as you stir it. Add extra salt to taste, and serve immediately.

Delicious as a pre-dinner snack, around the campfire, or with a family board game. Beware, it can sometimes make your camper smoky for a few minutes afterwards so open some windows if you can!

Joys and pitfalls of using GPS

We live in a technological world these days, so it makes sense to use technology to our advantage while on the road. I’m often asked about whether or not to use a GPS when travelling around Australia, and my answer may surprise you.

GPS and Google maps are a godsend in towns and cities.

Even on our first trip back in 2011-2012, I think life would have been more challenging without mobile maps. When you enter a new place and you have a long ‘to-do’ list, finding your way to key destinations is much easier when you’ve got a mobile in your hand.

Navigating town streets, finding a camper-friendly parking space, and working out where the supermarket is are all made easier by using your car or phone GPS. But what about once you leave town?

GPSs have gotten better, but they’re not perfect.

Clearly once you leave mobile service range, your Google maps (and equivalent) are no good. There are also downloadable maps available on apps like Maps.Me, but outback Australian roads can still present a challenge.

Stand-alone or car based GPSs will still guide your way, but in my experience they don’t always choose the safest or most direct journey you might have picked for yourself. This is especially true when you are towing, since your GPS won’t consider how much more difficult gradients and tight turns are when you have 1+ tonne and several meters lagging behind you.

Nothing replaces human intellect, a good road atlas and local advice.

Call me old-fashioned, but there is nothing like a hard-copy, large size road atlas to plan your journey. You can pull it out of the car, talk to other travellers or locals about different routes, choose your rest stops, and plan detours far more easily than looking at a small screen GPS. What’s more, you can be sure you will select the good roads over the bad, the most direct route considering local topography, and avoid unplanned 4WD tracks or other unpredictable roads.

Make sure you know where you are, and where you are going.

Your GPS is great for estimating your journey duration and arrival time, but always validate the journey against your atlas. Make sure you understand the route your GPS has plotted, and where you are at any given time along that route. A small screen tends to skew your appreciation of the big picture and distances involved – whereas a road atlas makes this far more obvious.

Last, but certainly not least, you never know when the technology will fail. Thousands of corrugations killed our GPS, and if it wasn’t that it was the dust. Learn to enjoy your GPS but rely on yourself…it’s a winning combination!


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