After 11 months and making a lap around Australia by road, there are a number of tech-related devices, ideas and apps that have made the journey a lot easier.
1. Big Mobile Plan
Being on the road full time requires a big mobile data plan as this will be your connection to the world. It is the way to research destinations, perform navigation (but see section below on Maps.me), stay up to date with the news, do banking, stay in touch with friends and family and for entertainment e.g. video streaming or podcasts. Ensure you have a generous (and hopefully well priced) mobile data plan.
In Australia, Telstra has better network coverage in remote areas but their offerings are much more expensive. We used the Optus mobile network which has reasonable network coverage except in the most remote places. (In fact, we were pleasantly surprised by the number of small towns which Optus covers).
2. Keeping Your Gadgets Juiced
A fast charging cigarette lighter USB charger is super useful to keep your devices charged as you drive along. We have a couple of these bad boys so we can charge quickly from our engine or from our auxiliary power system. It’s kind of cool to know your device is being powered from the sun (if you have a solar system), even if (let’s be honest) driving all over the country gives you a terrible carbon footprint 🙁
It’s also a good idea to get a powerbank that you can charge up just in case. Look for a model that supports the type of charge port you need and which allows you to charge the power bank and device connected to it simultaneously. We found the best deals for powerbanks via Ebay, but recommend you choose a trusted brand since some of the others are not reliable.
Tablets are a great option for long term travel since they use way less power than a laptop. Modern tablets are quite capable and you can even connect in an external bluetooth mouse or keyboard if you need to really get some serious work done. Since you can charge your tablet from a USB port (unlike all but the most modern laptops), they’re very easy to manage on the road.
Wikicamps is our chosen app for determining where we will camp for the night. It has information on free camps and paid caravan parks including what amenities are available at that location e.g. toilets. Each location has ratings, reviews and photos from other users and there is offline content so it is still highly useful when you don’t have network signal in remote locations. It costs $7.99 for a subscription but it is so useful that it is worth the small fee.
Campermate is a free alternative to Wikicamps but I found it less up to date than Wikicamps.
Australia is a vast country and getting around it involves at times, driving hundreds of kilometers. This driving can often be quite boring and it’s important for safety reasons to stay alert. We achieved this by listening to a lot of podcasts. There are a number of podcast apps including Stitcher and Google Podcasts. Podcasts are digital audio files of spoken word and they can cover any subject under the sun.
Our favourites include, The Daily (New York Times) and Built to Go – A Van Life Podcast. These are really well produced and it’s so interesting to get more in-depth information about current affairs of the day. There really is a podcast for any area of interest. Some are light, comedic and full of banter whilst others are more serious. For remote areas with no network signal, download some podcasts in advance.
Using an electronic library is amazing for being on the road. It provides free access to a wide range of books, including topical, latest releases and it weighs nothing as you can read the material on your phone or tablet. This amazing service is one of the many ways public libraries are remaining relevant going into the future. Sign up at your local library and ask them which e-library app they use. We use Libby and BorrowBox but this may differ depending on your library. The material available also depends on which library branch you are a member of. If you can, sign up to a big library, or a library that’s part of a larger network, to get the most material to choose from – similar to a real library! This includes book, audiobooks and magazines so there is something for every taste. Audiobooks are also a good alternative to podcasts for long drives.
6. Facebook Groups
Facebook (for all it’s flaws) is useful for staying in touch with family and friends. It’s also great for buying and selling things via Facebook Marketplace (which has overtaken the other online marketplaces). Another very useful function is Facebook Groups. You can find specific Facebook Groups on topics that are of interest. An example would be a group for Camping in Tasmania. On here you would be able to get highly specific information about camping in Tasmania e.g. the condition of a specific track to a campsite or whether free camping is allowed in a particular location.
Personally, we think you’re mad if you put your whole life on the internet for everyone else to see. The old axiom applies: If it’s free, then you are the product! So use Facebook but be careful what you post.
Map.me is the app we use for navigating when we don’t have mobile phone coverage. You can pre-download the maps in large state-based regions. An alternative to maps.me is to just plan ahead and download a region of interest via Google Maps. Those maps expire after a period of time and you may not always be so organised that you have the right map ready to go after you’ve passed out of mobile phone coverage!
8. Shared Itinerary
Having a shared itinerary is very useful to keep your traveling party on the same page and for planning purposes. It shares the information, so it is not just in one person’s head and allows for input from others.
We haven’t found the ideal tool for this so we make do with a shared Google spreadsheet. A better option would integrate a map so you can visualise where you’re going (Google maps has only a limited number of waypoints and you can’t easily save what you’re working on). If you know of a better way to manage your itinerary then let us know!
9. Stay in Touch with Family and Friends
Use a messaging tool of your choice but it’s nice to stay in touch with your friends and family. We use Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger or Signal. If you have concerns about being in bed with Facebook/Meta, Signal would be the preferred choice.
10. Learn a Language on the road
Being on the road is a good chance to learn a language. We used the Pimsleur language classes and they’re actually pretty good. There are loads of other options like Duolingo, but it can be pretty annoying (like playing a poker machine). But be careful trying to think of the right word can distract you from the road!
Hope this list has been helpful! Safe driving and happy travels!