9 things I’ve learned from camping disasters

Here’s how to prep for a trip to ensure your time in the bush doesn’t mentally scar you…

OK, I’m a professional freelance travel writer, so I’m not going to admit to too many mistakes I may or may not have made over the years… but certain ‘friends’ of mine have made one or two.

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The funny thing is though, 90% of all ‘mishaps’ can be avoided with a little preparation in advance. Hey, some trips simply don’t need any forethought and are a breeze… but if you need permission to access certain areas or have limited time, good planning is required. Nobody wants to be stuck in the middle of nowhere wishing they’d remembered the bloody map… well, according to a friend anyway. Over the years, I’ve discovered some excellent tools and tricks to make sure the trip works out perfectly every time (unless, of course, Mother Nature steps in; but if you’ve planned well you can have that covered too, as you’ll see). Here’s how I like to get into adventure mode…

 

  1. WHERE TO?

There was once an adventure travelogue series called ‘The Diceman’. Russell, with cameraman Sean, would grab a map, grab a couple of dice, roll them and then head to wherever the dice told him. How would he get there? The dice dictated how. I once tried this method to plan a trip – but it didn’t work out too well for me, so I decided never to use it again.

 

The best strategy is to pick a couple of destinations and then work out how long you anticipate you’ll need to get there, totally enjoy the destinations and then get back home. I suggest choosing one destination close to home and then one that requires a bit more driving, but with lots to see on the way. Another option is a touring trip that has a roundabout route. More often than not the journey is better than the destination.

 

  1. THIS IS PURE GOLD

I forget who sent me this spread sheet, but it is the best tool I’ve come across for setting an itinerary, calculating travel distances, estimating fuel costs and working out a budget. It’s easy to use and even comes with an ‘instructions’ page. I’ve adapted it a little bit to fit more with my travel needs, but I use it for every planned trip. It’ll probably prevent you from running out of fuel 300km out from Mount Dare (like a mate once did).

 

  1. MAPS

I use three types of maps to plan a trip. Firstly, I look at my wall map and work out where I haven’t been; then Google Maps and Wikicamps are used to determine distances between points of interest or places to stay. Next, the OziExplorer mapping software allows me to drill down to more detail. My iPad has Hema Explorer installed, and I use it a lot when I’m travelling. These apps allow you to create routes in the planning stages that also come in handy. Because driving around in circles for days can get old pretty quick… or so I hear.

 

  1. PERMITS

If only life was simpler when it comes to applying for permits. We need ONE webpage that has all the data required to allow you to select where you want to go, dates, vehicle details, etc… instead of having to locate, download, fill in, pay for, scan (then email) documents to several different bodies to traverse tracks in this ‘free’ land of ours. It is ridiculous that some permits take five minutes while others take four weeks to gain approval.

You can probably see where I’m going here. It is extremely important to get your permits organised early on in your planning stage. If you make a mistake or leave it too late, a permit application may be rejected – leaving your trip up the proverbial creek.

 

  1. ’TIS THE SEASON…

Don’t plan a trip to the High Country in winter or to the Cape in Summer. Rocking up and finding all the tracks closed is a Clark Griswald speciality. If you are deadset on heading to these places during ‘off-peak’ times because you love a challenge, aim for the beginning or end of the wet season to head north.

Pick the April school holidays to head off if you want to see fewer people or take off at times when there are no school breaks or public holidays scheduled. Maybe aim for somewhere more remote to avoid the crowds. Australia is a big country with many scarcely-populated places crying out to be explored. Camping shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people is not nearly as fun as being the only vehicle around for miles and miles.

 

  1. PLANS B, C & D

Having plans B, C and D can help when things turn sour. Sometimes Mother Nature decides she is going to test you, sending down loads of rain to quench the thirst of this dry nation. If this occurs, you can try and sit it out. Or better still, change your plans and head somewhere else.

 

On a recent trip to western Queensland the rains came. Every National Park that I wanted to explore was closed with no hope of getting in anywhere. I changed my trip, exploring Carnarvon National Park for two weeks while waiting for the water to dissipate. As soon as Diamantina Lakes reopened, I headed west. First morning there and the rain fell again – forcing the Ranger to evacuate everyone as he closed the Park. Plan B kicked in on discovering Expedition National Park (I’m glad too, I was awestruck). Don’t let bad weather ruin your holiday. There are other amazing places just waiting to blow you away.

 

  1. HOW LONG HAVE I GOT?

One thing I learned very early on: Don’t try and cram a three-week holiday into two weeks. It doesn’t work and it will be the worst trip you have ever had. This is why planning is so important – it gives you an opportunity to ensure your timing is good and you will feel relaxed on your trip. Find out how much approved leave you have and work around that. Don’t be like a mate of mine who thought he could do the Cape in five days…

 

  1. DON’T FORGET TO PREP THE VEHICLE (and the camper or caravan)

It is crucial that you get a pre-trip inspection on your vehicle organised a few weeks before you head off. This will then provide time enough to get things fixed or replaced (and any new add-ons installed) well before you head off. If you are towing, go over your trailer with a fine-tooth comb. It won’t hurt to replace the wheel bearings if it’s been a while since that was last done. Check the brakes, electrics, batteries and fridge to make sure everything is working as it should.

 

  1. YOU CAN EAT LIKE A KING (with a little forethought)

Menu planning may seem like overkill but it beats soggy pies for the fourth night in a row (again, I’d never do this personally). I generally don’t worry about breakfast and lunch because if you have good options for dinner, they will flow on to the other meals anyway. Grab yourself a Cryovac machine and DIY, saving time and money (and you can add flavour early). It also allows for good portion control, reducing wastage. Pre-cook meals and freeze them. Purchase products like Happy Gourmet Camper meals that only require a bit of water to reheat them… they are perfect for a quick and easy feed.

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