I’m sure there are hundreds of things that we use every day as we travel, so in a sense it was quite difficult to whittle them down to our top few favourite things, but nonetheless the below list is what we've come up with.
** Before we go any further, We must add a disclaimer to this post... As much as this post looks like one huge advertisement for the things we list below, it is certainly nothing of the sort. We are just listing the things that we have found extremely useful. We have no ulterior motive in listing any of the particular items (as much as we would like to get paid (or some get some freebies) for endorsing some of these products, it just ain't going to happen :) )**
Now that's out of the way, here are some of our favourite things (in no particular order)...
* Audio BooksWe’ve done just over 20,000km’s so far, and as you can imagine, that’s a lot of hours in the car! So in the car we have been listening to a lot of Audio Books, using an iPod connected to our car stereo. We find that this is the only time in the car when the kids are totally silent! They all really enjoy listening to the books, and it allows them to still see the countryside (as opposed to a DVD or game console where they are focused on a screen). Some of the audio books we have been listening to are Charlie and the Chocolate factory (Roald Dahl), The Famous 5 stories (Enid Blyton), the Faraway Tree series (again by Enid Blyton), 50 Bible Stories, Pooh Bear stories, etc. Audio books are definitely worth looking into if you are considering a similar trip, or have any long trips in the car with kids.
* DreampotPrior to leaving on our trip (and after much research on the internet) we bought a ‘Dreampot’ at the Sydney Caravan and Camping show. A Dreampot is a Thermal cooker (much like a slow cooker, but it doesn’t need to be constantly powered like a slow cooker). We have a 6 Litre model and we absolutely love it. It has hundreds of recipes you can cook, but we tend to stick to a handful of them that the kids eat well. We love it so much because we can prepare and cook our dinner prior to leaving a campsite in the morning, and then put the Dreampot in the boot of the car to let it cook while we travel (or sightsee) and when it’s time for dinner we just get out the Dreampot and eat! It is so simple and convenient. It also saves us gas because things aren’t cooking for hours and hours (like roast beef). We only brought one other pot with us, and we use the Dreampot as our general use pots and pans for all sorts of things. The Dreampot can also be used as a Bain-marie, and we love being able to cook something and have the ability to keep it piping hot until we are ready to eat. We would definitely recommend a Dreampot for any traveller.
|Our trusty Dreampot|
* UHF Radio with extra handheldBefore leaving on our trip we installed a Uniden UHF Radio into the car, and it came with a bonus handheld radio. We have only used the in-car radio a couple of times to actually communicate with others, but we keep it on Channel 40 (or Channel 18) as we drive along so others could call us if they needed to communicate. Also, by having it on Channel 40, we can hear any ‘Oversize’ announcements, or any Roadworks communications over the radio. However, the main thing we use the Radios for is for moving the caravan in and out of camping spots. Mike will stay in the car while Liz will hop out with the Radio and talk Mike through the reversing of the van (or warn Mike if the van is about to hit something). This makes parking so much easier and means that Liz doesn’t have to stay in sight of mirrors, shouting directions to Mike. We also used it a little bit when we were travelling in convoy with Liz’s parents (in their motorhome) and it was quite handy to have with us.
* Thetford Porta-PottiBecause our caravan doesn’t have a shower/toilet, we have been travelling with a “Thetford Porta-Potti 365” chemical toilet. We only use this toilet at night (or when there is no other alternative (as some campsites insist that a chemical toilet is used and they don’t provide any other facilities). It’s great to have this with us because if the kids wake up at night and need to use the toilet, they don’t need to leave the van - which is great from a safety perspective as well as a nice convenience.
* Navman GPS
We hesitate to put our Navman GPS on our list of ‘favourite things’ because it has got us in trouble (lots of trouble) on a couple of occasions, however once we learnt to NEVER TRUST NAVMAN - but rather take it as a guide (especially in outback areas), then we have found it very useful to help us get around from place to place. It is quite good at estimating travel times and will mostly help us get to our destination (or at least in the general vicinity). It is very handy in cities or large towns when we want to get somewhere and it is fairly reliable in built up areas. We always have it on when we are in the car and we hope that it will hold up to constant use throughout our trip.
|Our Navman and our Uniden UHF Radios|
* Reversing and Rear View Cameras on the car and CaravanOne of the things that we installed prior to leaving on our trip was a reversing camera on the car and a rear-view camera on the back of the caravan. We have setup the reversing and rear view cameras so that we can switch between either camera whenever we need to. Using the reversing camera on the car, Mike can hook up to the caravan without Liz’s help (and the camera generally eliminates those frustrating times of Liz pointing left or right and Mike turning the wrong way or going too far back, etc). When we are not towing the caravan, the Reversing camera will come on automatically when we engage reverse, which is handy for shopping centre car parks etc. When we are towing the van, we have the rear-view camera permanently switched on. This helps us to know when there is a car approaching behind us and also helps when we are reversing the van to check that there are no kids or other precious objects behind the van.
|The rear view camera on the back of the caravan|
|Reversing Camera on the back of Bruiser|
* Bigpond (Next G) Mobile Internet with an Edimax Wireless 3G Portable RouterTravelling with an internet connection is an absolute must for almost everyone we meet on the road. The internet helps us with all the normal things that the internet is used for these days (eg Banking, researching travel locations/destinations, booking things online, updating our Blog, skype, etc, etc). We also need to use the internet to send/receive schoolwork to the Sydney Distance Education Primary School. We knew that the only carrier that will give us the reception we need in the most places around Australia was Telstra (with their Next G network). Honestly, we probably wouldn’t be Telstra customers if they didn’t have the best coverage in Australia! Nonetheless, with this all in mind we bought a Telstra Bigpond Wireless Data Card (also commonly known as a ‘Dongle’!). With this dongle, we could connect our laptop to the internet to do all the things we needed to. However, we have some other devices that would benefit from a Wireless internet connection too (eg Mikes mobile phone, Liz’s iPod Touch, Josh’s Nintendo DSi XL, etc). Because Bigpond’s Wireless Hotspot devices were not available when we were purchasing our internet connection, we bought an ‘Edimax Wireless 3G Portable Router’ which is a battery powered device that allows us to connect our Bigpond dongle into it and then it broadcasts a local WiFi hotspot (like a Macdonalds Internet Hotspot) that allows all our devices to simultaneously connect to the interent. We have found this device really handy; not only because all our devices can connect to it, but because sometimes the internet reception is only available outside the caravan, and so we can put the device outside, but still sit inside the caravan to use the internet. We can also take this device in the car with Liz’s iPod Touch and we can read email, check the weather, etc without having to boot up the computer.
|Our internet WiFi device|
* iPod TouchLiz bought herself an iPod Touch prior to our trip because we thought it might be good to listen to music and audio books through it in the car. This was the first Apple device we’d owned! Little did we know how useful it would be to us!! We use it all the time to check our email, check the weather, etc. We use quite a few Apps on it and we find it soo useful. For those with an Apple device already you’ll know what we mean, but for those who don’t have one (probably no one!) they are just fantastic because they ‘just work’. The kids also love to play games on it, which sometimes keeps them entertained for a while.
* Versaline clothes lineWhen you have a family of 5, it is simply amazing how many dirty clothes you produce! Especially since a lot of our time is spent in free (or cheap) campsites where there is no grass and lots of dirt! We tend to let our dirty washing build up until we are going to a caravan park, and then do loads and loads of washing to clear the dirty clothes pile… then the cycle starts all over again! When we are at caravan parks we normally use their clothes lines to dry the clothes. However there are times when we need to hang up some washing and we don’t have a clothes line available to us (eg if we do some washing in a tub when we are free camping, or at nights after our showers, when we want to hang up our towels to dry overnight). On these occasions, we use our Versaline clothes line. Prior to leaving Sydney, we installed the ‘Versaline clothes line’with one attachment point on the inside of the caravan (on the front walls) and one attachment point on the outside of the van (at the back). We intended to put up the clothesline only when we needed it, but it has been permanently in use for the last 6 months!! We have found we can put a load of washing on in a caravan park the morning we are going to leave, and then hang up the clothes inside the van to dry as we drive along! We also use it for our tea towels and all sorts of times when you need to hang something up to dry. It has even been used to dry painted school artwork!
|Our Versaline Clothesline hanging up inside the van|
* Solar Panel with Batteries and InverterWhen we not connected to mains power, we still need to use quite a bit of power. We need to charge laptops and phones, run the TV and Video players, charge the camera batteries, run the internet connection, use our clock radio at night (which also acts as a nightlight), run some lights at night, etc, etc and we need to be able to do this for long(ish) periods without running out of power. When we bought the van, it came with a 220 Watt Solar Panel, a PhotoVoltic Controller, and a 24 Volt inverter (all from Jaycar) connected to 2 x 12 Volt batteries. This has allowed us to keep using all the things that we need to use. It will be interesting to see how it goes as winter approaches and the sun no longer goes so high in the sky (as the solar panel is permanently stuck to the roof), but I’m sure we’ll get by. We have installed an extra connection off this 24 volt battery system to allow us to run our Car fridge from these Batteries so that if we are parked in a place for a while and we’re not going to use the car, the Engel car fridge will still run without killing our car battery
* Engel Car Fridge/FreezerThis is one of the things that we didn’t leave Sydney with, but have purchased along the way. Our caravan fridge is not the greatest fridge in the world!! It is only a 2-way fridge (gas and electric) so when we are driving, it cannot cool. This hasn’t been a huge problem in general, but it isn’t great to know that your fridge hasn’t been storing the food as cold as you would like. We went through a patch for about a week where the fridge didn’t get below 11 or 12 degrees!! Also, when the caravan broke down and we travelled for a while with just a tent and our gear, we had to borrow an Esky off Ed and Michelle (thanks guys). Esky’s aren’t great for permanent food storage as you need to keep getting ice; also sometimes the food gets soggy when the ice melts. The other thing about our caravan fridge is that the freezer section is absolutely tiny! It is probably only 10L which means you really can’t freeze much at all. We have always said that the one thing we would change about our van right now would be the fridge, but we just couldn’t justify the money to purchase a new fridge only to sell the van in 12 months; so we’ve just made do with what we have.
When we got to Perth, we decided that as we get North we might have to buy more food at a time to go the long stretches between major centres, so we set our sights on a car fridge/freezer instead of upgrading the van fridge. After a bit of research, we decided to get an ENGEL car Fridge/Freezer. We got a 40L model with a single compartment that can be a fridge or freezer. We decided an Engel would be better than a Wacoe because of the type of compressor that runs the Engel. It only has 1 moving part and is very reliable in a mobile environment (especially bumpy roads). When we bought the Engel, the Perth Caravan and Camping show was on in town, so the Engel manufacturers were having a ‘Show special’ (even though we bought it from their shop, not the show). So not only did we get a good price on the fridge, we also got: a material Travel case, A stand to put the fridge on if we want to set it up outside the car, an Engel Cooler Bag, Some Tupperware type containers, An LED torch, some Frisbees for the kids and a few other odds and ends. So we think we got a pretty good deal.
Now that we have the fridge/freezer we will be able to keep it for any camping trip we go on in the future and it won’t have to disappear with the caravan. It also means that we can do side trips without the van (like the Gibb River Road, or Cape York) and have some means of storing our food.
Ironically, the caravan fridge is behaving at the moment and will cool down to 3-5 degrees appropriately; so at the moment we run the Engel as a freezer in the boot of the car and freeze things so we can be camped out for longer periods of time without having to go to the shops. Also, we put a plastic drink bottle filled with water in the freezer and transfer this ‘ice brick’ to the fridge if we need to keep the caravan fridge cool (like a big esky) when we’re driving or if the caravan fridge is not cooling well, and this actually seems to do the trick to help it cool properly on those hot Aussie days.
Anyway, after only owning the Engel for about a month, we would definitely recommend one to any traveller.
So that’s our list of ‘Favourite Things’ at the 6 month mark of our trip. Hopefully that wasn’t too boring for you to read, but we wanted to keep a record of the things that we have liked having with us on the road.