Surviving a 6-month camping trip
August 28, 2014 8:13 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are going to be living out of this car for six months while we drive around Australia. Is there anything we should know to keep us safe, sane and well-fed?

We both enjoy camping, but haven't been on a trip this long before. We have hobbies which work well in isolation. Me: photography, crochet. Him: whittling, target practice. Both of us: reading, chess, bushwalking. Is there anything else we could skill up on during our trip, which requires only a small investment in terms of money and space?

I'm also not sure how to plan a menu around limited budget, shopping opportunities and refrigeration space. Most of the camp recipes I've found assume the trip is an overnighter, or have a reliance on canned cream of _____ soup. I'm imagining a lot of lentil curry in our future.

Any tips around making this a truly enjoyable tip to remember would be appreciated!
posted by roshy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Water. Bring twice the amount of water you think you need between stops and triple isn't a bad idea and also have a means to purify water.

Your hobbies don't matter though target practice has some survival value should things go a bit sideways.

Two cell phones with reliable batteries to call for help and a GPS for navigation.

Forget refrigeration, it consumes too much energy. Canned goods are useful because they have water. But it's water that you want to be careful about. You can always hydrate dry food with water.

A first aid kit and bug spray and sunblock for sure.

Do either of you know anything about cars? Now is probably a good time to learn.
posted by vapidave at 9:00 PM on August 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

When I travelled through New Zealand we planned to sleep in a car for a few weeks. It fell apart quickly because if we left the windows open a crack for fresh air it let the bugs in (mosquitoes etc) and if we closed them the windows fogged up and it got way too humid. Maybe your vehicle has some solution to that problem (screens in the back?)

One other point, while we were living in the car, when we parked for the night we always situated the car to face the road so that if we suddenly had to leave (ie stranger danger etc) we could just start the car and take off instead of having turn the car around.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:11 PM on August 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

From what I've read (I'm keeping my distance), Australia has more deadly critters than most places. In your shoes I'd want to read up on Australian bugs, snakes and spiders, and make sure you have with you whatever antivenom and other first aid kit the fauna make necessary, and listen to what the locals tell you about footwear, insect nets and so forth.

Also be careful of going in the sea in some areas, because Aussie jellyfish stings can be fatal (and very painful).
posted by zadcat at 9:22 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd tint the rear windows so it is less obvious people are sleeping within. It will also keep the vehicle noticeably cooler.
posted by Mitheral at 9:29 PM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have spent a lot of time in a car, both by myself and with others. Here is some of the advice I've given over the years. Some of it may not pertain to Australia, so feel free to ignore it.
posted by notsnot at 9:35 PM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Mozzie net.
Maybe look into a gas fridge, rather than electric.
posted by pompomtom at 9:45 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

OK, so you are in Perth right? And you know something about travelling the country I'm guessing? At least, you have picked a suitable car, IF it is in good condition. Make sure the car is serviced, and that the person knows what you are going to use it for. Get them to suggest a spares kit, including belts. You should consider an extra spare tyre, and de-ditching equipment, and extra fuel for the remote areas. Do a 4WD driving course if neither of you are experienced off-road drivers. Preferably, always travel in pairs off the beaten track.

Look into a satellite phone, or a GPS tracker - there is one that can send simple SMS-like messages, and allows friends and family to track your progress, and if you press the red button, tells your rescuers where to go. There is another that you only use when help is required. You already know that a mobile is close to useless in the back country, don't you?

Have fun!
posted by GeeEmm at 9:56 PM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also a service guide for the car, and some tools.

Is there anything else we could skill up on during our trip, which requires only a small investment in terms of money and space?

Sketching and drawing? Learn the harmonica, penny whistle, pocket sax, or guitar? Also a deck of cards and rule book.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:05 PM on August 28, 2014

I'd say your main risks are: running out of water, getting lost, car breakdown, getting injured/ill. Anything you can do to prevent these things happening, or mitigate the outcome if they do happen, should be your priority.

I live in Perth, grew up in Australia, and have done a bit of camping in remote areas like the Kimberley. I would not attempt to drive across Australia without doing quite a bit more research than you seem to have done (no offence! I might be mistaken in my assumptions). Do not underestimate how much uninhabited desert there is out there, with patchy/non-existent mobile phone coverage.

Check out some of the online forums at websites like There are lots of seasoned 4WDers who will have tips about food etc., plus lots of other safety/practical information.

A good trip is a safe trip. :)
posted by Salamander at 10:48 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get the ultimate plus package from RAC. Worth every penny for the sense of security and safety it provides anywhere in Aust, not to mention the actual services.

Download the ABC radio app for your phone and you will have a dozen or more wonderful stations to listen to where ever you have phone reception. On that note, buy a range extender antenna for your car and the patch lead to fit your phone/s. Great investment for entertainment and safety purposes.

A Biolite stove that cooks and charges mobile phones with only some sticks would be an awesome going away gift for someone to give you...

You can make up your own first aid kit or buy one online. Don't be without one. Make a separate snake/spider bite kit that contains a few elastic bandages that can be grabbed quickly if required. Bookmark the first-aid section of the ARVU.

Carry a spare tyre for your spare tyre, and a spare for that spare too if you can.

I usually carry a cheap spare dome tent to store stuff in away from critters overnight to give me more room inside the vehicle overnight.

If you don't have screens on your windows, you can velcro a mozzie net to the roof inside your vehicle at night for sleeping.

Take a musical instrument each. Perhaps a couple of ukes or mouth harps and learn to play together.

Use and contribute to the Wikicamps app.

Tell people where you are going, leave a breadcrumb trail for others to find you if they need to. Stay with your car if you break down.

Grow sprouts in jars. Find a camp oven and read up on recipes. Grab a fishing or pathology esky not a crappy plastic one. Many veggies don't need refrigeration. Hang onions, garlic, apples, oranges, tomatoes, etc shopping or luggage nets from hooks inside. Keep potatoes in the dark. Catch fish where you can.

Seconding everything Salamander said.
posted by Kerasia at 11:11 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all of the advice so far, very helpful!

Because some of you expressed concern, I'll just note that we have 4 water jerrycans, 4 diesel jerrycans, 2 fuel tanks (altogether enough fuel to travel up to 1600km) 2 spare tyres, a HF radio, a kangaroo jack, 2 first-aid kits, a full tool kit, a solar panel attached to a second battery with inverter, and pump for the tyres. My boyfriend is also an experienced off-road driver (though I'm not). We also have a handheld GPS and a iPad with a GPS which doesn't require a cellular signal, which will be loaded up with offline maps. I'm trying to be as prepared as possible. Some excellent suggestions, especially the one about the spare belts!
posted by roshy at 12:30 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure I speak for most people here expressing some relief that you are more prepared than your question seemed at first to indicate and aren't taking a flyer.

For entertainment then: you will have a great opportunity to use a decent telescope - or even an ok telescope with a compass and an inclinometer, which you can basically make for like two dollars [you'll allready have the other two elements, a clock and a GPS] there are a lot of resources to direct you by time and date and lattitude as to what to look for. You can find nebulae and shit.

A harmonica is small and easy to not be terrible at.

When I built trails in the wilds of Alaska, and this was thirty years ago when we were truly isolated, we used to love having a shitty multiband radio to listen to radio shows from far away. I know this is likely what you are trying to escape but it actually serves that exact purpose - like being on the moon and recieving a message from earth.
posted by vapidave at 2:07 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Consider getting a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). That's standard equipment for bush pilots. Way more dependable than mobile/cellular phone. If you are really going to be off-grid for long periods, that's the safest option. A good PLB isn't super cheap (and you sometimes have to pay for the service), but it is the ultimate safety net when there's no other coverage.

Here's a list of beacons which work in Australia. I can't recommend a particular one, as I mostly only know the NA market. A bit more info from one of the rescue societies.
posted by bonehead at 6:43 AM on August 29, 2014

If you can fashion some sort of homemade mosquito net for the windows at night, that would be good.

I had the same issues as ThatCanadianGirl regarding getting far too hot at night when sleeping in the van we bought to travel Australia. it was literally impossible to sleep some nights so we kept all the doors open and fashioned home made mosquito nets on all the doors which did help some.

Other than that - sounds as if you'll have the time of your life.... be safe, take so much water, and have fun!
posted by JenThePro at 7:15 AM on August 29, 2014

Your info shows you as being from Perth so I am assuming you understand the seriousness of Fire Bans etc be prepared to eat a lot of food that doesn't need heating if travelling in seasons where it apply.

If you are on a limited budget you may be completely horrified at the prices of foods in remote areas. I have seen one apple selling for $4. Stock up when in large towns at supermarkets.

Don't forget binoculars, you can get ones that fold small enough to fit in your pocket. I always travel with them.

Oh fly nets for you face while hiking. Yes you'll look dorky but they work better than fly repellent, I however hate flies on my face with the firey passion of a thousand suns.

Spare parts for the 4WD. Suggested list.
posted by wwax at 7:30 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Forget refrigeration, it consumes too much energy

Nonsense. ARB, Engel and National Luna make portable refrigerator/freezers that are extremely efficient and reliable.

For two people, a 50qt will do just fine. I have a 63 qt Edgestar, and it is less efficient than those brands and I can run for 2-3 days off a single truck battery. With the solar panel and good weather, it can run basically indefinitely.

I love not having soggy sandwiches and being reliant on finding ice somewhere. Also, you can pull a beer out of storage in the morning, pop it in the fridge and it's cold by lunch.

They are expensive, but it is far and away the one accessory that has transformed my adventures and camping trips from merely awesome to amazingly awesome.

The other thing you might look at is a Roof Top Tent. I have one and it is also amazingly awesome. Sets up in seconds, tears down in minutes, and being up in the air a few feet is enough to get you away from the chiggers, noseeums, and other creepy crawlies.

There are other brands, but I know ARB is based in Australia so they should be easily available for rent or purchase.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:35 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Regarding food, most petrol stations will also sell ice. This plus an esky is your equivalent of a fridge.

Depending on where you go, mozzies can be a problem at night - take proper repellant (RID works.) If you're up near Kalbarri in the summer, be aware that the flies can be horrible - literally hundreds per person. Fly nets are helpful for sanity.

Redbacks won't kill an adult, generally. Know what to do for snake bites - seeing snakes isn't uncommon, though they generally don't do anything more than sit there.
posted by Ashlyth at 7:39 AM on August 29, 2014

Roof Top Tent.

We had a rather underwhelming experience with one in NZ for a two week trip. They're really not great in the wind, in exposed places (e.g. beaches, scrublands). As you're also fairly exposed, cold can be an issue. It's limited in that the normal tricks you can do with a tent to escape weather, sun or storm, are much harder to do with a tent on a car in mid-air. It's not a whole lot easier to set up or tear down than a modern tent either.

On the other hand, you always get a flat sleeping area and you don't have to worry about wet ground as much.
posted by bonehead at 7:50 AM on August 29, 2014

Changing focus from "how not to die outside of Perth", my wife and I on camping trips have established a camping household routine that keeps things well-organized and avoids a lot of friction based on mess while living in close quarters. It's not just "laundry in this bag, no shoes in the tent." It's 'everything has its place, tidying happens at this time, you're responsible for this I'm responsible for this'. We have a little brush broom for sweeping out our tarp vestibule, for instance. We're camping next to people who don't know how to set up a tarp and are fighting about it, while we're enjoying a smug and saying to each other "our shit is tight!"

Bring several inexpensive pocket knives, and the means to sharpen them and whatever edged things you have. You'll likely lose or break a few, but Opinel knives are around $10 per where I'm from, and sharp knives are always useful, and safer. Bring a half-flat bastard file for sharpening larger items quickly like axes or shovels. Look through all your kit, identify small single items (e.g., can opener) and get a second or even a third--things like that really suck to lose or break, and carrying a spare is cheap.

Now and then on your trip look through your gear and judge it. Some cheap things will become immensely awesome and useful; some expensive stuff will seem useless and burdensome. Be brutal about winnowing it to the important core. Cute nesting pots and pans are frequently less useful than a single cast-iron skillet.

One thing to try is for each of you to pick a hobby you've never tried and give it a go. Sketching is something very portable, easy to learn, responds well to practice, and creates a nice visual record of your trip. MeMail me if you want some recommendations on a nice small travel list of gear.
posted by fatbird at 8:01 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was just up in the Pilbara where some French tourists had to spend an absolute fucking fortune because their car broke down in the middle of nowhere, requiring a $500 tow 90km to the nearest garage, and a few days stay in a mining town (think $200/night for a terrible hotel room) waiting for a part to arrive. Are you sure you've had a mechanic or two look over this vehicle?

The bush is vast and empty, but not as empty as we think. You say you have a radio, and I think that's about the most important thing you can have. When you're going down a twisty highway behind a four-trailer road train, you'll be able to ask ahead to see if you can overtake. All the "mobile phone/cell phone" advice is laughable bullshit by people who've clearly never been out of a city. You're going to be in places where the nearest mobile reception is a half day's drive away. Radio is your friend.

When I do remote fieldwork I make sure we have refrigeration, especially because goddamn it makes a difference when you're out bush and it's 45+ out. Multiple batteries and good electrics mean that it's not a problem, and you will thank yourself for investing in a good esky.

... in fact, the more I read some of the other responses, the more I will add: have you talked to someone who's gone far remote in a vehicle for extended periods of time? 'Cos a lot of the folks above have good advice for the sort of non-distant camping you'll get in North America, but Australia is a whole 'nother kettle of fish and their advice is drastically out of its league. Once or twice a year a prospector or truckie will die in the vicinity of Kalgoorlie, for god's sake, and that's not even that far remote!
posted by barnacles at 8:07 AM on August 29, 2014

But sorry -- I got off track. Radio! Extra jerry cans for diesel! Giant water holder! Extra battery! Good attitude!

And: best wishes! You're going to have an absolutely awesome time, and I am more than a little bit jealous you can go for it. Document document document and be safe!

(and gosh, maybe we need to do another Perth meetup, based on all the responses here!)
posted by barnacles at 8:10 AM on August 29, 2014

Is there anything else we could skill up on during our trip, which requires only a small investment in terms of money and space?

Knots. Knowing a tautline hitch can improving your camping experience greatly. Bring a knot book and a few lengths of rope and practice tying your coffee mug to the table leg, your shoes to each other, etc.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:30 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest a solar panel because it makes it so much easier to keep things charged. A whisk broom to clean out the car. Drink mix packets. Spare glasses/ sunglasses. Mosquito netting; it gets hot sleeping in the car and you will want to open every window and maybe even the doors. A fan that runs off a cigarette lighter. Deck of cards and book of card game rules. Pennies for betting. You can get pretty good at poker. Wet wipes.

You might be able to mail (or have someone mail) packages for your arrival in various towns, so you could have fresh movies on dvd, books, food treats, maybe some cologne, anything that would be a treat and a change. Work on sketching, watercolors, playing an instrument, mastering photoshop.

Food. There are lots of things you can cook. Bring different herbs to vary things. I like oatmeal and brown sugar for breakfast, leftovers or something that doesn't require cooking for lunch, and for dinner, maybe a potato partially sliced, with onion in the slices, with oil or butter, wrapped in foil, on the fire. Potatoes are versatile; anything you might add to rice, you can have with potatoes, and vice versa. Same with pasta. 'Cream of' soups are high in carbs, which you already have in rice, potatoes or pasta. I'd rather bring canned tomatoes and other veg. Bring some canned fruit as a treat. I generally have almonds and dried apricots for snacks; mix it up as much as possible.

You sound pretty prepared; have a blast. If you'll be blogging it from wherever you have access, would love the URL.
posted by theora55 at 8:36 AM on August 29, 2014

I did something very similar about 8 years ago. When we found this book the quality of our trip improved by 200%. There are free roadside campsites all over Australia and that book has them all.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 9:15 AM on August 29, 2014

If your car windows don't already have mosquito screens, invent some with Velcro. You will not want to be sleeping inside a vehicle with closed windows, which will be your only way to get any sleep if you don't have screens.

Also make sure the dash air vents are the kind with deflector baffles you can completely close, that the footwell and demister air vents get completely closed when you select the dash vents, and that all your door seals are in good nick. This will help with bulldust as well as insect ingress prevention.

Learn to enjoy keeping your speed below 80km/h. It's a more relaxed way to drive, it will save you a shitload of fuel, and you won't need to clean anywhere near as many bugs off your windscreen and lights.

Learn to love powdered milk.

Get a 3 quart cast iron pot that can pretend to be a camp oven. Make beer bread in it.

Use a decent curry paste with those lentils. I got very fond of Patak's Madras and Rogan Josh pastes. Sharwood's makes some nice ones too.

Dried blue boiler peas are wonderful things, as are big bags of brown rice.

Swim naked at Python Pool.

Have a blast!
posted by flabdablet at 10:00 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

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