Keeping in touch while on the road

With the privilege of outback travel comes great responsibility. Recovery and medical help can be hours, if not days, away once you get into ‘remote’ territory. Travellers need to be equipped with the appropriate tools to contact the outside world should anything go wrong.  Now yes, we do live in a world of mobile phones and technology overload and this is probably the very thing you’re trying to escape by going on holiday, but there are a few very important things you should take with you if you are venturing off the highway.

With all the technology of today, we are actually in a much better position than ever before, as long as you use common sense and carry the appropriate equipment, you can be assured that you have taken all precautions possible and will hopefully be able to make contact should something happen.img_0102-1

We all rely on mobile phones, computers and social media so much these days, sometimes I think a little too much (yes, us included!), but there can be a place for it and it’s now made travelling and keeping in touch so much easier.

This blog post is intended to give you an overview of how you can keep in touch with loved ones while you are travelling and also what is required to make contact in the case of an emergency.  If you are reading this you will know that we use blogging as a way of keeping in touch with family and friends while we are away. This also has the added bonus of people like you being able to read our blog and live our holiday with us! You may not know us, but we can hopefully inspire others to travel to the amazing places we are fortunate enough to visit.

Below are a list of what we use to keep in touch with family and friends (and our social media followers) while we are away. Some are for safety, some are for communication and updates and some are just for a little fun.

Everyone has a Mobile Phone these days and they are so easy to keep in touch with people. In saying this, please don’t rely solely on this for emergencies. Australia is a big place and there is a lot of nothing in the middle of it and this nothing includes no mobile phone towers! There are plenty of places that you will not have phone or Internet reception, even in many towns.  Some people will think this is a great thing as part of getting away is getting away from technology and work aswell, so they don’t want the distraction. BUT what happens in an emergency?  What if you have an accident, someone gets sick or you get lost or break down.  IMG_9202

Telstra is by far the best provider as far as outback travel is concerned, you still won’t have reception in a lot of places, but it is available on and off in many places. We always have a Telstra phone with us.

Not only do our phones come in handy for communication, we also have our HEMA Maps app loaded onto the Iphone and Ipad.  Once loaded this app doesn’t need cellular coverage to run, which makes it perfect for our remote travels.

This was a great purchase, don’t know how we ever lived without this app now!

Satellite Phones have progressed a lot in recent years.  They’ve become much smaller and lighter and more affordable aswell.   Whether you buy a phone outright or hire one really depends on the length and frequency of your trips.  For us, it made sense to purchase a phone rather than having to hire one each time.  But if you are doing a once-off trip through remote country for a few weeks, then hiring would be much more affordable.  Also keep in mind that satellite phones do have to go on to a phone plan and call costs can be very expensive, so it’s best to thoroughly investigate all of this before making any decisions.  In Australia, we have access to four satellite networks. Two are Geostationary (GEO) systems (which the Inmarsat and Thuraya networks use) and two are Low-Earth Orbiting (LEO) systems (which the  Iridium and Globalstar networks use). The latter two seem to be the more common ones, we use Iridium.

img_0835The benefit of having a satellite phone in remote areas is that you will generally have phone reception at all times, regardless of whether there are mobile phone towers in the area or not.  Satellite phones work off the satellites, therefore, as long as you can see the sky, you can generally make a call.  Our satellite phone is used for emergencies only (luckily we’ve only needed to use it once when a friend’s car broke down and nothing more serious), but it’s always there just in case.  We also leave it on when we are out of normal mobile phone service areas for an extended period of time in case family back home need to contact us in an emergency.

EPIRBS & Personal Locator Becons (PLB) are lightweight to carry and relatively cheap to purchase.  We use SPOT, which we’ve detailed below, but there are numerous options to choose from.  In an emergency you activate your device and they transmit a distress signal, along with your GPS coordinates, to the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite network which then relays the information to your nearest search and rescue authority.

SPOT MessengerNow this one we love!  We love our ‘SPOT’, he is one of our favourite purchases (yes it’s a ‘him’ and his name is SPOT!).  There are numerous ways that we use SPOT to keep in touch while travelling.  Like the satellite phones, SPOT uses satellites to communicate, meaning that he works as long as he can see the sky.  While travelling we always have SPOT sitting on the dash recording where we are going, if we go for a bushwalk we clip him onto our backpack for safety aswell.

So, how do we use SPOT ……. firstly, we use the tracking feature.  Once you turn this on, SPOT plots where you are every so often and records a detailed map for you.  We have this displayed on our website while travelling so our family can always see where we are.  We can also then download the map and save it as a record of where we have travelled.

Then there is the Check-In button which allows you to let family and friends know you are ok.  You can customise your message and set up who you want it to go to (whether by email or SMS) before you leave home.  You then just click on the Check-In button and it sends them your preset message.  This also sends your exact GPS co-ordinates of where you are at that point.  We use this every few days if we don’t have phone reception, just so they know we are alive and well!

There is also the Help button which you also customise before leaving home as per the Check-In button above.  This would be used if you are in trouble, but not in a life threatening situation.  Eg, you might be broken down, but have plenty of food and water so not in any trouble, but it allows your family to give your GPS location to local authorities and they can go find you.

Lastly there is the SOS button.  This one is to be used in life threatening emergencies only.  By pushing this button, the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center provides your GPS coordinates and information to local response teams to act immediately.

UHF CB  Radio Due to their convenience and relatively low purchase price, this really should be one of the first things you purchase.  Whether you are travelling the outback or just spending a day in the bush with mates, a CB is one of the most handy things you can have.  Not only can you use it to keep in touch with fellow travellers in your group, but you can use it to help when passing trucks or vehicles towing.  Quite often you will hear things over the CB to warn you of traffic, accidents or incidents up ahead which can be handy.   IMG_9201

We will quite often make contact with a truck or long vehicle up ahead to advise that we are wanting to pass and they can let us know when it’s safe to do so.  We will also make contact with vehicles behind if they are going faster than us and let them know they are free to go.

When used correctly, this can be a handy piece of equipment.

Remember that there are different channels which are used for different things, so it’s handy to know this.  Generally when travelling we tend to stick on channel 40 which is the one all the trucks use (keep in mind that you do sometimes get some interesting stories and questionable language on this channel, which can be quite entertaining, but maybe not always suitable for little kiddies ears!)

We initially started our Website purely as a place to display photos when we got back from holidays and it was an easy, central location for family and friends to view them.  Our website has changed from the early days and now includes informative information for others, but it’s still as much for us as it is for everyone else.  It’s our go to place for our photos and notes from all our trips.  Since we first started the website we have moved on to blogging and using social media much more and we’ve now incorporated this into the website aswell and everything is intertwined together! Eg All of our blogs and Instagram posts are displayed automatically on our website as they are posted and Spot tracking automatically shows up on the website when we are travelling. Shelly built our whole website and manages this, so if you are a little tech savvy, you could do this too. All it takes is a little time and a yearly fee for your domain name and hosting fees. 

Blogging can be a great way of letting people know what’s going on.  To put it simply, a blog is basically an online personal journal or diary.  Years ago you would have written in a travel journal and documented your trip, but now we do it online.  You have a record of your trip that you can refer back to at any time, but it also allows you to let family and friends (and anyone who follows your blog) know exactly what you are doing.  When we are away we try to write a blog post every few days.  We use a blogging site called ‘WordPress’ for our blogs and this in turn is embedded into our website.  People can ‘follow’ a blog and by doing so they will be emailed a copy of your blog every time one is posted.

img_0836Itinerary.  Personally we have an itinerary (or trip plan) for every big trip we do.  I know a lot of people don’t agree with this and just go day-to-day, but we like to have an idea of where we will be.  We sit down and plan out our holiday and have an itinerary for each day, but this isn’t set in stone.  Nearly every trip we make changes along the way, we add a day in here and there, skip a place or change the route altogether!  There are even people who you can pay to prepare a trip plan for you which is what we have done on occasions.  Not only does the itinerary help us, but it’s a great security measure to leave it at home with family and/or friends.  If anything unfortunate should happen, at least they have an idea of the area you should be in at any given point. 

Social MediaOK so who isn’t on Facebook these days! We all love sharing photos and posts of what we are up to with life and we all love prying into everyone else’s lives by seeing their posts!  Most of our family and friends are on Facebook so it made sense for us to create our own page “George & Shelly . off the track” to use, rather than our personal pages.  This way, anyone (not just our family and friends) can like our page and join in on our adventures and be inspired.  It’s so easy to upload a photo or ‘check in’ and let people know where you are and what you are doing at any time.  

Instagram is another social media app that is very popular.  It allows you to post photos or short videos for your followers to see.  We have been on Instagram for a few years now (georgeandshelly.offthetrack) and have gained quite a few loyal followers.  We don’t know these people personally, but it’s nice to be able to share our adventures with like-minded people, or even share ‘Australia’ with many of our followers who are from overseas.

Once you get set up using social media you will see how handy this can be.  For example, we post a photo via the Instagram app and it auto posts onto our Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr & Flickr profiles without us doing anything. 

Many people are now turning to social media outlets to find information or photos, just in the last year we have been contacted by GWN News in Western Australia asking could they use one of our photos on one of their nightly news segments and by Department of Commerce in WA asking to use one of our photos in a publication.  Both of these parties searched via social media to find photos relevant to their stories and then contacted the owners (us!) to ask for permission to use.  Just goes to show just how big and how important social media is becoming.

Who doesn’t like to receive an oldschool letter or Postcard in the mail! This is still a great way to let people know what you’ve been up too and let them know that you are thinking of them.  As a kid I collected post cards from every place we visited, it was nice to look back on these years later and be reminded of all the amazing adventures we had as a family.

Hopefully this will give you a little insight into how and why we use some of these services or devices to keep us safe and in contact with family and friends while we are travelling.  Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or let us know your own tips.

Tell us what you think!