Thursday, May 31, 2007

Communications on Your Caravan Holiday

Whether you are on a short holiday or an extended trip, being able to communicate with family and friends and also be contacted by them may be important, even crucial, particularly if you are traveling through remote areas.


E-mail is fast becoming a major communications carrier. There are also an increasing number of internet cafes around the country where you can send and receive messages from. If you already use e-mail at home, contact your service provider and find out how to send and receive e-mail from remote destinations, using your own address. If you wish you can set up a portable Hotmail or Yahoo! address that you can use as you travel. There are also a number of mobile phones available now that can send and e-mail messages. If you are really serious you can carry your laptop and mobile phone set up for internet and email access. Perhaps have GPS loaded as well?


Even if you are going away for a few days, you will need to make alternative arrangements for your mail before you go away. Your local post office will hold your mail for you for a pre-arranged period of time. You can also arrange with them to forward the mail on to where you are staying. Be sure to make enquiries well in advance of travelling. Ask a friend or neighbour to check that the service is operating as intended.

An alternative to the post office service is to have a reliable friend collect your mail and forward it on using a pre-paid envelope. Alternatively, you can have your mail sent to a post office in the area you are next visiting. Ask the sender to mark the envelope "post restante" and take identification when you go to pick up your mail.

If you do not want to impose on friends or neighbours, or you have sold up and are without an address, contact Landbase Australia. They will receive your mail and then forward it on you. Landbase Australia was set up to provide an address for yachtsmen sailing the world and is now available to all travellers.


Mobile phones are used widely throughout Australia and the world and there are now many carriers in the marketplace. You can use your mobile for not only incoming and outgoing calls, but also text messages. Most can also be linked to your computer for internet and e-mail access.

One disadvantage of relying on a mobile phone in Australia is the vastness and remoteness of Australia where your phone will be out of range. Telstra probably still has the best digital network coverage in the rural areas of Australia for your communications purpose.

Remember, in Australia not only is it illegal to use a mobile phone when driving, but also dangerous, unless it has a hands-free attachment.

To enhance the performance and slightly extend the range of your mobile phone, install an "in-car kit", which includes a cradle, a power supply and an external antenna. That way, you will be able to use your mobile in most places.


If you don't have or don't want a mobile phone, public phones can be an inexpensive alternative. There are around 30,000 payphones dotted around Australia and, contrary to popular perceptions; most of them work most of the time.

Whether you have a mobile or intend to use public phones or a combination of both a phone card is a must. If you are in a remote location and your mobile is out of range, there will probably be a public phone at the roadhouse. Quite often the coin slots in payphones often malfunction as a result of coin jams and vandalism, but this is not normally the case with card slots. The Telstra Phonecard, prepaid in amounts of $5, $10, $20 and $50, can be purchased at newsagents, post offices and general stores almost everywhere. Alternatively, you can use a Telstra Telecard, which allows you to make calls from public or private phones using a card number and pin number. The cost is then charged back to your home or office account. Ring Telstra at least a couple of weeks before you intend to travel to arrange for a Telecard.


If it is vital for your communications to have access wherever you are, Satellite phones are now available. They have been operating in Australia since 1994. The Satellite network covers every inch of Australia now matter how remote the area – including a reasonable range out to sea. Units are available to buy or to hire but in both instances they are very expensive. Call costs are also significantly higher than normal mobile phone costs. If you are serious about a Sat phone, please see "satellite equipment and services" in the Yellow Pages for details of suppliers and service providers. A word of warning: while the satellite network is generally very reliable, a clear reception cannot be guaranteed 100 per cent of the time. Calling from within a thickly wooded area or a deep valley, or beneath a very cloudy sky, may reduce a phone's effectiveness and disappoint you if you have paid a lot of money for it.


Citizen Band (CB) radio is a useful communications device for people travelling in convoys of two or more vehicles. CB radios should not be relied upon for life-saving communication as interference regularly causes problems with transmission. Sets start at around $100.

Ultra High Frequency (UHF) CB radios are more expensive than the simple CB sets but have clearer transmission. A network of repeater stations across the country ensures that UHF units usually have a good range as well.


High Frequency (HF) radio is a reliable form of outback communications. HF radios have traditionally been known as "Flying Doctor" radios. These sets have been around for many years and were favoured by remote operators and pastoralists in the outback who often had no other method of communications. The radios are mostly used for long-distance communications. They have the ability to be interconnected with the phone system to make phone calls via technology known as Radphone: you make a radio call and an operator connects you to the phone number you require. Despite the advent of satellite technology, HF radio is still used by many organisations and individuals, including the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).

There is little privacy on HF radio transmissions and sets are reasonably expensive, although good quality second-hand units can be purchased for between $1000 and $1500. Hiring is also an option. The RFDS once provided a range of HF services but these have recently been scaled back. Contacting other travellers through RFDS frequencies is still possible provided, first, that it does not interfere with a control station's operations and, second, you have purchased an outpost licence from the Australian Communication Authority. RFDS remains an important contact for travellers who find themselves in emergency situations. HF radio users should contact the RFDS for a list of their control stations and relevant frequencies.

Many travellers using HF subscribe to VKS-737, the Australian National 4WD Radio Network. The service, operated by volunteer enthusiasts, offers five dedicated frequencies; weather and road updates; a point of contact for emergencies and links to relevant emergency services; and limited Radphone facilities. Travellers wishing to use Radphone regularly should hook up with a specialist service provider: VKS-737 recommends the Newcastle-based Radtech.


Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) are used to locate vessels, planes, vehicles and individuals in distress. The user can activate an emergency call signal that sends a series of radio beeps to the headquarters of Australian Search and Rescue (AusSAR). This organisation then contacts the relevant State-based or maritime rescue bodies. Beacons are used only to track location – not for voice communications. The availability of inexpensive, personal beacons (406 MHz units) has made the technology available to recreational users including bushwalkers, outback travellers and anglers. The units cost a couple of hundred dollars and can be purchased in electronics stores. A beacon should only be activated in extreme life-threatening situations. Wrongful use may attract large fines. If the unit is inadvertently activated, the user should attempt to contact AusSAR as soon as possible.

This is the eleventh page of 23 with related information about making the most of your caravan holiday. Check our website at for the other articles.

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