Staying in Touch when Travelling

With today's technology, staying in touch with our friends and family when travelling is relatively easy. Using the internet, sending email, mobile phones, satellite devices, and online tracking services for both emergency and position logging are all discussed in this article along with tips for how to manage your postal mail.
Created: June 2008
Revised: October 2017
Latest Feedback: October 2017

Voice Communication

Most of us are so used to using mobile phones when away from home, that we tend to forget that Australia still has some “black holes” in the mobile service coverage. Although this is not so apparent if you are sticking to the blacktop, the desert regions are still without full mobile service, and remote regional towns may only have service for a few kilometre radius.

This fact is particularly concerning because remote travel is unpredictable and situations can arise where the time taken between communicating your distress for help and receiving assistance may make the difference between life and death. For this reason, you must not rely on mobile phones as your only source of voice communication when travelling in the outback. Please refer to our Communications section for articles such as Outback Communication Requirements Explained, HF Radio, UHF Radio, & Handheld Satellite Phone Solutions for Travellers.

With that said however, don’t leave your mobile at home because there are still many excellent apps you can use offline, including the ExplorOz Traveller app - give you offline topo maps, treks, navigation tools, and over 80,000 Places - for access to our entire database of campsites and must-have POIs. Modern smartphones also have excellent cameras and in-built GPS receivers so even when you've got no mobile service, a phone in your pocket is a worthwhile light-weight item to carry anytime you walk away from your vehicle. And of course, you'll make good use of it when you're in mobile service areas to check email, make calls.

Online Communication

Tethering a laptop/tablet to the internet


If you don't have a smartphone but your phone is still on a 3G data plan you'll be able to use the tethering feature to access the internet. Tethering typically requires a USB cable.

When you tether your computer to the internet through your phone you do not need to have any special internet plan, however you will need to check that your phone plan includes a data plan. Some of the latest phone plans include a data usage plan in the monthly charges – and if you wish to upgrade your data plan you can usually request a month to month upgrade. This is one of the most effective, and cheapest methods for people that do not require tethering use via their phone when at home/working etc but require consistent, reliable internet usage over a period of a few weeks to a few months when away from home/work.

Smartphone users can also connect their laptop/tablet/iPad to the internet using the inbuilt mobile hotspot feature. Bluetooth is required to do this.

Smart Phones


Smart Phones have inbuilt web browsers and modems providing the ability to send/receive emails, browse the internet and use any online application. They also operate as mobile hotspots - so you can share your mobile data internet connection with other devices - eg. laptop, iPad, if required after connecting via Bluetooth.

There are literally thousands of apps you can choose to download to your smartphone - many of which work when offline. The app stores have categories to help you browse areas of interest including business, education, entertainment, finance, kids, games, travel, maps and navigation.

Mobile Broadband


Fixed line broadband is something that many businesses and households in Australia have been using for years, but an increasing number of people are now turning to a new type of technology known as mobile broadband to complement or even replace their fixed line access. With mobile broadband users are able to enjoy high speed access to the Internet whilst they are actually on the move, and this technology therefore offers total flexibility, ease, and convenience.

The USB modem that you receive when you sign up to mobile broadband is small, compact, and easy to carry around, and this modem will allow you to access the Internet via the 4G/3G technology that is used. All you have to do is plug the USB modem into the USB socket on the laptop and away you go with access to the Internet no matter where you are, providing there is mobile phone coverage in the area.

There are three main modem options available for use with mobile broadband, and these are described below.

  • USB dongles are easy to use, as they simply plug into the USB connection on the laptop or computer, and being the size of a mobile phone are very easy to carry around.

  • USB sticks are smaller than dongles, making them even easier to transport around, and like the dongle they simply plug into the USB connection on the computer and provide you with Internet access.

  • Mobile data cards are a third option, but these cannot be used by all mobile broadband users, as they can only be used on computers that have plug and go software installed.
Mobile Broadband Pricing varies between carriers - this is based upon your usage, modem choice, download limits and contract times. There is also the option of Pre-Paid Mobile Broadband, however be aware that if you are unsure of your regular download usage that this service may not be suitable for your needs as you pay on a per MB usage, rather than an allowance per month. It is easy to underestimate your expected usage and you may end up paying a lot more than you would if you chose a contract plan. The majority of internet and telecommunications companies offer Mobile Broadband, so it is suggested you research the plan that suits you best. As a general guide, expect to pay somewhere between $20 and $50 a month.
In our busy modern lives, it seems online communication seems to have almost taken over from voice communication, so many travellers want the ease of being able to send email or write blogs as their method of staying in touch with family and friends.

The advantage of sending emails or other online communication options when travelling is much the same as when you are at home – the person you are sending your message to doesn’t have to be there when you send it, they can read it at a time that suits them. You can also prepare your emails when you are out of service to queue up to be sent from your phone when you are back in service range.

So what are your options? Of course you can just your smart phone which is of course already data ready for internet and email use. But the small screen makes typing tiresome for longer documents so many people have turned to tablet computers with the iPad the most popular choice at present, probably mostly due to being the first on the market and offering the best range of apps at the time. However devices operating on the Android platform have now caught up and depending on your point of view, have overcome some of the restritions of being locked into Apple devices, although some app developers have not yet released Android versions of their most popular itunes apps so look into this carefully before you buy. Digitial mapping using your iPad has been very successful for quite some time and mapping apps such as the Hema iPad app have seen quick market takeup. The ExplorOz online tracking service "EOTrackMe" is another popular mapping service that is also not currently available for Android platforms. So ensure you take the time to investigate the tablet market carefully if that's the path you wish to go and don't forget that laptop computers are still a sound and practical option too.

Here’s an overview of your choices:

Internet Kiosk Services


If you do not have a computer, you can either use a town library, airport, or a telecentre where you can sit down at a booth and “rent” the use of their computer and internet network. Some outlets will often also provide you with access to a fax, printer, and photocopier.

Internet Networks - Free Wifi


If you carry a laptop computer on your travels, there are many places where you can plug into a network to gain access to the internet. McDonalds, some caravan parks, motels/hotels, visitor centres etc are some of the more common places that offer internet access via their network, but you can also do this if you are visiting friends (upon request of course!). Some are free services, others may charge a small time-based fee. These services generally utilise WiFi technology or you will plug in an external network cable into your laptop. The use of offering free Wifi services has increased dramatically in Australia with many shopping centres now offering free Wifi to all customers - so as you walk around the centre with your mobile phone turn on your Bluetooth connection and check the Wifi connections. Your device will automatically detect any available networks and let you gain access to the free Wifi services if available.

Online Tracking

EOTrackMe


EOTrackMe is a dedicated tracking service developed by I.T Beyond Pty Ltd for ExplorOz Members.
The service receives position data from your moving GPS devices via an internet (or satellite) connection and displays this onto a map stored on the ExplorOz website (in your Member Profile). When out of service, your device will store position data periodically and only send to the EOTrackMe server when a connection is restored, enabling your tracking map to "catch up". The EOTrackMe service has various settings to provide you with privacy protection, and can be utilised with almost any smartphone, tablet, computer or satellite device (such as SPOT). See the EOTrackMe page for more information.
Sometimes all that's needed is a way for your family/friends to know where you are. An online tracking service is the ideal solution to this and takes away the hassle for you to make phone calls or send emails. Online tracking simply means your vehicle is tracked through a device with a GPS which transmits your location to a webpage featuring a map that pinpoints your position. This is particularly useful when you anticipate you will be travelling into regions without mobile phone coverage – putting you into that communication “black hole”. Knowing that someone in your family can log into a service that is keeping track of you can be great peace of mind. Some devices/services also include messaging/alert features that can be activated in the event of an emergency.

Email Services for ExplorOz Members

If you are an ExplorOz Member, you will be able to “email” certain updates to the ExplorOz website whilst you are travelling and without using a web browser to open the website. These are currently available for Blog and Place updates.

Blog Updates


Whilst your family and friends (and the ExplorOz community) are watching your journey via your tracking on EOTrackMe, why not also write & publish your trip diary and photos so they can follow your whole adventure in vivid detail? With our new email services, you can now do just that without actually visiting the ExplorOz website.

All mobile phones today are capable of sending email, so you simply type the text of your blog (including photos if you wish) on your phone into the body of an email message and send it to blogs@exploroz.com. If you prefer, you can send the email from your laptop. Sounds too easy? It is meant to be!

Place Updates


A little more restricted, this service requires a camera that captures GPS position data. Many mobile phones actually have this feature – certainly all iPhones and other smart phones, so check your model’s features or give it a test.

Simply take a photo of a great place you have visited, enter a bit of information to describe it and send by email to places@exploroz.com Again, it’s that easy!

Each of your emailed Place updates will be stored within your Member Profile page on ExplorOz in your ‘My Places” section. This is so that as you travel, you are effectively creating your very own log of all the places you’ve been. This happens automatically because our system will match your email to your Member Profile. The idea of having your “My Places” is that that you can use this as a guide to help you write your trip diary blog, or your family/friends can look at it to see the great places you are visiting.

Postal Mail

Australia Post - Post Restante

Any person (Australian citizen or visitor) can use Australia Post's Post Restante system where you can nominate a specific Australian post office as your "temporary address". You do not need to register for this service and there are no charges. Simply advise people to address all mail to you as follows:

Your Name
Post Restante
Post Office Town, State and Postcode.

Mail will be held for up to a month and ID such as passport will be needed when you arrive to collect your mail. Get the sender to put your surname first because it should then be filed in the right place and more easily found.

If you are travelling to an itinerary, you could list the Post Restante post offices you will be using in your itinerary before your trip departure and leave with family/friends so they can simply check which post office you will be likely to be collecting from based on the dates in your itinerary.

Australia Post - Mail Redirection


For Australian's who wish to have their usual mail redirected as they travel, you can nominate temporary or permanent redirection of all mail you would normally receive through the Australia Post network.

This is a simple process which can be lodged at any Australia Post office with a relatively small fee. Check with Australia Post for latest pricing. At time of writing, the charges were $9 per month with discounts for longer periods. Note - Pensioners, (ie. holders of Pensioner Concession Cards (PCC, DVA-PCC) or Health Care Card Type SA) the service is free.

Using this system you can redirect your mail to a Post Restante post office, to a friend/relative, hotel/caravan park or to one of the commercial mail collection services.

The only problem of course, is that unexpected delays within the Australia Post service are a reality and with this service you never know if someone has sent mail to you until you turn up to check your mail at the nominated Post Office. It is possible that you might move onto the next town only to find that you missed a parcel because your friend/family didn't expect it to take so long to reach you. The problem here is that the mail may be difficult or impossible to retrieve.

Mail Forwarding Services


A number of businesses specifically aide travellers who may not be working to a fixed itinerary and who do not have any addresses in Australia to use for mail forwarding.

These organizations will, for a fee, provide you with a fixed address, which you provide to all the organisations or people from whom you expect to receive mail. Using their services all your incoming mail is readdressed to them and when you want to collect, you simply advise them of where you will be in a few days time and it all gets posted on, as per your request. Some of these services also operate online, so that rather than forward your mail they scan your mail which you can read online when you are able to reach the internet.

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Article Tags

Staying In Touch On The Road, Keeping In Touch, Internet On The Road, Satellite Tracking, Sat Tracking, Spot Tracker, Eotrackme, Communication On The Road, Communications For Caravanners

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