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: November 2015
Latest Feedback: July 2015

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 you'll make good use of it when you're in built up areas such as cities and towns. As we’ll discuss in the sections below your mobile phone can also be useful for accessing various internet services such as sending email, browsing the web, and activating online tracking services so your family and friends can view your position on an online map.

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 (eg. iPhone, Blackberry, Androids etc), have inbuilt web browsers and modems providing the ability to send/receive emails, browse the internet and use any online application.

And yes, if you carry a smart phone and a laptop/tablet/computet you might prefer to connet to the internet through your phone's inbuilt network to take advantage of the bigger screen size and functionality of using a mouse and keyboard. To do this you would have bluetooth enabled and then activate the mobile hotspot on your smartphone and then search for the device name of your smartphone device in network connections from your tablet/iPad/computer.

Of course, functionally for all the above is restricted to areas that receive 3G coverage.

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 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 Cafes


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


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.

Online Tracking

EOTrackMe


EOTrackMe is a dedicated online tracking service developed by I.T Beyond Pty Ltd for ExplorOz Members. It has been developed for people that already own a device capable of sending satellite position data via a data network. This means most mobile phones, a Spot device, or a PC/PDA with a GPS plug in simply becomes your tracking device. See the EOTrackMe page for more information on compatible devices.

By registering your device to the EOTrackMe service (free for ExplorOz Members), you can activate the tracking service to capture and plot your movements in real-time on 250K topo maps, which provide better detail for outback regions than Google maps, however people viewing your tracking log can also switch to other map views if desired, including Google streets, and satellite maps.

With EOTrackMe, there is no need for the traveller to do anything to activate position logging – this is done automatically based on custom settings that you activate in your setup. EOTrackMe shows the full trip route, connecting the lines between your previous positions giving your friends and family a highly informative overview of the path you have travelled. The track path accuracy depends on the device used and the timing between position data sent to the EOTrackMe server.

For a detailed overview of how to get started, and the settings to suit your device, see the EOTrackMe page.

Subscribers to the EOTrackMe service using an Android or iPhone rely on using the mobile phone network to automatically send position data to your tracking page so your position will not update when you are in regions that are outside mobile service range. For subscribers with Spot devices however, the position data is sent via a satellite network so it will never stop updating your position to your tracking page and for extended time in non-mobile service range provides a better position logging service if you want people to know where you are in near real-time.

However, the Android or iPhone devices actually have an added advantage over the Spot in terms of the tracking path that is published as they will create the truest path line of your journey – eventually. This is because the Spot system only updates position data every 10-20 minutes, whereas the Android or iPhone phone updates are live and ongoing, even when out of service (they simply store the logs and forward when back in service). Therefore, track lines between points will be straight lines if you use a Spot device.

Privacy settings are included with EOTrackMe, including “geofencing”. This enables you to mask your exact position at times when you don’t want to publish precise positions of where you are, such as home, work, friends etc.

The EOTrackMe home page shows a map of Australia with current position icons for all active subscribers in the network. This offers the ExplorOz community the opportunity to view one another’s travels at a glance and if desired, you can click into each Member’s profile, read their blogs, see their photos, and of course send them a message!

The live EOTrackMe service can also be embedded into your own website at no extra charge. This means EOTrackMe can be used for fleet tracking, events and races and is not limited to ground moving objects. We can track a fleet of yachts, or even hot air balloons! The EOTrackMe service is dependant only upon a “Member Profile” however you can register multiple tracking devices to a Profile. This means, the position data of each device in an entire fleet of objects can be viewed live from one map. EOTrackMe includes some analytics to show distances moved over time, average speed etc however other customised reports can be made available to suit your particular event if requested.
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.

Currently there are three robust, popular forms of Online Tracking. These are:

SPOT Devices


The SPOT Satellite GPS Devices (SPOT 2 and SPOT Connect) can be purchased from any Spot distributor. We are a major distributor through the ExplorOz online shop.

The uniqueness of the Spot devices are that they have a number of emergency, and peace of mind messaging functions, coupled with an optional online tracking service.

Before you can use any SPOT device for the first time, you need to activate a satellite service subscription. There are 2 levels of subscriptions available and are payable direct to SPOT/ Inc. Fees apply depending upon the features you select, with the 1 year Basic Service Plan currently listed at US $115, however this does not include tracking. Tracking, although an additional US $50, allows your device to send and save your location and allow contacts to track your progress in near real time using Google Maps. You can then set up a SPOT Shared Page which allows you to show your SPOT GPS locations to others on a Google Map (published as a page on the Spot website that can only be viewed by people that have been given your Spot link). Position updates are tracked approximately every 10 minutes.

You can also link your SPOT Messenger to our EOTrackMe service if you are an ExplorOz Member (see About Membership) – see section below.

Yellowbrick Devices

The Yellowbrick v3 Tracker/Messenger, which features satellite communication fuctions, also has the capability to record and transmit tracking data and is published on an online map (subscription/credit fees apply).

You can also link your Yellowbrick Tracker/Messenger to our EOTrackMe service if you are an ExplorOz Member (see About Membership) – see section below.

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.

Here’s the full instructions on using our new email update services for both Blogs and Places - but check through the instructions first by reading the help page HERE

Forum Posts


Coming soon, you’ll also be able to send posts to the Forum directly via these email services, again without the need to use a web-browser.

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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