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Home > Tips and Hints > Keeping it Simple

Keeping it simple and other hints for easy low impact camping

 

Camping with a tent and not much else was an enjoyable holiday for a past generation.  No communications, fridges, showers, hot water systems; just getting out and enjoying nature was the Australian camping experience.  These hints show how simple and uncomplicated camping can still be without compromising our modern lifestyle.

 

Unless you have purchased a large van as your sole home, you can live for many months in your caravan, motor home or camper yet keep it simple and the load relatively light. 

 

Water - how much do you really need?

Do you want to bush camp and use a heap of electric appliances and light up your camp like an ocean liner?  Or can you enjoy the evening simply with just a few LED lights or a lantern if out doors, and cook on gas?  A 12 volt system with a small inverter to charge your phone or camera batteries should be adequate.  Many appliances such as televisions come in 12 volt. 

 

Do you need to take a generator?  Your camping neighbours well may object to the sound of a generator spoiling the peace of their nature experience.  The cheaper imported generators are not only noisier than the well reputed brands such as Honda and Yamaha which just purr along, but the rhythm is somehow annoying.   If you don’t have solar power, a generator will ensure you can keep the fridge cold, even when camped in the one place for a few days.  However if your camping holidays are short you can choose more non refrigerated foods, take a good esky and some ice bricks and dispense with the room taken up with a generator and cans of petrol.  Two and three litre juice bottle with handles make excellent ice bricks and stay cold for some days.  Water can then be used for drinking, cooking or washing. 

 

Can’t live without a microwave, bread maker, yoghurt maker or Cappucino machine?  So long as you have the room, allowance for the weight, and an adequate power supply you can take them, but do you need them?  How often will you use them?  If just occasionally, try leaving them behind.  I can't help with the Cappucino, but you can make bread easily mixing and kneading it by hand in a bowl.  Making bread rolls is quicker and can be more successful than full loaves.  See making bread on the road in the food and cooking section.  The best place to raise the dough is in your car.  On really hot days, your caravan will get as hot as any yoghurt maker.  Electrical appliances are generally heavy and bulky, and not really needed if you have a gas stove. 

 

Simple appliances can save you needing to provide a power house for your camping.

 

See Power Sources for more about choosing the right power system for you

Do you need a bank of water tanks and a long hot shower every day, or can you just ‘go camping’ and have a good sponge over on days between showers?  See Economical use of water when it is in short supply. 

 

Simple water drawing: Do you need external pumps and filters to fill your tanks from streams and lakes, or will getting a bucket of water and using direct from the bucket be simpler and easier?  Lots of choices for the easy life with all mod cons, or just simple light weight camping gear. 

How much power do you really need? 

What about a fridge and freezer? 

How much gas? 

Communications

Cooking
Water disposal
Responsible camping
Bush toileting
Fat disposal
Rubbish disposal
Water - how much do you really need?
How much power do you really need?
What about a fridge and freezer?

See more about choosing Which Fridge

 

You may be used to having a large fridge full of food and drinks and a chest freezer full of meat and vegetables at home, but do you really need everything to be refrigerated when camping? 

 

Simple alternatives to refrigerated foods: Consider UHT milk, which only needs to be refrigerated once opened.  Use powdered milk in all cooking applications.  Use dried vegetables instead of fresh or frozen in stews and casseroles.  Cool drinks for the next day outside overnight and put into the fridge in the morning. Keep a supply of canned products, such as baked beans, tuna, meat pies and tinned stews if you and your family like them.  Cheese can be purchased non refrigerated and foil wrapped - Kraft cheese.  This cheese will need refrigeration after opening if you won't be using it all within a few days.  Rice and pasta are easy to cook and have a very long shelf life.  You can even buy dehydrated foods as used by hikers at many camping stores and on line sources if storage is really an issue.  http://www.settlersfoods.com.au/  is one company manufacturing a variety of dried meals.  http://www.backcountrycuisine.co.nz/bcc/ is another source.  Even if you don’t anticipate these sorts of meals as your daily diet, a few packets set aside for times of shortages and emergencies would be worthwhile.  What’s more without relying on refrigerated foods, you will find you can last a lot longer between shopping trips.  If the weather is not extremely hot, drinking water and vegetables can be kept in an Esky by opening to the cool of the night and closing it first thing in the morning.  Choose cuts of meat that take up little room, such as mince rather than T-bone steaks if you have a small freezer section in your fridge.  

 

Even without any refrigeration, if you are in areas where you can access shops often, you can buy fresh meat and vegetables and use that evening, with simple meals made from non refrigerated products for days in between.  Baked bean jaffles cooked on a campfire are usually a family favourite when camping.  In cool weather, we find instant packet soup and toast a good alternative to a big cooked meal on alternate days.  For a few other ideas about no fridge cooking see here 

How much gas?

This will vary according to what you use.  If you run a fridge on gas and use the hot water system daily your gas bottle will be gone in a fraction of the time it takes to use a full bottle for just cooking your meals.  If you want to make your gas supply last even longer, look for camp grounds with free barbecues.  Some National Parks in the Northern Territory provide free gas barbecues.  Most caravan park camp kitchens have coin barbecues, but some provide the facilities free.  These camp kitchens can also be good places to catch up on all the gossip from other travellers. 

 

If you are going camping for a long weekend, one 4.5 kg bottle will be adequate, whereas if you are going on the road for an extended period, you will need a second bottle, and larger caravans are usually fitted with two 9 kg bottles.  Using our hot water system most nights for short showers and basic cooking a 9 kg bottle lasts us around six weeks.  If being used mainly only for cooking, one bottle lasts about three months.  We do not run our hot water system for long periods like many others do; twenty minutes in cool climates or fifteen in hotter areas gives us warm showers.  A kettle boiled on the stove is the quick and simple way for washing dishes. 

 

Prices of filling bottles varies greatly between different towns, with camping stores in larger towns usually being much cheaper for a refill than the local service station or hardware store in an inland town.  There is also the option of 'swap and go' 8.5 kg bottles.  This is not the cheapsest option and the bottles may not fit your bottle brackets. 

 

Bottles are date stamped and after ten years you cannot get the bottle filled without it first being inspected, refurbished and approved.  This may well exceed the cost of a new bottle. 

Cooking
Washing and ironing
Mail - do you really need to pick up your mail?
 
Index
Leave no trace

While you are on holidays, let the cook have a holiday too.  Simple meals can be healthy and enjoyable.  Particularly when camping out, and often for simplicity when cooking in the caravan, I cook meals in one pot or pan.  Potatoes and onions can be sliced and cooked on a lightly oiled pan then put to one side while the steak is cooked.  Even greens can be cooked in the pan. Casserole style meat and vegetable dishes cooked in one large pot can make tasty meals quickly and easily.  See more ideas for simple camp meals on the Food and Cooking tips page.  One pot cooking not only helps give the dish washer a bit of a break, but uses less water too.  The large pot or pans can be wiped clean then used to heat the water for washing up – all done in the pot or pan.  Occasionally we are purchase a hot roast chicken late in the day if passing through a town where these are sold. Coles and Woolworths usually have them ready to go, and i roast vegetables to complete the meal.   

 

Do you need an oven?  In a small caravan or camper, an oven may not be included.  Large caravans may have a full sized oven, and smaller ones a small yacht oven.  Looking at keeping camping simple, an oven is not necessary.  Even in our caravan, because we move frequently my small oven doesn’t get much use.  It is useful when making a damper loaf, bread rolls or browning cheese topped dishes.  It doesn’t get as hot as my home oven so more time needs to be allowed for oven cooked dishes, so they are not a good choice when stopping late in the day.  Those who can do wonders in a camp oven on a camp fire could no doubt do the same in a camp oven stove top if there was no oven.  There are also other alternatives such as slow cookers and outdoor cookers such as Cobb. 

 

Fast and slow cookers:  There are many options for having a meal without waiting for hours when stopping late. Some campers use a pressure cooker.  This is a large and heavy item, and not one that is take.  However when touring Europe with my family we used a pressure cooker regularly.  It was also our regular cooking pot when used without sealing the lid. 

 

Some campers prefer the slow cooking method of a Shuttle Chef http://www.thermalcookware.com/   These work by partially cooking the food in the inner pot for 10 – 15 minutes then placing it in the insulated out pot (a large Thermos) which retains sufficient temperature to slow cook the food for up to eight hours.  If desired, the food can be brought back to the boil before serving. With a little bit of preparation in the morning, the pot can remain in the caravan (in the sink for safety) until camping time, when the meal can be served.  Popular for cooking corned beef as well as curries and stews, it can also be used to cook cakes and breads and make yoghurt.  Using a thermal cooker also saves gas. 

 

There are a number of similar products available, including Dreampot https://www.dreampot.com.au/

 

These products can be equally as effective at keeping food cold for a number of hours. 

 

For outdoor cooking without an open fire (camp fires are unacceptable in fire risk areas), a Cobb Cooker be used to cook a variety of meals, including grills, roasts, pizzas, cakes and breads, with just a few heat beads  http://www.cobb.com.au/ Exercise caution when disposing of heat beads as they can retain the heat for a long time. 

 

When camping away from the caravan for only one or two nights, I take pre-cooked mince and vegetables ready to make into jaffles.  Simple and easy to get an enticing aroma and a tasty meal going quickly at the end of a long day sightseeing, using either on a campfire or portable camp stove.  We have an Engel fridge in the car to keep our food chilled when camping out. 

 

 

Washing and ironing

Simple ironing substitute: Clothes can have the wrinkles shaken out of them and be pulled into shape when hanging out to dry to avoid the need for ironing, even with cotton fabrics that I would iron when at home.  Creases can be put into jeans and slacks and pegged onto the line or airer this way to save the need for ironing.  If necessary, irons can usually be hired from laundries. 

 

Simple clothes drying:  A lot of washing can fit on a fold up clothes airer, and this can be used to follow the sun when you are stopped.  If the night air will be damp, bring the airer inside overnight and put out again in the morning.  When you leave, hang the by now air-able washing around your caravan or motor home, and spread on the bed on clean towels to ensure the bedding stays quite dry.  Most will be ready to put away when you stop.  If not, there is always tomorrow.  When we had a fold up camper, washing was aired by pegging it to the mesh cargo barrier which we had in our tow vehicle. 

 

Simple clothes lines: You can purchase fold out lines that hook onto the van and mini rotary hoists, but are they any better than a fold up airer, a rope strung under an annex, between trees, or between a tree and your vehicle? Try and keep washing out of sight of the road; this makes you look like you are squatters.  Hanging washing where it is visible is not acceptable in “leave no trace” or overnight rest areas. 

 

 

 

Photography: Choosing a simple easy to use camera for holiday snaps
breadmaking.jpg washday.jpg
Washing day beside Old Policeman's Waterhole in the Davenport Range National Park, Northern Territory.  Note that washing water was taken away from the waterhole for disposal.  Washing was done where the water was drawn for convenience and a clean place to sit.  After wringing the washed clothes out in a towel, they dried quickly on a line strung between two trees.  Towels were also washed in the buckets here, but the sheets were left until we could use a laundromat. 
Simple bread making in the caravan
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To minimise foods requiring refrigeration with a small fridge, see our tips on

Foods that don't require refrigeration and

Foods that take up less room in the fridge or freezer

Read about Gas bottle standards

Washing clothes is a necessary chore whether done daily in a bucket, or once a week at a laundromat.  Who wants to do ironing when on holidays?  Bear washing ease in mind when selecting your clothes and choose colours which will not show stains.  You don't want to spent extra time soaking or bleaching the washing. 

 

 

Simple washing machine: We use two twenty litre buckets with tight fitting lids, purchased from a Chicken take-away outlet. They can be purchased new from hardware stores such as Bunnings.  One is used for the washing and the other for the rinsing, usually using water collected from sources other than our on board tanks, be it drawn from a stream or lake or from a caravan park tap as we leave.  The theory is that the movement of the caravan agitates the clothes while you are travelling, but with our stable caravan it is not quite enough, so we have a plumbers plunger (the typed used to put pressure on sink drains to unblock them) for easy agitation, and for using when stationary such as when camped beside a lake for a week or two.  It is easy to put the clothes worn the previous day into the wash bucket before leaving in the morning.  At lunch time we transfer them to the rinse bucket.  The water can be used for a day or two, with the rinse water graduating to the wash bucket when a new clear rinse is needed. 

tn_plunger2.jpg
Larger items such as sheets and towels usually wait for a laundromat.  Wringing the rinsed clothes out in a towel between two people is easier and more effective than normal hand wringing.   We met caravanners who had an old fashioned wringer welded onto a bar which fitted into a jackey wheel clamp, and they used this to wring their laundry when hand washing; a simple and effective method. 
 
If you do want to purchase an electric or mechanical washing machine, see the options in Washing Machines for Caravans 

Keys – What about all those keys?

tn_12vlaptoppowersupply.jpg
This 12 volt laptop power supply is more efficient and easier to use than 240 volt laptop power supply through an inverter
While precision is not necessary, gas fridges need to be relatively level to operate efficiently.  While you can purchase a spirit level to check side to side and back to front levels, a bowl with some water can be just as good.  A flat based bowl is ideal but any bowl will suffice.  Cover the bottom with water and place it centrally in the caravan.  Make a visual assessment to get your caravan levelled using wheel chocks, a-frame jockey wheel, jack or what ever means you use to hold the caravan level.  
How to check for level if you have a gas fridge
 

Levelling your caravan - the simple way to check 

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Photography: backing up photos and documents, keeping a written record, simple programmes

Housekeeping – keeping it simple

See more about options you can choose when Starting Out and setting up your caravan, motorhome or camper.