I’ve come up with a business plan. I’m going to open the University of The Grey Nomad.
My campus will be a tented village, and only people 55 and over will be allowed to enrol. Graduates will leave with framed diplomas in Grey Nomadship.
At my university people will learn everything from whether they’re made of the right stuff to be a Grey Nomad right through to knowing whether their vehicle will successfully navigate the swollen river ahead.
I haven’t yet worked out how long the course will be, but given we’re not getting any younger, a couple of months will probably suffice.
My logic behind this scheme is, I believe, sound. We prepare young children for school and kids for adult life, but who teaches oldies how to get older? And qualifying as a Grey Nomad is an integral part of getting older.
As I approached 60, I wondered whether I was credentialed to be a Grey Nomad. I liked the concept of travelling and sleeping in the bush, but there was so much I didn’t know and it scared me.
I’d never relied on solar panels to chill my beer. I didn’t know how to reverse something hooked to the back of my car. I didn’t know how to hook something to the back of my car. I wasn’t sure if I could survive days without a shower or sand in my bed or, worse still, rodents trying to get into my tent at night.
What could I possibly contribute around the campfire at a caravan park when the blokes started talking about replacing a break drum or the best UHF systems or the virtues of a 3500w generator?
These unknowns – numerous because I am not the son of a camper – were frightening, and many times I wished there had been somebody who could have taught me.
There wasn’t, so instead I stumbled on by myself, learning as I went, making mistakes, wasting money and, more importantly, time, because time is of importance to a Grey Nomad. Fifteen, maybe 20 years – that’s the lifespan of a Grey Nomad. It isn’t long.
Knowing I was an uneducated novice meant that the day I hitched my camper trailer to my car and headed off on my first camping trip was no less terrifying than my first day of school.
Things went reasonably well, but there were one or two red-faced moments that could have been avoided had I attended an appropriate university course. Like having a cold shower because I didn’t know that some caravan parks have a hot-water meter box outside that requires coins.
Like knowing that a tight U-turn might snap the chain on my tow bar, or that riding my brakes down a hill with a camper in tow will result in a lot of smoke pouring out from underneath the car, or that big trees sometimes fall down so don’t camp under one.
And these are the simple things. The not-so-simple things, like knowing why you need an Anderson plug or knowing exactly why your fridge’s motor keeps cutting out, or how to install a second car battery… these are the specialty subjects my university course will address.
The latest figures I’ve seen tell me that at any one time, there are 120,000 caravans on roads in Australia. I don’t know if this figure includes caravans sitting in caravan parks, or camper trailers, or slide-on sleepers, or motorhomes.
Either way, that’s a lot of people on the move and a lot of people who, at some stage, might have embarked on something without being fully qualified.
So, until my university gets up and running, I can offer you some advice that might save you a little money and a lot of stress:
- Hire before you buy
- Know what your trailer weighs and what your car can tow
- Write down a check-list of things to do and things to take, and refer to it
- Practice reversing, and hitching and unhitching, your caravan on weekends in a quiet industrial site
- Understand what solar panels can and can’t do
- Get familiar with your fridge
- Ensure your batteries are in good condition and what is required to keep them that way
- Who’s going to be the map-reader?
- Read magazines and websites, and join chat rooms where you can ask the most basic of questions
- Ask more questions. There is nothing an experienced retailer/mechanic/towing specialist/blogger hasn’t heard.
Once you’re confident about heading out, the question is where to go? The best guides here are the various apps available, because they will be more current than any book and many have the ability to chat. Here are some of the best camping apps:
- WikkiCamps – the first and biggest, but needs to expand its information base;
- Free Range Camping – has a basic option which is free, or a membership option which is extensive and growing. Predicted by those in the know to be the app to watch in future;
- Camps Australia Wide – all entries are verified, which is a bonus, but does cost;
- AirCamp – a newbie which allows you to book a camp site;
- CamperMate – relatively new and free.
Social media, such as Facebook, also offers a wide range of forums with groups specialising in all things camping related.
If you own a 4X4, there’s bound to be a chat room where you can freely exchange tips about your car, such as where it can and can’t safely go, what it can tow and whether you need things like a snorkel, fog lights or a bull bar.
Once you’ve learned a few things, teach others and spread the joy, for camping under the stars is a wondrous thing.
Over the past decade, I’ve stayed in five-star hotels, high quality B&Bs, pubs and lodges, but I don’t remember any of them as clearly as the nights on the road, by an open fire, with the sounds of a nearby river or the rolling surf and absolutely nothing else.
And there’s an added joy in knowing that you can stay, not just until your booking expires, but for as long as you want. And if you don’t like it, tomorrow you can pack up and go somewhere else. No itinerary, no deadlines, no lost deposits, no planes to catch.
This, and much more, my university will teach you.
Would you enrol? Have you made the type of mistakes I’ve made?