Creature comforts outdoors

  •  Take a drop sheet along

After painting the house or doing other messy home repairs, you may be ready to pack up and go camping, so remember to take some of the drop sheets you've used to protect flooring and furniture with you. Choose one that more or less matches the dimensions of your tent floor and pitch the tent on top of it. The drop sheet will prevent dampness from seeping in and keep the tent cleaner into the bargain.

You might want to bring another drop sheet (an inexpensive new plastic one) to use as a tablecloth; campsite tables are often covered with bird droppings and other debris.

  •  Pill-bottle salt and pepper shakers

There's no need to eat bland food just because you're roughing it. Pour salt, pepper and any other spices you enjoy into separate small screw-cap pill bottles and label them with an indelible marker on masking tape so that you'll be able to reuse them. Because these containers are airtight, moisture won't cause the contents to dampen and congeal. Then take two lids from another set of pill bottles and punch small holes in them with a sharp tool. You can then use one for salt and the other for pepper, and then shake away to suit your taste. But make sure you replace the solid caps at the end of the meal to keep moisture at bay.

  •  Save plastic bottles

Before you throw plastic bottles into the recycling bin, consider the ways you can put them to good use on camping trips and picnics.

When you're in the great outdoors, you can use a plastic bottle to do some of the following:

  1. Make a bowl Cut off the bottom portion to make a bowl of any depth you need; you might want to sandpaper the edges to make them less rough.

  2.   Dispose of liquids Pour in cooking oils and other liquid rubbish.

  3. Create an icepack Fill a bottle with water, freeze it and use it to keep an esky cold. Or put it in a backpack to keep food cool on a long hike.

  4.  Serve as a makeshift toilet Keep it just outside the tent so you don't have to wander out into the dark. (At least this works for male campers.)

  •  Plastic containers are great, too

Recycle old plastic butter tubs the next time you go hiking or camping — they have many practical outdoor uses, including:

  1. Snare stinging insects To keep wasps and other insects from invading your outdoor meals, fill a container with water, add a little sugar, poke a hole in the lid and place this sweet trap off to one side of your dining area. The wasps will fly in but won't be able to fly out.

  2. Feed your dog Fill a container with biscuits so the dog's dinner is ready when he's hungry; use a second container for water.

  3. Block ants Fill four plastic containers with water and put one under each leg of a table. Ants won't be able to get through your makeshift moat and crawl up the table legs to get at your picnic.

  •  Freshen sleeping bags with soap

Sleeping bags can become a bit musty after a couple of uses, but you can freshen them by putting a bar of soap or a fabric-softener sheet inside them. Do it after you get out of the sleeping bag each morning, then zip the bag shut. The next time you slip in, remove the bag freshener and put it aside to use again, then drift off into sweeter-smelling dreams.

  •  Bubble-wrap mattress

Pack a 2-m length of bubble wrap and lay it under your sleeping bag before you get in. The air pockets are not only soft; they'll also protect your sleeping bag from damp.

  •  Hula hoop privacy protector

If you have a hula hoop, some rope or string, an old shower curtain or tablecloth and a few large metal bulldog clips, bring them along — to build a portable cubicle that you can use for changing, washing up, even showering under a bucket (see 'Staying clean outside',). Suspend the hoop from a branch with the rope or twine. Drape the shower curtain or tablecloth over the hoop, fastening the material onto the hoop with bulldog clips or any other fasteners you might have. While it may not be a thing of beauty, you will welcome the chance to disappear inside it for a bit of privacy.

  •  Shoo off insects with fabric softener

Fabric-softener sheets aren't your usual item of technologically advanced outdoor gear, but you'll be glad to have some when mosquitoes start swarming around your tent. Just pin or tie one to your clothing to keep them away.

  •  Foil dampness and grime

For a little extra campsite comfort, take some aluminium foil from the kitchen when packing. Here are three ways to use it.

  1.  Wrap your matches in aluminium foil to protect them from moisture.

  2. Lay a large piece of foil under your sleeping bag to prevent dampness from seeping in.

  3.  Wad some foil into a ball to use as a scouring pad. Foil is great for scraping grime off a barbecue and blackened residue from the bottom of pans that are used over an open fire.

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A Traveller’s miscellany

  • Balloon therapy

Balloons can be good for the body as well as the spirit. Pack a durable, uninflated balloon with your travelling medicine kit and use it to make a cold or hot pack to soothe a sprain or muscle soreness when you're away from home. Just fill the balloon with very cold water or hot water from the tap. Tie it off and lay it over the affected area. If you have a freezer and want to go the whole hog, make an icepack by freezing a partially water-filled balloon.

  •  Chest rub for painful feet

If a day of sightseeing leaves you with pleasant memories but sore feet, rub a little medicated chest rub onto your feet before going to bed (put on a pair of socks to keep the rub from marking the sheets). Your feet will feel like new in the morning.

  •  Pre-soaked insect repellants

You never know when insect-repellant spray might come in handy, but cans and bottles can take up a lot of room in a portable medicine kit. Leave bulky containers behind — before leaving home, soak cotton wool balls in insect repellant and store them in a self-sealing plastic bag. When insects make an appearance, just pull out a cotton wool ball and dab some of the protective liquid onto your skin.

  •  A pill-bottle toothbrush protector

Have you ever opened your travel kit to find a toothbrush soaked in shaving cream? An easy and tidy way to keep up with dental hygiene on the road is to make a toothbrush-holder kit out of an old plastic pill bottle. Cut a slit in the lid and slide the lid over the handle of your toothbrush; then replace the lid so the bristles of the toothbrush are inside the container, where they will remain clean.

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Survival in the outdoors

  • Scrounge around for old film canisters

If you still use a film camera, hoard empty film canisters for use when hiking or camping out. These convenient, waterproof containers with their snap-on, leakproof lids are great for storing matches, small batteries or other small items that could leave you high and dry or in danger if they become wet and unusable. If you've made the switch to a digital camera and don't have easy access to film canisters, use old pill bottles instead.

  •  Zap sap with butter

Sticky tree sap is one of the more harmless hazards you'll encounter when camping out, but it's still annoying to find sap on your skin. To get rid of it, take out some butter or margarine from the esky, rub it into the sap and wash the area with soap and water. This gentle treatment will not only be easy on your skin but has another application for campers: it will help to waterproof tent canvas and other outdoor equipment fabrics.

  •  A tin-can fire starter

Instead of using lighter fluid, try building a fire with this homemade, fluidless charcoal starter.

Cut both ends off an old very large tin can. Punch several holes near the bottom of the can, then punch two holes near the top and insert a length of coat-hanger wire through them to form a handle. When it comes time to start a fire, put the can into the fire pit, place a piece of crumpled newspaper in the bottom and lay briquettes on top of the newspaper. Light the paper through the holes punched at the bottom. When the briquettes are glowing, lift the can away with the wire handle — it will be extremely hot, so be sure to wear gloves or use tongs when grabbing it.

  •  Tin-can candle holder

Don't curse the darkness. Instead, make a reflective candle holder. When opening a large can of tomatoes or some other can with a pull ring, keep the lid partially attached. Once you have finished the contents, wash out the can and bend back the lid so it faces straight upward. Put a candle inside and then place the can so the lid blocks the wind. The candle will burn steadily — and seem brighter as the lid will reflect the light.

  •  Great (cotton wool) balls o' fire

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to start a fire when the wood is damp and won't ignite, so here's a trick to warm an outdoor enthusiast's heart. Pack a dozen or so cotton balls, heavily saturated with petroleum jelly, into a plastic bag. When a fire just won't get going, place several of the balls among the paper scraps and kindling and light them. Then get your food ready to cook, since the petroleum jelly usually burns long enough to get even the most reluctant campfire blazing.

  •  Repurpose empty sweet tins

Once you've finished a tin of mints, cough lollies or other sweets, save the tin. They are a great weatherproof carryall for:

  1.  Fishing hooks and artificial flies

  2.  Matches

  3.  Aspirin

  4. Packets of sugar and artificial sweeteners

  5. Safety pins

  6.  Loose change and keys that you don't want to carry in pockets while fishing, hiking or doing other outdoor activities.

  •  Floss it while camping

Dental floss, with its super-strong waxed string, is useful for many other purposes when you are camping, including:

  1. Hanging stuff Floss is so strong that you can use it to hang a small lantern, shaving mirror and other gear from a branch.

  2. Repairing canvas gear Floss is slender enough to thread through the eye of a needle, yet sturdy enough to hold canvas in place, making it ideal for mending tents, backpacks and tarpaulins.

  3.  Cutting and slicing food Hold a piece of floss taut and slice your way through cheese, cake and other soft foods.

  •  Shampoo to the rescue

Though shampoo may seem like a luxury item when you are camping, it's well worth putting some into a small plastic container that easily fits into a backpack or bag. Not only will it keep your hair squeaky clean, but it can also be used to do the following:

  1.  Lubricate a tent zip

  2.  Remove sap and other sticky stuff from your hands

  3. Stand in for shaving cream when you decide to get rid of stubble.

  •  Vinegar at your campsite

Vinegar will add a bit of zest to campsite meals, but it also:

  1. Repels gnats and mosquitoes Just dab some white vinegar onto exposed skin.

  2. Traps flies and mosquitoes Pour some apple cider vinegar into a container and place it on a picnic table or anywhere else these pests tend to congregate.

  3. Helps to kill bacteria in water Add a few drops of cider vinegar to a water bottle.

  • Wave goodbye to sand on the beach

 You probably come home from a day at the beach with plenty of sand in the car, in your shoes, on your clothes, not to mention what ends up in the house. Leave the sand where it belongs by taking a plastic bag partially filled with baby powder. When you're ready to go, dip your feet and hands into the powder and dust some more powder over the rest of your body. When you brush off the baby powder, the sand will easily brush off with it.

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Travelling with children

  •  Keep baby essentials organized

Pack a separate self-sealing bag with the essentials your children need each day — a stack of wipes, a change of clothing and some disposable nappies. If you have more than one child in tow, prepare a separate bag for each child. This way you won't have to search through suitcases to put outfits together when dressing the troops every morning.

  •  Save empty washing-up liquid bottles

If you've travelled with children before, you know the mess they can create. Prepare yourself for the inevitable by saving an empty (but unrinsed) bottle of washing-up liquid. Fill the bottle with water before you set out and tuck it away in a leak-proof, self-sealing plastic bag, along with some paper towels or face washers. Use this cleaning kit to wipe faces after snacks, wash hands after bathroom stops and clean up spills and smudges in the car and hotel room.

  •  A mini plastic carrier

Young travellers will enjoy keeping small personal items — such as coins or tiny toys — in a carrier they've made themselves. All you need is an empty film canister or pill bottle and a key ring with a plastic spring-lock clip that attaches to belts or backpacks (the clips are sold in hardware shops and many discount and bargain shops). Help them by cutting two holes near the top of the canister to accommodate the metal ring, and then let them decorate it.

  •  Map fun for little navigators

One way to keep children busy on a road trip —and teach them about geography as well — is to help them follow your route on a map. While planning the trip, cut out and colour photocopy the portion of a map that corresponds to your route for each day of travel. Attach the segments to a clipboard, give the children some washable markers and get them to chart your course and check off towns and landmarks as you go. If you need directions, you might be able to get some help from the back seat.

  • A backseat snack tray

Little appetites always seem to get bigger on car trips. This fun way to dish up snacks may be exactly what you need to keep the children satisfied. Thoroughly wash an empty plastic or polystyrene egg carton with warm soapy water (for short journeys and dried foods use a clean cardboard one). Fill each compartment with a different treat — cheese cubes in one, breakfast cereal in another, dried fruit in another. When the back seat crews are ravenous, simply pass the carton around.

  •  Double duty for fruit and vegetable bags

Onions, capsicums, citrus fruits and other fruit and vegetables often come in mesh bags. Once you have eaten what's in them, save the bags for a day of outdoor fun. Mesh bags are ideal for taking toys to the beach, or anywhere else that gear is likely to become sandy and dirty. At the end of the day, just put the playthings back into the mesh bag and rinse the whole lot out under a hose. If you can't find a mesh bag, take a plastic bag and punch holes in it — but only enough holes to allow the water to run out.

  •  Self-service

Family car trips can be a wonderful experience — and even more so when you're equipped with self-sealing plastic bags in various sizes. With some of the uses outlined on page 250 in mind, try taping a few bags to the back of one of the front seats on a long car trip so that children can reach them to get snacks, dispose of rubbish or to access pencils and crayons.

  •  Delicious pre-trip prep

A great way to prepare young travellers for the sights, smells and tastes that they experience on a family excursion is to have a living room picnic before you go, with foods that are likely to be encountered at your destination. While your intrepid gourmands are eating, take the opportunity to tell them about the history of the location, its geography and other interesting facts that they'll hopefully retain once they get where they're going. Or, better still, try to get them to help you prepare and cook the food, in the hope that being more involved in the process will make them more interested.

  •  Spray-bottle play

 On a hot day, a simple spray bottle can be a godsend for young travellers. Recycle a couple of spray bottles from the cleaning cupboard, clean them well, fill them with water and keep them on hand, then use them to:

  1.  Spray the kids while they're sitting on a beach, hiking or walking in the city.

  2.  Dress children in their swimming costumes and set them loose in a park or other public outdoor spot with a couple of spray bottles. Drenching one another — with parental approval — might be the highlight of your children's trip.

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Safely measures for travellers

  •  An improvised money belt

If you're pressed for time, you can make your own money belt out of a pair of old pantihose. Put your money, passport and other valuables into the foot of the pantihose and tie the top around your waist. And don't worry, your home-made money belt will be concealed by clothing.

  •  Point your shoes towards the emergency exit

When you check into a hotel, take a few minutes to study the fire-exit diagrams posted on the inside of your door. Then place your shoes by the door before you retire for the night, pointing them in the direction of the emergency exit in your corridor. This way, if an alarm goes off in your hotel room and you wake up and smell smoke, you won't panic trying to remember which way to turn to escape.

  •  Seal luggage latches

When you check your luggage onto a flight these days, you may be encouraged to leave them unlocked, in case security decides to inspect them. Thoughts of your luggage being chucked about and the latches popping open —and your belongings being made vulnerable to thieves — may well follow. Allay these concerns by covering the latches of your suitcase with just enough gaffer tape to fit over the fastenings. Security will then be able to inspect the bag by peeling back the tape, and hopefully they will retape the fasteners once they have finished. Use tape that matches the colour of your suitcase or travel bag so that your quick fix won't be obvious to potential thieves.

  •  Thwart pickpockets

A simple safety pin can make your wallet a lot more secure. Put your wallet into a pocket of your trousers or your jacket and close the opening with a safety pin in such a way that you can still squeeze the wallet out — but just barely. The pin will dumbfound anyone who attempts to pickpocket you, since you will undoubtedly notice the tug.

  •  A fine-toothed wallet protector

If you're a man, a wallet and a comb are two items that you probably carry with you at all times. But did you know that you could use them together to prevent pickpockets from taking your wallet? Place your comb in the fold of your wallet so that the teeth extend beyond the open edge; then double-loop a rubber band around the wallet through the teeth of the comb. When you put the wallet in your trousers pocket or the breast pocket of your jacket, the teeth will catch on the fabric when they are moved. So when a thief tries to slip the wallet from your pocket, the comb will act as both a barrier and an alarm.

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