Why would an otherwise normal family leave their jobs, pack up their house and decide to travel 40,000km+ around Australia with their two children for 12 months? Add in the fact that much of the travel has been remote, on unsealed roads and out of phone and internet coverage and that we had had no previous 4WDing experience. Some people would call this madness (and some days we would agree!). We prefer to think of it as a family holiday of a lifetime.
The decision to go was easy. Stephen, my husband, and I have two important beliefs in common – we love travel and new experiences and believe that family holidays provide shared memories that bind the family together. The practicalities were more complicated. We decided to go when our youngest was 4, in the belief that he would be more independent (yup) and more sensible (no). I took a deep breath at the enormity of the task and threw out, gave away or packed up our belongings and rented out our house. We bought a 4WD and an off-road camper trailer and did 4WDing, off-road trailer driving and first aid courses. We opted to home-school our eight-year-old, rather than having to commit to completing and sending back packages of distance education worksheets. And off we set – with a vague plan that we would travel from Sydney clockwise around Australia and end up where we started about 12 months later. We plan our route from day to day – staying somewhere longer if we like it and going to places that we have never heard of because somebody else recommends it. It’s a far cry from the regimented life that we led at home.
Over the last 11 months, we have had an amazing time as we travelled through NSW, Victoria, WA, NT and now Queensland. We have hiked gorge after gorge, climbed mountains, swum in waterfalls and beaches, snorkelled with sharks, dolphins and seals, caught fish for dinner, enjoyed beautiful sunsets and learnt about indigenous culture first hand. We have camped in spectacular locations – on beaches, next to rivers and lakes and in gorges. We have fallen asleep in remote locations with nothing to see but a sky full of stars and no noise except the howls of nearby dingos (and the occasionally tantrumming child). Australia is such a huge, varied and beautiful country. Even with 12 months, you soon realise that it is not possible to see it all.
The trip is not always easy. When you are travelling for a long period, it is not just a holiday, it’s your life. You still have to do banking, pay bills, shop and do washing. The constant packing up and travelling can get tiring and a combination of tired parents and tired children spending 24/7 with each other has predictable consequences. Our car has been broken into 3 times (always in the cities). Much of our travel has been off the beaten track and while we love the serenity of no other people around, the boys have found it hard to go weeks without seeing other children. We have no TV or modcons. In Perth, at a friend’s house, my youngest ran out in great excitement: “Mum, they have a flushing toilet!” - we hadn’t seen one for weeks. And of course, there are all resident Australian dangerous animals to watch out for: crocodiles, snakes, jellyfish and spiders.
We have loved watching the boys grow and develop during the trip. With little to distract them, they have formed a strong bond and engaged in ever more complex imaginative play. They have become confident at meeting people and making new friends, both young and old. We have been largely unschooling our eight-year-old, letting his interests dictate his learning. He has gone from being a reluctant reader to one who now protests when I turn the light off: “Just one more page, Mum. It’s so exciting!” And while he may not know every 3D pyramid shape out there, he’s earned $100 in a few hours busking with some new friends at a music festival and can beat most adults when quizzed on Australian geography (do you know where the Arafura Sea is?). And not many four-year-olds have confidently snorkelled on Ningaloo Reef, the Great Barrier Reef and in the Whitsundays with no life jacket or flotation device: “I don’t need it, Mum. I can do it”.
For Stephen and I, it has been a chance to strip our lives back to basics, to spend hours talking and dreaming about what we want from our lives and to give us the chance to just be together.
We’re on the home stretch now, doing the easy travel of the East Coast and getting used to the fact that there is a shopping centre around every corner. Would we do it again? Absolutely! In fact, we think that early to mid-teens would be a great time to do another big trip with our sons - a chance to shower them with love before sending them out into the world with great memories of family holidays.