I write this from the Clarence River where our caravan is parked five metres from the water. It’s quiet (when the kids are) and peaceful and just this morning we watched kangaroos hop across the sandbank as the sun was rising. That’s a mighty fine cliche yet one I’m glad I witnessed.
At the moment the big kids are off playing, Marigold is sleeping on the bed and I can hear the gentle thrum of the 2.2kg washing machine. Because even though I’ve left much of the house and the housework behind, there is always the washing.
I wouldn’t describe the machine as particularly efficient, though. Our dirt stained clothes dry with a distinct dirty hue and yet I’m not concerned. In fact, I couldn’t care less. I don’t think we’ve ever been dirtier and yet we’ve never slept as soundly as we do now. We’re all in bed by 7pm and we’re up at 6; slow mornings of breakfast and reading and school work before we venture into the nearest town or walk to a cafe or just sit around some more.
This is better than I ever imagined and yet just as challenging.
The past three weeks has been a rollercoaster of emotions, all vying for attention in a 24ft van.
But you know that meme about the mother’s brain being likened to a computer with 3,247 tabs open? Well a few days ago I had the realisation that I’ve closed down at least 3,200 of those tabs. I no longer have a sense of obligation that I seemed to carry around 24/7 when I had a house to run and school uniforms to wash and a schedule to adhere to.
I feel lighter and happier. I don’t feel the need to hurry everyone up; a common scenario back home. And I’ve traded a significantly sedentary lifestyle for one where I’m walking 8-10km a day; climbing hills, wandering beaches and exploring coastal towns.
The children? They’ve watched one movie since we left home which means their screen time has reduced by about 95%. And if they’re going to learn one thing from travelling it’s how to interact and socialise with people of all ages. Because the conversations they’ve had with fellow travellers have been remarkable. Every day they’re meeting new people, introducing themselves, asking questions and learning about the nomadic lifestyle.
Their vocabulary is expanding, too. Just this morning Percy described his weetbix as bloody yum; Aussie slang is well and truly alive.
It is a wonderful way to live, this van life, and yet there’s a lot of stresses and challenges that are new to us. Generally, we’re making mistakes every day and we spend a significant amount of time googling: how to……; what does ….. mean; is it good to ……?
Our conversations go something like: “I wonder what that does?” “What was that sound?” And, most commonly, “Do you know where the XYZ is?”
There’s always something that needs fixing/replacing when you’re travelling in a caravan. Thank goodness I bought a very technically and practically minded Daniel along.
Examples of issues we’ve/he’s had to figure out/fix:
- a fridge that got too cold and froze my carrots (although apparently got the beer to the best temperature ever…no consolation to my carrots)
- a leaking water inlet (now fixed…on three different occasions. Daniel actually moved the pipe entirely so it doesn’t come through the van cupboard and connects to the water hose under the van)
- the car’s side mirror that fell off just before we hit the freeway for the first time (really!). New one ordered.
- the outside fridge vent that somehow fell off during one journey. New one ordered.
- the washing machine that stopped mid-cycle on a morning when we were about to hit the road. Turns out the sensor on the lid was broken. Fixed with a bit of superglue although a better solution will be required soon.
Things that make the day-to-day easier:
- camp kitchens are great to cook in if you need some space. Likewise with the doing the dishes (a chance to escape the pre-bedtime chaos, too)
- it’s better to do the food shop before you travel to a new destination. This means everyone can be fed and you don’t have to think about finding a local supermarket
- travelling during your baby’s nap time is always the right choice
- you can never pack enough snacks
- if you answer “How long till we get there?” with “One hour” – over and over and over again, your kids will soon realise that there’s no point asking that question. Ever.
Simple things are what make this experience so good. Like waking up in a new town and wondering what the day will bring. Coffee at a new-to-us cafe after a long morning walk/scoot. The sweet quiet of 7:30pm when you can crawl into bed and read a book and settle down, knowing that you’ve got nothing to do and nowhere to be.
But mostly it’s just slowing right down and spending our days together. And realising that yes, this really was a good idea. One of our best, actually.