5 LESSONS FROM ONE YEAR ON THE ROAD
A few months ago, at the very heart of Australia, we celebrated one year on the road. What started as a tentative journey – a brave leap into the unknown – has become the best decision of our lives. We’re bolder, stronger and happier; tightly knit together with the sand, salt and dust that we’ve collected along the way.
Vanlife is normal life for us now. We’re travelling indefinitely, wandering from one place to the next without any desire to tick things or places off the list. In fact, we don’t have a list. From the very beginning we chose to simply slow down and be together; a decision made after years of commuting to the city and racing to make the school bell. We were weary of life in the suburbs which was dictated by obligations and void of spontaneous adventure.
It’s been a year of learning for us all but especially for me, the self-proclaimed homebody who detested change and, only a few years ago, balked at the suggestion of a holiday in a caravan. Now I live in one and I thoroughly enjoy it! Granted, there’s days when I announce to everyone that I’m over it and I want the predictability of a house but they usually occur around the full moon when sleep is unsettled and the kids have gone berserk. And they are guaranteed when the rain is teeming down and I’m encouraging the kids to vomit into the bucket and not onto the bed. That said, even though gastro was one of my worst caravanning fears, now that I’ve endured two bouts of it I’m pleased to say that’s it’s actually not that bad after all (as long as there’s a full size washing machine and dryer close by).
Vomit aside, this past year has been abundant with lessons. We only intended to be on the road for 12 months and to be completely honest, we weren’t even sure if we’d make it that long. But within a few months we knew that our end date was non-existent. This is our new normal and it’s one we’re always grateful for. Here’s what I’ve learnt from one year on the road:
Time flies, children grow and all we have is now
I don’t think we can underestimate how quickly time passes nor how quickly our babies become teens. Every piece of research I’ve read on happiness, mindfulness and contentment has all come back to the same concept: live in the now, be present, make the most of today. And it’s true. Looking back to that day when we decided to sell everything and travel, I was highly conscious of the racing years and the fact that if I didn’t make change, I would regret it. I knew, in my heart, that my fear of change was quietening and my fear of complacency was growing. I just decided to trust in the process, take it one step at a time and do it. It scared and thrilled me in equal measure but you know what? Not once have I regretted it. So…
Don’t wait for a better time to do something you’re passionate about
Making the decision to travel was a split-second one that was made with a baby on the boob and the weariest of eyes and sometimes I wonder if the resounding “Yes!” that escaped my mouth was bubbling under the surface for much longer than I realised. Personally, travelling has clarified this: waiting for tomorrow to pursue my passions (however big or small) is a dangerous path to tread. I’ve come back to this gentle reminder almost weekly over the past year because I am the queen of procrastination and over-thinking and the idea of chasing passions has become, quite frankly, a priority. Whenever I’m in a creative doubt spiral, whenever I feel like the busyness of mothering four kids threatens to swamp me of all clear thought, whenever I wonder what’s to come tomorrow, next week, or next year, I do something – anything – that means something to me. I handwrite a few pages, read a book, write a list, little steps towards a bigger, brighter picture. It’s this exact method that got us on the road eight months after we decided to travel -regardless of the epic to-do list and inevitable hurdles – it was literally a one step at a time process towards realising that…
Slow Travel is Best for Us
The fast pace of life naturally extends to travel, too. And stepping away from that “must go, must see” mindset is a decision I highly recommend – for the sake of your travel experience and the happiness of your family (speaking from experience). Put simply: rush around this country trying to see it all within a short timeframe and frankly, no one is having a good time. Within a few months of travelling we threw the idea of The Big Lap out the window because flying visits and long travel days are definitely not our thing. Instead, we chose the slower, country road. We like to drive an hour, stop in a small town for lunch and a wander, stay there or head another thirty minutes down the road. We seek the quietest rivers, the smallest towns, the very best of old-lady run op-shops. The majority of our trip has been just this and it allows us the time and freedom to settle in and experience each place we visit whilst maintaining a balanced and gentle family rhythm, because the best memories are made when you…
Travel Your Way
There’s lots of ways to travel Australia and my only advice is this: do it your way.
Visit any caravanning or camping show and you’ll be inundated with the stereotypical Australian road traveller; the 4WD loving, fishing family who tackle treacherous creek crossings and sand dunes and capture it all on a drone. To be honest, I found the idea of us travelling full-time so difficult to embrace at first because I knew we didn’t fit this mould. I didn’t see “us” reflected in any caravanning or camping marketing! We aren’t the off-road caravanning family seeking the best fishing and surf spots and we really don’t care for reaching the furthermost points of the country.
Granted, these travellers sell the adventure very well. But it’s not the adventure we wanted to embark on. So we found our own way and discovered many likeminded travellers on the same path.
We don’t care how many kilometres we’ve driven and don’t wear that number as a badge of travelling success (surprisingly, it’s a thing). We’ve found for us, the best way to travel is to follow our intuition, heed advice from in-the-know grey nomads (who often get a bad wrap but, in most cases, are so happy to help out and have a yarn) and be flexible with our schedule so we can do what’s best for us at the time.
Perhaps you don’t want to do long-term travel but you want to make the most of a few weeks at a time, scattered over the next few years. Perhaps long weekends are more your thing. Regardless of how or when or where you travel, I will say this: Camping and caravanning, regardless of how or when you do it, rejuvenates your mindset. It reminds you with such potency that…
You don’t need a lot to live well
Living in a van is the epitome of small space living. Every single thing you bring in needs to be considered for its size, weight and purpose hence vanlife forces you to be an incredibly conscious consumer (travelling Australia isn’t cheap, either, so many travellers adopt a frugal, budget-conscious lifestyle to ensure they can stay on the road as long as possible). But in all honesty, whittling down our possessions to fit in a 24ft van was one of the most rewarding experiences of our travelling year so far – the opportunity to really consider every item for it’s purpose – and then realise that there are so few things we need to live abundantly. Being mindful of what you carry with you in your tiny home is a constant reminder that you don’t need a lot to live well because ultimately, your daily joy is found in ocean swims, campfire conversations, walks around newfound towns, a cup of tea next to a river, walking barefoot on the grass – all the things that so easily get pushed aside when you’re consumed by the busyness of daily life and a cluttered home.
That said, adventure doesn’t have to be living in a caravan. My favourite experiences from this past year haven’t been grand or unattainable and they haven’t included tourist-destinations or must-sees. Perhaps they are so memorable because they’re so simple; early morning drinking tea outside, Marigold playing at my feet. Dinners made from the day’s market haul, eaten alfresco. Late afternoon walks that only end because it’s getting dark and we’re hungry. A mountain climb and a cold ocean swim. Reading a book in the sun while the kids ride scooters up and down the street. Falling into bed tired and happy and grateful after a day of exploring. A few days away can be all these things, as can a weekend at home with no plans. A one-month caravan trip is a wonderful opportunity that you should embrace if you have the chance; just because it’s not a year-long adventure doesn’t make it any less worthwhile. You can live simply and with less without moving into a caravan. You can intentionally stop consuming by being mindful of your wants versus your needs. It has nothing to do with the size of your abode and everything to do with your choices. You’re allowed to say no to after-school activities so your children can play barefoot and free till dinner time. You can discover new places each weekend by driving away from the shops and towards the mountain ranges, the sea, the gumtrees.
Because…”How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard