So this is the end of our wonderful trip. It has been such a fantastic experience and, with the exception of a couple of days or places here or there, if we had our time again we’d do it the same. Yes – we were on the move a lot and yes – we covered big distances but wow! We saw so much, met so many lovely people and have built so many fantastic memories. We wanted to get to those places that were furthest from us in Perth and we did that. More time certainly would have been better – we would have had more “downtime”, more days doing nothing and wouldn’t have had to face making school lunches again quite so soon! But then we spent a lot of time on the east coast where the main attraction was hanging out at the beach which proved to be a favourite for all of us.
Having the van was an absolute blessing and made the whole trip so comfortable. And I have to offer a huge thanks to Mum & Dad for their caravanning advice, expertise and endless amount of help in the 2 very rushed weeks to get the van ready between picking it up and driving away with it. We lacked for nothing and even after 3 ½ months of all five of us living in such a tiny space, I still don’t feel as though it was too small. It’s amazing how easy it is to downsize and how little you actually need to get by. In fact, it’s been quite lovely, all sleeping in the same small space. The kids say some hilarious stuff in their sleep! Although we are going to have to do something about bedtimes. A combination of daylight saving over east and finding lots to do to fill each day has meant the kids have been in bed very late each night. That first week of school is going to hurt us all!
The van also made setup and pack up very easy. We honed our setup time to 20 – 30 minutes and it was 1 ½ hours from waking up to leaving on pack up days (unless we had a bushfire at our back, in which case we were out in ½ hour!).
I’d like to tell you that everyone had their set jobs when we arrived or packed up, but it didn’t seem to work that way. We agreed early on that it was better for me to reverse the van into place whenever we arrived somewhere. It saved tempers and arguments all ‘round! (And, personally, I liked the looks on the faces of the old men in the caravan park to see “the wife” reversing the van!!) The kids all knew what to do to setup and pack up. Zach generally did it. The other two did their best not to. Even after 3 ½ months Ben would still ask “What do I need to do?” Argh!!!!
I’ll miss our travelling routine. Days in the car involved a combination of me reading aloud to the kids, them doing homework, music, car games and – if we were still travelling after lunch – they were allowed screen time. We created Pavlov’s children with that rule – they cheered when we had a long day ahead because it meant they could finally watch TV!
We’ll miss the freedom to do what we want, when we want to do it. Not to be tied by timetables or sirens. Bedtimes or alarm clocks. And we just LOVED roaming. It was like backpacking on a (much!) grander scale. We had our house “on our back” and could stop wherever it took our fancy. We loved seeing so many new places and appreciating how beauty can exist everywhere, from dry red dessert to lush green rain forest. Everywhere had its own appeal.
Free camping and national parks remain our favourite spots to camp. And we couldn’t travel without the use of Wikicamps – the app listing places to stay, both paid and free, complete with reviews and photos from other travellers. We found some hidden gems on there. Not to mention lots of heated debates about the use of generators!
As for a favourite place or experience, none of us can really agree and we loved nearly all of it. The kids all loved anything involving swimming and for us I think Lake Argyle and Fraser Island were the jewels, sparkling just a little bit brighter than all the others in a very dazzling crown.
Of course it wasn’t all beer and skittles. For the first few weeks, Andy & I had to cut down to 1 coffee a day, as there was nowhere outside larger towns that sold anything other than instant. And, amongst other things, Emily expressed a dislike of the fact that she only had a cupboard for her clothes, not drawers like at home. When I tried to explain to her that on a trip like this we all have to make …… (I was going to say “sacrifices”), she finished my sentence with “….things difficult?!”
Actually, of all the kids, Emily was the one who struggled the most. She had a hard time being away from friends, Nana & Pop and all things familiar. Plus, the boys had each other to play with and although the three of them could sometimes find some common ground in games, Emily’s games often didn’t appeal to the boys and vice versa. She spent a lot of the first week crying that she wanted to go home, which was pretty heartbreaking. We didn’t meet a lot of other kids on the road, but luckily when we did, often they were little girls so Emily would ask me to introduce her so she could play with them. Whereas I think the boys better understood what an amazing opportunity they had ….. and how cool it was to be out of school for that long!
Despite her reluctance to continue the trip, Emily did provide some fantastic comic moments. Like her utter delight when she found that they were giving away free paper bags in the ladies’ toilets of a caravan park. Or when she saw a man in a Broome caravan park who looked similar to an amputee she’d seen the day before. She cried out “Mum! Look! His arm’s grown back!!”
One fabulous thing that I think all three kids gained from this trip was confidence. They’ve learnt to talk and deal with all sorts of different people, kids and adults alike and Zach, in particular, will walk up to anyone and just start chatting or asking them about where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing. I think that’s a wonderful ability to have and I hope they don’t lose that.
Although, while we have used this trip to build a “bucket list” of places we’d like to go back to, we both feel that one of the saddest things is that this was likely our only chance to do a big trip like this with the kids. Whilst I’m sure there’s a lot to be said for travelling as a retired couple, seeing things through kids’ eyes puts a very different and lovely perspective on it. I loved seeing the kids’ faces when they first saw Sydney or spied an emu running beside the car or a kangaroo sleeping under our van. And it’s sad to see those experiences come to an end – for now. However, as a wise person said to me recently “Don’t be sad – just start planning the next adventure”. So that’s what we’ll do.
Of course, we’ve been home over a week now, so I can tell you how difficult it has been settling back into everyday life. Being back in a (compared to our van) large house has been surreal. It echoes. It seems to produce more washing. And the kids can make SOOOOOO much more mess, which has been driving me crazy.
We all had a wonderful welcome home from our friends and family – the kids felt like stars on their first day back at school! Although even Ben admitted to feeling slightly overwhelmed, after such a long time with “just us”. As for me, the first week has involved plenty of tears and a great reluctance to unpack the van completely, as it puts a larger full-stop after our adventure. Even posting this closing blog makes it seem all so final. But (for now!) I have no further adventures to bore you with!
So……. thanks for reading. This blog has been a great outlet for me to record our stories and I appreciate those of you who have stuck with my – at times – long-winded and wordy accounts. I hope to use this same website for any of our future trips but fear not – when that happens, I’ll give you plenty of notice so you can unsubscribe first!!
With love & safe travels always,