The idea of the ‘Great Australian Dream’ is evolving, and with home ownership on the decline, more and more Australians are realising that life is less about accumulating ‘things’ and more about finding overall happiness.
A recent survey by Real Insurance found two-thirds of Australians would rather freedom and flexibility than the commitment of saving to buy a home.
Twelve months ago, Tania and Todd Vickers were living in Geelong, working and raising their two children. Fast forward to today and they are living out of their caravan and travelling Australia with their dog snoopy.
The Vickers are a part of the growing number of families that are choosing to ditch the traditional lifestyle and opt for a non-conventional life of travel.
While the statistics are unclear as to how many families take time off to do the ‘great lap’, Tourism Research Australia has revealed that the total number of nights spent caravan and camping in the year ending March 31, 2018, had increased by 3.5% to reach a record 51.3 million.
Gavin Pay, a tourism operator in Katherine in the Northern Territory, said he has definitely noticed a trend in families taking their kids out of school and travelling.
“More and more families are departing from the usual school holiday travels, opting to take more time to appreciate their own backyard,” he said.
“We are increasingly getting people in who take three months off or six months off and kids do school of the air (distance education).”
Gavin also said some families saved and travelled around while others picked up work along the way, with some falling in love with a particular area and putting their kids in school while they stay a bit longer.
Gavin describes this way of living as going ‘full circle,’ from the industrial age idea of a family who works conventional hours 48 weeks a year.
Tania Vickers agrees that it’s a big change from the life they were used to.
“This trip has been a life-long dream, however it was just a matter of getting everyone on board and taking a leap and doing it,” she said.
“We tried to do it when the kids were younger and it just panned out this way.”
Fourteen months ago, the weight of the uninspiring daily grind motivated Jodi and Daniel Wilson to move their family from a three-bedroom house into a 24ft caravan.
Preparing for the journey
Once they committed to the journey, Jodi and her family set out to cull 80 per cent of the belongings in their home.
“We couldn’t (lose motivation) as we really didn’t want to pay for storage and we just wanted to be able to let go of stuff,” she said.
“If it didn’t fit in the caravan or in a small space in our parents’ garages then we couldn’t take it.”
When going through items, Jodi and her family stuck to the rule of only keeping mementos and things they knew they would need in the future.
“It’s a bit of a running joke between caravaners – we have all kept coat hangers, we are going to need them,” laughed Jodi.
For Todd and Tania, it wasn’t until they bought a caravan that the trip became ‘real’.
After that followed a labour-intensive few months, packing up their house, and getting it ready for rent. Unlike the Wilson family, the Vickers opted to keep their garage as storage and rent out the rest of their house while away.
On the Road
“When you start driving around Australia you realise how huge it is,” Jodi said.
“Early on we found the long drives are just so exhausting, and we had to adjust the way we travel to fit in. Ultimately this meant slowing down and spending more time together.”
Jodi says this lifestyle with no fences, no backyard and no doors has bought endless lessons for her and her family.
“When we are free camping we only have the water that we can carry with us, this makes us aware of the water we use and waste we create and just to see how much we generate and ultimately trying to minimise that,” she said.
“The one thing you don’t have is obligation, that for me has been the biggest change.
“The hardest bit is that when you travel you take everyday life on the road with you – of course there’s still tantrums and sickness and everyday exhaustion of parenting but doing it in different places all the time.”
Tania, with her children 15 and 13, wishes she took the trip earlier on. “All being together in a confined space is a challenge in itself,” she said.
However the Vickers don’t regret taking their trip, and the adventures it has led them to.
Traveling Australia and schooling
One of the hottest topics when travelling with children is how to go about schooling. There is no official body to govern the education of children travelling around Australia, it is widely left up to parents to make the decision they think is best for themselves and their family, including the learning styles of their children and the amount of time they are planning on being away for.
The Wilson’s have opted for distance education, an experience that the family has found to be flexible and understanding, with each student given work created to suit the individual child.
Jodi found that travelling Australia has challenged her traditional understanding of schooling, and has found that her children gain so much more than what could be taught in a conventional six-hour school day.
Having older children, Todd and Tania have chosen to do a bit of both, putting their children into a local school for the experience, while they work.
What would you say to those inspired to do the same?
Jodi says that they have no regrets, and urges those who are hesitant to “just do it”.
She feels lucky that her job allowed her to work on the road, and feels that she is getting more while travelling as a photographer than she would have staying at home.
“I know we have the benefit of earning money on the road, in that regard we are really grateful as we know that not everyone has that,” she said.
“If I’ve learnt anything from 14 months of travel it is that time goes too quickly.”
While Jodi says that she knows this way of life is not for everyone, she says it’s been a brilliant way to spend time together and literally slow down.
Jodi’s best advice is that there is always a means to do it and you can live quite reasonably on the road.
“Small-space living has reinforced the fact that we need so little to live well. Honestly, not once have I sat in the caravan and wished we had more. We’ve got everything we need right here,” she said.
“We really don’t know where we will be in a year’s time, that’s strange and exciting.
“We have days when it will be nice to live in a house again, but we are reminded that when we go back into a house we will have to sell the caravan, buy furniture and it will be very permanent.”
The Vickers family is planning to head back to Victoria early next year, and with the friends they have met along the way, do a couple of months of travel around Australia each year.