After talking about it for what seemed like forever, our Guest Travellers – mum Ange, dad Paul, 10-year-old Oscar and eight-year-old Mila – decided to take to the road and explore Australia. The kids didn’t share their parents’ enthusiasm and knew nothing outside their ‘city slicker’ lifestyle. Did the experiment work? “Packing up home, putting work on hold, and truly living in the moment whilst travelling has been the best thing we’ve ever done.” Well, then! Let’s meet an ordinary family who stepped outside their comfort zones and experienced their extraordinary country…
We had always talked about travelling, but with work, children and our over-scheduled lives, we always found a reason not to. We loved the idea but the reality was we had barely camped, had never been 4wd-ing, and living in a tiny van with our eight- and 10-year-old cherubs scared the life out of us.
It was at a friend’s birthday (after a few cocktails) that I announced to the crowd that we were taking six months to go around Oz. And that was it. Our family thought it was a great idea; some friends took one look at the tiny van we bought, laughed; and we said “We’ll see you in a month”. I questioned my sanity as I packed up our whole house, put everything in storage, researched homeschooling and counselled our kids through the trauma of missing their weekly sports, convincing them (and myself) how exciting this would all be.
We left Melbourne, completely unaware of what lay ahead. Our first night (in the middle of winter) tested all of us. It was freezing, Miss eight was crying about potential spiders outside. I was whingeing about the freezing cold so I cranked the heating up. Mr 10 was crying that the heating was too hot, and my husband told us all he might buy his own van and do the trip himself. It was going to be a looooong six months.
Honestly, the first couple of weeks were tough. The romantic idea of us all playing board games and talking about life whilst gazing at the stars eluded us. We couldn’t wait to put the kids in bed so we could have some quiet time and, even then, we were too tired to talk to each other. But then, almost overnight, something changed: we all found our ‘groove’ and embraced it. In the coming weeks, we all experienced things we had never imagined. After our kids had a one-on-one session with an indigenous elder at Carnarvon Gorge, they were touched by their incredible culture, and saw the wildlife around them with fresh eyes.
There are too many ‘wow’ moments to even write about. We witnessed breathtaking sunsets and sunrises, and tested all our physical limits to find Mother Nature at her best. Our kids have learnt that with some of life’s biggest challenges come the greatest rewards. They figured out that it’s OK to be bored, and entertaining yourself in the Outback can be more fun than any game on their iPad. They came to understand that each and every one of us needs to help each other whilst setting up camp, and we all play an important and ongoing role in how our family functions.
We jumped off cliffs into incredible watering holes; swam in croc-infested waters (freshwater crocs… the non-deadly kind); touched dinosaur bones; learnt how to fish; swam in water clearer than any postcard; and I even learnt to get over my germophobic ways to live in the Outback’s red dirt.
The most profound thing about all of this is that our family has become closer, our kids have become smarter (even academically… and we sucked at homeschooling), and we have been touched by our country in a way we never imagined. For anyone thinking about doing it, my advice is “Make it happen. Don’t be afraid”. We met families on every sort of budget, living the dream. This experience has changed us. All we need to do now is figure out how to incorporate all this in our crazy, over-scheduled, hectic lives back in the concrete jungle.
The Saines Family’s Top 10 Tips:
1. Choose the right accomodation for your family. Everything’s a compromise. If you want all of life’s luxuries, you’ll be towing a three-bedroom house. If you want to sleep under the stars, be prepared to share your swag with some creepy crawlies.
2. Have a rough plan of where you want to go but be prepared to change. We found this out the hard way. People in Western Australia call November ‘blowvember’ because of the horrendous winds. We changed our route as a result.
3. If you have kids, they may not be as excited about your grand plans as you are. Trust that they will appreciate it long after they get home.
4. Don’t over-pack. My husband kept reminding me of this as I kept squeezing clothes into my drawers in frustration.
5. Homeschooling sucks. Get used to it and persist. We focused on some specific learning outcomes which helped us all keep our sanity (e.g., times tables, journal writing, budgeting for food, etc.).
6. Put your kids in charge of the budget. Scary, I know (I’m a control freak so I get how scary this sounds). If they are the right age this could turn out to be one of their best life-lessons.
7. Some experiences cost money. Remind yourself that this could be the only chance to do these things, if you can, and make sacrifices elsewhere so you can afford to do it.
8. If you want to go remote, invest in a satellite phone and a good first aid kit. We used neither but we’re glad we had both. We sold our ‘sat’ phone as soon as we didn’t need it and barely lost money on it.
9. Everyone has a different opinion on what’s good, what’s bad, what’s easy, and what’s hard. Be open to finding things out for yourself.
10. Embrace all of it. There will be days you question what you are doing, but trust your decision. It will be the best thing you could ever do.
- My favourite place to visit was Mataranka because of the hot springs, and the bikes races we had with friends we made at camp.
- There was some hard stuff on the trip, like the heat and some of the gorge walks, but it was all worth it in the end.
- The Outback’s bush and red dirt everywhere surprised me the most.
- I didn’t realise there were so many corrugations on the road, which made it bumpy.
- I learnt that there are so many interesting animals in the Outback.
- One of my favourite things was Lake Argyle because of the extraordinary features around it. Did you know that Lake Argyle is 20 times the size of Sydney Harbour?
- I have lots more favourite things but there are too many to mention.
- The hardest part of our trip was the heat and the red dirt. I didn’t really like the walks through the gorges but my mum said that the hardest challenges sometimes give you the biggest rewards.
- The Kimberley surprised me a lot. I can’t explain it but it just makes me feel Australian. I didn’t know Australia was so amazing. It’s magical.
- I am sad the trip is over but I can’t wait to see my family, friends and my dog, Maggie.