Tonight I’m writing about expectations. What were my expectations this time last year when we were in the planning stage of spending a year (or more) travelling Australia in a caravan with kids? How did I envisage this year to play out?
I tried not to have expectations. I really tried. I am glad that we only spent two months planning this trip, and not two years, as I didn’t have as much time to build up a picture of what this trip would be like inside my head. Yet, I still had some pretty big expectations of the journey ahead.
I definitely expected the journey to be easier than it has been. I expected to be more relaxed, travel sounded like a holiday. I expected to lay on the beach reading books. I expected to spend days swimming under waterfalls. I thought I would sit around at our campsite in the bush with a cup of tea or glass of wine and have time to soak up my surroundings. Well, it might have been like that if we didn’t have kids and it was a short holiday. But we do have kids, and our travels aren’t a holiday. This is our life.
I may post wonderfully idyllic photos on Facebook of our travels. I post images of smiling children, sunshine, bushwalks, adventures and amazing scenery. I share how happy we are and how exciting our lives are. Yes, our lives are wonderful. If I wasn’t me, would I be jealous of my life? Probably. Have I felt the most amazing highs that I’ve felt in my life whilst travelling Australia? Yes. But has it also been dirty and nasty and difficult? Absolutely.
Whilst I love what we’re doing and wouldn’t change our lives for the world, there’s plenty of experiences we have that are common, but are rarely spoken about. Here they are, in no particular order.
Dirt and mess: When you’re travelling with kids, everything is always dirty. Your caravan never stays clean for more than twenty seconds. Your campsite is always messy. Because your living space is so small, you always feel like you’ve got too much stuff. We are constantly getting rid of our possessions, but more sneak in and it can sometimes get overwhelming. When this happens, I usually purge the caravan of more belongings and then remind myself that we actually have heaps less stuff than we did when we were living in a house.
Hard work: Camping 24/7, even in a caravan is bloody hard work. I remember leaving home and being excited by the prospect of not having to clean a house for a year. Well, I may not be cleaning a house every week, but every single daily chore takes twice as long as it did in a house. Washing? I need to manually fill the machine every time I wash. Bathing the kids? I need to pack a huge bag with everything we need and then trek to the ablution block, shower and then come back and unpack said giant bag. Cooking dinner? That can be tricky in a tiny caravan kitchen. Packing down and setting up camp can be a chore too. There’s definitely less time to relax than I envisaged, but I often actually enjoy the ritual of the hard work. I can lose myself in the chores and identify with a more simple life. I may be more exhausted than I’ve been in my life, but I’m also happier.
Decision making: When you’re travelling around Australia, there are so many more decisions to make and when you’re a family living such a small space, every decision you make affects everyone else. Simple decisions like where to camp, what to buy and which direction to go can turn into complex debates. Everyone has their own opinion and it can sometimes feel like every single day is one big series of negotiations. This is where I need to remind myself that we’re making so many decisions because we’re going places. We’re doing great things and we’re growing exponentially. We debate and negotiate because we all know ourselves and know what we want and are comfortable to share that with each other. This leads me to my next point.
Arguments: Like most couples, we argue and like many couples, our debates can get pretty heated. We’ve been together for over 11 years and we love each other dearly but we’re both headstrong, emotional creatures and this leads to arguments. We always work things out pretty quickly, but there’s nothing more embarrassing than making the morning trek to the loo and saying g’day to your neighbours in the knowledge that they heard every word of last night’s argument and now know intimate details about your lives. Not because you were yelling, but because your caravan is half canvas and everyone can hear everything. The great thing about travel, however, is that it doesn’t really matter what the neighbours think as you’re unlikely to ever see them again. Anonymity at its best!
Guilt: My last point I think will ring true with many travelling parents. Many parents make the decision to travel the country with their children without really consulting the children themselves. We all know that our children will look back on their travels with fond memories and be thankful later in life, but they’re not always thankful now. I’ve heard many stories of teenagers and even younger children being miserable for the first few months on the road. Many children miss their friends. They miss school. They miss their extended family. I often feel guilty because my children are missing out on regular playgroups and preschool. They’re missing out on pets and playdates and having their own big bedrooms. They’re missing out on swimming lessons and friendships. But they’re gaining things too. Whilst this trip is in many ways selfish (we wanted to travel Australia and we brought our kids along for the ride), and whilst they’re too young to remember much, they’re growing in so many other ways. They’re missing out on many ‘regular’ childhood experiences, but they’re experiencing so many other amazing things. They might not remember this trip, but they’ll be better for it. I just know it.
So there it is, the nitty gritty of travelling Australia with kids. It’s amazing. It’s awe inspiring. It’s better than I ever imagined. But it’s also difficult, tiring, guilt inducing, embarrassing and dirty. It’s life.