Travel

Travel (17)

In a few week's time, just as our time on the road hits a whopping 14 months, we'll be arriving back where we started. We'll be selling our caravan and then heading north to settle down for a while in a house. I am terribly sad that our epic trip is almost over. It's been one of the most amazing, life changing things we've ever done. I've loved every minute of travelling Australia with my business and my family, but there are certainly a few things I am looking forward to. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Having my own bathroom.

I am so excited about unpacking my shower bag for good. I'm excited about using a clean shower that I don't need to mop afterwards. I'm excited about going to the toilet without listening to other strangers poo in the stall next to me. I'm excited about my 4 year old being able to go to the bathroom on his own. I'm excited about toilets that flush and bathrooms that don't require a key or a code to get into.

2. Multiple rooms.

Whilst I am not looking forward to having an entire house to clean, I am looking forward to having space. I am excited about being able to retreat to a room and close the door and have some privacy. I'm excited about getting dressed in the morning without someone making toast 2 inches from my backside. I'm excited about cooking without 2 children at my feet and about being able to kindly send my children to their bedroom when they're behaving like lunatics and need some quiet time to settle down. I'm excited about having space to create that is free from distractions and is actually comfortable.

3. Having my own laundry.

I'm excited about getting rid of our twin tub and having a real washing machine again. I'm looking forward to putting my dirty washing into a machine and being able to press a button and walk away. I'm excited about being able to dry my clothes in the dryer on rainy days and about not having to carry my pegs to the clothesline. I'm excited about it taking an hour to tie dye clothing instead of 3.

4. A backyard.

I'm excited about having a veggie garden and being able to walk outside and pick my own herbs. About having grass to lay on with the kids and an outdoor space where I can relax because there's fences and gates and they can't run away when my back is turned.

5. Routine.

Whilst I love being spontaneous and I love the freedom of being on the road, I'm kind of excited about going back to a regular routine. I'm looking forward to being able to remember what day of the week it is and about actually remembering to pay the bills on time. I'm looking forward to predictability and actually getting the kids to bed at the same time every night.

6. Services.

I'm looking forward to having regular access to basic services. There's a lot to be said for being able to see the same doctor whenever someone in the family is sick. I'm looking forward to taking the kids to regular children's activities where people actually know our names and I'm excited about sending our son to preschool. 

7. Friends.

I cannot wait to have friends again who I see on a regular basis. I cannot wait to have friends to catch up with for a chat who know me back to front, who I can vent to about my family (because things don't go so well when you complain about your family to your family). I'm excited about having people to call on when I need help who I know I can return the favour to at a later date because I'll actually see them again.

8. Power, water and internet.

I'm excited about having utilities that I don't have to plug in, ones that are reliable. I am excited about having fast internet with downloads and water that tastes good all of the time.

9. A real fridge.

I'm excited about having a fridge that I can fit everything in easily, a fridge that I can see what's in it at a glance. I cannot wait to buy and cook in bulk again.

10. Mess.

I'm excited about making mess, about leaving things out on benches and the floor and not having to pack them into a tiny cupboard the next day. I'm excited about giving the kids an indoor space where they can run around and make as much mess and they want. I'm excited about leaving a mess in the kitchen and not having to the dishes immediately after meal.

 

I'm sure that after a week of living in a house again I'll have a list of 100 things I miss about living in a caravan, but at the moment I am going to focus on all the things I have to look forward to.

This afternoon was HARD. The kids wouldn't stop screaming. Tantrum after tantrum after tantrum. We had arrived in a busy caravan park, after weeks of quiet camping and many late nights and we were all tired. The kids yelled at us. We yelled at the kids and at each other and made absolute fools of ourselves. At 5:00pm we'd had enough, we put the kids to bed and I went for a walk.

During my walk, I found the ocean. I found my calm place. I found my forgotten source of abundant energy. I breathed in, I breathed out and then I understood.

The tantrums, the yelling, the crying and the difficulty of it all. You know what it was? The slow whisper of change. It's calling us. As one journey ends, another is beginning. Yes universe, we hear you. We are ready.

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.

New Year's Eve Reflections

2016 was the year I got my first tattoo. It was the year I got rid of more than half my worldly posessions. I held a garage sale for the first time. I bought my first caravan. I learnt how to tow. It was the year I said goodbye to Sanctuary Point. I travelled 23 000km over 4 states and territories with my family. I learnt to live in a very small space with very few belongings. I discovered that I could cook amazing meals with very little. I learnt that I could hike over 11km with a toddler on my back and that I could run in 36 degree heat and not keel over. I learnt how to live without close friends and how to make new friends very quickly. I discovered that travel brings families closer together, that I still enjoy spending time with my husband and that life is easier on the road. I took my business on tour and sold my creations to people at markets all over Australia. I returned to the classroom for the first time in 3 years and rediscovered my love of teaching. I fell in love with the Northern Territory, indigenous culture and hot weather. I enrolled in TAFE and started studying for the first time in 6 years. I turned 29, celebrated my 6th wedding anniversary and spent an entire year breastfeeding.

I swear every year just gets better and better. Bring on 2017!

We're back on the road!

We're back!

After an absolutely amazing 10 weeks living in East Arnhem land in a house, with me working as a teacher, we're finally back inside our caravan. Today we drove for over 8 hours along 600km of slippery, muddy and corrugated dirt road back out to Katherine. The kids lasted 7 hours happily looking out the window before asking to watch a movie. That NEVER happens. We were worried our caravan might have gone mouldy or leaked whilst we were away as it's been so humid and wet up here but it was perfectly clean and didn't even smell stuffy. It then took us four hours to unpack the car and repack the van and we decided we've accumulated too much stuff so we'll spend the next couple of days doing a big clean out before heading over to WA. Hopefully after Christmas we'll get our website store back up and running and start to visit markets again too.

It's the small things

Rain is pouring down. We came back to Katherine from East Arnhem Land with too much stuff to fit in the caravan. I spent the afternoon running back and forth in the rain from the caravan to the front of the park meeting people who were picking up stuff I sold on the local Facebook buy swap sell page. I sold lots of stuff but then we realised the new bikes we bought the kids for Christmas don't fit in the van or car without getting rid of the old ones. After some discussion we decided to tell the kids what they're getting from us for Christmas and explained that we needed to sell their old bikes today to make space for the new ones. To soften the blow we told them they could have whatever money people paid for their bikes because, as we all know, parenting is half bribery. Dave barbequed dinner in the camp kitchen whilst the kids ran around in the rain. They were wet and muddy but we couldn't be bothered showering them so we didn't. Months ago we had ripped the table out of the caravan and suddenly it's wet season and we're like, where the f@#$ are we going to eat when it's raining? But I had the genius idea to put the outdoor table inside the caravan and it actually fit. We ate dinner and felt like we'd conquered Everest, because we had somewhere dry to eat dinner and enough space for all our stuff.

People often ask us for advice about taking prams and baby carriers when travelling Australia.

This is a typical day for us on the road with our 21 month old daughter and 4 year old son. Today we walked 8km of the Bigurda trail in Kalbarri National Park, WA. We've walked bushwalks of similar lengths all around Australia with both our children. Our 21 month old was carried the whole way in our Soul Full Buckle carrier (similar to an Ergo or Manduca) and our tall 4 year old walked 4km before being carried comfortably in our toddler Tula carrier. If you have children under 5 years old and are planning on travelling, I definitely recommend investing in a suitable carrier for each child. We use our carriers numerous times each week and they enable us to explore amazing places without us worrying how little legs will get there. I also recommend a soft structured carrier like those pictured here over a hiking carrier as they take up hardly any space and are much more comfortable. Happy travels and happy babywearing.

 

 

It's not you, it's me

We’re currently in Katherine in the Northern Territory and this week I have learnt two things:

  1. That Australia is a very big place with not that many people in it.
  2. I am still terrible at remembering names and faces.

When you’re travelling Australia with a caravan in tow and you’re in the northern part of the country during winter peak season, it’s easy to be blown away by just how many people are doing the same thing as you. Everywhere we look there are grey nomads and other families travelling this beautiful country of ours. Every caravan park we stay at is full. Every free camp is packed out. It seems to be that everyone has had the same idea as us.

But then we stop in the one place for more than a week and I realise there aren’t as many people as doing this epic trip around the country as I think, because I keep bumping into the same people.

There are plenty of families we keep crossing paths with who we met early on in our travels in NSW or QLD. A lovely little family from Adelaide kept finding us in different spots all the way up the East Coast. We met another family at Yeppoon in Queensland and saw them again at Alice Springs and Uluru. This week Jarrah had a playdate with a friend he made over two months ago at a caravan park in Cairns. There’s lots of travelling families, but also very few. I will always remember the families we’ve met in our travels as our kids connect with each other and we tend to chat about all the things we have in common. It’s the grey nomads I have trouble remembering.

We’ve stayed in countless different campsites across a 6000km stretch of Australian Highway across almost 5 months of the year. We’ve met hundreds of retired grey-haired couples in caravans who are travelling the country and in my mind they’re beginning to blur together. This week alone I’ve had four different people approach me smiling and telling me we camped in the same place at the same time a few weeks ago, or maybe months ago, somewhere in Australia. I recognise these people’s faces but I couldn’t tell you a single other thing about them.

What’s the problem then, you ask? The problem is that it gets a little awkward because these people remember us. They remember where we’re going. They remember where we’ve come from. Some even remember the names of our kids. Because, whilst they’re just another grey haired couple in a shiny white caravan driving a silver or white 4WD, we’re those dreadlocked hippie-looking characters in the caravan with ‘Tree & Pixie’ plastered on it with the cute but loud baby/toddler and the three year old who NEVER ever stops talking. So I guess we kind of stand out.

Those conversations are always awkward. Where the person I’m talking to knows everything about my life and I know nothing about theirs. And it’s not just now that it happens, it’s been happening most of my life. I’ve always had a terrible memory for names, I’m pretty bad at listening and I’ve always dressed a little weird. I don’t really know why people remember me, but they always do.

So, to all the grey nomads out there I keep bumping into and not recognising, I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me. Next time I’ll try a little harder to listen when you tell me your name and where you’re from, because we may just meet again down the road, in this big (but small) country of ours.

There’s something about Central Australia that really resonates with me. Every time I’ve visited this part of Australia I’ve felt relaxed and at home. Every time I’ve visited, I’ve left feeling a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger and I’ve left wanting to return. It could be the relaxed way of life, influenced by an indigenous population who are still firmly connected to their culture. It could be the remoteness of this place that just screams ‘adventure’ or perhaps it’s the striking desert landscape of reds, browns and muted green. Either way, this place is amazing and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Seven weeks ago we crossed the border from Queensland into the Northern Territory. We stopped at the border sign and I cried with excitement and happiness. You see, whilst I have visited this place three times, Dave has never been here. Every time I have flown into Alice Springs, it was for a university placement and my husband could not join me. I have had amazing and life changing experiences in this place, but I have never been able to share it with him. The number one place I wanted to visit on this trip around Australia was the Northern Territory. We’re here, and the past seven weeks have been spectacular.

We stopped off in Tennant Creek where Nella took her first steps and I had fun revisiting places I hadn’t seen since 2010 when I spent 5 weeks in the town completing my teaching practicum.

After Tennant Creek, we headed to a tiny place on the Stuart Highway called Ti Tree. After three years of maternity leave, I spent two weeks teaching the upper primary class at Ti Tree School. It was challenging but a good experience for all of us. Dave had his first stint of being a stay-at-home dad and tells me it’s easier than I make it out to be. I hadn’t taught in years, had never taught primary school students and it had been a long time since I’d taught indigenous students. Suffice to say, I felt like I had literally thrown myself back into teaching. By the end of the two weeks I started to feel like I knew what I was doing, just in time for the school holidays to start and us to continue on our journey.

In Alice Springs we enjoyed chilling out for a week. Dave caught up on his TAFE studies, we went to the annual Beanie Festival and explored the West Macdonnell Ranges. I had a stall at the fortnightly Todd Mall Markets, which are my favourite markets so far. I sold loads of stock, every customer was friendly and I met some very interesting people.

We then headed to Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and Watarrka (Kings Canyon). There’s a reason these places are such popular tourist destinations. They were absolutely amazing. We walked around 30kms over 6 bushwalks over 8 days. We were very thankful for our Ergo and Tula baby carriers. We got lots of positive comments from fellow bushwalkers when they saw us walking some difficult trails, each with a child on our backs. We realised we are stronger and fitter than we ever imagined and that even though our children are only one and three, we can complete almost any single day bushwalk we come across. Even Jarrah walked over 5km one day before needing carried in the Tula. It was awesome to see our three year old climb to the top of Kings Canyon, whilst many adults around him struggled. He’s learning that he’s fit and strong and I think that’s important.

We spent another week in Alice Springs before heading out to Gem Tree on the Plenty Highway. I’d read on camping forums on Facebook that it was an interesting place to visit and it didn’t disappoint. We camped in the red dirt under the Mulga Trees at Gem Tree caravan park. The kids dug in the dirt and ran around and rode their bikes. I had never seen them so filthy! We fossicked for gemstones and came out with a small bag of garnets, 3 of which were big enough to cut and make into jewellery. Now we just need to decide what to do with them. Twice a week the caravan park puts on a camp oven roast dinner under the stars which we partook in. It was delicious and definitely worth keeping the kids up late for.

 

This morning we left Gem Tree and drove over 500kms to Tennant Creek. We’re back in the same caravan park we began our Central Australian adventure in and it’s time to head north. Soon we’ll leave Central Australia and see what the northern parts of the Territory have to offer. I’m excited about the next bit of our adventure but also a little sad to be leaving this part of the country. I know I’ll be back here again one day.

From the Tropics to the Outback in Two Days

Before I founded Tree & Pixie Creations I was a high school teacher. I still am a high school teacher, just one who has been on unpaid maternity leave for almost three years. When I was at university I was awarded the fantastic opportunity of completing one of my practicum placements in the Northern Territory. The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation sent six of us to Tennant Creek for a month to teach. It was an amazing experience I will never forget. Since I have such fond memories of learning to teach in the territory, it made sense for me to register to teach in the NT so I could pick up some casual work during our travels.

Last week whilst we were in the wet tropics, near the Daintree, and it was pouring with rain and I was going insane inside the caravan with the kids, I received a call from a little school in Central Australia asking if I could teach for a few weeks. We did the maths and worked out a date I could arrive and suddenly we were off! After over two months of travelling the East coast of Australia, it was time to head West.

 Since our kids are so young, we tend not to travel more than around three hours in one day. We find that’s the maximum they last before they start losing the plot and screaming the car down. It’s the reason why we are unsure if we will get an entire lap of Australia done in a single year. But, suddenly we found ourselves with two weeks and 2200km to travel. Unless we want to spend every night in different place, we are in for some longer travel days.

We woke up yesterday morning in the Atherton Tablelands (near Cairns) and began our biggest day of driving yet. We drove for what felt like forever with screaming and arguing children. We had bought new toys for them the day prior, but realised that instead of keeping them entertained, it just gave them something to fight about. We had purchased Jarrah an etch-a-sketch, but Nella was incredibly jealous, so we had to make a stop and purchase her one too. The sibling rivalry has begun! For the first time ever, we resorted to bringing out the tablet and putting on a movie for the kids.

After 5 hours we passed through Townsville and turned onto the Flinders Highway. We had our first night’s free camping at a roadside rest area where we could watch the road trains and listen to the freight trains. Jarrah loved it.

This morning we set off for another big day of driving. We stopped in Charters Towers first thing in the morning, before heading further west.

At lunchtime we stopped in a tiny town called Balfes Creek, where we found a tiny playground, some toilets and a closed pub. We had a picnic lunch and came across a lady named Tracey who is walking her way around Australia to raise money for the Black Dog Institute and raise awareness for depression and mental illness. She’s a mother, a grandmother and is literally walking around Australia pushing all her belongings (and her little white dog) in a cart. Talk about inspirational! She left from Byron Bay 6 months ago and is averaging 25km a day. Check out her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/onewomanwandering. I think travelling alone and on foot around this country takes bravery. I asked her what made her decide to walk and she told me that she’s never really liked people (or walking) but is now seeing the good side of the human race through her travels and is loving it.

After waving goodbye to Tracey, we kept heading west. The kids once again started whinging and fighting, so we stopped and set up camp at the back of the Prairie Pub. The pub was closed and whilst we were setting up we saw a man ride into town on a bicycle and sit out the front of the pub. I went to have a chat to him and found out he was from Japan and was riding his bicycle from Brisbane to the Northern Territory to look for farm work. His English wasn’t that strong and I tried to explain he could just set up camp and talk to the pub owners later, but I’m not sure he understood. Instead, he sat out the front of the pub until 5.30pm when the family who owned the pub returned and opened up. He then came to the camping area and pitched his tent. By this stage Dave had cooked us Bolognaise for dinner, so we invited the Japanese tourist to our campsite for a meal. He was very grateful. I told him I thought he was brave. Imagine coming to Australia with very little English and riding a bike thousands of kilometres to the desert to look for a job. Just amazing! These people make what we are doing seem like a walk in the park.

After dinner we went inside the pub for a drink and got talking to the lovely owners who were very friendly and hospitable. The pub was filled with interesting memorabilia and antiques, including mannequins having a drink at the bar and a room with a trampoline and toys for the kids. I even felt comfortable enough to breastfeed Nella whilst sitting at the bar. The owner joked that I couldn’t breastfeed in the pub and I laughed too and joked that I would post online and he’d get some lovely publicity from outraged mothers. We all had a good laugh and I realised I’ve never received a negative comment for breastfeeding in public. Hopefully I never will.

The past two days have brought us from the rainforest to the outback and what a difference that’s made. I’m sad that we won’t see the ocean for a few months, but excited about returning the desert and the characters we’ll meet along the way.