Today is the start of our 4th month on the road and habit calls for a little reflection on the first quarter of our journey.
What started off as one of my hair brain schemes (as Mrs puts it) quickly snow balled into one of the most adventurous and confronting experiences of our lives. Planning for this trip with rose coloured glasses was great but the journey and the actual experience has not been as romantic as the idea. The working life before took 10 hours of my life 5 days a week and so weekends with the family were planned with the utmost enthusiasm. The plan for this new nomadic life however was to travel around Oz 24/7 with the family whilst I spend my morning studying and spare time writing a blog about this ultimate adventure on a shoestring budget. The fact is that 10 months is only just enough time to explore NT and WA let alone going around the country and aim to study and blog at the same time. We have missed many places and hopefully once kids are older Geanette and I will explore the rest on our own.
Let me first answer the ultimate question. Can the trip be done on a shoe string budget? The answer is a resounding YES!
Figuring out my shoe string was not as simple as I originally thought. Previous life was comfortable where every holiday was in a 5 star resort albeit for only 4 weeks in a year. Trying to now free camp in a tent without “taken for granted” facilities like toilets, showers, washing machine, dryer and even drinking water is at best challenging as is forward planning to ensure we stock up adequately before hitting the next big town.
Everyone’s shoe string is obviously different and so we locked ours to the following key components and so far we are within our budget and have even saved money to do some additional excursion trips:
- Paid camping 2 days a week
- Not travelling more than 300 kms in a driving day on average
- Driving at a steady 75kms/hr which gives us 10-12ltrs/100 kms
- Stay for atleast 4 nights during school in each area and go on day trips within 100 kms radius only
- Cook at home/camp
- Shop at big supermarkets like Woolies/IGA
- Re-fuel only in big towns and cheapest bowsers and if needed carry extra in Jerrys to carry us to the next big town
- 1 paid excursion per fortnight on average e.g. Cruises, flights, movies etc
- Repair & Maintain our gear, car and tent ourselves where possible
- Reward ourselves once a month by staying in motels/cabins & dinner out (Max 3 star)
Most people we have met along the way are doing something similar although not everyone is following theirs to the T. We have met some overseas travellers that are even making their own bread and living on eggs for protein to save costs as in the outback it can cost up to $6 a loaf. Now our string is not so short but we are certainly not eating lobster and T bones every night either. The trick is to stick to your monthly food budget and plan ahead ofcourse.
A realisation that 10 years have passed is what got me to plan this trip in the first place. I suddenly became very aware that my kids are not little anymore and along the way I forgot to make friends with them. The feeling of not knowing your own kids (when realised) can be very daunting and so I planned to spend my entire 2015 getting to know them and them me. No one told me though how tough that will be. From mood swings to regular arguments I have had the pleasure of tackling every good and bad thing that parenthood brings with it. Thank God I am not in this alone and Geanette saves the day, most days and rescues them from the biggest kid on the trip; me! I can be a “dog with a bone” kinda guy and whilst that worked for me in professional life, it is not a good quality to have with growing kids. I soon realised that the trip is more stressful for them than it is for Geanette & I and remembered that in the end it is meant to bring us closer not drive us apart. So patience and understanding became important life skills to nurture.
Seeing the kids really play out in the open and getting closer to each other and us has been a privilege. It is a highlight for both Geanette & I and to be honest made the trip and all the sacrifices completely worth it.
This was an added bonus of the trip. We have met some amazing people in the past 3 months and listening to their life stories can never get old. The freakiest part of meeting people 2000 kms away from home is realising that the degree of separation between us & them was only ever 2 handshakes away. We have met people from all walks of life. From 10 pound poms to successful business owners who are all in the same boat as us; living a life of adventure and no regrets.
The world however is full of dick heads and we have met our share along the way. Thankfully our “dickhead” radar works really well so haven’t crossed paths with too many of them.
Our experience in the past three months has taught us that there are some things where “you get what you pay for”.
Our equipment isn’t flash. We spent as little as possible and picked up bargains where we could. Most things have lasted well and continue to come in good use but there are some things that I would suggest investing money in rather than going cheap like us:
- Sleeping bags – Aldi sleeping bags are not suitable for the Australian Outback.
- Camping Chairs – These are used daily so spend a little more and get decent chairs.
- Merit sockets – These mostly come in a pack of 5 or so and for good reason. They don’t last very long. Our fridge is already on its 2nd.
- Phone/Ipad Chargers – Keep a spare one.
- Water Tank – Don’t buy an in car water bladder from China. They leak!
- Water hose and fitting – So you can fill up water in your tank where ever available
- 12v Shower – These come in handy when bush camping
- Jerrycans – For extended range so you don’t end up paying $2.60 a ltr for diesel when its available for $1.40 and less in cities
- Tent Spare parts – To repair your tent when needed
- Car Spare parts – To service your car yourself otherwise you can pay up to $200 + parts for a simple oil change
- Dual Battery Kit – Will save $ in the long run as you won’t need to camp in powered sites at all
- Inverter – We run a 600watt inverter which is more than enough for every gadget we have
- Tool Kit – Comes in use more than I would like to acknowledge
- Sat Phone - Its gotten us out of trouble and they are not as expensive these days
One thing that has worked for us massively is the fact that both our car (Nissan Patrol 1998 Diesel) and trailer (7x4 Single Axel box trailer with fold out tent) are very basic. Not a lot can go wrong and thankfully hasn’t. We have met people with over $100K campers and caravans with all the luxuries included and they have a list of defects a mile long. Basically, the more things you have, the more chance of things going wrong.
Australia is known throughout the world as the lucky country. On our journey so far we have met many overseas travellers from France, Switzerland, Norway, Germany and even UK and all sing the same song about how lucky Aussies truly are.
This country is unique in many ways but for avid campers this is a country like no other. There are free camp grounds all throughout the country and some even have toilet facilities. For those willing to pay a bit of money can enjoy facilities in our numerous National Parks that charge from $5/night to $12/night plus park entry fee.
We have seen some incredible places in the past 3 months. The vast open plains of the NSW outback were beautiful, Gammon Ranges reminded us of Oman, Uluru took our breath away, MacDonnell Ranges captivated us, Kakadu lived up to its world heritage expectations, Cobourg gave new meaning to serenity and Kimberley proved why it has no equal.
Each place we have visited so far stands testament of the vastness, uniqueness & remoteness of this Country we call home.
To do or not to do
So do I regret making this decision to camp around Australia for 10 months on a shoe string budget? I would say NO just on what I have achieved with my kids, the rest has been an added bonus. Of course it hasn’t been as rosy as I had thought and we did face some issues along the way like a ripped tent, broken stove, car troubles and a leaking air mattress to name a few but today after 3 months they all feel minor hiccups and make up for some great camp fire stories to share with fellow campers.
And to those who have been wanting to do this for a while but are waiting for the right time. Let me assure you NOW is the right time. Something or the other will always be in your way but the country is changing rapidly with roads being made everywhere bringing more and more people each year some of whom unfortunately trash the previously unspoilt nirvana. It’s a hard thing to do – leaving your life as you know it behind and live out of boxes and trailer for a year but I promise you this as far as travelling around Australia is concerned; the grass really is greener on the other side.
Take a little sense of humour on the trip and approach every corner with your glass half full. Wine is not that expensive.