Words by Dani Avery
What makes someone pack up their house, fit everything they need into a caravan and travel the country with two kids aged seven months and three years?
Some might say madness, others might say in search of ‘the dream’. Maybe it was a bit of both.
We’d had a rough couple of years, you know those seasons in life where one thing happens after another and you think “If things don’t let up soon someone’s gonna find me rocking in the corner, nude and in the foetal position!” A season just like that had taken its toll on us, my husband and I needed a break and so did our two little ones. It was time to make a change, time to discover who we were as a family, on our own, away from opinions, crticisms, and expectations.
It’s not that we’d always wanted to do it. It was never really our ‘dream’ to caravan around the countryside least of all with a toddler and a crawling baby in tow (think; rainy days, muddy outdoors, and boys!). But we did want to travel somewhere, together, where we could be alone as a family. We saw a window of opportunity in the form of my husband’s long service leave. We asked ourselves
“Could we take six months and hit the road? Could we acquire a caravan and disappear with our two boys away from the stress & pressure of everyday life?”
Before we knew it, the caravan had been purchased, the plans were in progress; we would travel wherever the wind blew us for six months until our leave was up in August…and that’s how it all began.
I’m not going to say I wasn’t stressed at having to pack up our life and say goodbye to friends and family. Fear of the unknown would creep in, but I knew we had to go, I knew we had to do this. Anyone who’s lived in the same town their whole life would know the feeling; to be ‘away’, to have the freedom to be yourself away from those who’ve always known you- or was it you- really? Sometimes it takes a crap season and a drastic measure like leaving town to really know who you are, and what it is you stand for, particularly as a family.
We’re now half way into our six month trip. At the time of writing J is three and a half, and N is 11months. I’d love to tell you that every day on this adventure is truly wonderful & that this really is ‘the dream’; and in many ways it is! But I think the Grey Nomads probably have a hands up on us, afterall, I see them sipping champagne & reclining in comfy chairs during ‘arsenic hour’ (which ironically is never really an hour is it? Well for us, the madness seems to spread its love over several hours in the evening, kind of like the boy’s parting gift to us for the night!).
Nothing can prepare you for the challenges that come with living in a 5m x 3m rectangle with those you love the most (except maybe to lock yourself and your loved ones in your bathroom for a week). I’m a realist, I’m going to be authentic with you, we owe it to each other as mothers, as a village, to be authentic. While we are on an adventure of a lifetime (so they keep telling us!) pretending life is perfect does our fellow mamas a disservice. I’ll give you the good bits too, but who doesn’t love the dirt on a real life story eh?
So far we’ve traveled 5500kms from QLD, down the east & south coast of NSW, inland to Canberra and the Snowy Mountains, camped through the Victorian high country through to Melbourne, along the Great Ocean Road, and almost across to the SA border. We’ve seen a coastline of beautiful beaches, looked out over the 12 Apostles on sunset, seen incredible mountain ranges in the Victorian Highlands, walked Kosciuszko’s peak and the national parks of the Snowy Mountains. We have also covered that distance with a baby who hates his car seat and screams when he’s strapped in it. I’m not kidding…every…time…he’s…in…it. So I have spent the entirety of our trip so far sitting in the back seat next to him, entertaining, diverting, wishing my boobs were made of jelly so I could bend them and plug one in to keep him happy (do I hear an Amen?!). We time our travel on the road with N’s naps; we have to if we want to get anywhere at all because of course, why should a baby stop you from traveling? Nothing has to change in your life when you have children, they should fall into whatever routine is already in place….excuse me while I go gag for a moment.
A day camping with the Averys typically looks like this;
Wake up whenever the kids decide its time we should cease enjoying sleep. Survive the chaos that is breakfast, getting dressed, morning poos & any poosplosions N feels necessary to bestow upon us. Clean up after the breakfast chaos (Baby Led Weaning means LOTS of clean up…I constantly ask myself ‘why don’t I buy those pouches of whatever they are, it would be A LOT cleaner!’ Then I put some salmon on his tray…definition of insanity?). Pack a bag of snacks for the car ride, realise we’re out of ready made muesli bars, punish myself for not being awesome and making them from scratch, get in the car with van packed down and hooked on by 10am (this is no quick task believe me), travel for however long N decides before waking up and, realising he’s in his car seat, throws the world’s greatest infant tantrum. Spend the rest of the car trip hassling Husband to “PULL OVER NOW!” while baby screams, contemplate placing breast in baby’s mouth, try my best at entertaining both kid’s attention until we find somewhere to pull over for some blessed relief, only to realise its now lunch time and the process starts again! We decide whether to make another run for it during the afternoon nap or set up somewhere for the night, consider what can be made for tea with some broccoli, a head of lettuce & some cheese, Google where we can fill up the van’s water tanks and where we can dump the loo (our van has a toilet, the loo cavity needs emptying every few days, or, earlier than that depending on the copious amounts of tea I may consume due to stress).
Thus, this is a day in the life of the Avery family! Sound relaxing yet?
Here is an excerpt from our travel diary on Instagram – The Averys from April 15;
“The van’s battery died this morning (which we use when we freecamp, like we planned to tonight!). We drove to the next town and thanked our ombre undies for the Supercheap that sold us a new one (a new battery- not undies!). N has had a nasty rash on his chest these past few days (mixture of teething & exposure to the changing weather) but today it turned into welts and he was scratching them like crazy. The first chemist we tried was closed, the next town had one and while we tried to figure out whether he needed a doctor or not (on a Sunday, in a country town) our 3 year old had started to whine about needing to go to a park for ‘energies to get out’. We find a park, we leave the park for the entire child population of Wangaratta were getting ‘energies out’ too! We drove 170 km’s (while N protested as usual) to a free camp in the middle of nowhere (I actually have no idea where we are!), where a fellow free camper with a beer in her hand told us we were “crazy” traveling with littlies and how she wishes she could watch ‘The Block’ tonight. At that moment, a nappyless N let the world’s smelliest poo loose on the caravan floor & crawled right through it… yup it was everywhere! The overly friendly beer holding observer offered her best advice in the moment…“*&%^ happens” she said. We then went for a bush walk next to the Goulburn River (after cleaning up the poo of course) while the sun set. Partially to get away from beer lady but also to ‘breathe’- and remind ourselves we aren’t mental for doing this trip. We might be by the end but for now, we’re just parents, and…’&*$% happens’!”
That was a fairly normal kind of day for us. You know how I mentioned we wanted to get away from the stresses & pressures of daily life? I give you permission to laugh at our naivety as you read on.
We’ve run out of gas first thing on a freezing morning (i.e no power, no hot water, no heating). The van’s battery has died in a country town on a Sunday. We’ve exploded a van tire on a highway, broken two car jacks & a wheel brace trying to replace it and waited at an abandoned roadhouse while my Husband went back to town for help. We’ve driven off from a lighthouse car park, and in our tired parent state, left our caravan step behind by accident for somebody else to claim. Now that’s a funny story…someone DID pick it up and by absolute bizarre coincidence we pulled up next to them three days later in a town 200kms away from where we left it! After chatting for a while I happened to mention we’d left our caravan step behind at a lighthouse three days prior. They opened their van door, retrieved a step that looked remarkably like our own and asked “Is this it?”. They had visited the same lighthouse on the same day a half hour after we’d left and had picked up our step thinking they could make use of it. They too were from Queensland, and had two littles the same age as our own. We invited them back to the caravan park we’d planned to stay at and enjoyed three days with our new ‘step’ family before heading off in different directions. The weirdness of that story makes me question whether we really are living in the Matrix after all?
Life on the road with little ones has other challenges too. The issue of there being no fenced yard or enclosed house does present some risk and a lot of frustration where a crawling baby is concerned. We were free camping in Tathra NSW, I was setting up the generator to power my travel washing machine to wash N’s cloth nappies (oh, I’m doing cloth on the road did I mention that?…I’m either clinically insane or seriously committed to my baby’s happy bottom). I heard N making noises so I went to check on him; what I saw made me want to faint!
He was face to face with a one and half metre Goanna- I mean that thing could have eaten my baby if it so desired, it was flippin’ huge! Lesson learned…make sure to watch baby at all times with extra set of eyes in back of head.
While we were in Sydney N took off his fingernail with a veggie peeler, five minutes before leaving to catch a train. He burnt three fingers on a camp heater in Canberra, and he’s fallen off the bed, table, and caravan step more times than I’d like to admit.
On the flip side my boys have had the opportunity to enjoy the great out doors as their playground every day. They scuff their toes, they run and crawl in the dirt and sand wearing out the knees in their pants (when they’re wearing them!), they bathe in buckets outside on sunset and meet kids in every town at playgrounds and in caravan parks. I’ve watched my three year old grow from a clingy & quiet toddler to an extroverted, confident little boy- he makes friends better than I do!
And I am grateful; for both the great and the not so great experiences that are teaching us all the while to grow, adapt, accept, problem solve, and ultimately, enjoy the moments for they will be over all too soon and life will return to ‘normal’ before we know it.
We’ve met some really amazing people on this trip, all of them have stories, none of them devoid of the problems of life. They have helped broaden my perspective and have challenged my opinions; people we’ll be friends with for a long time. We’ve seen some incredible places and locations across our beautiful country. We’ve had to figure out how to entertain two little bundles of energy on rainy days (we go to Bunnings, they have an indoor playground!), how to live out of a humble bar fridge, wash clothes & nappies with a 2.5kg washing machine & bucket water from fresh flowing creeks. How to NOT go insane living within a bum cheek of one another in a space smaller than our kitchen at home. And you know what? We are doing it, and doing it well! Albeit not without mayhem, but we are making memories, and we’ll remember all of it for the rest of our lives. Well N won’t, but I’ll remind him on his 21st- particularly the stories involving his poo! The saying ‘life happens while we’re making plans’ has come to mind quite a bit during our adventure.
Personally, the trip is growing me in ways I didn’t expect it would. I’m learning that things like the dishes & unfolded washing don’t matter as much as I thought they did. That my uptight personality & stressing about trivial things serves nobody, but instead contributes to an atmosphere of unrest & tension. That laughing with my family is one of the most important things I can do especially when it comes to poosplosions on the caravan floor! I am learning that I’m more resilient to change & chaos than Id have previously thought, I think we all are, we just don’t realise it until we’re put in situations that require more from us.
I’m learning to let go, to let things take their course and to adjust my sails accordingly.
There is so much about life on the road that is unpredictable- life in general is no different- it’s still unpredictable (particularly life with kids!). We as Mothers are required to be adaptable, to ‘step up’ to the challenge of the every day that waits for us. I know I’ll return home a little braver than when I left, I know I’ll be able to look at situations and say ‘I can do this…I’ve done six months on the road in a caravan with two kids and a Husband and we’re all still alive (& still married!)’.
If I’m honest, I’m not the kind of person that oozes confidence, I’ve had a long running hostile relationship with my self esteem so this trip took a lot of courage for me to say ‘I can do this, I can make this work’. I’m a good one for the ‘mummy voice’ of self doubt, the one that generally likes to remind me where I’m failing as a camp mum. It highlights the fact my kids haven’t eaten anything fresh in two days and that I’m responsible for their regular bowel movements. It whispers ‘Are you sure Baby led weaning in a caravan is a good idea? N has more avocado up his nostrils and spread up the fridge than he does in his belly, you really should be making him a quinoa risotto in any case’…tell me I’m not the only one that wishes they could punch that voice in the face?
It likes to remind me I have nothing planned for tea, or lunch, or any of the other teas in the following week for that matter and how I really should be like those Mums who do meal plans & have all their groceries purchased for the week’s meals ahead. Meal Plans…now there’s a good one. All the ‘camp mum’ blogs tell you you’re not a ‘real’ camp mum until you’ve done a meal plan. For some reason my brain would rather name all the toppings at Pizza Hut than put seven meals down on the calendar for the forthcoming week.
I’ve also learned us Mamas are very good at ‘being busy’; we don’t have time to just ‘be’. We don’t like to sit still, we’d like to, but we don’t know how. We started this trip at a ridiculous pace, racing from one town to another, trying to ‘see it all’. It wasn’t until we’d reached the Great Ocean Road that we realised we were so tired we needed a holiday from the holiday! Coming from life at home where I’m normally a stay at home Mum, I found my identity blurred when we started this trip. I didn’t have to tend to a house or keep up with the boy’s demands all on my own, I felt useless & denied help from my husband because they were MY tasks on MY to do list that gave me gratification at the end of the day. Thankfully, I’ve had to let go of that too because my husband understands we’re equals, my pride had to step aside & let him help (I can hear you saying “hellooooo? are you mental denying help from a husband?!” yes, yes I was).
It’s all part of the lesson I’ll go home with, hopefully a lesson that will serve to remind me I don’t have to do ‘it all’ or ‘be it all’. That I am enough, just as I am.
I think in hindsight, the stay at home mum gig is a tough one (that’s not to say the working out of the home mum has it any easier, I’m just writing from my own personal background). We are home alone with our littles all day, and sometimes into the night. Gone are the days of the ‘Village’ who were close by, there to lend a hand with the meal prep or to hold a bub while we hung out the washing. Heck even to have a decent conversation with instead of answering the endless “Mummeeeeee why does my nose have snot in it?” or “why do we have two feet?”. It has struck me while having my husband with us every day on this trip, just how much we do on our own at home, raising our kids almost solo. Balancing the loneliness and feelings of isolation of days at home with catch ups at the park, play dates at each others houses, all the while…the days are long, but the years somehow really are short. I have a new found respect for myself & the work I do raising our kids, its darn hard work, and thankfully I have a husband who has readily admitted that. I have him quoted as saying; ‘At work I can at least get fifteen minutes peace in my office, you’re flat out getting five seconds without a three year old’s commentary!’
I told myself I’d learn to crochet while on the trip, I’d work on my recipe books and bake batches of slow rise bread. I’d start my boy’s baby books that have not one word written in them (I don’t know what it is, the books are waiting in the same place as my meal plans!). I even packed nail polish but my toes are still singing Ed Sheeran’s ‘Give me love’. I’ve done none of those things, instead I’ve accepted that life is life no matter where you are. That if the days are hard work at home then why wouldn’t they be on the road too? I’ve submitted to the chaos of our caravan life that runs around freely in the form of two little boys full of noise with dirt on them. I’m learning what truly matters…what wont always be. Learning to be ‘present’ with those I cherish most. That no matter where we are; at home with our littles, on holidays, or on caravaning trips around Australia, that ‘*&^%’ still happens (particularly in the trenches of Motherhood), and that the stresses and pressures of everyday life are a universal fact for all of us. There will always be piles of dirty washing, meals to prepare, jobs that need doing. But life on the road has taught me to enjoy the now, because there’s never a perfect time to do so. Enjoy it all mama- one crazy, chaotic, beautiful, loud, stressful, relaxing, joyous moment at a time, we’re all in this together.
‘Enjoy the little things in life for one day you’ll look back and realise, they were the big things’.
Signing off to go and clean up poo. x
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Good on you Dani! Great article, and very brave of you to share the myriad of feelings you experience on a trip like this. We did a similar (but only 3 months) trip with our 3 children two years ago and it was such a learning experience for everyone. The kids came back so much more mature and confident. All the best with the rest of the trip 🙂
Thanks Caroline! Appreciate your comment. Good on you for giving it a go with your 3- yes it is a learning experience for sure, but as you say, everyone gains so much too. I wanted to portray the ‘dream’ for what it can really be- wonderful & inspiring but also challenging & at times really confronting. X
Loved reading your story. We head off around Aust in May 2016, x2 kids 8yo and 4yo. Looking forward to it.