So we arrived back home over a month ago. I started work straight away, Mike is job hunting, and the kids have started school and Kindy.
It doesn’t take long for reality to set in, but it will take a while to settle. For one thing, we are still living in the caravan as there is not much available for us to rent in our small town. Of course we are used to it, but I’m starting to dream of privacy and indoor plumbing. A few old favourites from my packed up wardrobe wouldn’t go astray, as would some extra shelf space as the kids bring home books and artwork.
We always expected the end to be difficult. But Mike and I both agree, it was WORTH IT.
So to all you families out there planning your own little jaunt around the country, this post will be full of advice.
My accommodation summary excludes nights we stayed with friends or relatives, as that was kind of a treat and like being at home.
We set up and packed up the caravan approximately 165 times (this also includes tent set ups when the van was in storage). We spent 298 nights on the road and spent just under $6000 on accommodation.
- 25% of the time we bush camped at free rest areas. This includes camps that requested a gold coin donation or a small charge for having a hot shower.
- 23% of the time we stayed in National Parks or cheap camping grounds, usually with limited facilities and often without power (average cost $14.62 per night)
- 52% of the time we stayed in caravan parks, which almost always had hot showers, power, flushing toilets and other facilities (average cost $31.54 per night)
When travelling with kids in non-peak times, it worth trying to negotiate a better deal. Some caravan parks may be willing to waiver the charge for kids, or give you a discount, especially if you are staying for more than a night or two. It is certainly worth shopping around in towns with more than one option.
Also, beware that a charge for kids doesn’t necessarily mean a park is kid friendly. One of my biggest gripes on this trip was being charged more than a token fee for both kids, only to find that they can’t even reach the sinks in the bathroom to wash their hands. No playground, no family bathrooms, no nothing. They don’t use extra electricity, as they are always with us, and the extra water and paper they use is minimal. I don’t mind paying extra, if the park is kiddie friendly. But some charges were ridiculous.
We spent just over $7500 on food and groceries in the 10 months. This doesn’t include eating out or alcohol. Food can get really expensive in the outback and isolated towns, so stock up when you have the opportunity.
Going to isolated areas, such as a couple of weeks in the Kimberly, requires some forward planning. Although we had two fridges, space was still limited, and few items remain fresh after two weeks. We often got some meat vacuum packed, so it can last. Crisper bags do keep cabbage, carrots and other vegies fresh for the long haul.
It’s worth learning a few recipes using canned goods, jar sauces and pasta/rice. For example, I created a great pasta dish using tinned butter mushrooms, UHT cream, a few slithers of frozen bacon (which doesn’t take up much room), onion, garlic, cheese and pasta. The kids loved it so much, they still asked for it when we reached civilization.
When a camp kitchen was available, we used it. Your final afternoon in a park with a decent kitchen is best spent cooking up some pasta and rice based salads for the onward journey. We did this as much as possible, especially when we knew we were going bush for a few days. Dinner then becomes BBQ’ing some meat, take the salads out of the fridge, and your done.
Throughout the ten months, we spent $2750 on treats (ice creams, dinners out, a drink in a nice pub with a view, coffee and cake etc). This we tried to avoid, but sometimes when you have travelled up a couple of hundred kilometres to an isolated beach, you just want to mark the occasion with a nice glass of wine or a cocktail. It also gets very difficult constantly saying no to the kid’s requests for ice creams when it is hot, or when everyone else is having one. We usually went into supermarkets to buy a box of four to save costs.
Bits and pieces include things like clothes and shoes, camping items, laundry, phone cards, gas, fishing equipment, birthday presents etc. Stuff you need, and can’t really avoid buying. In total we spent around $4600. Just a word on laundry, we brought with us a camping washing machine (bought on Ebay for $28, second hand). Although it was a bit of a pain having to wring out clothes by hand, it was worth the cost saving. Most parks charge $3-$6 per load. Besides, it was so hot most of the time; we had no trouble drying the laundry. Sometimes I caved and paid to use the camp laundry for sheets and towels etc.
Finally, the bill for activities was $5500. Of course, this is a variable cost, depending on what you want to do. We didn’t hold back so much, as this was kind of the point of going around Australia. But if you are really on a tight budget, get everyone in the family to choose one or two things they REALLY want to do on the trip, and make them a priority.
To check out costs for diesel and rig maintenance, check out Mikes Page.
If we were going to plan this trip a second time, we would have installed bigger water tanks on the caravan. Water did become a limiting factor in some areas. Also, we wished we had installed solar panels to charge our batteries. I believe we would have done a lot more bush camping if we had done this. It just gives you more flexibility in places you can stay, if you want to hang around somewhere for a while.
Otherwise, we were very happy with our rig. Having a good off-road caravan meant we could go more places. Sometimes we wished we had more space, and wanted a camper trailer. But some of those late night pull-ins I was happy for the 5 minute set-up time. It was a matter of take some things (washing machine, kids bikes, shoe bucket) out of the van, pop the top, wind down the legs and you were right to go.
I’m also glad we were set up for camping too. Several times, such as Cape York, we were able to leave the van behind and do some serious off-roading to get to some magnificent places.
Some random tips
Bikes – taking them seems like a great idea, but most families we met regretted it in the end. They are a pain to constantly unload and reload, and they will get damaged sometime in the trip. My bike was new, with smooth gears when we started off. We finished the trip with large dents in the frame, rust all over, and gears that stick and will never be the same. I did use my bike, but not nearly as much as I thought I would. It probably is worth taking kids bikes, but ours used their scooters so much more, and they were easier to store.
Kids Toys – bring a few favourites for the van and car. Keep one small toy box hidden away, brought out only at big stops. Otherwise, don’t bring too much. Our kids hardly ever played with their toys anyway. They were too busy meeting other kids and running around. But definitely bring balls and outside games, buckets and spades and washable comfort toys.
Clothes – just bring the minimal. You can buy more along the way when you need too. You will appreciate not having cupboards full to the brim when you are searching for something. It is no fun having to totally unpack and repack a cupboard every single day.
Appliances – Kettle and toaster are essential, but have a big think about what others you bring. We brought a steamer, and used it twice. However, we brought an electric wok and used it frequently. I guess it depends on the families eating habits, and how accessible the appliances are. We also brought our coffee machine, which was used daily, when we had power.
Cast Iron pot – Camp ovens are great for cooking over the open fire. One of our regrets was that we weren’t set up well for open fire cooking. We did buy some stuff towards the end, and I was really getting into it when we entered bushfire season and couldn’t have fires anymore.
Plan, but don’t over plan – at the start of our trip, we only had a rough idea of where we wanted to go. We all loved the freedom of only planning a few days ahead. If you got somewhere you liked, stay a bit longer. If a place wasn’t up to your expectations, just move on. You get hints and tips from fellow travellers along the way, so be prepared to change your plan. It may be a once in a lifetime trip, so make the most of it.
I would like to say a big thank you to Lois Jewell from Playgroup Australia for her continuing enthusiasm and support. Visiting Playgroups was such a big highlight of our trip, especially for the kids. Also thanks to Big4 for their help in promoting our blog via the Big4 blog website and for providing such great Caravan parks at which to stay.
Thanks to all the companies who helped us with tours and days out. A special thanks to Silvano, who made our Margaret River Bushtucker Wine Tour so memorable. Also thanks to Louise Marshall for her passion for the rainforest, and Skyrails involvement in educating people about it. You have really inspired us. Thanks also to Patsy, Rachael and Sean from ‘Animal Tracks Safari’. Your Aboriginal Bushtucker safari was one of the most unique and memorable experiences we have ever had. A special mention to Ningaloo Reef Dreaming. You can’t help the weather, or predict wild marine animals. But the crew’s enthusiasm never faltered, and we had a blast. Last but not least, thanks to Paronella Park, for keeping the dream alive. We simply loved it.
To all the families we met whilst travelling. You truly made a good experience great. Sonia, Kevin, Jazzy and Jack from the start of our trip, Geoff, Nicky and kids as well as Richard, Cathy and family. Our sunset on Cable beach will be remembered forever, and it was great to meet some other ‘Gongers’. To Justina, Tim, Sienna, Hugo and Teya, we loved our Kimberly Convoy and will always remember the fun times we had. Extra special thanks to Tex, Julie, Maddie, Brooke and Tilly. It was great to meet you and thanks so much for your hospitality.
Yet again we have a special mention. We met the O’Callaghan’s right at the beginning of the trip. Our paths crossed a few times after that, and we all quickly became friends. I reckon by the end of our trip, we must have spent about three months travelling together. What a blast it was. I will never forget our adventures, nights boiling the billy and toasting marshmallows with the kids. Long walks dragging the littlies along, and seeing their joy as we swam in beautiful places. It was great getting to know you all, and sharing some of our adventures. Thank you all, Chris, Jayne, Daniel, Emma and Louise for being a highlight for our trip. It was a pleasure.
So this trip was a once in a lifetime adventure. But in ten months, we feel like we have only scratched the surface. I know one result is we will make more of an effort to go away for the weekend and school holidays and just enjoy the time we have together. But I am thinking I would like to do something like this again, even if it is only for a few months. It would be fun to do some more adventurous stuff with the kids when they are older and more able.
Whatever the future holds, we have done our Big Road Trip now. The experience has enriched us all, and the photos and memories will last forever. Hopefully we have laid a foundation for Coby and Rhys for a lifetime of adventure and confidence. It was an experience we will never forget…
Filed under: Facts & Figures, Victoria Tagged: | around australia, around Oz, australia, camping, caravanning, caravanning with kids, Facts & Figures, Kids, travel blog, travelling, travelling with kids