Preparing For a Long Trip…..
So, you’ve decided to ditch the generic family holiday to invest in some long term travel; so what now?
WARNING: Long and waffling article to follow.
Before setting off to travel Australia- we needed to prepare and make sure we had all of our bases covered. This was going to be our way of life for an extended period of time. We needed to think of everything and make sure that we had tied up all our “loose ends” and of course make sure that financially, a trip like ours was going to be possible.
We are a family of 5 now, but when we first made the decision to ditch the norm of a standard short vacation and instead take some time out of our normal life to explore Australia it was only myself and my partner Jane and 2.5yo son.
The excitement of planning such an extended “new temporary life” was almost as fun as the adventure itself. There was so much to consider, from the fun stuff like where we going to visit and what attractions we will experience right down to the daunting considerations like finances, storage, missing family and how our son was going to cope away from the “norms” of life to which he was accustom to.
The decision to travel was at first a passing idea flighted to humour Jane (to “live like gypsies” was the term I used), but soon it became an idea we actually conceded to be a fantastic opportunity that we could possibly bring to fruition. The idea came about after I received news of an impending redundancy at work and also at a time where we had not yet committed to purchasing our family home (although we had been planning/saving for that). The timing seemed perfect for us, we were renting, I was soon to be unemployed, our son was not yet in school and I had just turned 30 and was looking for a new adventure.
Jane was happy in her job as a childcare worker but was also very excited by the new proposed lifestyle- it didn’t take too much convincing, telling grandma of our plans was a whole other issue though!
Finances were going to be our biggest consideration; my redundancy payout was going to be enough to equip our vehicle and camper and to purchase basic camping gear etc. We had to make a tough decision that if this new life was going to be possible we would have to dip our hand into our savings and sacrifice purchasing our family home for the foreseeable future.
We have a small passive income stream that could help supplement our travel costs but we did need to draw the line and put a firm plan in place to ensure we could afford to travel and have a deadline to complete our journey ( a deadline that has long gone out the window now)- boy have things changed for us !! 2 more kids since then and we have also been on the road 3+ more years than first planned with still no end in sight!
We have had to make a lot of changes along the way including changes to our rig and our finances to accommodate our extended trip and growing family
What did we need to organise before we left, so our ‘home’ existence didn’t disintegrate? Did we make any oversights in the original planning?
As I stated above, we were renting week by week and had no commitments to a mortgage or loans. We were living day to day in our jobs and our situation made it quite easy to simply put our furniture into storage and leave!
We had initially planned to be on the road for 9-12 months, so storing our furniture for that time seemed to make the most sense. However now 3.5 years later we have nearly paid more on storage fees than our furniture is worth. But we could have never predicted extending our travels so it’s just one of those ‘things’ that can happen.
One of our first tasks was to sit down together and make a list up of all our concerns we had. Things like personal security, vehicle breakdown and health were high on the list. The list ended up being quite lengthy with a lot of trivial items but we systematically ‘workshopped’ through them and became confident of overcoming the fears and concerns. Either by better planning or better research or just accepting that we needed to take some risks.
We found telling family and friends about our plans to be a little tricky. Some were very excited by it but some were a little confused and didn’t understand why we would want to give up our comfortable life to live in a camper full time. They thought we were “going backwards” in life by spending our savings, delaying a house purchase and not continuing our careers. To us it was quite the opposite- many people work all their lives and only once they retire do they get to do what we are doing- we are just lucky enough to do it whilst we are young and can take our family along for such a rich experience.
We already owned a 4×4 dual cab and an off-road camper (suitable for our trip) so we only needed to make sure they were up to a satisfactory standard suitable of long term travel and were equipped with all the important stuff like good tyres, fuel storage, reliable UHF and that they were all very mechanically sound as the cost of unexpected repairs in unfamiliar or remote towns were bound to be expensive.
Storage room for all the extra stuff we needed and fuel efficiency of the vehicle were major factors in deciding if our vehicle was suitable.
In addition to our camping gear we only really needed to purchase a few extra things like some more lighting and a new BBQ.
We found that doing a “shake down trip” before we left (a week or 2 of bush camping) a great way to simulate the experience of the new upcoming lifestyle. We treated it like it was our “life” and we made notes of what items would be handy to have in addition to our camp gear. We discussed at length what would work and what wouldn’t in terms of actually living full time in that environment and instead of the novelty wearing off it actually became more exciting for us and the real “departure date” couldn’t come quick enough.
We eventually decided that during the first few weeks on the road we would be in major towns and anything we had forgot to get/bring or needed, we could always purchase along the way. That took a bit stress out of worrying if we had forgotten something.
Looking back now, we reckon we might have ‘overthought’ the whole process in general. The lifestyle is great and far simpler in terms of necessity. My advice is to just make sure you have the basics planned, things like your budget and travel equipment (car/camper/caravan/accessories etc.). Take small steps into starting off, as you become a more confident traveller you can venture further and further and even start getting more remote. If things go pear shape you haven’t over-committed and can turn around easily enough.
What ongoing costs are involved in a long trip that we needed to account for?
After we had sat down and made a spread sheet of all the financial elements we considered to be relevant to our travels it actually didn’t look a whole lot different to our standard household budget.
- We basically substituted our weekly rental fees for caravan park/camping fees. (actually cheaper than renting)
- We no longer had home phone and electricity bills but the saving here was absorbed by the increased fuel costs that come with the extra driving we do and the new cost of doing laundry (until we invested in our own portable washing machine)
- Everything else was pretty much the same. Vehicle registration, insurance, food etc. we would have to pay no matter where we were.
- We needed to also allow an appropriate amount for extra leisure expenses and personal expenses. After all, we planned to visit lots of attractions and great little shops along the way- we needed to make sure we could make the most of it.
- The other extra cost we found was more frequent servicing of the vehicle due to the increased km’s we were doing. And of course the storage fees for our furniture back home.
Like many other people, we use a spread sheet to track and plan our income and expenses. It’s nothing fancy but it allowed us to easily see straight up just how practical our trip was going to be financially. We still use the same spread sheet to track our travels now and we can identify when we need to start being conservative with our spending and possibly seek some budget camping options. (Although the budget camping options are often the best so we don’t mind).
How did we plan our trip? (Choosing destinations, planning route, accommodation, attractions etc)
Our major motive for travelling Australia was to visit a few places that were on our bucket list. The usual touristy places like Uluru, Kakadu and several of the wine regions to name a few. From the start they became the foundation of our plans when it came to deciding on our destinations, route etc. We found this method was the easiest way to start a list and then we could expand the plans and add to the list as we started to research other areas. We used the internet a lot to browse travel websites, forums and travel blogs.
We also found several magazines and travel shows on TV useful in seeing what was on offer. After a few months of making lists etc. we ended up getting rid of the bulk of the places on it and instead opted for taking each day as it comes once we hit the road. We wanted to see as much as we could and realised it was actually impossible to plan with any real confirmed detail. To be honest we found the abundance of information on destinations overwhelming and even a little stressful.
As we hit the road, we would start to research the next area we were visiting both online and at Tourist Information Centres. We also found talking to other travellers one of the best ways of sharing travel tips, great campsites and interesting places to visit. We also ended up finding out that many of our favourite places we came across were found be accident. Our advice is to any future traveller is to limit detailed itineraries and destination planning, but have a basic guide to where you are going. Sit back, smell the roses and let the road take you where you need to go.
But- it’s not quite that simple. An important factor we needed to consider is the harshness of the Australian climate. We needed to plan with some degree to follow the seasons sensibly. To be up in the northern areas during the cooler months and preferably further south during summer. The last thing we wanted to be doing is visiting Darwin just in time for the wet season and risk having our time ruined by cyclones.
Our direction of travel was also determined by our starting point, time of the year and I guess our priorities of what we wanted to see first. We left early March and headed south with the ideal plan to head north in winter. Due to the slow pace we chose to travel we ended up spending the following winter in the far south- very cold and windy. This was not ideal but as we travelled we found so many diversions, extra places to visit and the odd extended stay in some of the nice spots we discovered.
Plenty of hours were spent just staring at various maps and creating hypothetical routes using Hema’s digital mapping software. This is the nerdy side of me coming out but there is something quite hypnotizing about staring at a map and taking in just how much there is to discover and at the same time you try to forget how little time you actually have to see it.
When it came to planning our accommodation options, from the start we were so out of our comfort zone that we concluded we would be staying in mainly caravan parks due to the security and comforts they offer. As time went on we discovered so many other opportunities for camping at many budget campsites around the place. As our confidence in this new life grew, we found ourselves utilising more and more of these budgets camps. Many in fantastic locations and best of all great for the wallet. The Camps 7 function of our Hema HN6 is great for location campsites and caravan parks nearby so when the day comes to an end and we are looking for a spot to camp, a few buttons have us navigating to somewhere we can stay!
Once again, when you have hit the road other travellers are one of the best resources you can use to help plan your trip as you go. We found this to be the case and kept a diary of recommendations we were given for future reference. It’s not uncommon to sit around a fire at night with a beverage and a map sharing campsites! And it’s great fun.
In hindsight we wished we had researched national park passes and caravan park association memeberships in more detail and invested in them sooner. These passes and discount schemes are an effective way of saving money as you travel. It may only be a saving of a little bit each time but during long term travel it sure adds up.
We are glad we discarded the bulk of our detailed planning we started with and opted for a more stress free approach of planning as we went. There are so many variables, diversions and options that it is practically impossible to plan down to every last detail. A bucket lists, a diary and a general direction (and awareness of seasons) are all that we reckon is required- we didn’t want to spoil our trip with a congested itinerary.
What’s the most important thing we have learned about living on the road during our travels?
The most important thing we have gained from living on the road is a new appreciation for simplicity. The ability to get by in day to day life without all the gadgets and luxuries that we thought we could never live without. We get so caught up in consumerism and material items that we tend to over-complicate our lives. It has been very rewarding to get back to basics, learning to improvise with what we have and of course experiencing lots of great things with the family. Things that many kids (and parents) don’t get the opportunity to experience. You only live once!
Favourite place we have visited so far?
QLD and TAS are the 2 states we have not yet visited and we have heard that they both offer some really rewarding sights and experiences. From the places we have visited we would have to say pretty much the whole of north-west coast of WA, Exmouth and Broome being quite high on the list of favourites. However Darwin was fantastic and we both have a soft spot for the Eyre Peninsula. To pick just one place would be impossible.
Links from our website regarding planning:
How much does it cost to travel OZ
Travelling OZ- Clockwise or Anticlockwise
Caravan Park Association Memberships- Yes or NO
Our fears, concerns and 'what if's' of Travel
Below is a list we put together of things we needed to consider- it may be a handy guide for anyone else that is planning a trip such as ours:
(there may be a few things there that you havent considered)
Things we needed to consider before we set off:
The COST’S of travelling and living on the road
- What will the accommodation costs be (what options are available)
- Fuel expenses (especially for remote areas)
- Food expenses
- Phone/Internet plans & coverage (what was the best value for us)
- Car servicing (how often, whats needed, tools to DIY)
- Personal expenses (general)
- Leisure Expenses (set aside a budget for attractions etc)
- Unexpected costs (backup funds or emergency funds)
Other important things to consider
- Mail collection/forwarding (what options are available)
- Insurance (options: car/travel/health etc)
- Will we need Roadside Assistance (we chose NRMA as they offered great advantages)
- Storage Fee’s (for our furniture back home)
- Emergency Contact numbers- a list to have handy just incase
- Vehicle Registrations (legal requirements whilst being interstate, how to renew etc)
- Caravan Park Association Fee’s (we joined FPA and Top Tourist to save 10% off each stay)
- Access to bank accounts and other financial affairs- setting up online banking and getting online statements
Life on the road
- Communication/mobile UHF- what was the best option for us
- Phone Coverage- we went with Virgin (OPTUS) for our everyday phones but bought a cheap Telstra Prepaid Next G for greater range in remote areas (still not 100% coverage tho)
- Water storage- how much do we need? how to store it?
- Fuel Storage- how much will we need?
- Cooking, kitchen utensils- what was essential?
- LPG Storage (safety wise and quantity of LPG to take)
- Clothing- what clothes we needed / how much to take / how to store them (keep them dry, dust free etc)
- Personal Toiletries
- Bedding / Linen
- Lighting and power (battery and 240v options)
- Entertainment / kids toys / books / DVD’s etc
- Food Storage / pantry essentials
- Fridge options
- GPS Navigation
- Road Atlas and digital maps (we chose HEMA because they have the best range)
- Shower and water heating (We chose a HELTON in-vehicle HWS)
- Camera and Charger- we needed to organise another SD card and purchased a 12v battery charger (spare batteries are very handy)
- Laptop Power Supply- we grabbed a 12v Charger from Dick Smith ($80) to use in the car
- Toilet – we use an OZtrail Portable Toilet
- Insect spray / Mozzie coils
- Hygiene and Cleaning (what and how to store chemicals safely)
- Spare ropes, pegs etc
- Tool kit
- Broom / Rake / Spare Tarps / Poles
- Recovery gear, rope, jack, snatch-strap, d-shackles, shovel, air compressor, air jack, torch, tyre repair kit.
- Getting the car serviced and ready for travel pre-trip
- Spare fuel, air and oil filters, coolant, oil, brake fluid, hoses.
- List of filter and brake pad part numbers.
- Security (personal and equipment) Padlocks, chains, spare keys, fire safety etc
- Carrying cash (how to carry and how much)
- Medication/first aid kit
- Fire Extinguisher/Fire Blanket
- Carrying Important documents (what was needed / how to carry without getting wet etc)
- General safety inspection of car and trailer, including tyres, coupling, lights, bearings etc.
- Personal well-being- how would we cope travelling, how well would our kids handle traveling.