We are the Pronk family. I am on maternity leave and we thought it was a great opportunity to do something different and travel as a family. We are travelling Australia for 9 months in our 17ft Jayco freedom pop top, with our two sons ages 2 and 9 months. With such young children we made the decision to stick east to limit the amount of driving we had to do with the kids. We spent almost 6 months in QLD and are currently (Dec 2015) in SA on our way to explore VIC before returning home.
The decision to TAWK started as a bit of a laugh. I was around 30 weeks pregnant with our youngest and one night we joked about how fun it would be to travel while I was on maternity leave. My partner became a stay at home dad when I returned to work with our eldest, so the timing was perfect. We thought it would be a great way to spend time as a family. Three weeks later we bought a caravan and headed off when our baby was seven weeks old.
Getting organized in such a short time with a new baby was tough. We had a very limited budget as we didn't want to borrow money to do the trip. We were lucky that we bought a second hand caravan which came with absolutely everything, including linen and crockery. We added a few extras so we were free camp ready then figured the rest out on the road.
We listed our house for rent and as soon as we secured a tenant, did a massive clean out, put our stuff in storage, literally threw our clothes in the van and left. We didn't even have time for a trial run in the van.
Every one always asks what the best thing about doing this trip is and we can never pin point just one. As a young family we have appreciated being able to spend so much time with the kids. Each day we wake up together, and we have had so many adventures I can't even remember them all. Even though the kids are young, they are learning so much, and the time we spend as a family is invaluable.
We have seen so many incredible places that we never knew existed, and met a lot of wonderful people on the way. It's really opened our eyes to how fantastic Australia is and how much there is to see.
Where do we start? Sleep deprivation, having kids in the car a lot, not being able to put the baby down outside because of dust/dirt, no personal space, washing, no adult time, not visiting that museum because the kids have a tantrum, letting go of material possessions etc.
Travelling with young kids is really hard at times. It took us a while to adjust, relax and just go with it. About 5 months in we had a 'mini break' from the van while my partner picked up some work for a few weeks and we visited family which has given us the energy to keep going. Now we often get in the car and don't even know where we will stop that night!
You have difficult days in on the road, just as you do in a house, though the beauty of being on the road is you can pack up and leave at any given time. We are at the tail end now though, and starting to get homesick.
Each destination is beautiful in its own way. Australia has so much variety on offer it's hard to pick a favorite place. That said, we really loved the dinosaur triangle and Longreach in western QLD. The locals were so passionate and welcoming, and as we grew up and live on the coast, it was unlike anything we had ever experienced before.
Nothing has really disappointed us but the two most frustrating things are the cost of caravan parks, including some that want to charge for young kids and just general frustrations travelling with young kids. (That's why we started the TAWKer Supporter Program - TAWK).
We try to free camp where possible to stretch out our budget and to allow us to spend money in the towns we visit. The other big frustration is that we have missed out on a lot of museums/activities like scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef because the kids are so young. We tend to plan our activities around what the kids want which is fine, it's what works for our family, but the age of the kids has definitely impacted what we do, we often joke we are on a playground tour of Australia!
Given our trip happened very quickly we were lucky that we didn't have many expectations, therefore we haven't had many surprises. I think the most surprising thing is just how much there is to see. I am however, in constant amazement about how many roads exist in this country, there are amazing little towns and natural wonders to explore everywhere.
1. Do it! Life is short. If you work smart you can position your family financially to TAWK. Think outside the box. You don't have to sell everything, buy an expensive caravan and 4wd and travel. We were lucky I had such fantastic maternity leave, but you can also look at a shorter trip using long service leave, or rent your house out, work on the road etc. There are thousands of ways to TAWK. Kids benefit so much from the experiences on the road, and it definitely makes the family unity closer.
2. Let go of your expectations. My whole life I have wanted to see the Daintree Rainforest, and was expecting something grand and primitive. When we got there I was surprised at the amount of development. It wasn't so much disappointing, just not what I expected. After that experience I learnt to let go of my expectations and I have never looked back. Expectations often lead to disappointment, if you have none, you will adjust to life on the road a bit easier.
3. Trust your instincts. If a campsite doesn't feel right, don't stay. If you feel like you should stay longer, stay. On the road you make the plans, you don't have be anywhere at a specific time. There have been a few places we have pulled into that we didn't feel safe, or it didn't feel right with the kids, so we kept going. Even if just one member of the family feels uncomfortable, the whole family won't enjoy it.
I don't think this adventure has necessarily changed our family, we were always close, but I guess now close has a new meaning. We have had more time and adventures as a family than we could ever imagine, some good, some not so, but on the whole, it has been an amazing opportunity and we are glad we did it.
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