We are a pretty regular family - or we once thought we were! Now we are living life on the road travelling Australia on what we call our 'Family Gap Year'. I'm Leigh and I'm the organised one. I cook the dinners, home school the girls and do ALL the driving. My wife Yas is a superwoman! She was hesitant to let go and say 'yes' to the dream of travelling the country as she loves to work! She's loyal to her employer and had this huge sense of guilt when it came time to resign from her role. She loved her job, her team and her boss, so when she came clean and organised a coffee to break the news to him, he was genuinely excited for our family. He's one of those rare people you meet in life, which I guess is why Yas was struggling to leave.
Anyway, long story short, Yas was offered the opportunity to continue working while we travel if she thought it could work and wouldn't disrupt our plans. Yas literally jumped at the chance and was on board stronger than ever. Originally the plan was to work part-time reduced hours and reduced capacity, but after a month on the road, Yas was more effective than she could ever dream of being in the office and she has continued in her full-time capacity as we travel. The work gets done literally anywhere and anytime' and both Yas and her office are happy with the flexible arrangement. We're all loving it and couldn't imagined something so incredible to evolve from it. We all think that Yas is working in Australia's most flexible role!!
Layla and Libby are our darling girls and when we left for our adventure, they were aged 8 and 9. They are true besties, although complete opposites when it comes to most things. One is spirited and pedantic, fussy and free, strong willed, sporty, determined and academic, yet lacking any desire to please others or make effort unless she's going to personally benefit from it. She dreams of life running a business, living in a mansion, having 5 children, servants and a husband that does everything for her.
The other is calm and nourishing to all that she meets, she has emotional intelligence higher than most adults we know. She is caring, soft, loving and generous. She wants nothing more than to make other people happy, including giving away everything she owns to help strangers. She doesn't understand why we have war in the world, she wants everyone to get along and is a true peace keeper. Libby would give away her last dollar to help someone else and she has a soul worth bottling. She dreams of life on a farm in a cottage with very few possessions taking care of anyone who needs her help and working for her sister on her property.
We travel Australia in Larry the Landcruiser (100 series) and our Crusader Family van, which we purchased secondhand from another family who did the big lap.
A few years ago we promised the girls that we would one day travel around Australia in a caravan for a Family Gap Year. In September last year (2015) we had our place on the market so we could move closer to where the girls were going to school. The plan was to sell our house and then move into the catchment close enough so we could all walk to school. It's something Yas and I did as children and it's something we have always wanted to do for ours. When we sold the house, our youngest daughter Libby (7 at the time) said to us in a huff......"If we buy a new house now, we're never going to go on that trip around Australia that you promised are we?"
Well that hit us like a tonne of bricks and we pretty much looked at each other and said "can we?". Yas bought me a copy of "The Big Lap" DVD for my 40th, which was December 2014, but it literally sat in our cupboard still sealed up. On the very night Libby called us on the promise, we all sat down and started watching the DVD to see whether or not this trip was something we could actually do together. After watching a couple of episodes that night, then the remaining over the during of the next few days, we knew it was time.
Within a week we began the planning and started bringing it all together. It was October 2015 and we wanted to leave Boxing Day 2015! We didn't own a caravan, our 4WD (Toyota Prado) didn't have the capacity to tow a family van and we were due to move out of our sold family home of 9 years to live with Yas's sister and her family until the time came for us to go!!! I run a very organised house, we literally plan most things and our family doesn't usually just jump into something without methodical thought, spreadsheeting and planning - but this felt so right and we knew that it was a 'now or never' thing for us.
Our preparation was very unlike us. No spreadsheets, no structure, no real plan. We knew we needed a caravan and it didn't take us long to dismiss a campervan and a pop-top option. We figured that if we were going to do this, we would do it in 'style', with all the creature comforts and the least amount of work to setup and move. A shower and toilet were a must and we literally just hit the forums, the websites and anywhere else we could gather information to help us work out how to do this thing.
The family time together has been our biggest joy overall so far, but more specifically, reaching the Summit of Cradle Mountain together has been a HUGE highlight. We originally planned to climb on Yas's 40th birthday in January, but the fires throughout Tassie kept us away from that region. So we set out at the end of February and prepared the girls for a walk of somewhere between 6-8 hours. We knew the Summit was possible as we're all reasonably fit, but with an 8 and 9 year old, you never know.
It was a cloudy cold and wet start to the day and about 5 hours into it, we realised that we had missed one of the signs (it was covered in fog) and consequently we walked about an hour beyond where we needed to be to hit the Summit. Yas and I decided to keep our cool and trek back with a view to still climb the Summit. When we got to the base of the 3hr return climb, we made a decision to give it a go, even thought it would mean that we wouldn't reach the Summit until 5pm........
Long story (and long day) short, we made it back to the car park at almost 9pm, it was just getting dark and we conquered the Summit together. It was incredible! The girls didn't complain once, despite our almost 12 hour day!! We have never felt more joy as a family and we were treated to a special wildlife show on the drive back to our van, with a Tassie Devil cub running out in front of our car and keeping us all smiling as we watched it scoot around for about 30 seconds before it ran back into the bushes. We were VERY glad to be back in the car!!
Our biggest challenge has been the schooling. We home school the girls via HEU (Home Education Unit) and I started the school year by trying to run it like school, with a 'start time' etc. I even had alarms set for morning tea and lunch times - but that failed miserably. The kids struggled, we had arguments about it and one daughter in particular was really disabled by the whole thing. In the end, we now go with the flow with the schooling. The girls spend some time each day in text books, we do projects, excursions, they participate in all things related to the caravan and they are learning more on the road than they ever would by sitting in the classroom back at home.
We really enjoyed Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. We didn't have the best day in terms of weather and we even botched the directions and ended up on the trails for way more hours than we'd hoped for, however the accomplishment of the climb plus the things that didn't go right made it a very special day for all of us.
As for the most disappointing, to date it would be some of the marque national parks; while the parks themselves are often quite spectacular, the turn-up fees are nothing short of ridiculous. A classic example is Wilson's Prom in VIC at $57 per night unpowered, another was the Warrumbungles in NSW at $48 per night unpowered and finally Carnarvon Gorge in QLD for another, again at $50 per night unpowered. Now there even appears to be a class divide on camping and that unfortunately is sad.
We checked out the School of Distance Education and the Home Education and for us the decision to go with the Home Education Unit was easy because it gave us more flexibilty. Distance Ed required the kids to be online at certain times during each school day and given our entire trip was so impromptu, it was hard to guarantee that system would work for us. Instead the relative school when and where you like concept of Home Education worked much better and they even provided templates to help would-be travellers like us appy in a fuss-free manner. It wasn't all plain-sailing, but it was an easy enough process.
There was way more to do than expected. Yas and I thought we'd have heaps of spare time on our hands given we weren't working as much and the kids weren't doing their normal schooling and activities and had planned to get extra "stuff" done while on our travels. We soon realised that that wasn't the case and the extra duties of navigation in a big rig (we're now a 15m long articulated vehicle weighing 6.5t), where to camp, setting up, packing down, where to do school and work, where to get food, etc quickly consumed all this expected spare time. It was actually a bit exhausting when we first set off because everything was new.
While we're still doing it at the moment it's probably a little harder to see the changes, I'm seeing that our girls are showing more independence than when they were at home in Brisbane. Things that we used to do for them just to get it done quickly, we now have the time to allow them to do themselves. Basic things like making food, putting stuff away, washing, drying and putting away the dishes (not many caravans have dishwashers) are now able to be done completely autonomously by the girls which is satisfying to watch. Additionally they are keen to help with more advanced tasks like cooking family meals at night, building fires, they can even now put up a tent by themselves, which is awesome to see.
It takes a massive amount of courage to do a trip like this, but it's worth it. It makes absolutely no sense to uproot yourself from your comfortable, sensible, everyday lives, but you will see sense in it after a while. It's a real life adventure, just like you see in movies and books, except you and your family are the stars.
We invite you to continue to follow our travels on our Facebook page - see you there!
If you think you'd like to turn your family travel blog into a little online business then this video will give you food for thought.