TAWK Featured Family 
'Single Mum Camping'

1.   About you

We are the 'SingleMumCamping' family – otherwise known as Fiona (Mum, 33), Elly (5), and Leila (2).  We live in rural Victoria on a little farm at the top of the Pyrenees Ranges.  We travel in an almost 20 year old tiny Rav 4, which is not ideal, but unfortunately it’s all we can afford!  I do hope to save up to buy a GQ Patrol over the next few years.  We camp in a combination of instant up tent, roof top tent & annex or swags, depending on the occasion.

We are not on the road full time, but we take off as often as we can, for overnighters or weekenders in the local region (within 200km). I hope that we will be able to do longer touring now that we are getting a better set up and as Leila gets older.   Elly is in her first year at school this year, and is thriving on the focus and stimulation, as well as being in her third year at dance school.  Leila has only just finished toilet training which makes life so much easier and will be in 3 year old kindy next year, so still have some early years to get through before we can truly manage some decent touring stints!  I really want both of them to have a good grip on reading and writing before I consider taking on touring that might eat into school terms.

2.   Why did you make your decision to TAWK?

As a child we spent a month every year down at Port Campbell on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria.  Also spent 5 years following the karting race circuit around Victoria, camping at all the tracks.  Honestly, these were the best times of my childhood.  I loved the freedom, the exploring, the open spaces and the fresh air.  The ferocity of a squall bashing against the cliff tops, the patterns in rocks from the earth and from the ocean, the shapes of the land formed by rock movements millions of years ago, the hugeness of big sky country.... these are the things I want to pass on to my kids. 

3.   How did you get organised and how did you prepare?

I knew Elly would be wanting privacy as she is a shy child, so I definitely had to get a tent where she could get changed and have a play area inside if she didn’t feel safe to venture outside.  I also wanted a tent that was designed in a way that the kids couldn’t sneak out without getting past me.  So I bought a three room tent with a single entrance, a room for the kids, a room to change and toilet and keep ‘stuff’ in, and my room. 

We had lots of backyard camping at first, as the kids got more and more comfortable with sleeping away from their bedrooms, but as they improved we ventured out further into free camping.  At their early age, sleeping bags with their favourite cartoon characters on them really helped build the enthusiasm! 

After a few big storms meant constant repairs to that tent, I ended up cracking it and deciding to buy a new tent.  So, whilst researching what to buy I noticed a lack of information out there about whether different tents were manageable by one person, how heavy they were to load, how much room they’d take up in a vehicle with child car seats, all that kind of stuff. 

That’s how SingleMumCamping was born!  I ended up buying a Coleman Instant Up 8 person tent, as it had two rooms so the girls could have their own ‘bedroom’ and I’d still have a good space of my own for changing and shelter and storage of all our bags.  The quick set up is great, and I’m frequently leaving campers flabbergasted both at my polite refusals to their offers of help, and at my quick set up and pack up times! 

I then decided to get a roof top tent as we had committed to touring up to Birdsville for the Big Red Bash.  This would be just over 2 weeks of touring, a different place to sleep every night.  Even the instant tent was looking daunting, despite its ease of use!  The roof topper allows us to keep our bedding set up and saves a lot of packing space as well as set up time.  Although, the kids are very determined to sleep up top with me, instead of down in the annex where I prefer, as the 2 year old is still iffy with ladder climbing. 

4.  What has been your biggest joy?

My kids’ excitement when they first saw the ocean and played on the beach.  I’m a sea-baby myself, and that meant a lot to me, especially as we don’t get down to the ocean that much living inland.

5. What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

I have two biggest challenges – first of all was money, and still is.  As a single parent money is ALWAYS an issue without having a partner to share the bills and expenses with.  I’m working two jobs, and pay a fortune in childcare to do so, so things take a LONG time to save up for!  Patience was never one of my virtues either.

The other challenge would be confidence.  Having not that big a group of close friends, and certainly not many that are interested in camping, I had nobody to really go with, and many of the ones that do are married, so there’s a feeling of being an intruder or the misfit, the odd one out.  Camping on your own with kids is such a huge challenge to take on too, and while dads are often congratulated for doing things like this with their kids, mums are often judged, “you’re doing that on your own? Are you sure you’ll manage? Is that even safe?” which does not help with the confidence at all! 

Eventually, I got angry... Why should I go without, because I don’t fit in, or because I’m not of the ‘stronger’ gender?  Why should my kids miss out, because I don’t have the big group of friends to do this with?  I’ve always camped, and I’ve always been self-sufficient, and I manage to care for my kids on my own at home, why wouldn’t I be able to manage whilst out and about?  I decided that I would bust my guts to make this happen again, and give my kids the very best of the world that I possibly could, no matter what.  And I’m so grateful I did!  No looking back now!

6.   Where have you enjoyed the most?

Johanna’s Beach, Great Ocean Road, Victoria.  Last time I stayed there I rolled out the swag on the lookout instead of staying in the campground.  At the time I had a bed made up in the back of my ute under the tonneau cover so I could sleep anywhere and everywhere, but putting the swag out on the lookout platform like that was AMAZING.  Hearing those waves thundering below me, smelling that salty air all night, and feeling some of the sea mist on my face as I slept was out of this world. 

7.   Where disappointed you the most?

Princeton, Apostles Caravan Park, Great Ocean Road.  This was my first venture out camping with the kids.  There were many things about that trip that made it painful, but that was more about the learning curve of camping with kids.  The most disappointing bit was that I’d booked there because they gave me permission to bring my dogs, and then kicked us out the very first morning because the dogs barked while I had the kids in the shower block and the baby was crying. 

Of course the dogs were barking, they were worried about the baby crying, they didn’t know what was going on!  But that put me off for a whole year, that trip.  Was SUCH a let down.  How do you explain to your toddler daughter that their holiday is cancelled because we were kicked out for doing what we’d specifically gotten permission for?  And because of the dogs, we were not able to find another place to camp for the rest of that week due to the entire Port Campbell National Park being so protected.

8.   What surprised you most about the trip?

It surprises me constantly that so many places that were free in my childhood are now charged.  It surprises me constantly that along the Great Ocean Road you are not even allowed to take a power nap in your car or you will be fined for ‘camping in your vehicle’. 

9.   What would be three pieces of advice to give to a future TAWKer?

  1. For those in the colder climates:  Snow boots will keep your kids (and you) as comfortable as if you were in hiking boots, as well as dry because they are waterproof, and soooooo warm!  Don’t forget your beanie or your rain jackets.  Keeping those kids warm is one of the biggest challenges I find!
  2. Find the easiest and lightest set-up possible for your needs.  Why, why, why make your job harder than it needs to be?  Forget that ‘it’s not camping unless you’re roughing it’ attitude.  That’s well and good for people without kids to run around after.  The less time you have setting up and packing up, connecting gas bottles and lanterns and bbqs, erecting tarps and bunks and whatever else you get, the less time you have to enjoy and relax, and the more you’ll find yourself stressing out and not looking forward to the next trip.
  3. Look to the serious tourers, bikers and hikers when choosing your gear.  They are the ones who require the lightest, and most compact set ups, with least amount of fussing around.  Retailers won’t always give you that information, they’ll sell you whatever they can, looking forward to seeing you again when you figure out that something else would do a better job later on and they get an extra sale.

10.   How do you think that this adventure has changed your family?

Before getting back into camping, we were run down and exhausted, a jaded little family, and often so fed up with cabin fever at home and sick of each other’s company that my eldest daughter and I would be constantly at odds.  Now, we spend so much more time outside, even if only at home or in the ranges across the road, collecting rocks, having picnics, exploring tracks, picking wildflowers, looking for koalas, climbing logs, the kids singing out to hear their echoes, there’s really not much time to argue amongst ourselves anymore! 

The kids are so excited to see the sand in the desert, and have made me promise that I’ll take them to camp in the snow one day!  They’ve taken this on with an amazing ferocity and truly enjoy exploring out in the bush, I’ve not heard one complaint about camping yet – even in the cold Victorian winter nights!  I can’t wait to see how much more they’ll grow as they experience more and more of Australia and it’s people.

To follow us and hear more about our journey please visit our Facebook Page - I look forward to seeing you over there.

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