I’m Cam and am a single dad to my 9 year old son, Jaiden. We hit the road back in 2012 when Jaiden was 3 and did 18 months on the road. After some damage to our caravan we moved to a rural property in Blackbutt QLD and spent 3 years out there living and loving the rural / farming lifestyle!
The problem was, we both missed travelling.. So mid 2017 I asked Jaiden if he wanted to travel again, he said yes, so we worked our butts off to make it happen and hit the road again late 2017.
Being a single dad, leaving home at 6:15am and getting home at 5:45pm every day was a big struggle, let alone doing it with a child on the Autism spectrum. One day after a particularly hard morning with Jaiden I was sitting on the train and I looked around and saw a bunch of miserable people, I thought to myself “what the f*%k am I doing here? I don’t want to be here doing this!”
Every morning I’d run from Brisbane City to West End and every day the only people who would even acknowledge me were a group of homeless people who lived under a bridge. That particular morning it dawned on me that these people, who have essentially nothing, were the only people who said hello every morning. Not only that, they were always smiling and happy!
A few weeks later I was seeing my counselor and she said to me “If you could wake up tomorrow and do anything, what would you do?” I replied “I dunno, go to the skate park with Jaiden I guess!”, she said “And the day after that?”, I laughed and said “I dunno, take him to the beach or something, all I ever really wanted to be as a child was a good dad”, she looked at me and said “So, why are you going to work fixing computers every day?”
The seed was planted at that moment, 6 months later I’d quit my job, sold everything and hit the road!
Our first travels, I spent 6 months researching the ins and outs of caravans, solar and selling everything to try and raise as much money as I could. Because I was on a budget I had to do all of the 12v and solar work myself, as I was not willing to pay someone to do it!
The second lot of travels, we literally had 6 weeks! We decided to sign another 6 months lease and take the time to find an old caravan, renovate it and hit the road. Three days later we had a “notice to vacate” in the mail as the owner wanted to renovate the house, so we literally had 6 weeks to sell everything we owned and get out!
Given that I knew so much more about caravans before our second travels, I was far more picky when it came to buying a caravan. Given we were on a budget my “wish list” of dual axle, alloy frame, independent suspension and bunks beds was not making my search an easy task! After spending hours and hours each day searching and doing 1000km’s to look at different caravans, we eventually found the perfect van that ticked ALL of our boxes!
Our first travels were really focused on helping Jaiden's social, emotional, sensory and communication issues. By far the biggest joy was when we were in Minnie Waters, I went there with the intentions of desensitizing Jaiden to the ocean. He hated the ocean, the sand, the noise, the size of the ocean, the water coming towards him, the lot.
After 4 weeks of being there and pushing him a little bit further every day, he not only got on the beach, but got on a surfboard and surfed unassisted at a Disabled Surfers Assoc. Open day. It was by far the best day of my life.
5 years on, Jaiden is still wary of the ocean, he still hates the noise, but he’s discovered that there’s a lot of fun to be had in the water so when we arrive at the beach he marches straight towards the water like he owns it!
The biggest challenge is travelling as a solo parent with an ASD child! Whilst it’s far easier these days, overcoming Jaiden’s OCD type routines, his hatred of new people and new places and his sensory issues made our travels pretty tricky to start off with.
Basically, to overcome it I focused less on travelling and focused more on spending time with Jaiden and desensitizing him in the areas he needed the most help. Our life is more about connection and progress rather than ticking off every tourist attraction there is. It’s been 5 years of hard work, but the time I’ve spent helping Jaiden understand the world around him has resulted in him having a better understanding of himself and also helped him overcome many of the issues that he previously had.
We now have no issues going to new places, meeting new people, going to noisy environments or interacting with children. In fact, these are the reasons that he wanted to travel again, he’s literally gone from a child who hated these things, to loving them.
Really, wherever we are we live the same. When we arrive in an area we check out the tourist information centre and find some cheap / free tourist attractions in the area, we connect with local homeschooling groups and we just take each day as it comes! We’re not big into popular touristy areas, we much more prefer the hidden gems that only the locals know about.
We tend to spend a lot more time in rural areas or smaller towns, neither one of us enjoys the hustle and bustle of large cities, we prefer the peace and tranquility!
Jaiden was due to start school at the end of our first travels. He was not quite ready to go to school so I decided to home school him for a year and prepare him to start the following year. Over that year Jaiden thrived and learned so much, that when the end of the year came around I realised that he was doing far better than he would at school in a one on one environment and decided to trial another year, he continued to love it, as did I, so the rest is history!
We’re registered with HEU (In Queensland) and we now do a totally child led approach, also known as unschooling. I quickly discovered that trying to teach Jaiden things that I thought he should know was a good way to make us both miserable. I eventually discovered that using his interests to facilitate his education meant that he was not only more interested, but that his knowledge retention was incredible when he was engaged in the things he was learning.
Jaiden continues to love researching areas of interest and all I need to do is take his questions and “run with it” to ensure he receives a well rounded education that suits his needs and level of comprehension.
What surprised me the most is how many Grey Nomadders say to me “Oh that’s fantastic! We wish we did it with our kids instead of waiting until retirement”. It really re-affirmed my decisions because working away Jaiden's childhood and waiting until I am 65 to do the things I want to do, seems totally absurd when you think about it.
Our 3 pieces of advice are:
1. Don’t be in a hurry! I see so many people who head off travelling and go all out, covering many hundreds and even thousands of km’s every week without allowing their children (and them!) time to settle into their new lifestyle. Going from schooling and living in a house to spending 24/7 with their family in a confined space is a huge change for children and it does take some time to adjust. I think it’s very important for families who are setting off for long term travels to spend at least a few weeks adjusting to their new life and connecting as a family. Rather than rushing to see all of the tourist attractions, spend some quality together as a family, it’s those happy times as a family you’ll remember most! I also think the same applies for people families who are taking short trips. I’d suggest covering less km’s, seeing less and spending more time relaxing and enjoying just being together!
2. Encourage your kids to step up and take on responsibility. Be it simple things like taking the rubbish out, collecting firewood or assisting with cooking & cleaning or more complicated tasks like budgeting, tracking fuel usage, planning journeys, checking tire pressures, assisting when hitching up, winding down caravan legs, checking brake lights, oil levels etc. I think it’s important for children to understand that travelling is a team effort. Whilst it may not seem that way to the uninitiated, there’s actually a lot of hard work that goes into travelling full time and anything that your children can do will lighten your load as a parent whilst having the added benefit of teaching them the value of teamwork. Being that I am a solo Dad, Jaiden has a huge about of responsibilities, but he also understands that there’s only one of me so any time he spends doing jobs to help me out means we have more time together to do the things we enjoy.
3. Do it! You don’t have to have a $100k setup to hit the road, we drove away for less than $20k, car, caravan, solar, modifications, everything. We have no savings and live on less than $500 a week by travelling slowly, eating cheaply, free camping, doing free / cheap attractions and treating it as a lifestyle, not a holiday! It can be very disconcerting looking at some travel pages where people are spending huge amounts of money on a setup and spending upwards of $1000 a week to travel. If you take your time and enjoy the lifestyle rather than trying to do and see everything it really can be done quite cheaply, in fact for us it’s far cheaper to live on the road than it is in a rental property.
Jaiden has totally changed as a child and it still blows me away how far he’s come. It’s been amazing for his confidence and he really is a totally different child. I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined he’d progress as far as he has.
For me, my morals, values and goals in life have done a total 180. I love the simple life with very little possessions, I love meeting new people, inspiring others to follow in our footsteps and love the experiences Jaiden and I have together, both good and bad.
I no longer have a nice car, nice furniture or a healthy bank account, but what I do have is an amazing life whereby I value each and every day with Jaiden, as these are years I’ll never get back.
Just do it! Life’s short, we’ve only got one chance to watch our kids grow up and spend these years with them. I miss my financial security, I miss my “nice” stuff, but I’m not missing the best years of Jaiden’s life, these are the years that money can’t buy back. I’d far prefer to be working into old age and spending these years, in my prime, doing the things I want to do. Nobody knows when their time is up, we’re not all going to live well into our old age..
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