In 2018, Nikki, Steve and their two children Rylee and Kensie, ages 7 and 8, sold their house and businesses, packed up their things and hit the road on the adventure of a lifetime around Australia. We spoke to Nikki to learn more about what it’s like travelling with kids and how the journey has changed their outlook on life.
Tell us a little bit about your family.
There are four of us, me, hubby and two girls. My husband works in oil and gas. I was working in a photography business that we sold before we left. The girls are into everything, they’ve got lots of energy. They were very excited about going travelling. We’re just a normal family I guess and we got to the point where we were working a lot and we started to wonder why.
We lived on 6 acres and we decided to sell that first. That was the first decision because it was just too much. The property was too big and it was just a lot to maintain. We couldn’t decide what to do and thought, well, if we’re going to be debt free we could just sell the businesses and go. We’d talked about it for about 10 years and we were probably not going to get another opportunity to do it while the kids were young. It worked out perfectly I think.
What inspired you to take the trip around Australia specifically?
Before kids, we’d already done a lot of travelling around the world. You see other people travelling Australia and you think, well we could do that. There were so many places that neither of us had seen. And we thought, why not? Everyone else is doing it!
How did the kids feel when you told them about it?
I think initially they didn’t want to leave school or friends. We sold it to them by talking about all the adventures we would have. We helped them plan things and research places they wanted to go and see as well. It was a lot of change, we were selling our house, leaving school, leaving everyone. But I think once the initial shock wore off they were quite excited to hit the road. Then when we bought the caravan, it became a lot more real and it all started happening.
Had you done much caravanning before?
Not really caravanning, we’ve always done camping. Before kids we just had a little 3 man tent. Obviously once we had kids we upgraded, I think we had a Jayco Pop Top at one stage and tents in between. We’d just never done the caravan. It was definitely very comfortable, a lot more comfortable than the Jayco Pop Top.
How long did you go for?
We planned on going for 12 months but we ended up going for 18. We left in December, 2019 and then by the following March COVID had happened. So our plan sort of went out the window and it was more about working out which borders were open and where we could go. We decided to extend it a little bit so we could do more.
What was the plan when you left? How did it change?
Our plan was really to do a loop and go clockwise around Australia because we were going to go and spend Christmas in Victoria with family and then go from there. I think when we left Victoria and started heading across there were some whispers about COVID. We thought we’d be fine and just kept going. We got all the way across to Lucky Bay in WA and that’s when they started talking about closing borders. My husband was doing FIFO while we travelled and while he was gone, we’d just stay put for a couple of weeks and catch up on school work. But with the prospect of him being stuck in WA and not being able to get back to work, we weren’t quite sure how that would go. And obviously he was bringing in our income.
We waited for a couple of weeks because we have family in Perth. We sat trying to work out what to do and ultimately decided to head home. We ended up driving all the way back to Queensland and we literally got through the border about an hour before it closed! It was crazy.
We had a very long drive and there’d been a lot of talk about people not being very receptive to travelling families or travellers coming through their little towns. Queensland in particular had started up a Facebook group for people either trying to bunker down somewhere or get home. As we came through the very bottom corner of Queensland, there were a couple of little towns where we had commented on this Facebook group and people actually came out and waved and had put teddy bears up for the kids. It was just so nice. But it was a crazy drive to get back. It was about 5 continuous days of driving. I think that traumatised the kids a bit. After that we just sat still for a good couple of months until the dust settled a bit. Which was fine, we were up at the Gold Coast and then Noosa after that. We stayed in caravan parks that were always booked out normally so that was really nice.
As soon as the Northern Territory opened up we just bolted for the border. Then we came straight down the middle, visited the Red Centre and came down to Adelaide again. While we were in Adelaide, Tasmania decided to open their border so we bolted for Tasmania and free-camped there for 3 months. After that, we decided it was time to come home. In the end, really the only place we didn’t get to do properly was WA because they kept opening and closing their borders every 5 minutes. We thought we’d wait for another time and do that in one trip.
What were some of the challenges you faced on the road?
The first month we had lots of challenges. We packed too much! I think we culled about 3 tonnes worth in the first 6 weeks. You just don’t know what you need until you’re on the road. We were also falling over each other for the first 4 weeks because we’d gone from 6 acres to this caravan so we were figuring out our space.
Really, the biggest challenges were border closures, figuring out where to go and understanding how people felt about travelling families at that time. Most people were pretty good but we went through some little towns and they were really cautious. Some were restricting whether you could buy groceries unless you were local. Which I could understand but it made it a little bit harder for us to get food when we were out in the middle of nowhere.
What were some of the highlights?
Tasmania was a highlight, we were free camping all the time and the places you can camp there are just crazy. If it were Queensland, they’d be charging $100 a night. We went on a boat ride near Hobart and it was next level, it was amazing. The cliffs were like something from Jurassic Park, there were dolphins swimming alongside us and baby seals.
Driving up to Cape York was also incredible. We left the caravan in Cairns and then drove up and swagged it all the way up. We stayed in the Daintree in an eco house so we did the drive up and then just relaxed for a week. It was a big beautiful house in the middle of the rainforest and there were no walls, it was all open. That was a really cool experience.
Coober Pedee, apart from all the flies, was a really great experience too. We camped underground with our swags!
How did you tackle school?
The first month was hard because we were putting pressure on ourselves to do everything. Our oldest daughter has dyslexia so that made it tricky. Although, it was actually really good for us to get a first account of how she learns. Once we relaxed a bit we’d sit down and do some activities a couple of days a week. We’d enrolled them in a program and it was really flexible. We would just buy two activities at a time. I had a printer with me for work so we would print out what we wanted to do.
Depending on where we were, we would go and see something and then do a project on it or tie it in rather than just doing book work. That was really cool. They helped with meal planning and would plan the next week of travel, rather than sitting down to do 5 hours of school work. Once we got our heads around the fact that we didn’t have to do traditional school work it was a lot easier and the kids were a bit more receptive as well.
What impact do you think the trip had on kids? How do you think it has changed them?
I think they were always really open kids before. They would go up and talk to anyone but the trip just increased that a bit more. If we arrive somewhere they’ll go straight up to the kids, introduce themselves and ask to play.
It was just a really good experience overall, to help them understand that not everyone has everything we have as well. And that you can survive with almost nothing! When we came back I think we were all really overwhelmed with how much stuff we had. We got rid of a lot of stuff before we left but we still came back thinking, what do we need all this stuff for?
What has the return to normal life been like?
We all reacted to it differently. My husband, before we even got back, had already started planning how we were going to buy the house and the car and he was 10 steps ahead of me. The kids were excited to come back to school, see their friends and do all the normal stuff.
I think I struggled with it the most because life has always been busy for us and after a year and a half off, I didn’t want to go back to being busy again. We came back though with an understanding of what we didn’t want life to be like. As much as we’ve gone back to being busy we still try to focus on spending time together and going on adventures. We’re still trying to get out and do things. There’s still a lot of Queensland we want to see. It makes you come back with a different perspective of how you want your life to be and what’s important.
What tips do you have for other families thinking about taking time out to travel Australia?
Stop making excuses and figure out how to make it work. I don’t think you’ll ever regret it. It’s where you can have one-on-one time with your kids. I would definitely recommend it. If you’re FIFO, do the FIFO thing. If you have to save for a certain amount of years, then do it.
It was just a really great experience. You meet lots of people out there doing the same thing. When we set off I thought it would be a bit isolating but we met so many people with the same mindset or the same reasons for being out there. There’s just so much to see as well. You could do another lap and still not see everything. I think we’re planning, post-children, to do another lap. Just go out and do it, it’s the best thing ever!