What does "living the simple dream" mean to me?

I always hear people from our generation saying "Ahh, living the dream" when they are doing somthing our of the ordinary - for example: sipping cocktails in a spa of a fancy resort or perhaps they post "living the dream" as the caption beneath a photo of them moving into their new $500,000+ mansion-esque home they have just mortgaged their life away for. At first I was confused by how simple my ambitions were. All I wanted was to live in a caravan and be able to spend as much time enjoying the outdoors with my husband and son, without my husband having to be at work all the time. So for me, this became my simple dream. I find myself having those "Ahh living the dream" moments when I am sitting in a natural hot spring with my husband and son, drinking a beer, ten feet away from a crocodile infested river. Now mine, my husbands and my sons life is all about chasing our simple dream.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Our Year In Review

Our Year in Review
This year has not been without its up’s and downs. We have had a massive year that has seen us cover a lot of kilometres and experience a lot of personal growth. With this thought in mind I figured now would be a great time to review the past year and what it has brought to our lives.

The beginning of this year was an extremely difficult time for us. After my husband lost his father and brother to a car accident in September last year life became extremely hard and downright sad. My husband (understandably) experienced grief and depression as a result of this horrible loss and he found it extremely difficult to go back to work around Christmas time. After MANY frustratingly unsuccessful attempts to ease back into our old life (which involved Brent working away from home for upto 9 days/nights at a time) we realised we were fighting a losing battle. We were already working towards a life on the road (and had been for a while) so we decided to just start our new life a little early.

We purchased our caravan and moved into it. We spent the next few months travelling with our van between family and friends places on the east coast trying to spend as much time with them as possible. We went to Mackay and enjoyed a weekend on an island with our very close friends, spent weeks at Grafton relaxing at my mothers’ house, and visited our family and friends on the Central Coast for some much needed socialising. We used this time to move into and settle into our van, develop our own routine for life inside the van and to relax, calm down after the hectic past six months and day dream about our future adventures.
My beautiful God-daughter/Niece Kaylle (and me!)

During April and May we spent a lot of time on the Central Coast of NSW. We used this time to make some new memories with both our family before we would head off and not see them for a year or more.  During this time I worked for a short period, in my sister’s bakery while she prepared to have her second baby (My god-daughter Kaylee) and we basically soaked up as much as we possibly could of the time our friends and family were able to give us. This was a beautiful way for Brent to connect with his mother, his brothers and his cousins by enjoying a lot of social, fun together and reminiscing about all of their beautiful childhood memories. This experience played such a huge part in Brent being able to take this adventure as he really needed some quality time with his family after the tragedy and before heading off for our adventure. (We lived in the van full time during this entire period)
First stop Dubbo!

At the start of June we began the first leg of our adventure into the unknown. We left the Central Coast and headed straight to Dubbo. This was such an exciting time for us and it felt amazing to be on the road experiencing new towns, beautiful sunsets and sun rises and just enjoying each other’s company. We knew from the first second we hit the highway that we had definitely made the right choice and that this was the lifestyle for us. During this month we experienced so many new places and experiences heading  West across NSW, through places like Dubbo, Cobar and Broken hill, then into South Australia.
Zac on Ayers Rock (and I kind of captured some elses family photo happening too if you look up and to the left of Zac, lol, oops!)

During this time we headed from Port Augusta STRAIGHT up the Centre of Australia. We had our first experiences of the outback, went to Ayers Rock and Alice Springs (and everywhere else). All this time we were becoming happier, more relaxed and loving our lifestyle ore and more by the moment every day. We became closer, changed as people, developed new interests and habits and found new friends and “home towns” we would love to stay at for longer down the track. During this time we did of course experience (and work through) intense and difficult emotions related to the loss of Brent’s brother and father, but we worked through everything together and made sure to give each other support, comfort, love and time to ourselves when needed. We experienced massive internal growth and somehow managed to ‘get our happy back’ as my friend Rhiannon would say!
Brent and I watching the sunset of Mindil Beach

We realised when we got to Darwin that our finances were starting to disagree with our plans of further travel and that we would need to stop and work. Brent had a job lined up but unfortunately it wasn’t what we expected and they wanted him to sign a one year contract (which we weren’t comfortable doing) so we made the crazy, impromptu decision to continue down the West coast and out to Kalgoorlie for another job opportunity. Brent quickly lined up a job in Kalgoorlie and unfortunately this heavily dictated the pace of our trip down the West coast. We didn’t get to experience a lot of WA (not Darwin, Kakadu etc.) but coming out to Kalgoorlie was definitely a great decision as it will fund our further travels. We settled into a caravan park in Kalgoorlie in September (after a 4 day trip to Esperance) and enjoyed a visit from my mum!  Brent started work in September and later in September/October we had a visit from Brent’s mum! Both times it was so wonderful to see familiar faces and spend quality time with our mums.
Brent and Zac at the Kalgoorlie St Barbaras Day parade where a massive dump truck drives through town

During the last three months we have been living in our van in Kalgoorlie while Brent works a “seven days on, four days off” roster in the Super Pit mine. It has been a little difficult for us to get used to not spending every moment of every day having fun together but we understand that this lifestyle requires hard work! Brent has adapted really well to going back to work, especially at a mine where he does not have to spend his nights sleeping away from home in order to work there. Brent is enjoying his job and regaining a lot of his lost confidence in himself by being there. I started back at uni (via correspondence) after deferring for the past year to support Brent emotionally and physically. I a finding it a little difficult to get back into it as I over-aimed and signed on for fulltime despite having our 3 year old son Zac at home with me full time. I am now looking forward to finishing up for the year, taking the first term off and then only doing part tie each term after.

We have spend a massive part of the last few weeks sorting through our van and dramatically downsizing our belongings (and donating them to charity). We have had a busy end to the year with Brent working and me trying to complete the uni term as well as be at home with Zac but we have definitely enjoyed the year and are so grateful for how much 2011 brought to our lives. We look forward to 2012 and all of the adventures and experiences it will bring. 

Where to from here?
We plan to leave Kalgoorlie very early on in May 2012, we will do a two week trip across the bottom of Australia and back to the Central Coast of NSW where we will spend a week or two with our family and leave our caravan. We will then head to Grafton and spend a week or two pretty intensely working on our ute to prepare it for our big 3 month “off-road trip” which we leave for on June 10th with my mum and step father and their vehicle.  We will then spend three months travelling from Grafton to Birdsville, across the Madigan Line (Simpson Desert) and through the Red centre, a part of the Canning stock Route and up to the Kimberly region. We will then go across to Darwin and from there on I’m not sure, but somehow we will end up back in Grafton.
I plan on documenting the entire trip from the moment we leave Kalgoorlie onwards, so everyone will be updated regularly on where we are and what we are doing. After our trip we will spend 6+ weeks on the Central Coast catching up with Brent’s family and my sister and friends and then we will head to Mackay QLD (with the van). In Mackay we will catch up with my brothers, dad and his girlfriend and our friends, for around 6+ weeks and decide where to go to for Brent’s next “work stint”.

So this year has been an amazing year for us. It has seen us finally living our dream life on the road and experiencing this beautiful country. We have learned a lot about ourselves and each other. We have come out of the other side of grief and depression by experiencing and enjoying this beautiful country and eachtoher. We have missed our friends and family so much and we really look forward to spending some time with them in 2012. We are very grateful for every day  we get to be together and every moment we spend living this lifestyle and we hope that 2012 brings more of these fantastic adventures into our life.

What YOU can expect from 'Living the Simple Dream' in 2012

What can you expect from Living the Simple Dream in 2012?

We have had such a great response to our blog in 2011 and we know that as well as all of the people who found it through our Facebook page, we also have a lot of family and friends following. Our blog’s (both our travel and our general “lifestyle” blog) are a great way for us to share this lifestyle with people, inspire others to live a life outside the box and to give our family and friends a place to go to regularly see what we are upto.
Why do we do this?
We created the Living The Simple Dream “blog” page to share our thoughts and experiences on the simple, nomadic lifestyle. We want to show people that this lifestyle is wonderful, freeing and 100% achievable. We want to use ourselves and our life as an example to inspire others to chase their own dreams and life the life that they want to live. We have found that the blog site simply is not enough though, to convey this message adequately.

A new Website for LTSD?
This is why we plan on having a proper website made in 2012. The website will have our albums, blog posts, tips and advice, a record of everywhere we visit (we will also import over all of our entries from our travel blog) that will hopefully link back to a map. It will have useful links for other travel blogs, forums and information. Hopefully it will be a very resourceful page for people considering taking the big leap into a new, nomadic life!  
Some of the new regular posts we will be using our webpage for in 2012 will be:

regular weekly/bi weekly posts
Personal posts about the way we percieve our journey
Finally getting around to the promised “blog series” on setting up our car for outback travel
Many more “blog series” posts covering a range of different topics and experiences
Posts that involve and include the people that follow our journey
Regular photo posts
and MUCH, much more!

Our message to you:
We hope that everyone has enjoyed following our journey and will stay with us next year to see what adventures we get upto! We hope that we can bring you a bigger and better blog page that’s easier to use, more resourceful and can better convey the message we want to send about ourselves and our lifestyle. We hope that we are able to use our lifestyle to inspire and encourage people to chase and live their own dreams. Thank you to everyone who has followed our journey this year and we look forward to sharing 2012 with you all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mum, can I help?

Mum, can I help?

‘Mum, can I help?’ – This is the sentence I hear the absolute most from my 3 year old son at home.  It doesn’t seem to matter what I am doing – he wants to help. If he spots me wiping down a bench, mopping floors, baking, tidying or just ‘pottering around’ doing a little bit of everything, he VERY excitedly runs up and asks to help.
Like most mothers I find my days pretty busy ( and most of the time I like that), because of this I found myself trying to rush to get my ‘jobs’ done so that I can have downtime with my son. So I was always responding to my son ‘just let mummy do it mate, then I’ll come and play with you’.

This seemed fine, he never became upset about not being able to help me so it was never something I gave any further thought - until recently. A week or so ago when my uni workload lessened and I found myself with a bit of extra time on my hands – I decided to slowwwww right down.
Zac and I at Ayers rock

I slowed down so much that I started to actually think before I responded to my sons’ requests to help me. When I thought about it I realised that my mum was often disappointed in our disinterest in helping out once we were older. I started wondering if my significantly, efficient mum had perhaps found herself doing the same thing as me – focussing on getting those seemingly “mindless” tasks like cleaning out of the way quickly, in order to have “quality time” for her children.
So I trailed off with my thoughts and began to wonder if maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal to include Zac in these tasks, to teach him skills like cooking, cleaning, tidying, folding, sorting, packing, washing (clothing and dishes) at his own pace, when his own interest spikes and at such a young age. That way he will become capable at such tasks and also develop an understanding of the domestic duties running a household requires.

So this morning Zac said “Mum, what are you doing” and I responded “I’m putting the washing in the machine so I can wash it”, then came the question “mum, can I help?” What did I say? I said “YES”. He then picked up the clothing items I had placed in the basket on the floor, he loaded them all in the washing machine and with direction he took a scoop of powder and tipped it in, pressed the buttons and started the machine. When the load was finished he was EXCITED to hear the beep (can you believe that? Lol) and because he couldn’t reach the line he requested that he could pass me each peg while I hung the washing out. It was actually really nice to have the company and bring a fresh new light to the world of housework.
Zac washing the dishes for the first time when we were in Darwin, we had to re-wash every one of them once he was in bed but he still enjoyed helping.

Not only does this kind of (voluntary) involvement in the housework teach Zac new skills, it also increases his confidence in himself and what he is capable of. Since that task he has requested (and proceeded) to help me measure, mix and bake a batch of coconut macaroons and ginger bread men, helped me put away the washing and we swept the annex together.
During all of this Zac was so happy and excitable but at the same time he slowed down and genuinely listened to and processed the instructions I gave him. He seemed to feel really satisfied at the end of each task and immediately asked me for something else to help with.

Even though his help can slow things down a lot and make simple tasks quiet tedious, ultimately, I do have the time for that and if that’s what he wants to do and he finds fun at the time than I don’t think he is missing any of the “quality time” he is giving up by missing out on a few of those minutes and hours of sitting on the floor playing with plastic toys together. Not that I will let my domestic responsibilities take away our play time.
I love to teach Zac accountability as a method of discipline. For example if he throws a tantrum that involves knocking his drink on the floor (or something else messy) once he has calmed down I will direct him to the cupboard to get a cloth, then have him clean up the mess he has made. This seems to be far more effective than a punishment that doesn’t actually correlate with the situation he has created. We offer him help and if he accepts than we get a cloth and also help him but he has to be involved too. I guess that including him in domestic tasks (or any tasks for that matter) when he requests, is in the same vein. Some of the other tasks he requests to help with (and we allow him to by finding jobs he CAN do) are:
  • Fixing the car with his dad – Brent will have him pass him tools and will explain what he is doing
  • Baking – he loves baking and we bake together several times a week
  • Carrying things – at the supermarket we allow him to carry a basket with a loaf of bread (or something equally light) if he requests to.
  • Feeding and caring for our guinea pig – this is another way to teach him responsibility aswell as how to be gentle.
  • Sorting – he will sort through his belongings and our belongings with us to choose what we will donate to charity
And many other small tasks like collecting our mail, taking the rubbish out, making our beds, sweeping, washing the car etc.
Zac helping daddy fix the car

I am really enjoying working together and I am enjoying not only his company but the educational aspect of it. I won’t be forcing him into housework as I completely respect that that is my responsibility (and it doesn’t bother me at all) but from now on, when he asks to help, I won’t think twice! It’s a beautiful opportunity to spend even more time together and teach him about tasks his future will most definitely involve.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Getting an early start on New Years Resolutions.

So as I prepare to say goodbye to 2011 and welcome 2012 Ihave began to think about New Years Resolutions, we all make them, but do we all keep them? New Years resolutions. New years eve, the dawn of a fresh, new year, its the perfect time to set a few goals you would like to achieve for the year. I make resolutions ever year but I dont always stick to them because they arent always goals that my "heart" is in on. They are generally fickle resolutions or vanity related (come on I'm a woman, we like those sorts of notions). So this year I've decided to focus my goals on out travel lifestyle, because lets face it - weight loss just doesnt seem to be happening for me and they say that when you "give up" and stop focussing on it, somtimes it happens in a natural progression.

So I want this years NY reso's to focus on internal growth, prolonging and refining our lifestyle and just general travel and family time. I also dont want to have too many because ultimately - it's too much to focus on. I have decided to make five new years resolutions. So here goes:

1) Find an inner peace with our lifestyle.

This may confuse some people because I am so open about my love of this life, but I feel like I must explain: The way we live is so different to our peers and when you take on such a different lifestyle (despite how much you love and advocate it) you can somtimes find yourself questioning yourself. I have found that alot of our peers have recently purchased their second homes (or their first) have setlled their children into day care, school etc and have very structured day to day lives. So when I see this, naturally I wonder if (despite how happy this life makes us) we could be making the wrong decisions and potentially "f**king up" our future.

Deep down I know this isnt the case but its hard not to question yourself when 'everyone else' seems to be doing the one thing and your life is so completely different. So this year I want to focus on the fact that 'yes, my life is different', but we love this life and it works for us and the lives of others work for them. I want to stop comparing my sons childhood and upbringing to those of our peers children and accept that the different experiences dont have to be detremental to his growth and development of things like social skills, strong relationships and feelings of security. I know how happy this lifestyle makes myself and my family so it's silly to question myself just because I am not part of a majority group for once in my life.

2) Sort out our financial situation.

I know that my husband (Brent) and I dont aim to be rich (and most likely never will) but I would like to develop a system or plan. At the moment our plans involve working for 6 - 9 months then having 6-9 months off travelling however nothing is ever regular. I would like for us to focus even more on penny pinching while we are staying in a town working - to optimise our savings success. I would like to leave each town knowing that we have saved as much as we possibly could have (NOT so we feel 'rich') so we can then live as frugal as possible, for as long as possible and prolong the time before my husband has to go back to work.

This was our initial focus when beginning this trip: the idea that we werent out to get rich, just to have fun. Which has been a good focus for us. But once again in regard to comparing ourselves to others in our peer group we have deiscovered that we dont maintain as much financial security as them and in our constant search for gratification and happiness we somtimes omit financial security from our priorities and be quite frivilous with our money. I'd like is to focus on being frugal and stretching our money further and not spending on things that dont matter. We are still solid consumerists but I can feel us getting better so I would like to focus on that over the next year and really refine our financial needs down to what we really do need to spend on.

3) Spend more time helping others and being charitable.

The lat few weeks in the lead up to Christmas we have absolutely torn the inside of our van apart in regard to getting rid of extra items and giving to the less fortunate. We even had our son go through his books and toys and donate a massive box of books he no longer needs to children whom may not be receiving anything for Christmas. We have donated moer stuff than we even realised could have fit into our van in the frist place and we have all felt really great about it. We are a family that love to help others and we would love to incorperate some volunteer work into our travels this year. I am hoping we can perhaps stay at an outback Aboriginal camp and help out with fixing their diesel machinery (Brent can) and I can perhaps do activities with the women or children. I have applied for a few different volunteer programs but we will just have to see what we can find and where we will be.

It does concern me alot that as an only child, Zac could grow up feeling privlidged, perhaps even 'spoilt' (I hate to use that word). So I would love to focus on teaching him compassion and how to be charitable. I hate the idea of living with a tonne of stuff and sitting ona  gold mine of money while people are out there struggling, so even though we dont have either of those, I want to help. I want my son to learn how to help and I think this adventure can really facilitate that for us and for him.

4) Continue to enjoy the simple pleasure in life and share them with others.

I love that our lifestyle allows us to enjoy the simple pleasure of life. I love being outside with my family exploring new places and experiencing nature. I love the way nature can foster healing and positivity and I love to promote and share that concept with others. I want to focus on that once again this year - I want to focus less on man made touristy attractions and more on the natural, amazing wonders that this country has to offer. I want to explore the outback, experience more sunrises and sunsets and the rest of the beauty this country has to offer. I

I also want to try and share that with others. When we go back to suburban areas to visit friends and family I would like to encourage them to take outdoor adventures with us, even just day trips or weekends camping, rather than going to theme parks or shopping centres. I want to encourage them to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and experience the beauty of nature with their children and friends. I want to have bbqs outside rather than eating at restaraunts and I want to do weekend activities like bushwalks with them. This lifestyle and being outdoors means everything to me and it would be unfair of me not to try and share that with the people I love.

5) Continue to push my comfort zones.

So far our trip around Australia has pushed ALOT of my boundaries and comfort zones. When we began this journey I only wanted to stick to the coast and actually drive right around the coast roads of Australia. When my mother heard this she was devistated as she has an intense love of the outback and cant say a single bad word about her adventures through the deserts of central Australia. Eventually I became convinced to go straight up the centre from Port Augusta, to Darwin with stops at Ayers rock and Alice Springs and I will forever be grateful that my mum and my husband took the time to 'convince' me to do this. I have turned a massive 'fear of the unknown' I had about these areas into a HUGE interest and now somthing I look forward to the absolute most.

I have pushed many of my comfort zones on this trip because before I leaving I was an extremely nervous person with a lot of little anxieties and fears. I have an intense fear of lizards but at the reptile centre at alice springs I was surrounded by them and did my best to stay near them. I am intensly afraid of going undergrouns but at Cutta Cutta Caves I want underground (not for as long as I should have, but it was progress, none the less). I have been close to snakes and crocodiles in the wild and have let go of alot of the boundaries that heavily inhibited my life. I now crave adventure and simplicity and am not afraid to forgo homely comforts in order to chase them. I want to focus this year on pushing even more of my boundaries by taking opportunities that are offered to me and searchinf for some of my own.

So these are my travel/lifestyle related New Years Resolutions and after reading them back I can see that all I have to gain from achieving them is even more fun and happiness and adventure. I hope that this year I can focus on them and achieve them and really 'live it up'.

What are your resolutions?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Giving so much yet receiving even more.

I have found myself thinking alot lately about people less fortunate than us. I hate the thought of people 'going without' when my family has such an abundance of 'things' (despite living in a caravan).

Where am I going with this?
I took some time this week to go through our caravan. I somehow managed to find an entire box of books, close to 6 bags of clothing (mine, Brents and Zacs) and a few toys, houshold items etc. I put it all in boxes and donated it to a wonderful local woman whom distributes the good she recieves among local, struggling families, nearby aboriginal communites and multiple charities.

This got me thinking about what we need V's what we dont need
I realised that my son had draws of clothes (two VERY deep draws and the top half of a wardrobe, to be exact). He has this same amount (and somtimes more) every year (for every different size) and for the warm and cold seasons. The more I thought about this the more excessive it seemed to me. I mean, he barely even gets to through the top three items of each pile and they are all at least ten, maybe fifteen items deep.

Yet there are children out there with hardly any clothing
There are so many children I see around from families whom struggle to make ends meet, from local aboriginal communities and children that have runaway from home, or young teenagers whom have children and also struggle to make ends meet. Yet my son, Brent (my husband) and I, have wardrobes full of clothing we dont even wear one tenth of.

What can you and your family do without?
Im sure you have things in your home you could do without. Things you dont use anymore or things you bought "just incase" but know you wont use. Things that were given to you as gifts or given to your children but are no longer used. These things not only take up space in your house but owning them takes up space in your mind (remember, at any given time you can respond to someone if they ask if you own a particular item, even if its out of your sight or hasnt been used in years, this means that all of those bits and pieces laying around in your house are taking up precious space in your mind, being stored up there so you can remember them if you ever need to reference them or use them).

Getting rid of these items, downsizing your childrens toys, your wardrobes, the "bits and bobs" in your numberous 'junk draws', wont just free up space in your house, it will take away some of the clutter from inside your mind. Why do you think it always feels so great when you fill a trailor load to go to the tip or fill the back seat of your car with items to go to charity? Those items are no longer needing to be organised and retained in your mind.

Books and toys
Our children accumulate so many books and toys over the years. They get more of them for Christmas and birthdays yet the old ones stick around too. So many children go without gifts, go without toys and books. These small, seemingly 'silly' items can bring so much joy to children experiencing adverse living situations or tough times financially for their family.

Clear out before santa comes
Have you ever thought about clearing out before santa comes? Rather than keeping all of the older, outdated, no longer used or no longer age appropriate books and toys can create more room. I make a point of going through my sons toys for items that are no longer age appropriate for him. These are the type of toys that are made for children a little younger (like he was when I bought them) the kind of toys that are find for a small, less coordinated two year old, but a rowdy three year old will simply break as opposed to enjoy. I take these toys out when the new, more grown up toys come in at special times of the year. Then I can donate the no longer age appropriate toys, to other children, still in great condition.

This means that other children are able to enjoy them, I have recycled, I have potentially given children gifts whom may not have recieved them (and therefore put a smile on their face), ive taught my son about being generous and humble and I've also create room in our home, lives, time, and minds for new, age appropriate toys and books.

What about all of that food?
We all have them... Those various, random jars and tins at the back of our pantry. The items we bought on sale when we seen those alluring yellow signs stating "two for one" and so on. I had so much food in our van that I not only had a full pantry with jars and packets of food (aswell as overhead cabinets full of baking ingredients) - I also had a 55 litre plastic tub (or two) in my annex full of food. I went through and donated all of the excess items. They were being wasted sitting there, they were things we had bought incase of needing extra food one week, but had never used. There were tinned versions of items we are able to afford to buy fresh, there were tinned soups but now i have learned how to make my own, there were graxy mixes (but now I make my own from scratch) same goes for spaghetti sauces, pasta sauces, prepackaged flavoured pastas etc. All of the things I have learned to (and now prefer to) make myself, from scratch.

So I decided to donate them all to a local food bank. I donated an entire 55 litre tub and I was informed that it was promtly delivered to a family who honestly didnt know how they were going to eat that week. They had small children and like all of us experience at some point in our lives - were struggling financially. These items would have sat in our pantry, even though we already had enough food to last weeks, maybe even a month or two. While a family could have been sitting at their table wondering how they would feed their children.

You may not having any items to give?
How about your time? Its true what they say - time is precious. If you have a few hours to spare why not donate them to a worthy cause. You can search (online or locally) to find somthing that suits you, your age, your capabilities, your time, commitments etc. There is a charity option for everyone. You dont have to give items, you can give a helping hand. You can volunteer to help young mothers learn domestic skills, to teach craft to aboriginal children in outback communities, to read stories to children, to have a chat with the elderly, to plant trees or care for animals. There are so many ways to give back to the community that gives so much to you.

The emptyness makes me smile
I look around our caravan and our wardrobes are no longer overstuffed (they are infact half empty), yet we are comfortably clothed, Our kitchen cupboards and draws are no longer jammed with unused utencils and food items but our stomachs are full. My son isnt lost in a sea of toys, yet he is entertained and content. All of the things we have given away have not taken a thing away from our life but have potentially brought some joy to someone elses.

Dont hold onto it

Why sit there, with all of these unused items, for no reason, when they could bring joy and comfort to the lives of others. Knowing you have helped people can also bring joy and comfort to your own life.

Christmas is a time for giving, what can you give?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The way our relationships have changed as a result of living on the road.

My husband and I
I like to think that my husband and I have a phenomenal relationship (with ups & downs, of course). We work hard to be honest and compassionate with each-other and we focus really heavily on being happy, above everything else. We share a lot of the same goals, focuses and morals which helps our relationship to stay equal and accommodating for both of us. My husband and I enjoy being together (as I’m sure everyone else does with the spouse) so our main priority of this trip was “time” – for each other, our son and the three of us as a family.

When Brent (my husband) worked a demanding job, fulltime and we lived in suburbia, we felt like we had so little time together. However now that we live in the van our situation has forced us to realise that we had too many “distractions” during those important moments that should have been ours. Im sure many of you can relate to the idea of coming home from work and tuning out in front of the TV once the kids are tucked into bed. We fell into that pattern (due to exhaustion). Now that we live in the van – watching television is a very rare occurrence for us.

When nightfall hits we tuck our son in bed then eat our dinner together, under the stars. We then stay sitting outside and talk and talk and talk and before we know it it’s time to get to bed. We have so much time to talk to each other, learn more about each other, plan our future, and discuss our dreams – more time to connect. This “time” together is completely free from distractions and is so valuable to us; it’s one of the wonderful by-products of this lifestyle.  

My son and I
My son and I have more time together than I ever imagined having with my child. I am able to really focus on teaching him things, fostering a love for the environment and a compassion for others, purely because I have so much time and inspiration. Once again, our quality time is uninterrupted and outside with fresh air and endorphins flowing.
We explore entirely new areas and learn together and because of that he develops an added confidence and understanding of what he sees and experiences. We do things in our own time with minimal temporal commitments, so we are free to let our imaginations flow, some-days until the sun goes down and it is time for bed.
Because this lifestyle is so different to the norm and may not necessarily be as controlled or secure as a normal childhood environment we find ourselves working harder to include him in decisions and the formation of ideas or plans. Our days allow for his input and we have the time to explore the things the three year old mind considers logical. This increases his self-confidence and encourages him to speak up and add input where he sees fit. Although the ideas of a three year old aren’t always achievable/logical (e.g. Flying to the moon on a Sunday afternoon) sometimes they prove to be fun, exciting and rejuvenating and they always make our day a little different to how we expected it to be.
This lifestyle is a fantastic way to take your children away from distractions and the “busy-ness” of everyday life and really get to know them. It’s a beautiful experience and it really enhances your relationship with them.

Us as a family
As a family we have come to really depend on each other, after all when we are in the middle of nowhere, alone we don’t have anyone else to depend on! I went from just being my husband’s wife to becoming his drinking buddy, apprentice, best mate and competition (He loves competitive games we even competed on the way out to Ayers Rock to see who could spot it first – I won!). He has become my “girlfriend”, confidante, dance partner and chick-flick-companion among other things. To Zac we have willingly become his “play-mates” his buddies, his “taste testers” (for the latest play dough creations) and his teachers.

We depend on each other a lot and we bring so much to each other’s lives. Only having “us” for support has meant that we have had to further develop our abilities to be selfless and understanding when the other person/s may need some extra care or support even if we’re not feeling up to it. We understand and respect that when one person is unwell the other person has no choice but to take on the responsibilities. We also understand that what we have is special and beautiful and we are extremely lucky to feel so close and connected.

If you choose to live this (or any more “family- time focussed”) lifestyle you will find that for every negative there is a positive. For every shred of normalcy and routine your life lacks you will emotionally regain a new level of dependence and understanding with your family or travel companion. For every moment you miss out on with others (and sadly there are many) you can focus on the moments you are gaining with your family.

We dont always make make the "best" or the "right" decisions but the decisions we make nearly always lead to us being happier and more content. Dont be afraid to put happiness first and chase it! As long as it isnt at the expense of others than you have no reason to not be happy.

There is so much you need to sacrifice physically and mentally to live this kind of a lifestyle but it brings an unimaginable amount of joy and contentment to your life, which is worth more than any item you could own.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Budget friendly Christmas Craft for kids

I try to do an art or craft project with my son (Zac) every day, sometimes they are as simple as drawing with pencils/painting and other days we make collages with things like leaves or different items from our craft kit. I absolutely love craft (probably more so than my son) but not the “adult kinds” like scrapbooking etc. because I am far too messy to make anything that is actually presentable or even remotely artistic. Craft is a brilliant activity to do with your children, even just once a week or whenever you have time. It allows them to explore their imagination, learn new skills and ideas, develop their fine motor skills and it also gives them valuable quality time with you.
For Zacs birthday I made him a “craft box” I simply bought small bits and pieces (mainly from cheap shops like “Crazy Clarks”) like paints, feathers, sequins, glue, texta’s, paddle pop sticks, googly eyes and anything else I could find. It didn’t cost much and it’s a great gift for family and friends to “build on” for your child’s birthdays and Christmas. We have built his “craft box” up over the last year and a half and it now takes up an entire 55 litre plastic container (and gives us hours of enjoyment). But you don’t have to have a lot of craft supplies to be able to make amazing creations.

We ended up finding these nifty little cases for quite cheap at Super Cheap Auto so we bought two of them to house the “collage items”. These cases make the items far easier for Zac to look over and make his own choice about what he would like to work with. They are a great way to organise your child’s craft supplies.
Today we decided on some “Christmas craft”, we decided to make our own Christmas decorations. I googled recipes for dough that could be cooked (and solidified) then painted and it came back with this recipe:

2 cups flour
2 tablespoons oil
4 tablespoons cream of tarter
1 cup of water

We threw it all in together (adding extra flour or water when needed) mixed it up, rolled it out and then ‘went to town’ with our cookie cutters! Once Zac had cut out all the shapes he wanted, we poked holes in them (for the ribbon) and put them on a baking tray in the oven set to 180 degrees until they were brown/solid.

We then painted them all with beautiful colours and decorated them with glitter and sequins in the Christmas colours, then added the ribbon. Try to excuse the white "glue marks" all over them as I took this photo before they had dried completely. We are going to send these out with Zacs framed Santa photo to Zac’s grandparents and aunts and uncles. They are a simple, cheap gift that you could give out straight from your child! My sons  only three but I am sure that your older children could do alot more intricate designs and you could always seal them with a quick spray of clear coat to make them last for a long time.

The decorations pictured above are some we made a few weeks ago, they are simple and very budget friendly. All we did was paint pictures using mostly Christmas colours, let the paintings dry then cut out Christmas ornament shapes. We then glued glitter and sequins on and used a sparkly pipe cleaner to hang them. You could use chopped up bits of paper from magazines/packaging etc to decorate them and leftover ribbon to hang them.

Another budget friendly craft project we did recently was this nature collage. We “made a day” out of this one by spending part of the day walking through gardens and bushlands near a local park, collecting leaves, gumnuts and dirt. We then went home and cut out the backboard from the side of a Froot Loops box, we covered the cardboard with PVA glue and Zac stuck all the different nature items onto the page (while we talked about where they came from and what they were).
Another of our budget friendly craft projects involves a lot of cardboard boxes. I collect EVERY cardboard box (all shapes and sizes) from any grocery items, tissues, toilet rolls, egg cartons, gifts etc. then once we have a big collection we will spend one day assembling (with masking tape) robots, cars and anything else we think of. The next day we will paint them all. Then on the third day when they are all dry my son will spend the majority of an entire day playing with them. That’s three days worth of exciting activities for the cost of a little conscious recycling!
Children can learn so much from simple craft projects and there are so many different ways to enjoy these activities with your child. There is a craft activity for every budget!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Just a few thoughts on positivity and nature.

Before we began this adventure we were different to whom we are today. There is no denying that living on the road promotes a lot of personal change and growth, as does any dramatic change in your life. We knew there would be changes, well we hoped, but we didn’t realise they would be so dramatic.
You can easily account for all of the physical ways your life will change but there is no way you can prepare for how much that will spill into the mental/emotional aspects of what makes you, you. You discover new (and sometimes old) things about yourself, you reignite passion that had been lost in routine and you let go, of many negative past experiences. I like to consider myself a spiritual or thoughtful person so read on for my interpretation of the change and growth I have experienced as a result of this adventure.
'Let it go'

For me, the “letting go” has been the most dramatic change. I was an extremely “hardened” person due to being let down by the world, many times in my short life and never truly understanding why. For someone of just 25 years of age I had experienced enough loss to last a lifetime, enough emotional and physical pain to really start to feel that the world “had it in” for poor little me (don’t we all feel that way sometimes, though?). I didn’t understand all of the bad things that had happened and I gauged my self-worth, and ability to be happy based on the negative experiences of the past.
This kind of mindset had fashioned me into a stressed, over-emotional, pessimistic shadow of the woman I hoped to be. It dictated my days, my relationships with others and my passion for life, in subtle and overwhelming ways.  Even when I was happy and content ‘in the moment’ I was aware and held back by the fact that it could all be taken away at any second and nothing was within my control.

When we moved into our van and began travelling I didn’t necessarily gain a massive amount of control that had been missing from my life. I gained an entirely new perspective and emotional response to my past. I gained the ability to “let it go”. I’m not 100% sure of what aspect of the adventure facilitated this element of growth, whether it was the actual act of downsizing and leaving everyone and everything we knew. Perhaps it was seeing a new place every day or meeting new people or all of these things combined? I know it certainly had something to do with being so close to nature.

I tend to harp on a lot about the healing power nature possesses, because I genuinely believe it played a role in my personal growth. Immersing yourself in nature is not only reaffirming but the minimalistic non-material aspect of it makes it something you can subconsciously depend on when other resources may dry up. You don’t need to control nature yet you don’t feel disconnected from your own future when you immerse yourself in it. Being able to seek out nature (by going on camping trips or picnics or even travelling Australia in a van or tent) and wander through a forest or watch a sunset over the beach provides the most simplistic form of joy and happiness.
What do you see when you look at this photo? Nothing? The outback? I see "Mundi Mundi Plains" a place where the flat lands stretch out so far that you can actually see the curvature of the earth. Seeing somthing like this certainly gives you a different perspective on the world.

For me, enjoying nature and the outdoors has been fundamental to growing as a person. When I sit on a beach and watch the sunset, or let the red sand of the dessert sift through my fingers I experience optimistic emotions and a vigour or passion for life. I feel inspired by nature and its beauty. I let go of the past and relax, physically and mentally, into the woman I am meant to be. My family and I relax and we are flooded with endorphins and energy to conquer any emotional or physical barrier. Never underestimate the positive effect that getting outside and immersing yourself and your family in nature could have on your life, your relationships and your overall happiness.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What have we taken away from this lesson?

Takeaway food... Its overpriced, over-oiled and never quiet leaves you feeling as satisfied as you'd like it to. When we started living a far more frugal lifestyle we very quickly discovered that takeaway was a massive wallet drainer. Embarassingly some of our favourites were foods like Macdonalds, Dominoes, Subway, and KFC (pretty much all the major ones, right?)

The last time we had dominoes our meal was $50, yes you read right. Theres three of us. When we got home and started eating it we discovered that the cheese wasnt entirely melted and the pizza was cold in the middle and the pizza was soggy right through to the cardboard box which was also soggy - so afrter $50 we couldn't even eat our meal. Now, I'm not joking when I say - I can (and have) fed my family for $50 a week before, when times were tough. So wasting an entire $50 for one nights food certainly was the wake up call I needed.

We decided that there was a definate pattern to our takeaway experiences, the meals were either too small, too big, too oily, or when we arrived home and opened the package it just was not what we ordered at all. So we decided to stop buying takeaway, I mean - if they can make it, we can too right? YES, we can.

It was that easy and honestly saved us so much money. We are also able to control things like cooking times, oil levels, ingredients used, portions, additives/processed ingredients. We dont compromise on taste at all and find that we achieve even better flavours.

So now we have our favourite takeaway meals on a frugal budget, we also have them whenever we like because they are far healthier options. Most of the ingredients can be stored int he pantry or the fridge/freezer and will be enough to make an array of different meals. Some of the things we make?

Making our own homemade pizzas is somthing we do EVERY week, without fail. Its our "go-to" Friday night meal. They are eaasy, delicious and nine times out of ten cover the next days breakfast too. We usually use "mountain bread" (avaliable from woolworths and coles) as a low calorie long life pizza base to travel with (they are very thin though so each pizza requires two). However last night we splurged a little and bought proper pizza bases (from now on weve decided we will make our own bases, I hadn't realised how simple they are). We add ingredients like ham, chicken, frozen prawns (cheap from Woolies), tonns of capsicum, onion, tomato, fetta, pineapple and much more. We try to make sure they have lots of healthy ingredients. We quickly discovered (one week when I forgot to buy it) that they taste just as good without pepperoni as they do with it, so we no longer purchase that anymore. Homeade pizza is simple, budget friendly and 100% effective at curbing those cravings for takeaway. Pizzas are a fantastic meal for other caravanners when you are somewhere remote and craving somthing delicious (and seemingly unhealthy/naughty).

Home made burgers are so quick and easy to make. All you need is beef mince, salads, cheese and a roll. All we add to our home made beef patties (for that macdonalds cheeseburger effect) is salt and pepper, simple. They takte delicious (fresh!) and if you splurge a little on the healthier mince you dont end up with your bun being a sponge to all the oil. They are also a great BBQ food for when you are on the road.

The thing we like about hot dogs is that they last - they come in a long life package and sometimes last weeks or months, plus you can freeze them if you find you havnt eaten them close to the use by date. When you find yourself in a little town with a nice bakery, all you need to do is pick up some lovely fresh rolls and you have yourself a VERY easy, cheap and kid friendly meal. You can have them for lunch, or dinner!

Subs are another option for when you pull up near a small town bakery and find yourself with some nice fresh rolls. The filling is only limited by your imagination but here are some of our favourite combinations:

- tuna, cheese and tomato (toasted)
- pazza (tomato paste with herbs, pizza meats, cheese, toasted)
- chicken parmijana (tomato paste, chicken, ham, cheese, toasted)
- fresh ham and salad
- fresh chicken and salad

Subs are delicious and filling and are certainly one of th ehealthier options of this list! They are easy to make and there will  be a combination to suit the entire family!

One of my absolute favourite takeaway meals would have to be the trusty garlic prawn noodles. I absolutely love these! I realised very quickly though (after leaving the town with my FAVOURITE version of them) that I would have to learn to make a simple, yummy version myself. Challenge accepted! I bought a bulk pack of home brand "2 minute noodles", popped them in a bowl in the microwave (submerged in water) until they were soft. Meanwhile I heat up a frypan with a few sprays of the most low calorie oil I can find (it's 1.7 calories a spray and is avaliable from Woolworths - "Lupi, extra light olive oil" in a pump spray bottle) I add in some prawns from my trusty frozen bulk bag, some chopped shallots, frozen peas (and optional snow peas and broccoli) aswell as a heaped tablespoon of crushed (or fresh) garlic and a dash of soy sauce, wallah! Thats it! Once the prawns are cooked, the noodles should be too, just drain them - add them to the fry pan, spritz a little more light oil onto them and enjoy. Sometimes if I dont have shallotts I will use an onion and just the frozen peas instead of the other vegies, this way I can make this recipe when we are nowhere near shops!

Home made fried rice is quiet possibly one of the simplest and most delicious things I know how to cook. Its my absolute favourite! I always make sure I have eggs at home aswell as shredded ham, prawns and frozen peas in my freezer. Sometimes I will cook fresh rice for it, other times I will use some I have pre-cooked in the freezer and somtimes I will be a lazy a** and use those microwave rice packets fromt he supermarket. Either way - it always tastes the same amount of yum! I simply oil the fry pan, lightly whisk an egg and throw the egg, prawns, frozen peas and ham into the pan, basically scramble it all around the pan until the egg and prawns are cooked, then add in either onion or shallotts and any other vegies you want then a spoon of garlic and a good splash of soy sauce, throw the rice in, DONE! It takes just minutes to cook and is absolutely delicious!

These are some of our versions of the takeaway meals we enjoy. They may not all be stupendously healthy but we dont have them all, all the time! Learning how to make your own favourite takeaway foods can save you ALOT of money and alot of hassle. Its also a fantastic way to limit your own and your childrens intake of food additives, fats and oils. If you like somthing different to what I have posted about here why not google a few recipes and give them a try? I once made a very simple and delicious peanut satay chicken noodle dish and im sure you could find a simple recipe for your favourite takeaway meals.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Being organised and prepared

Staying organised in your van is fundamental to living comfortably in there. There are many different things you can do/purchase to ensure you are organised. There are also many ways you can be prepared for potential problems, despite living in a small space!
First you bolt the safe case (the big hollow box/sleeve on the left) in then you slide the safe into it and lock it in. This way the safe cannot be removed without the key. This is the same as our safe.

Get a safe!
We keep important documents in our safe:
We keep a copy of each of our birth certificates in our safe as well as our spare Medicare card, any important paperwork (such as our insurance policies etc.) the safe is bolted into the van to keep it nice and secure from thieves. It’s a great idea to have your identification information in your safe as if you happen to lose your I.D card/licence along the way you can easily organise a new one with those documents. We mainly have them as we live in the van 100% year round so it’s essential for us to have those items with us.
Emergency Money!

We also like to make sure we have some emergency money in there:
We also keep some emergency money in our safe. One of the best reasons we discovered for having “emergency money” on the necessity list was that many remote places do not have an Eftpos/ATM service. If you are relying on these services you could miss out on many activities. Many restaurants and tourist attractions and camp areas in remote areas do not have Eftpos facilities. It’s also great to have – in case of an ACTUAL emergency. You may need cash to buy someone’s jerry can contents off them if you’ve run out of fuel, or perhaps to purchase a tyre from a helpful local, either way it’s a good idea to have some emergency money! Sometimes this money is handy for non- emergency situations for example when we camped at the remote station out at 80 mile beach they held a market day (that we hadn’t previously heard of) and many people held little market stalls with lovely items, without our “emergency money” we wouldn’t have been able to purchase a few little handmade bits and bobs we bought for friends back home.
Other things we have in order to be organised/prepared:

Large accordion style file folder
This is a great and cheap, space saving, alternative for a filing cabinet. We keep one in our van and have the different sections labelled for different things such as; bills, receipts, warranties, bank statements, any additional insurance paperwork that we don’t need in the safe, registration information, instructions for items we have purchased (such as the bread-maker) and a myriad of other important papers. This way you have all the information you may need organised as opposed to “shoved” wherever it fits. It’s so easy to find whatever you need when you need it!
This is our actual "travel money folder" I put th emoney in for the photo just to show the size of the folder. This folder was purchased at K-mart in the stationary section.

Mini accordion style folder
If, like us - you are very budget conscious when you are on the road – this is the solution for you! We find that if we use our key cards we spend far more mindlessly, so we have devised a new approach. We purchased the above pictured “mini accordion” folders and we labelled the interior pockets with things that our weekly budget consists of – e.g. Fuel, groceries, caravan park fees, phone credit (we stay pre-paid, but more about that later) and a section for our “spending money”. At the start of the week (or fortnight) we withdraw the amount that our weekly (or fortnightly) budget is and we put it into the folder in the appropriate sections. This way we are not using our cards and spending mindlessly and we also have any money that is leftover there to rollover to the next week. If we find that we free camp A LOT then the money in our “caravan park fees” section will be put in our “spending” for the next week, which adds to the fun! I use this folder system in everyday life even when we aren’t travelling its very effective!

First aid kit/medication kit
I really don’t think this needs any explaining, but I’ll tell you about ours. As well as having a fairly comprehensive first aid kit (the kind you can buy fully packed from the Red Cross) it’s also a great idea to have a “medication kit” (as we call it). Before we left I purchased bulk boxes (from “Warehouse” or “discount” pharmacies) of items we use the most such as panadol/panamax, Ibuprofen, throat lozenges (strepsils now do a very cheap bulk pack at Woolworths), anti-histamine (my mum taught me that an antihistamine and a panamax/panadol is the same as a “cold & flu tablet” but  1 hundredth of the price when purchased in bulk), children’s paracetamol and ibuprofen, cough medicine, and bulk Band-Aids. Having all of these items well stocked up in our van (in a lunchbox, under our bed) means that we never have to purchase them from service stations or expensive “after hours” chemists and we never have to go without them when we are in remote areas. We also keep a bottle each of paracetamol and ibuprofen in our car glove box in case we ever need them.  Another thing we keep (which is great for people with children) is a nifty little red tube of cream that comes from the chemist, called “Eurax cream”. My son has terrible reactions to mosquito and sand-fly bits and they swell up like eggs and itch, once we put this cream on them they don’t bother him at all and heal up very quickly. We use it on myself and my husband as well as it stops the itching almost immediately. Also chap sticks are very handy, when you go walking outdoors a lot in winter you’re bound to need a chap stick!

A generator
I wouldn’t call a generator a necessity, more of a “luxury” but they are certainly handy. I can (embarrassingly) tell you that over eight months of life in the van we used ours twice, once in winter to plug in our “sandwich toaster” along the side of a highway somewhere – to make breakfast then another time in the heat while we were free camping and wanted to see if the aircon would run on it (it did).  Generators have come a long way and you can find compact, “quieter” models now-days. We have a small Honda one and it’s perfect! We purchased it online for a discounted rate, brand new and it came with a free inverter kit that we can plug in to use our power points off our caravan battery/solar set up. You can find second hand generators at garage sales, tender centres and pawn shops for around 50% of the cost of a new one! Generators are definitely handy but can be bulky and you may find you never use it!

A few disposable items:
I’m generally against using disposable stuff when you don’t have to (mostly to save money) but when you are free camping in between towns and trying to drag out the “free” campsite for as long as you can you need to preserve water. For this reason alone we went and bought the biggest, cheapest (home-brand) packs of plastic cups and cutlery and paper plates. When we are free camping and trying extremely hard to limit our water intake – not having to do many dishes is VERY handy! It means the water in our tanks goes a lot further and we can extend our stay! We don’t use them very often though because there is generally “some sort” of supply of water even if it isn’t the best quality. We are very conscious of taking our rubbish with us or putting it in the bins provided and we follow a tip we read in the “Camps” book “leave the area cleaner than it was when you arrived” (it’s a great way to KEEP free camps open to the public AND free, we need to look after them!)

Yep, spares are definitely a necessity. Spares of EVERYTHING! Mainly though – bearing in mind that a lot of the time you won’t have electricity or you’ll have limited electricity (while running on solar or a generator) it’s fantastic to have spare batteries of all shapes and sizes. You can easily replace the batteries in torches, lanterns, cameras, radios, kid’s toys etc. Batteries are something you always seem to need! We keep a set of those mini plastic draws you get from cheap shops and one of the draws houses our spare batteries, one houses our spare pens and pencils and the other has spare fuses and light bulbs (also handy to have around). You should also endeavour to have spares for your car too, namely the spare items you need for servicing such as Oil and fuel filters, coolants, etc. This way when your service comes up if you are mechanically minded you can simply do it yourself! We also keep spare belts for our car too as they are the one thing you always hear people saying broke at the most inconvenient of times! Spare tyres are another obvious one and we even carry a tyre puncture repair kit – these kits have come a long way and although they are very  cheap they are extremely effective (not to mention simple to use). Puncture repair kits are under $10 at super cheap auto and can save you a WHOLE lot of hassle!

A few (non-food) items that tend to run out at inconvenient times and are good to keep an extra one or two put away so that you are prepared or at least so that you can save a bit of money by not having to buy them in a place where you are limited to one, very expensive, small store!:
Toilet paper
Insect repellent
Gladwrap/alfoil/baking paper
Fuel (keep a jerry can)
Dish washing liquid (it can be fairly irritating when you run out of this!)
Garbage bags (these are full of wonderful uses – rain jackets, floor covering to sit on when its wet, parachutes (just kidding), laundry bags, as well as for containing rubbish!
Paper towels or chux (very handy!)

 This is just a few of the things we carry with us. Please bare in mind that we live in our van year round and do not have a home base anywhere waiting for us so dependent on our situation our needs may be very different to yours. Ultimately, we could live without most of these items but when you have the option to have them and you are already living with so little, well, for us - we chose to have them! If we were travelling with a camper trailor or just a swag I'm sure our "needs" and therefore what we pack, would change dramatically based on how much space we have.