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.

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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Our draws and cupboards

This post is just to show you the basic kitchen items that we travel with. When you move into a caravan your storage space drops dramatically, but so do your needs so ultimately it balances out. Dont be perplexed by what you see in my photos and how it compares to yours as we are all very different and we all have very different ways of making meals! My draws did not look ANYTHING like this at the start of our trip, this level of "almost emptyness" comes from going through everything basically everytime we stop for longer than a week in a town (and I get some spare time) and donating the things we dont use to charity. You will find that as you get further along in your trip you will notice items you havn't touched the entire time, although its nice to be prepared - somtimes we can be a little too prepared! When you find these items you can choose to pack them away in the van somewhere, you could donate them to charity or if they are too special (eg. gift/heirloom) you can pop them in a post box and let it build up until its full then post it "home" or to a family family to look after for you.

Overhead cabinets

The above picture is of my overhead cabinets above my dining table. I use this tablet to house my baking ingredients and sauces/ oils etc (see the next photo). The reason I left this entire area for baking/cooking ingredients was to make them far more accessable. This way I can get to them anytime and I can bake with ease. Baking all of our own snack food and desserts etc from scratch saves us alot of money. When I became a "new mum" 3 years ago to my son, instantly the ring of "Tupperware" parties began. I ended up purchasing ALOT of tupperware and although it was costly its been a great investment. There are MANY options for plasticware out there (so use whatever works for you!) and so far one that I have found that is on-par with Tupperware in terms of the lids not falling off on corrugated or bumpy roads are those "Klip Its" containers from big W/Woolworths (the clear ones with the blue seals and clips). Its important to make sure your plasticware is durable and the lids will hold firm on rough surfaces! (I am not in anyway affiliated with Tupperware!) I also like the way the modular design makes them all fit in better together. Perhaps be concious of this when you purchase your plasticware and try to get most of your products in the same brand so they will fit in better as packing cupboards in a caravan can be much like a good game of Tetris.

Overhead cabinets again

Once my overhead cabinets were all packed witht he containers I then added in front the oils and sauces and other products I use frequently in the caravan. This way I have easy access to them when needed. This was the perfect spot for those items to fit as the actual pantry for the caravan is very deep and involves taking everything out to get to the back of. Being able to have these items here means I am able to grab things like tomato sauce etc with ease during a meal. You will notice that I have alot of sauce bottles - that is because when I run out of sauce I keep the bottles then I use them for sauces and other condements that come in glass bottles eg. Soy sauce and Balsamic Vinegar. This way they are more durable on rough roads and I know there wont be cracked glass and soy sauce everywhere! Now that I have all the plastic bottle I need I wash out my BBQ and Tomato sauce whenever they finish and refull them from a cheap, 1 litre bottle (to save money).

My second draw

This is the draw for all the larger items. The reason it looks so empty is because it houses all the containers that we put leftovers/fresh produce/baked goods etc in - so they are all being used at the moment. I like to keep a stock up of items like zip lock bags (they make up for the fact that I can hardly fit any plastic containers into the van for everyday use). I also like to keep a stock up of items like cloths (for wiping benches/washing up) scourers, baking paper, glad wrap and alfoil. These items run out/need replacing all the time and can be very costly at small shops in little towns. I use food scales ALOT when making things like bread and other baked goods so they are very handy. Ice cube trays are great as if your in the middle of nowhere and have some room in your freezer you can pop a try in and have some ice for your "happy hour" drinks.

My top draw immediately under the sink.

The top draw would have to be the draw we use the absolute most. It has our plates, bowls (when they arent all in the washing up), cutlery, cooking utencils and the plasticware we use the most. I wanted to keep this draw very simple and functional since both my husband and I aswell as our three year old son need things from it all the time throughout the day. I began with a proper cutlery tray (the type you have in draws in houses) but quickly discovered that it too up too much room! So not I use a lunchbox. It really hasnt made it any difficult as we dont have alot of cutlery so there isnt a mountain of it to sort through.

The basket in the draw is home to our cooking utencils, paddy pans, herb chopper, sippee lids (for our son) and a few other bits and pieces. The basket stops those items from ending up strewn accross the draw while in transit.

Youll notice we only have one coffee mug (we used to have none but when my mum visited she bought it). We only really keep it for visitors as neither of us drink coffee and we only rarely have tea or hot chocolate.

Some of the items we have in our draws and why we have them

Little containers

These little containers are so handy. Once you get ont he road and want to make your money stretch further you will want to use alot less "disposbale stuff" aswell as have alot more picnic style meals. These containers are the perfect size for things like mayonaise, sauces, salt/pepper/chicken salt, salad dressings, vegemite and butter etc. We use these ALL the time! You can get containers this small from the plasticware section in woolworths for just a few dollars and they WILL save you money. Even on the days you do have takeaway, you wont have to buy sauce for your chips or pie if you have one of these babies handy!

Reusable metal skewers

We felt like chicken kebabs along the road somewhere so we went to woolworths to buy a big packet of disposable skewers. We found these for only a DOLLAR more and decided to get them instead. They are fantastic! They regularly save as money aswell as the space a big packet of disposable ones would have taken up!

          reusable sillicone patty pans

Now these things are FANTASTIC! Not only do they eliminate the VERY large metal muffin and cupcake trays we simply couldnt fit, they also eliminate the need for spray oil! They are great and cost less than their metal counterparts! They also elimenate the need for those patty pan liners! When your living in a van and have weight limits every little loss counts!

         net food covers

These things are fantastic! We eat outside the van ALOT and the flies can get very full on. These are perfect for covering your meal or your nibbly trays. They also fold down to (and weigh) nearly nothing! These were $1 each at the reject shop some time ago.

        Plastic tumblers

My husband hates plastic cups so I basically had to buy these to please his subconcious. I mean, if it looks like a glass... It must be a glass right? NOPE! They are plastic! They look great (before you give up on only using the soft sponge on them) when they have no scratched, but even when they are scratched they dont hold the taste of drinks like many other plastic cups do. These were from Kmart and were somthing like $8 for four. We have dropped them a million times and had our first breakage a few days ago (after about 8-10 months of using them). They are very durable!

       plastic collapsable collander

This thing is brilliant! It is a perfectly functional collander and can collapse down to be about two centemetres deep (if that) so that it fits flat, in your draw. This one is made my Tupperware as it was the first one I ever saw so I bought it immediately, however my mum recently purchased one while grocery shopping at woolworths, from the cookware aisle! These are great, a MUST have item!

This is an odourless mosquito zapper, It does have to be plugged in though so you need to be connected to power or have a generator (or solar and an inverter) to run it (im sure there are non electrical mosquito methods that would be as effective). After staying at a few places and waking up in th emorning to our little boy eaten alive by mosquitos we didnt evenr ealise were in our van, we purchased this! Now we simple plug it in, in his room for half an hour to an hour before he goes to bed, then we swtch it off when we tuck him in. No more mozzie bites!

I still have a few more cupboards to add to this list, but this post has become quiet large so I will add a part 2 to it tonight or tomorrow!

Part 2 will include:

- pantry
- overhead cabinets above the sink
- other miscelaneous items!

I will also do a post down the track of our food/cleaning etc items.

Hope our methods gave you some new ideas :-)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How we began exploring the outback.

I would like to share with everyone somthing my mum wrote for this blog. She has an intense love of the outback and fairly extensive experience travelling through it. This is just a snippet of the travelling she has done through this beautiful country with her husband.

Mum (Vicki) with my son Zac on her last visit.

Hi, my name is Vicki and I am Melissa's mum. I have always loved camping, travelling and being outdoors, a lifestyle that was introduced to me at a very young age by my parents and a tradition I handed down to my children. How ever my love for the outback took a new turn when I met Tony in 1998, the man I am now married to.

These days we travel in a very capable 80 series Landcruiser, however our adventure began by taking a vacation together and travelling in a Holden Commodore and staying in backpackers accommodation and motels. We went through Longreach, Mt  Isa, across to Ayres Rock and then up to Darwin. Stopping at places like Mataranka Springs, Katherine Gorge and Litchfield. We had an absolute ball travelling for four weeks but doing it this way proved to be very costly.

We talked about our dream of travelling outback Australia and found we both loved camping and being outdoors sitting by a camp fire so we set about making the necessary changes to bring this to reality.
The first thing to go was the Commodore and we brought our 80 series Landcruiser and decked it out with drawers, a fridge, duel batteries and basic camping gear and tools of course. And slowly over the years modified it to where it is today, a very capable vehicle which has taken us to Cape York several times, across the Simpson Desert, through the Flinders Ranges, up the Canning Stock Route, The Pilbra, The Kimberleys and most of the coast of Western Australia, to mention just a few.

We began our travels by taking a four week vacation during the winter months each year. As the vehicle became more capable so did we. We learnt more about what we needed to pack and things we should leave behind. Our confidence grew and our trips became more remote every year and travelling longer distances meant taking longer holidays. So from 1998 to now our holidays have increased gradually from four weeks, to six weeks then to eight weeks and now that my husband has long service due, we will be taking three months next year.

In case you are wondering, no we did not win the lottery. We are fortunate enough to own our own home and work hard to save  through the year so we can have longer holidays. We are the kind of people who would rather go to the beach camping in our swag for the weekend than go out to fancy restaurants and spend lots of money, I know that's not great for the economy but it really works in our favour and in the long term what we do spend gets shared around the country.

When travelling we find most of our stops are only overnight with the occasional two or more nights, so setting up camp has to be kept simple. Our kitchen gear is in the draws in the back of the vehicle our gas bottle is on the roof rack in a clamp for easy removal and we have a camp shower. We collect fire wood when we get close to where our camp will be for that night and most of our camping this far has been done in a swag so it only take about five minutes and our very basic camp is ready.

"Oh I could never do that"

I hear those words all the time "Oh I/we could never do what you are doing, I wish we could". Well, I want to tell you that you CAN. You just have to work toward it like everything else in your life you have worked towards. I know when you start to consider somthing new and unknown there are bound to be reservations, what can you do about them?

There are many ways
There are so many options, just because you cant afford one or it doesnt seem "functional" enough for your family it doesnt mean you have no other choices. People travel Australia under many different budgets and levels of comfort. It all just depends on what "Creature comforts" you ARE willing to sacrifice to make this dream happen -  so here are some of your options:

- caravan - this is what we use
- camper trailer - they take a little more setting up but can go ALOT more remote than our van!
- swag - simple but cost effective and if all you have is a swag and a capable FWD... Oh the options.
- motorhome - want luxury? Google "motorhome" WOW!
- fifth wheeler - similar comfort and space of a motorhome but without the engine. You generally need a car with a faily big tow capacity.
- a tent - yep, a tent! Where there is a will there is a way!
- a minivan/campervan - Another cost effective solution (this also makes fuel a bit cheaper as towing really takes its toll on your fuel bill.
- private jet? - just joking ;-)
- convert a bus! this was our original plan but we were in too much of a hurry. I think its a winner idea!
- pushbikes - Ive seen MANY push bike travellers along the way! Brave people! Think of the fuel savings, the environment... Your poor legs? hehe
- a boat - buy a livable boat and travel around (literally) Australia. You can stop at most places for $0.00 (seriously). You can go nuts around the whitsunday islands, eat fish and other seafood and when you REALLY want to - you can jump on land and explor with a pushbike or a hire car.

So if you cant afford a caravan or dont want to wait the amount of time it takes to save for one - try a camper trailer (you will see SO much more as they can go so much rougher than the van). If you cant handle the thought of giving up your creature comforts, but you want this lifestyle - trade in the massive home motgage for a decdent sized, luxurious, motorhome. Or build one yourself? Dont want to commit too much money upfront - tent/swag to begin with, until you are certain. Your options are endless and there is a way that will suit everyone.

I met some people not long ago whom had just begun a journey around Australia, when I asked them if they were enjoying it they said "not really" and started to explain. They said that living in a van was extremely difficult, they were finding it hard with their children and they werent sure how they would do it. They asked me what I thought of that and what I think they should do? So here is my "two bob" on introducing yourself to the caravanning life.

Give yourself time to adapt

Like every new experience or opportunity in life it takes time to adapt to it. Dont expect that when you move into a van/camper trailer/bus etc life will be the same as it was at home. There will be vast differences but give yourself TIME to adapt to them also your children. You will find a new routine that works for you. You will find a way that everyone can get a good nights sleep in the van. It just takes time.

If you have children

Remember that this is a HUGE change for them and it will take time for them to get used to it so if they are not sleeping well at the beginning and everyone is getting to that point of exhaustion and frustration... give it time. Try to focus on picking up the things they have lost from leaving their old, more structured life. Add in a few things or family "rituals" you can take part in every week even if its just a sunday BBQ or roast or a fmaily game of cricket every Tuesday morning. This can give them a sense of structure and make them feel a little less overwhelmed. Also remember - relaxing can be VERY exhausting. We found that we were so exhausted every afternoon we were ont he road. You fit so much into a day and it really takes its toll on you so try and get to bed earlier, make time to relax at "home" some days, give the kids a chance for some downtime.

Accentuate the positives

Focus on all the positives this lifestyle has brought into your life and encourage the kids to aswell. For every negative aspect you come up with point out its positive counterpart. In many of the most wonderful experiences in life we have to be sacrificing somthing else at the same time to be experiencing them, so focus on that. Encourage your kids to talk abou thow different their life is from the other kids and remind them of how lucky they are to get to live this way.

But how do you survive without time alone?

We are asked this all the time. We DO have time alone. Our son naps for 2-3 hours a day (luckily) but you could always put the kids inside on their beds with a quiet book to wind down and sit on the beach with hubby (if your camped at/on the beach) or you could wait until night time. Rather than switching on a TV, sit outside in your chairs with a glass of wine and simply connect. Lay a blanket under the stars and relax together until your ready for bed.

But what about not having our friends around?

if your camped somewhere you are able to have a camp fire, chances are once the kids are all tucked into bed if you sit outside and spark it up - before you know it everyone will have come to join you. Instant socialising - no babysitters or makeup required. Its a wonderful, relaxed environment and it will make up for any amount of "missing" of your friends. Same goes for your kids. I was at the pool yesterday for all of 3 minutes before a 7 year old girl was swimming around with my son playing a game that was making them both crease up laughing.

Anyone can live like this. There are housing options, work options (see this post I wrote about making money on the road). You have more options, more choice and more room for change than in any other lifestyle so dont feel afraid to search and mould it until you find the way it works for you and your family. If all else fails and you need some reassuring, travelling families are always willing to encourage and support others, seek them out - online, in person, however you can, we are all in this together!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Money, money money.

Staying On The Road..

The big choice

I think the first, most prominent choice you have to make when it comes to the financial side of the adventure is when you will work. There are many options for this but the two main ones I will explore are working for 50% of the year and travelling for 50% of the year and the other is working “here and there” along the way. Of course your choices can be limited or broadened dramatically by what sort of financial situation you are already experiencing in terms of savings/debts/investments etc. So feel free to skip any irrelevant information.

Six months on Six months off

This is the plan we are currently following as we want the added security of travelling with a loaded savings account. We are currently living an extremely frugal lifestyle (for more information have a look here and here) so that we can make the most of my husband working for six + months and do some pretty serious saving. The best part about this choice is that you can either simply enjoy the six months you have off and really get into the holiday lifestyle OR you can then go a step further and still try to pick up some interim work while your back on the road; to extend your travel time beyond six months and retain some of your savings (this is also what we plan to do once we are on the road again).

This idea is also effective in terms of many employers offering six month contracts. Although I have to say – getting used to having a fairly scattered employment history as part of your resume is a fact of life if you plan on working your way around this beautiful country. As long as you are good at what you do, while you’re doing it you should be able to keep up a decent list of references. There is always the option of searching for “temporary” positions as well as simply informing your employer upfront of your lifestyle choice but emphasising the fact that it won’t inhibit the quality of your work in the meantime.

Here there and everywhere (working whenever you need to top up your money)

As long as you have some emergency money pre-saved as well as enough money for the first few weeks on the road until you get to your first destination there is no reason this choice won’t work for you. As far as I know most positions of this description are mostly word of mouth or found advertised on noticeboards (and a few websites I will add in further down) so it may take a bit of networking and sign spotting to find the right position for you but as long as your conscious of factors like seasons etc. You’ll find something! Don’t be afraid to ask around at caravan parks/camp sites/farms etc.

Some options for people with qualifications

Obviously there a lot of people out there who have a qualification of some description. If you have something to offer you should definitely put it out there. You could have sign writing done on your car/van or just make your own little a frame sign to pop outside at free camps/caravan parks etc. Some of the services I have seen offered along the way?

Qualifications required

- Mechanical services. My husband is a licensed mechanic so we ordered a very cheap “sticker” sign for our van and we try to pick up work along the way. We keep our toolbox stocked with things we KNOW are needed along the road such as tyre plugging kits, spare caravan bearings and grease, spare oils/coolant etc. for servicing. We plan on having a small cardboard sign for the window of our caravan for when we are at free camps when next on the road. It will have a list of the jobs my husband can do and their cost. Our prices will obviously be a lot cheaper than the workshops you’ll find in the town without having to factor in electricity costs/rent etc.

 - Hair dressers. All you need to do is put a sign outside with your price. I’ve seen some of the hair dressers who set up shop at the caravan parks and camps they stop at – with lines of clients waiting outside. Every extra $10 or $20 adds up and so many of us ladies love to keep on top of regular haircuts.

- Personal trainers. Personal training courses are available online now days and can be completed quiet fast. If you hold (or are willing to achieve) this qualification you could put a sign out at certain places (especially places you will be for prolonged period of time) offering a “come one come all” group session at $10 per person for the hour. You never know how many people might turn up, you could make $10 or you could make $200. If I saw something like this along the way I would give it a try.

 - Massage/beauty therapy services. Same thing again – set up a sign and wait for the clients. The people you will come across along the way won’t just be frugal long term travellers (who can occasionally be stingy – by this I mean ME, lol) there will also be a lot of people on short holidays with “holiday cash” to spare. Holidaying people love to do things they wouldn’t normally splurge on at home so I’m sure many would take advantage of the service. Especially if you set your massage table up beachside.

Some options for those without a qualification or simply wanting to try something different

There are many options out there for people who may not have a qualification, may have a qualification that isn’t something they can work on the road or may simply want to try something different. Its upto you what you choose to do but I can guarantee you that trying something new will be a fun experience. I can’t wait to try some fruit picking or general farm labour along the way.

No qualifications required

- Babysitting. Remember we are all a long way away from our support systems. I don’t suggest people leave their children with any person but providing you have a good list of (contactable) references, a “police clearance” and are prepared to offer photocopies of your identification information to clients up front you could easily ask anything from $10 (cash) an hour. This is also a service you could “swap” with another family you connect with along the way. You watch their kids one night – they watch yours the next.

- Card making. I actually got this idea from my mother, she said that along her travels she has found herself unable to find a nice birthday card for a friend or family member. Craft is relaxing and soothing and a few supplies don’t have to take up too much room. You could offer crafted cards or printed photographic post cards, the sky is the limit.

 - Small gifts/trinkets. For example: jewellery making. This is again another art form that doesn’t have to take up too much room and you could even hold market stalls if you are in the right towns at the right time. Many people have the same problem with finding gifts as they do with cards so being able to pick up a lovely little handmade gift/jewellery box/photo frame etc. would be very special.

 - Sell home baked goodies. You could bake a few extra cakes/tarts/biscuits etc. Many a time I’ve stopped at a free camp in the middle of nowhere and craved something sweet. Even if you sold all your items for $1 or $1.50 each every little penny helps towards keeping you on the road (as long as you live relatively frugally)

 - Online Sales. You could find SOMETHING, anything to sell online. Whether it be a service, a product – anything. You could make your own craft items and sell them or sell your old clothes, once again – every little dollar adds up. Many people make a good income selling things on websites such as Ebay ( http://www.ebay.com.au/ ) theres no reason you cant too.

- Fruit/vegetable picking. This work is of course seasonal and from what I have heard it can be labour intensive (but don’t quote me on that). Even though the pay isn’t always ideal the perks (I’ve heard many a story of taking home a mixed box of fruit/veg at the end of the work week) can offset that a little. I don’t really know enough about fruit picking to write a detailed post on it but I will include some links I find, at the bottom of this post for anyone that wishes to further explore their options.

A few other services that could pick up work along the road:

- Musician/singer – busking or at a pub gig
- managing caravan parks so that other managers or owners can take holiday leave. I have heard of alot of people doing this as work. Also taking on caretaker/gardening/pool cleaning/cabin cleaning positions at a caravan park, these jobs generally come from word of mouth so dont be afraid to ask!
- Pet sitter – babysitting pets for fellow travellers while they roam into national parks.
- Handy-man – caravans are frail, to say the least.
- Tutoring children – many home-schooling parents could probably use a little break plus it adds a little diversity and excitement for the children.
- Guitar (or any other instrument you have on you) lessons
- Online jobs (another thing I know nothing about but would love more information on).
- Freelance writing for a travel magazine (write it up, submit it, *cross your fingers*)

(feel free to make suggestions to be added to any of these lists in order to make them more comprehensive)

Fruit and vegetable picking information and general "travellers job's" websites:

- http://jobsearch.gov.au/harvesttrail/default.aspx

- http://www.taw.com.au/

- http://jobsearch.careerone.com.au/hospitality-travel-tourism_4?247SEO=N&WT.srch=1&referrer=gjobsearch&type=B

- http://www.pickingjobs.com/search.php

- http://brisbane.gumtree.com.au/f-Jobs-W0QQCatIdZ9302

- http://www.not9to5.com.au/?gclid=CPazu47MwqwCFWJKpgodThhQrQ

- http://www.jobs4travellers.com.au/

So as you can see there is diverse range of employment options out there for us travellers. As long as you stay focussed on your goal - to work as little as possible and spend time together, with your partner/family etc. exploring this wonderful country, then you should be able to find the right travel job for you. Don't focus on getting rich, focus on getting by. When I look back over my life I can generally see a pattern that illustrates that the happiest times in our life have generally been the "brokest" times aswell. The reason for that? It generally meant my husband was struggling to get work (think: recession) so therefore we had lots of time together and due to trying to penny pinch we would find our own, free, fun; outdoors! When you haven't got much money you usually have alot more time, time to make th emost of life and enjoy the people you love to be with and the refreshing and exciting "outdoors". I think that most of my fellow travellers will agree with me here that once you get on the road and get a taste for the life/lifestyle one of your top priorities becomes finding ways to extend it. Unfortunately for those of us whom are yet to see that big red ball roll through our front yard and are therefore NOT bajillionaires, there is work to be done. There’s something for everyone
From the small amount of research I have done so far I can see there really should be something out there for everyone. There is a wonderful variety of money making ideas for us travellers and most of them consist of working on your own terms in your own time frame.