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.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Choosing the right van for YOUR family.

Choosing the right van for YOUR family.

So, you’ve made the decision to travel Australia, now you just need to choose what to travel IN?

Well, for us, this was an easy choice. Originally we wanted to purchase an old school bus and do it up very slowly and carefully, however we came into some unexpected money and were bursting at the seams to hurry up and get on the road. This led to the purchase of our van. We have heard from many other travellers that “Family caravans” are almost impossible to come across second hand. This made us very nervous, luckily though we found a style we loved, which was suited to us (Jayco Sterling 24-75-1) and then found a second hand one almost immediately after it had been posted online on the “trading post” and we purchased it straight away.
In writing this post I just want to first explain that we do live in our van year round, we do not have a “home base” anywhere and because of this we chose a van that was very comfortable and homely. I’m 100% certain though that if we were unable to afford, at the time, any of the more luxury items; it really wouldn’t have been worth giving this experience up for. We all adapt to our living environment and we learn to utilise what we have and learn to live without whatever we don’t have, so it’s best to try not to be too strict about what you think is fundamental to your travel experience.
Below, I will compile a list of the features that were important to us, for our van and why we wanted them:

Ensuite bathroom
This was important as it means “self-sufficiency”, to us. If you choose a van with a shower and toilet you are able to save a shed-load of money by primarily free-camping. We find that we can have one or two nights a week at a caravan park (simply to fill up our water tanks) and in between that we can get by free camping. However if you enter a new town and wish to 100% free camp just ask the local council or tourist information centre where you may be able to fill your tanks for free or a small charge. An ensuite bathroom is a great feature to have in your van when you have children, purely for the convenience of being able to shower them easily before bedtime.
Solar power
We have purchased a generator but we honestly don’t use it. I think the only time we would use it would be if we were free camping (a LONG way away from other campers) in an extremely hot climate (or cold) and needing to use the aircon or heater. Our van came with solar panels on the roof and battery packs under the bed and we are able to easily and efficiently run all of our lighting and our t.v off that. We can also use an inverter to charge phones/laptops etc. as needed. However we mostly charge these items in the car while driving on car chargers. Solar power is fantastic to have though!

Separate sleeping areas
We only have the one child, but we find it very important to be able to all get a good nights sleep. With this in mind we settled on the idea of a van with separate sleeping areas for us and our son. Our son sleeps in a bunk room at the end of the van and we sleep in a queen-sized bed at the opposite end. We wanted the room to be able to be closed off (with a door/concertina door) rather than just a curtain so that our use of the kitchen area would not be limited once our child was in bed. This was very important to us and resulted in us having to reject a lot of otherwise perfect “family vans”. I think the bunk rooms are absolutely PERFECT if travelling fulltime with a child (and you are a parent that loves their evening child-free time to relax!)

Fully functioning kitchen 
Obviously a kitchen is good to have, however you can improvise in many MANY different ways with an outdoor kitchen. We love the convenience of our indoor kitchen. Having the kitchen so well organised and easily usable makes us far more likely to save money and eat at home. The upgraded (larger sized) fridge/freezer means we can store more food and once again save money. Once you’re on the road and are trying to make your money stretch as far as possible, little ways (like mealtime) to save money become very important!

The following are the features we wish we had OR would like to add down the track (or have added after purchase):
A bike rack
sure beats pulling the kids bikes in and out of the van at every stop! Bike racks are far more expensive than I realised though, ours was in excess of $300
An outdoor shower
this would be a major luxury but an awesome help when we all get dirty/sandy while free camping or camping near beaches. I think this would/will be quiet simple to rig up ourselves (in fact it’s something I plan on organising very soon!)
Diesel heater
we would like to add one of these as we would LOVE to free camp at the snow for one ENTIRE snow season one year. I think it’d make the van nice and toasty warm!
A safe
the previous owners added a safe (so technically it wasn’t added after we purchased it) and its one of the greatest features of our van. We keep our birth certificates, insurance papers, rego, and emergency money in there. We also keep jewellery in there if we are somewhere where we wont be wearing it for a while. Being able to store all of these documents together means that in the event of one of us losing our wallet (which unfortunately happens A LOT to Brent) we have all our ID paperwork readily available!

These are the features we have found unnecessary, in our van.
The stupendous amount of storage space in the van
at first I thought “how will I ever fit everything we need into this little amount of storage space” but then I quickly realised that 90% of what I packed is “Crap” we didn’t use for our entire first year in the van (and its now been donated to charity). Also, if you actually fill (to the brim) each storage area (especially the MASSIVE under the bed storage area) your van is almost certainly going to be overweight. So don’t stress about finding a van with the largest amount of storage space, just focus on having the smallest amount of “Stuff” and don’t pack too much “just in case” stuff! For example we never use spare sheets, our sheets are always clean and dry before the evening so toting around a tonne of sets of sheets is just pointless and excessive.

The dining area
pretty much every van has a dining area, however we almost never use ours. Id happily trade it now, for a desk or a lounge. We mostly sit outside to eat dinner/draw with our son/do craft etc. So the dining table is more just there for “looks” it is the first thing we would porbrably get rid of if we were to renovate our van. With this idea in mind if we were purchasing a van again we wouldn’t be so concerned about having to choose a van where the dining table is converted into your main bed. Your life becomes all about “being outside” when you live in a van and lead a travelling lifestyle so the dining table becomes completely unneeded and instead you will find yourself option for a fold out outdoor table or, your lap.

Now, not everything about having a van is perfect!
We have found that we are somewhat limited on where we can go with our van. We are unable to take our van (because of its size and the fact that it is NOT an off-road van) to most off-road places unless they are very flat tracks to get to. This meant that we were unable to go to lake Eyre and we are unable to take the off road tracks through the Simpson desert etc.
Since we don’t want to live in a smaller van and our van IS our home base, we’ve decided to compromise by setting up our car with a car fridge, simple single burner gas stove and a roof top tent (as well as the other needed gear) so that we can explore more remote areas without paved roads. Other people I know have traded in vans for camper trailers or tents or even smaller, off road vans.
This is definitely something to consider when purchasing a caravan, do you prefer going off the beaten track? Will your caravan allow that? Are you willing to set up your car for independent travel away from your van?
Larger, family vans can also (apparently) be difficult to find spaces for in free camps, however we have not experienced this. We travel in the peak travel time (not the school holiday peak, the seasonal peak) and have not had any trouble, but we have heard some horror stories from others. I think that as long as you stop early enough at a free camp, there is always plenty of room!
Personally, we love our van because unlike a camper trailer, we step out of our car and into our van with everything ready to use, But – as I said – we are limited on where we go. Camper trailers are much more budget friendly and use A LOT less fuel to tow, than a caravan does. Fuel consumption takes up the biggest portion of our budget so this is something worth considering when choosing a “home away from home” as well as a “tow vehicle”.
There are so many different options out there and we all have such different needs and priorities about what we want. Any money you plan on investing in your nomadic lifestyle is worth being spent carefully and properly so make sure you choose the right rig for you and your family. Make sure you remember to consider what you NEED versus what is “comfortable in your house” and remember that your entire life/style will be very different and much more focussed on being outdoors. Remember to consider the differences in climate you may experience and how you feel you will cope with experiences of scorching temperatures or freezing cold.

 Take into consideration your children’s needs in regard to space, noise levels for sleep, etc. If you do your research, choose accordingly to your family and you are also willing to make changes and sacrifices in order to bring more experiences then I’m sure you will be content and comfortable with your choice! J

What we have been upto this week.

On Saturday afternoon my mum arrived at the Kalgoorlie airport for a visit. My son (aswell as us) were very excited to see her, its been a while since her last visit!

Lucky for us, on Sunday afternoon the Boulder Markets were on so we went there and had a nice big walk around and looked at all the stalls. There were lots of fantastic things there! We also spent a LOOOOONG time waiting for Zac to finish up on the jumping castle, lol.

Zac and Brent at the local park with an emu

On Sunday we also spent a few hours helping out an AMAZING local lady, Christine, she collects good from all over Kalgoorlie, cleans them up and distributes them to anyone in need. She distributes to low income families, the local aboriginal communities, womens refuges, the childrens ward and much more. She is such an amazing woman and does it all out of the kindness of her own heart, using entirely her own time. It was such a great feeling to be able to help out for a few hours and we cant wait to go back and help again.

The rest of the week has been spent between the park, pool and motorbike riding in the bush near Lake Douglas (a small Lake about ten k's West of Kalgoorlie). Weve been enjoying the sunshine (aswell as the odd rainy, cool, day. Weve been sitting outside until late int he afternoon everyday enjoying bbq dinners and absolutely stunning sunsets and Zacs just been playing on the concrete and in the dirt!

Brent and I had a night out on Monday night which was a different experience! The Kalgoorlie nightlife is different to what we are used to and very "man" focussed! The lingerie waitresses were a bit of a shock to see when we got to the pub (although I'm sure Brent wasn't too concerned ;-) lol)

This is Brent and one of his workfriends at the pub with "wipe on sex appeal" avaliable for purchase in the mens bathrooms, LOL

Tomorrow we will most likely spend most of the day in the pool as our car is booked in to get a new windscreen so we wont have it for four hours. I will hopefully be able to get a bit of quiet time to come in and write up a blog post as requested by a member of my facebook page ( http://www.facebook.com/?ref=hp#!/LivingTheSimpleDream ) Brent goes back to work tomorrow night for seven nights of night shift after having had the last three days off. We will just be spending as much time outdoors enjoying the sun, the pool and the park! (so that Brent can have some peace and quiet to sleep in the van in the day).

Its so wonderful seeing familiar faces again and being able to enjoy some time with my mum, we really miss our family when we are on the road so much so when they visit (or we visit them) its very special. Hope everyone has a wonderful Friday and an even better weekend!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

When you are where you are meant to be.... things flow.

Yesterday was a strange day. It was my first day after (finally) finishing the uni term, a uni term that had damn near traumatised me. Last term I took on fulltime uni as we had settled into Kalgoorlie to work for 6 months or so and Zac had just started daycare two days a week. However - that "plan" (like many, when you become a parent) was not to be.

Zac instantly hated daycare... He cried from the moment we dropped him off until the moment we picked him up. His teachers were stressed because he seemed to be the "exception" to the whole "Oh, he will be laughing and playing (and stop crying) as soon as you're out ther door", instead - he was very consistant for a couple of weeks at two days a week. We realised this was causing him ALOT of stress and his teachers were having trouble giving him the support he needed because they simply hadn't experienced such a consistantly sad child.

This led to us pulling him out of daycare, I mean - I enjoy every moment with my son. When he is in daycare I miss him terribly. I (honestly) only sent him because it is the "thing you do" but my husband pointed out that alot of our life decisions go against that grain so if I love being with Zac and dont mind having him home full time, then why send him to daycare when he clearly isnt settling in? We believe that he wasnt settling in because of our lifestyle and always moving around, as he previously LOVED his "home-daycare" he used to attend (read: this would have been an entirely different situation if he had have settled in happily - he would still be attending now).

Thus the decision was finalised, and although my time alone went down to basically zero, my uni workload persisted. This lead to a very stressful term for me! I experienced alot of guilt because there were many times I had to just give up and sit Zac in front of the TV so that I could get some work done (those who know me know that I am the kinda mum whom is ALWAYS playing with her child and teaching him things and going outdoors with him when we are together) so this all added to both of our stress levels, which then bounced off eachother even more so.

Anyway, I woke up yesterday with no uni work and was just baffled... We got up slowly and casually, I washed some dishes, tidied the van, got ontop of the washing. Then we went and caught up with some friends we have met here in Kalgoorlie, THEN we came home... and relaxed??!?!?!?!?

..... it was BLISSFUL!

We made the bed so it was nice and neat, then layed on the bed, under the aircon and played cars, puzzles, lego, flash cards, dominoes, for hours. It felt so good to just be able to enjoy Zac again and play with him with my attention all on him. Then around 5:30 in the afternoon I took him for a big walk around Boulder while the sun started to get lower in the sky. Would you believe that after all of this attention, busy day etc. he fell STRAIGHT to sleep when I put him to bed. Wow, It all just felt so right, like it is the way its meant to be for us - like everything was flowing naturally again. (the last three weeks zac has experienced a major sleep regression, thats why this sleep "thing" has been massive for us now).

I hadnt realised how much my desire to get a qualification was affecting Zacs life. I knew I took on too much but I didnt realise how much my inability to keep up with it all was responsible for all of the massive changes Zac has been experiencing lately. With this thought in mind; life feels so blissful again. I love enjoying Zac and making the most of every second I have with him, so I am so happy to get to experience that again.

Today it has been the same, a nice relaxing morning with a little bit of housework. Then the day is ours, to play and learn together, to enjoy eachothers company and experience life together. I feel so lucky to be in a position to be home with my son all the time, I feel grateful that I enjoy his company so much and that I get to really teach him the basics aswell as about life and the world.

So today I am a little "high on life", I feel really happy, relaxed, at ease and inspired. I feel energised and ready to really be the mum I always wanted to be. I know my son would be proud of me in years to come if I could stand up and say "I singlehandedly finished a FULLTIME uni degree in just a few years, while raising my child and having a husband working extremely long hours. Because of this I was able to take on a high paying job and buy my son everything he could have dreamed of", but I know I am raising a child whom would be prouder to be able to say "my mum taught me the ABC, to read, to write, to play and how to be a good person, she was always there when I needed her and my memories are of her time, not of objects".

I feel so grateful for everything my life has brought to me. There have been some substantially tough times, but they have only intensified my desire to sieze the moment, be with my husband and son and experience a simple, happy life.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Travelling with young children - our experience.

Travelling with young children.
Zac entertaining himself in the car by playing with his helmet

When we began planning this trip, we knew we would be seeing Australia from an entirely different “angle” to most travellers our age. We knew that by having a 2 year old son (at the time of the finalising of our plans) we would have to work hard to find a way to make this travel lifestyle work for US as a family and our son as a child requiring stability, routine and structure.
With this in mind we decided on a few foundational “rules” we wanted to implement:

We felt that because we were filling his life with so much “unknown” at such a young age, developing a new, more suitable routine was necessary. We developed routines for average days, routines for car trips and routines for when we are stopped in a town working. Being able to ease into these routines has given our son back some of the structure his life was lacking. Our travel routine is as simple as our son being able to depend on the fact that we WILL stop for morning tea/lunch etc. and that we will rarely (if ever) travel past 2pm. Structuring our days on the road like this has led to a massive decrease in monotonous conversations of “are we there yet?” because our son feels secure and comfortable and genuinely knows when we WILL be “there” (even though “there” isn’t always where we had planned for it to be”.

When you start travelling and live a “holiday-esque” lifestyle occasionally the days can begin to become less defined. You start to realise you have no idea what day/time it is. Although this is a nice, relaxing experience for most of us adults, kids tend to like and crave those little activities that happen on certain days (something to look forward to). With this in mind we have set rituals that we follow even when on the road. It could be simple as Friday night dinner, every week, is homemade burger night. Or Saturday night you all watch a DVD together as a family, Monday morning could be “bush walk day” or Tuesday afternoon could be “craft time”. You could set a certain day of the week to Skype or ring your family back home. Any of these experiences can help to define your weeks more as well as create a small amount of structure, but not so much that it hinders your travel experience.
Have a day off here and there:

Zac and I on a "Rest day" painting some shells we had collected.

Let’s face it, living a life of leisure can be extremely exhausting. If it’s occasionally exhausting for us imagine how it might be for the little ones? Our son (as with most children) is very independent by nature. He loves to bush walk and demands to be left to his own devices rather than carried or assisted. When exploring Australia, many of the natural wonders you will want to see will involve physical activity to get to. We have found that even though our son is capable and does actually make his own way at the time – this does lead to increased tiredness later in the day (or even the next day). We have found that occasionally its nice to take a whole day off exploring, to have some time to stay at camp and all relax. During this time our son plays with toys, or in the dirt, we read books and simply rest. Sometimes these days are at free camps (which is even better because they are generally between towns and there is nothing to tempt you away from relaxing) and sometimes they are at caravan parks.
Children can get bored very fast in the car if they are not being stimulated.
We have found that because of this we HAVE to (this is just us) leave at around 5am so that we can get all of our driving for the day done by lunchtime or just after. After lunchtime our son just cannot handle being in the car anymore and becomes impossible to entertain. This generally means he gets to enjoy the afternoon of daylight hours to play, when we stop, which breaks up the days of travel for him!
A few of the activities we use in the car:
We purchased a mini portable TV (I know many people are against these but I think they are worth making an exception for once you switch to fulltime travel)
Flash cards (our son – like most children – just loves when we are involved with him) with the flash cards we are not only teaching him but having quality time together. We use them to teach him to spell out words, recognise letters, or just identify whatever the picture is on the card.
Play-dough (did that just make you shudder? Play-dough… in the car…. Is this lady crazy?) Our son is obsessed with play-dough, it’s his favourite “play thing”. We bought a small lap table for in the car and we give him one container of play-dough and a few little utensils and it keeps him entertained for hours. For some reason our cheap crappy seat covers don’t allow the playdough to stick to them so it simply dries and is brushed into our hands and put in the bin (not nearly as messy as you would think)
Whiteboards are fantastic for kids in the car. You can also get coloured whiteboard markers. Team those with a face-washer and they can draw for ours. This save on paper and is that little bit more exciting for the kids.
I also use the whiteboard to create stories with Zac. I will draw the story as I go along and allow him to contribute. This is so much fun and is a great way for him to explore his imagination.
Reading books – another great educational and entertaining activity.
We are yet to use them but I know a lot of people use audio books so I plan on trying those soon!
Just a few small toys (like some cars or Lego blocks) generally will entertain Zac for a little while.
talking about your surroundings, what you can see, where you are going and what there is to do there. We will somtimes give zac some brouchures and allow him to look through them and choose osmthing that looks fun to do or see when we arrive in the next town. This makes the trip more interesting and integrates his ideas and interests into what we do at the next town. 

Breaking up the trip a little:

Stop at a fast food place, with a playground. We occasionally will stop at a MacDonald’s and just buy a drink to share, and then take Zac into the playground for a play. There are nearly always other children for them to play with and the playgrounds make for really active play with lots of climbing, running and exploring. This is a great way to release some energy.
Stop at a beach for a swim and some fun in the sun while you eat lunch.
Plenty of rest areas have small playgrounds, utilise these when you see them.
Stop for a cooked lunch, this gives you more time to sit around and sometimes you can get the children’s bikes out and allow them to have a ride around with dad while mum is making lunch.
Where do we like to stay?

We love to “free camp”. Free camping is a fantastic way to see this country on a tight budget. Free camps also promote a lot of socialisation as they are generally in areas where there aren’t other things to do (in terms of going to restaurants or pre-planned activities). Our son always finds other children to play with when we free camp and it makes the trip a lot more interesting.

In terms of the best family friendly parks we have found the “Discovery holiday parks” chain to be the best. So far (in our experience) they have always been clean, had playgrounds for the children, had multiple other child friendly activities and have special offers like “free pancake breakfasts on Tuesdays” etc. They are our favourite parks and we tend to seek them out when we are somewhere near one and looking for paid accommodation for the night in our caravan. We also signed up to their membership program and receive a genuinely good discount on stays at their parks.