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Money habits

Could a work and travel lifestyle be for you?

18 June 2020

Exploring Australia is a bucket list item for many Aussies. And travelling by caravan, motorhome or camper trailer is the perfect way to explore our enormous country at your own pace. 

Don’t be fooled into thinking this kind of lifestyle is limited to the so-called ‘grey nomads’ – our country’s intrepid baby boomer population who have hit retirement and set out to explore Australia with a caravan in tow. A growing number of younger travellers are hitting the road too – taking advantage of options available such as working while you travel. 

Hare three stories of younger families who are making the work and travel lifestyle work for them by exploring the country with a caravan or motorhome.

Roy and Leigh Darling’s ‘tour de ocean’

Travel time: Three months (and counting).

Accommodation: Caravan in free campsites or national parks where possible.

Cost: Under $400 a week.

Favourite experiences: 4WDing on Cable Beach in Broome (WA), fossicking for opals in Lightning Ridge (NSW) and free camping along the Great Ocean Road (Vic).

“We’re empty-nesters, so we can do what we want now,” says Roy Darling,

who has been on the road with his wife Leigh for about three months, living out of their Bushtracker off-road caravan. Their rig is set up for free camping – solar panels, a generator, ensuite bathroom, LED lighting, additional water tanks and fuel cans and a satellite dish – so they can avoid the large fees charged by caravan parks.

“It’s all about the lifestyle,” Roy says. “We set out with a goal to live life by the ocean – or some sort of water – as much as possible, as I’m a mad fisherman. And we wanted to do it as cheaply as we could. That meant spending a bit more money on setting up our van so that we could be self-sufficient.”

Originally from Melbourne, Roy has taken long-service leave from his teaching job while Leigh works part time from the road doing administrative work for a small financial firm.

“Leigh works Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so that’s when I take the tinny out and try to catch dinner,” Roy says.

The Darlings have two children at university who they keep in touch with via Skype and email.

“You can get a pretty good connection in most places, but we’ve got an ongoing joke that the kids should wait at least two weeks before contacting the cops if they don’t hear from us – sometimes we find a remote campsite that we just can’t bear to leave.”

“We’re currently heading north towards Cape Leveque, then we’ll head east across the Northern Territory into Queensland, where we’ll visit Leigh’s mother,” Roy says. “After that it’s home again… but we’ll be back on the road soon enough.”

Roy’s top tips

  • Don’t rush – take the time to really experience the place you’re in and the journey you’re on.
  • Talk to other travelers about the best things to see and the best campsites to stay at. Really pick their brains – don’t just rely on what you read online.
  • Make sure you leave some room in your budget for occasional big-ticket items, like helicopter flights over Horizontal Falls in the Kimberley.

The Wilson family’s ‘highlights tour’ of Australia

Travel time: Two months.

Accommodation: Camper trailer in caravan parks, free campsites, roadhouses and more.

Favourite experiences: Scooter riding at Dubbo Zoo (NSW), shimmying down rock walls in Karijini National Park (WA) and swimming in waterholes at El Questro (Kimberley region).

Some people might shudder at the thought of spending two hours in a car with their family, let alone two months. But for the Wilsons – Kate, Grant, Zoe (6) and Izzy (4) – from Kiama, New South Wales, touring Australia together in a 4WD and camper trailer was a dream come true.

“The kids coped really well,” says Kate. “We bought them each a small bag before the trip and told them they could pack whatever they wanted in it as long as it fit. I packed another bag with drawing paper, puzzles, stickers and that kind of thing. I also had a secret stash of craft stuff in the van and I’d rotate that with what was in the car. We didn’t want them to spend too much time on the iPad… but we did watch a few movies.”

The Wilsons travelled west through outback New South Wales before heading to South Australia and zipping up the middle of the country to visit Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Katherine, before joining the Savannah Way to Broome and the Dampier Peninsula to work their way south along the coast of Western Australia.

 “Western Australia is just so far away to drive to – you can’t just pop over there in the school holidays, so our aim was to spend most of our time there,” says Kate.

“Zoe had to do some school work on the way, but the girls were learning about science and history every day. In Middle Lagoon on the Dampier Peninsula the tides are so extreme that the water goes out to the horizon leaving enormous mudflats where the girls spent hours searching for hermit crabs.

 “Eight weeks was a good amount of time for us,” says Kate. “We’ll definitely do it again.”

Kate’s top tips

  • Use camping apps – they are excellent resources for finding camping sites while you’re travelling.
  • Make sure you book the caravan parks in Broome and Coral Bay in advance, as they’re often full.
  • Don’t sacrifice experience to save money. We planned to do it as cheaply as possible but not miss out on anything, which meant we spent a little more on caravan parks in WA so that we could stay in the town and explore.

Ruby and Paul’s ‘go for it’ getaway

Travel time: Seven months (and counting).

Accommodation: Motorhome in caravan parks, free campsites or home stays.

Cost: Averaging under $60 a week, thanks to money made while travelling.

Favourite experiences: Pineapple picking on the Sunshine Coast, sailing the Whitsundays and scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

Ruby Fullerton and Paul Thorburn met two years ago when they were both on holiday at Airlie Beach.

“I was recovering from a long-term relationship gone sour and Paul was a fairly new divorcee, so we had something in common from the start,” Ruby says.

“I lived in Brisbane and he lived in Coffs Harbour, and we used to spend every other weekend driving from one place to the other,” she says. “It seeded the idea for the lifestyle we’re living now. We both really wanted to start travelling together, experience new things together and just see where life took us. And here we are!”

The couple bought Paul’s grandfather’s motorhome – an old-style one with the bed above the cabin – and brought it back to life with a lick of paint and new shocks.

“We wanted to travel for a long time but we didn’t want to eat into our savings too much,” Ruby says. “We knew the only way we could do it was to work on the road.

“Our first job was picking pineapples, arranged through a friend of a friend, but now when we arrive in a new town, we introduce ourselves to the local businesses and put up flyers saying we’re looking for work.”

What started out as a necessity has now become a way of life for Ruby and Paul, who love learning new skills.

“I’ve worked making smoothies in Rockhampton, netting fruit trees in Bowen and fixing fences in Hughenden,” Ruby says. “There’s no shortage of work for people who are willing to try anything, and it’s nice knowing you’re not trapped in a nine to five situation – we can leave whenever we need to.

“Life on the road is an amazing adventure – we’re always somewhere new, meeting great people and just filling our days with whatever excites us. There’s absolutely no humdrum!”

Ruby’s top tips

  • Work from the road if you can – it’ll keep you going longer. I’ve met plenty of people of all ages doing odd jobs as they travel.
  • Look for caravan parks that have deals, like ‘stay six nights, pay for five’.
  • Plan at least a week ahead – know where you’d like to go next and what you’d like to do there.

The nine to five urban lifestyle isn’t for everyone. And, travelling across the country while working can be a great way to enjoy freedom from a desk job while having some fun and seeing some of Australia’s best sights. If hooking up a caravan or motorhome to your car and setting off sounds like the kind of adventure you’re after to get your work-life balance in check, see how our Caravan Insurance and Motorhome Insurance options can help protect your ‘home on the road’.'

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