The other night I really, really felt like being inside, on a couch, watching Netflix and ordering Vietnamese home delivery. As in, something completely different from what I was actually doing – out in the bush, in the cold, covered in red dirt, wondering what we could make from the tinned tuna and tinned beans that we had left in our depleted supplies.* No phone reception to order home delivery, no shop for hundreds of kms – and no home to have it delivered to. In what felt like abject misery, but was really just slight discomfort and unwarranted self pity, I took shelter from the wind and flying red dirt, huddled in the car (the closest thing we have to being inside on a couch) and jotted down a few thoughts on some of the less glamorous aspects of life on the road.
1. Get used to looking like shit
There are no hair straighteners, no make up, and quite often no showers out here. For a large part of this very large country, you will be coated in a layer of red dirt that cannot be scrubbed off. Every inch of exposed skin will be covered in bites, welts and scratches and your feet will crack to the point where even chiselling away at them with an angle grinder would be of little effect. All three of your changes of clothes will be on high rotation, and they too will be covered in red dirt – so even when they are “fresh” out of the wash, they will look grimy and threadbare. Your kids will look like feral beasts and you will give up trying to keep them clean – but will go through a shitload of baby wipes (a shower substitute in the bush) before you come to this realisation.
The great thing is that you won’t give a shit about looking like shit because: cracking tan, stretchy shorts (oh so comfy), and no mirrors = complete and blissful denial. And the feeling of a hot shower after a smelly few days in the bush will make you feel like a million bucks, like no mani, pedi, high maintenance grooming regime ever could.
Tip from the
grotty but still very vain selfie taker “expert”: Whack on some sunnies, apply the X-pro II filter and you may well be mistaken in your Insta selfies as as semi-groomed, hygienic member of the gen pop. Also – forget about wearing white – ever.
2. Stuff goes wrong, and falls off your car, ALL the time
For the first few weeks of our trip we were totally clueless – all the gear and no idea. The things that went wrong – fairly constantly – were generally due to “user error”. But as we got a bit more experienced, the stuff going wrong didn’t stop. Getting bogged on a beach with the tide coming up. The kids getting gastro and spewing over all the sheets and doonas with no spare sheets, and no laundry for 100kms. A swarm of locusts getting into the camper. Almost getting blown off the cliff in the middle of the night. And then there is the wear and tear on the camper and land cruiser after flogging it for more than 30,000 kms in the last 8 months. As soon as we get one thing fixed, something else breaks. And we fork over more and more of our diminishing hit the road fund.
If you are a mechanic, then your life on the road will probably be joyful and carefree (unless your kids get gastro in the bush). You could also just start following us around and we could fund your trip for you as you fix all the things that fall off, snap, or catch fire on our car.
Tip from the
wife of a Macgyver/handy hubby “expert”: stock up on duct tape and cable ties, and watch lots of DIY mechanic you tube clips. They will get you (temporarily) out of many a fix.
3. You give up the creature comforts – but not the creatures
Every minute that you’re not sleeping, or huddling in the car, you will be directly exposed to the elements. Note: this is specific to camper trailers. Some of the caravans we have seen have more creature comforts than we had in our house in Sydney. Usually I try to make friends with these people, and get a tour of their digs – for vicarious comfort. Some of them even have white sheets….whaaaat?? I digress. We have no creature comforts (says someone whose dirty car is the closest thing they have to a couch). But we do have a lot of creatures.
Our camper and immediate surrounds have been host to dingoes, snakes, cane toads, wombats, locusts, emus, bulls, possums, horses – to name a few. I have been head butted by a kangaroo, almost trodden on quite a few snakes, moved campsites pronto when we discovered a croc slide way too close to our camper, and don’t even get me started on the mice at Uluru – a trauma from which I may never fully recover.
Then again, we have also patted dolphins, watched whales swim past our beach campsite, swum with turtles in hot springs, fed crocodiles and ridden camels. Some creatures do have a plus side (especially those we found in the mud, chilli crabbed and had with a bottle of rose – yum)
Tip from the
critter-phobe “expert”: if you don’t want the town horse in a remote outback town to pin you against your camper trailer, best not to have a sausage roll in your pocket.
4. Quantity time with the fam – so much quantity
One of the best parts of this trip is getting to spend so much time with the hubby and ratbags. One of the more challenging parts of this trip is spending every minute of every day with them. After squabbles over brekky, you don’t get to kiss them goodbye send them off to school, and all recover your good moods in the, very reasonable, seven or so hours of separation. No – you get to immediately become a cranky and impatient teacher to cranky and impatient “home” schooled students – who do NOT respect your authori-tah. There is no absence to make the heart grow fonder – there is constant presence to make the heart grow quite irritable at times.
They’re there – just one metre away in fact – when you go to sleep. And they’re there – sometimes less than a metre away if one of them has managed to sneak into your bed – the minute you wake up. As a bonus extra, you sometimes get more special time together when one (or more – but never at the same time) of the ratbags needs to make a long trek to a long drop in the middle of the night.
In the great outdoors my kids voices have increased by several decibels, to the point where I have grave concerns of them ever returning to socially acceptable volumes. Apologies to every person we have camped near – if it’s any consolation, my ears are more sore than yours.
Lucky for them they are adorable and generally hilarious and loads of fun. Very bloody lucky.
Tip from the
occasionally frazzled parent “expert”: indulge in a caravan park every now and then. The kids can make friends, show off their tricks on jumping pillows, go for a swim – and leave you the hell alone for 10 minutes. Wine also helps. A lot. (That is, wine helps a lot. But also a lot of wine helps).
5. You may find yourself, ever so slightly, “gorged out”
There’s a saying doing the rounds of the travelling fams who have gone from Kakadu, to the Kimberleys, to the Gibb River Road, to the Bungle Bungles, to Karijini – visiting some of the most breathtaking scenery on this planet. We are, um, a bit, ah “gorged out”. Yeh – hard to believe (and hard to admit) but true. It can become a little hard to be appropriately awe-struck at any given natural spectacle when you have seen an equally incredible beach/waterfall/gorge/waterhole/rock formation yesterday, and will no doubt see another awesome beach/waterfall/gorge/waterhole/rock formation tomorrow.
Long term travellers may be reading this, nodding and thinking “Yeh – I get that. We have to visit another spectacular beach tomorrow too – oh, the monotony”. Anyone reading this from their desk, that they haven’t left for 18 hours may be thinking (if they haven’t already shut this down and unsubscribed) “You utter wanker. Are you seriously whinging about going for another swim on a Tuesday arvo?”. Settle down – no, I’m not complaining (though I am possibly a bit of a wanker – I am a lawyer after all) but sometimes you do feel bad that you may be overloading on spectacularness – and not fully appreciating the natural wonders of this country.
Tip from the
self-righteous, whinging, wanker “expert”: Phone a friend. Phone that friend who is at work and hasn’t seen natural light for days. Get them to describe in painful detail what they’re doing in the office. Then look out at the turquoise water right outside your campsite and remember there are worse alternatives than yet another day at the beach.
Despite the challenges, hitting the road is still the best decision we have ever made. I could write a much longer list of the grievances of a hectic city life (in fact I believe I already have). And the ever growing list of highlights outweighs the occasional whinge session in a low moment during an Uber-eats craving.
*We made pasta. And ate it under the stars. It was delicious. Though would still kill for a pho bo.