It occurred to us today we’ve been living in a bus for six months now. Six months!
If I had to guess, I’d say three. Time is flying.
Truth is, we’ve hardly started our lap – we’ve just clicked over 10,000 kilometres last weekend.
But I’ve been sitting hear sipping a g&t and thinking about all we’ve done so far, so tonight I thought I might share a couple of things we’ve discovered about doing this type of trip.
Now, there are a heap of links in this post, but nothing’s sponsored here bar the usual plug for Tracey at the bottom, and we’re not receiving any kickbacks. That is not saying we wouldn’t be open to some if you know a guy.
This post is just what we’ve found which I thought might be useful or interesting or just because my fingers decided you needed to know.
Right off the bat, let’s start with the elephant in the room.
1. Sexxy Time
It’s like we’re teenagers again. As in, we’re trying really hard not to get caught by other members of the household.
Because the kids are essentially in the one room with us on the bus, the original plan was to have an OZtrail tent insert in one of their gazebos set up outside ‘so the kids can have an extra room to lounge about in during the day’. We actually have three gazebos because they were so much cheaper than fitting an awning to the side of the bus and the system works well because we can set up one, two or three 3m x3m spaces depending on how long we’re parked up in a particular spot. We use the gazebos (with walls) for housing the push bikes, hanging washing, classroom and outdoor living.
But, as far as I’m concerned, mainly for canoodling.
And I have to say, this was going really well up until the temperatures dipped towards the lower end of the single digits and even a couple of notches below zero – damn you Canberra.
In these temperatures, not only is the short run from the bus steps to the difficult-to-open-with-numb-fingers tent unnecessarily invigorating, there’s no fun to be had if we both arrive with an innie.
In other news, we’re heading north.
Everyone is getting along fine. Better than ever even. I mean, they’re still shits and arguing and fighting, but between those times they’re getting along super.
Some might call it a sort of camaraderie. Others might say Stockholm Syndrome.
Thing is, they’re talking and playing and doing together. And we’re with the kids. At home we were spread all over the place. Too often we were hiding away doing washing or cooking or working and they were squabbling on the other side of the house. I feel like I know my kids better than ever at the moment.
Best of all, these days, when they blow up at each other, we know who did what and why and can sort things out in a timelier fashion, before anyone starts ferreting around in the cutlery drawer.
Holy deep bottomless wells, Batman, these kids sure can eat! I think it has something to do with all their running about having fun.
Thankfully they’re still happy to eat basic stuff like spag bog and sausages, although Miss7’s recent infatuation of a whole can of baked beans for breakfast has had some dire consequences.
Eating out, or takeaway, is something we try to avoid because even a breakfast at Maccas costs us over $50. Plus, we’ve gluten issues for two of our girls to work around. Nights we just don’t have the giveashitness to cook, we tend to do Dominoes because the two girls love their gluten free base. And then Grill’d is our go-to for special occasions because we can all have a burger and they all taste fantastic – that I can have a beer there doesn’t come into this decision….for Tracey.
One thing we love doing as we travel is stumbling into a local weekend market for our fruit and veggies – like when we woke up in the middle of a fantastic one in Bathurst. There’s something about farm free you can’t beat.
Regarding food, the biggest trouble for us is our iddy biddy fridge. Once we put in our medicines, like kids’ painkillers and Tracey’s liquid iron and my ground coffee, there’s only room for about three or four meals.
Which means we head to the shops a lot. Sometimes three times a week.
If Tracey goes, that’s not a problem.
I’m less restrained. I like cheese.
4. On the Road
One thing I’ve noticed about life on the actual road is people get out of my way when I’m driving the bus. I like this.
Maybe it’s the comparative hugeness of our rig. Maybe it’s my driving. Maybe it’s because they spot me giggling and dancing in the driver’s seat.
I should point out here, for people who know my love of the occasional brew, I have discovered two wonderful things on my travels which take both that and the fact I need a blood alcohol reading of zero in a big rig. Firstly, a beer which rhymes with bahn and is only .2 standard drinks a stubby for if I feel like a full flavoured beer but I’m driving the bus the next morning, and secondly a light beer from a supermarket which is only $8 a sixpack for other nights. On a related matter, I’ve purchased a cheap breathalyser because I don’t intend taking dumb risks with my family.
Not only do the kids oooh and aaah a lot when I point out sweeping vistas, astounding rock formations or a goat, we’re all having a great chat as we bob along listening to groovy tunes or, our new awesome find, audiobooks on Audible: Harry Potter has just entered the maze in the TriWizard Tournament and the kids are loving it.
Meanwhile, whether it’s a story or a song playing in the background, I love driving our bus. Love it. Passionately. I think I get why some people love being truckies.
Our bus is big and slow and I get a thrill riding the white line. It’s freedom like I’ve never known. It’s genuinely wonderful and uplifting.
Okay, so the bus is old and sometimes groans up to the top of a hill, and occasionally has been known to jump up onto gutters when I go around a corner, but it feels like I’m running away from all the worries of the world when we hit the highways.
And then we stop for fuel and they catch up.
It costs a motza to push this baby from stop to stop. We sit just shy of four kilometres a litre, which is actually pretty good for a 12m bus. Then there’s Tracey driving our Kia Grand Carnival along behind me as well.
Then there’s chocolate, coffees, frozen cokes and pies.
It all adds up.
For this reason, it makes sense to slow down and enjoy a place more: to not rush our way around the country. It will cost about the same to go around but we’ll spread the fuel bill over a longer period of time.
We could have looked at a caravan for this journey, but the’Kenny the Bus’ is a big part of the adventure. I wouldn’t change it.
Before I get into it, let me just say with everything we’re doing it’s like our kids are on a school excursion every second day.
That being said, Tracey thinks we can do better.
I don’t, but then I’m under no illusions as to where our strengths lie, and it ain’t wiff book learnings.
We’ve just started to set up a proper classroom-like situation in the gazebos and it’s already bringing in better results than having them spread throughout the bus. My initial plan to assist with homeschooling by driving the school bus and putting on an occasional documentary has been overridden because Tracey decided she needs someone to boss around in the classroom, although I’m apparently not much of a teachers aid. On her insistence I’ve taken over the English side of things, because apparently Maths is too important to have me involved.
“What’s this word?” Miss7 asked me as she hunched over a print out.
I looked up from my iPhone.
“Pottery,” I told her.
There was a pause rather than a thank you.
“You sure?” she asked frowning. “I thought maybe it said ‘pretty’.”
“Very good,” I said, taking another longer look. “And now you know not to ask me silly questions you already know the answer to.”
Also, now I know to get off my butt and go around behind her instead of trying to read something upside down and on a bit of an angle.
Turns out Devereaux Grammar College School is a real learning environment for all of us, young and old enough to know better.
But more importantly, judging by the expression on Tracey’s face at that moment, if I keep this up I’ll be back to hall monitor in no time.
A lot of caravan parks offer free Wifi. It’s enough to check your emails or Facebook messages: not both.
We solved our initial internet usage issues by purchasing two wireless modems from Optus, which we pay $80 each a month for. This gives us 400gig up our sleeves and means I don’t have to stop watching The Late Show on Youtube. I mean I wouldn’t anyway, so maybe I should just say now I don’t have to lie about it.
Yes, I’m told Telstra has better coverage in some of the areas we’re heading to, but we’ll just have to hide the kids’ iPads and rely on the 55gig from our phone plans as we tear through those places.
Outside of the bottle opener, bikes are the most important optional things we take with us because they’re similarly used every day.
They’re exercise and entertainment and cheap.
We bought most of them at recycle shops for $15. Because we’ve a bus, we’re lucky enough to have an air compressor along with us, which helps in dealing with the inevitable flat tyres – I now keep a stash of assorted tyre tubes in my tool storage compartment (Kmart to the rescue).
I think the kids get that same sense of freedom when they take off around the park together on their bikes which I get when we take off in the bus.
You know that thing you do when someone is coming over so you throw everything into one of the bedrooms and slam the door? We can’t do that.
The mess is probably no different to what it’s always been – in fact, it’s probably less – only now there’s no hiding it.
If you come over to the bus to say hi and we let you in, it means you’ve struck that sweet spot between when we’ve cleaned the bus and the kids have come back from their bike ride. Of course, we’ll still say it’s a mess so you think we’re better at housework than we actually are. That old chestnut hasn’t changed from when we lived in a house.
It’s clean enough. We aren’t interested in doing anything as drastic as moping and folding every day.
Life’s too short.
We have too much stuff. Even now. Even with seven of us effectively living out of one room.
Every time we pass back through Gympie we put more into storage. It’s nearly as good a feeling as driving a bus.
Seriously, it’s amazing what you can do without.
Like when we started this journey we left Gympie with eighteen rolls of three ply bum tickets. The good stuff. We don’t even use the loo on the bus. They were for when we went to the toilet blocks because my ass was precious.
Now I have one roll ferreted away in case we strike somewhere with that plastic coated stuff which nothing sticks to. Don’t know what the rest of the family’s plan is.
You quickly become a bit of a minimalist doing this.
Worst problem we’ve had is the brakes locking up, scattering the cars behind me as they avoided a collision with a suddenly huge, white roadblock. We’ve also replaced the radiator core with something bigger to solve our overheating problem and had drum brakes issues.
Buses are expensive to repair. The drums for one wheel were $1000. But we replace old with new and get things done properly, so hopefully we’ll avoid more of the same issues as we travel. We’ve been lucky so far in that these sorts of problems have occurred where parts and labour were handy.
There’s been little things as well, like our water pump falling apart and odd fuses going which I had a bit of trouble replacing.
Biggest recurring problem we’ve had is blocked grey water drains, which aren’t always because I forget to open the tap under the bus. We’re working on that.
But there’ll always be something with an old bus like this.
Incredibly, it’s a fun part of the adventure. I know, I wouldn’t have thought so either.
The big one. This is where a lot of our money goes and where the most savings can be made.
With apologies to my sister who runs a tourist park in Wonga Beach, North QLD, show grounds are the way to go for us. The thing is they’re cheaper – so much cheaper. You also generally end up with more room between you and other campers as well as more space for the kids to run and ride around.
Yes, some caravan/tourist parks have fantastic pools, playgrounds and flash toilet blocks, but more than a few do not – and the price doesn’t always vary enough to take that into account.
Plus, a pool isn’t any benefit to you in the colder months.
The show grounds we’ve stayed with almost unanimously have very clean bathroom set ups, if a little dated. Most of them have been close to shops and cafes, and the people running them have been lovely – usually seasoned travellers with their own fascinating stories and recommendations of what to do in an area.
We’ve paid between $15 (Lowood, QLD) and $40 (Bathurst, NSW – they had a per kid charge) a night for pulling up at a show ground. Usually, they don’t charge extra for kids, which can vary from $5 to $15 a child in some instances, and that’s where the real saving lies for us. The average we’re comfortable paying is $20/$25 a night. Anything more than this and we’ve got itchy feet.
Another great option is pulling in behind a country pub which is open to having rigs set up overnight in their carpark or nearby paddock – for free! Usually, they’d ask you join them in the bar for dinner – which basically means free grub once you take into account the fee you aren’t paying for the stretch of dirt you’re parked on. Some don’t even ask that.
We stayed behind Deepwater Inn, NSW for $10 a night (an optional charge only if you want power). There was no obligation but I walked over and enjoyed a beer or two in the bar. It just felt like the right thing to do.
Having said that, we still like to pull into a proper park occasionally. Like if we can’t find a nearby show ground which ticks our boxes and tickles our fancy then we start to look further afield.
Unfortunately, because there’s seven of us, the costs skyrocket. We’ve paid up to $92 a night (Coconut Resort, Cairns, North QLD). Right at this moment, however, we’re booked into a tourist park (Ocean Beach, Umina, NSW) right on the beach, and with all the pools, slides, jumping cushions and other whistles, for twelve nights because the time to stay in them is when they have a good deal going and we got a doozy – $26 a night! This is low season and NRMA Holiday Parks discount and weekly rate all rolled in to make a great deal.
Okay, so the kids’ lips might be blue by the time I can wrestle them out of the pool, but they’re still pulling a smile. Even better, there’s a movie night and lots of great kiddy activities – when you strike the right sort of park it is worth the extra money to occasionally treat the family. And when the kids are being looked after at Kids Club for an hour there really is something in this for everyone – see point 1. above.
The other popular choice is free camping. Because we’re over 7m, we don’t have the sly option of parking on the boundary between two homes in suburbia – so each occupant thinks we’re visiting their neighbour – but there are lots of sites available where you’re allowed to pull in for a spell, be it overnight or a week or two: it varies so check out the signage or you’ll be moved or, or worse, fined. The length of us makes staying at friend’s places difficult too.
We’re also keen to try farm or house sitting down the track as an option, and we’re even talking about using AirBnb for when we’re in Melbourne if we can’t find something suitable for our price bracket.
There are lots of options out there if you’re prepared to look and maybe think outside the square.
At the end of the day, you can spend as little or much as you like. We like to be somewhere which has a clean loo and feels safe because of the kids, but everyone gets to decide for themselves what their priorities are.
Like, we don’t have solar panels and need good, consistent 240volts to run our work horse computers so we do require somewhere to plug into the grid each night. But we quickly realised we don’t need expensive strips of dirt to park up on.
We’re genuinely having the time of our lives on this journey.
Already the kids have experienced more than we could have hoped for back in sweet ol’ Gympie. Things like Turtle hatchings, held a baby crocodile, been on telly, met The Dish, done a lap of Mt Panorama, touched the Opera House, met Sam and Connie, squatted in Captain Thunderbolt’s cave, caught barra, touched a meteorite, chased seagulls along a beach, trekked through rainforests, done a radio interview, rolled down Parliament House, successfully fossicked, cooked us dinners, milked a cow, run a market stall, explored the War Memorial and Questacon.
That’s just what I can think of this minute!
If you’ve been thinking about doing something like a Big Lap or just an extended road trip, I’d encourage you to take the plunge. We’re happy to chat if you have questions. I may not have answers but stranger things have happened.
Now, let’s get on with the next six months!
Bonus twelfth point below these links we’ve found useful:
Facebook page – Travel Australia With Kids – community promoting and using parks which don’t charge for kids
Facebook page – Families On The Road, Travelling Australia – community of families doing what you’re doing
Facebook page – Country pubs welcoming Oz Nomad camping – find a pub which wants you to park out back when you go inland
Facebook page – Showgrounds Sports and Rec Grounds Camping – community showcasing showgrounds which accept campers
Straight to map – Showgrounds Sports and Rec Grounds Map – map used at above site
Facebook page – Free Camping Australia – community with free camping advice and suggested sites
Facebook page – Big Rigs Motorhomes Australia – community with great advice only a keyboard away
Discount Memberships – Big4 – cheaper Big4 parks
Discount Memberships – Top Parks – cheaper stays at Top Parks
Discount Memberships – NRMA Holiday Parks – makes it cheaper to stay in NRMA parks
Website (books & app options avail) – Camps Australia Wide – helps you find somewhere to stay
Campervan & Motorhome Club Membership – CMCA – a club with advice, discounts and all manner of help
Apps – WikiCamps – another tool for finding somewhere to kip
Apps – BOM – keep ahead of the weather
Apps – Whales NSW – let the app do the spotting of our fat, fishy friends
Apps – Audible – for audiobooks
Apps – Curiosity Stream – documentary streaming service we use for homeschooling costs only US$3/month
Apps – Can I Fly There – avoid a fine when you’re putting up a drone
Apps – ABC Reading Eggs – a great reading tool for homeschooling AUD$7/month
Apps – Study Ladder – another homeschooling tool, maths and english – free option available
Apps – Welcome To Country – information about local indigenous tribes
Apps – Health Direct – helps decide if you need a hospital or a night to sleep on it
Bonus point 12. Money
We’re fortunate in that we can work our businesses as we travel.
The blog brings in a little and Tracey’s photography brings in a little more. It’s irregular, which can be a stress at times, but it’s doable.
We’re not saving money at the moment, but we are covering expenses. It costs us $1000+/- a week to live on the road, but then there are seven of us. It really depends on how many kilometres we do, what sort of accommodation we stay in, the week’s activities and if I do the grocery shopping. I mean, there’s seven of us so bums on seats in a cinema is exxy even without the popcorn. The bus costs about $30 an hour to move and some days we’ve driven six hours and some weeks we’ve moved more than once.
There’s stuff you can do, though, to reign in those expenses. We’ve joined MAAS (Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences) for $70 and that gives us free entry to Powerhouse Museum and Observatory Hill in Sydney, Questacon in Canberra, Immigration Museum and Scienceworks in Victoria, and so many more. Best money we’ve spent on activities so far.
Some people spend far less and some far more. I’m sure we could do it even cheaper if we wanted to, but personally I think we’ve hit the sweet spot.
On the road we’ve met mechanics, tree loppers, fencers, web designers, painters, wait staff, cooks, musicians, nurses – lots of people who make it pay as they travel. And there’s always fruit picking.
Others just have a budget to make their holiday savings last until they’re due back at work.
Either way, it’s worth every cent. The memories. The experiences. The friendships. Our little family feels closer than ever now as we’re exploring and discovering so much about this big country of ours.
Be it three months or a year, I hope you get the chance to pull up stumps one day soon and join us.
Raising a family on little more than laughs
This post is not sponsored at all