Last year we went on an epic road trip. Think barefoot sailing capers in the Whitsundays, family four-wheel driving adventures on Fraser Island and serene sunset sessions along the beautiful east coast of Australia.
I decided to take a break from work to travel around Australia with my family and our much loved, slightly vintage, Jayco camper trailer.
So often I’d dreamt about taking our son out of school and just hitting the road, but the idea just scared me, so it was shelved, until recently.
Maybe turning 40 was the catalyst or even the impending organisational changes at work. Whatever the reason, my partner and my 8-year-old son (who needed some coaxing – theme parks – check!) agreed to come along for the ride.
Our East Coast Odyssey
Our 8-week road trip started in wintry Melbourne and went as far as Airlie Beach where we hired a catamaran for 8 nights and sailed around the Whitsundays.
We had the pleasure of staying in Sydney, Yamba, Hervey Bay, Fraser Island, Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island, Yepoon, Mackay, the Gold Coast, Byron Bay, Lennox Head, Tuncurry-Forster, Batemans Bay, South West Rocks, and Merimbula.
I could sing the praises of every one of these beautiful destinations but what I’d rather do is let you know that swapping school for travel is a very positive experience.
So many of my expectations – about travelling with kids – were smashed. There were many times that I was the one learning from or through my son.
Traditional classroom versus the University of Life
If you’re worried about your kids’ education, then that is totally natural. I was too, but then I realised that travel really is a self-defining journey. The things my son got to experience far outweighed anything that he could have been taught in the classroom.
School and his friends never seemed far away though as we communicated via the app Class Dojo and organised a Facetime call with his class. He had printed hand-outs that his teacher had kindly collated, and instructions to work on times tables and vocabulary exercises – these last two we did happily in the car.
The time of your life
Imagine a world where you don’t care to know what day it is or even what time it is! When the most pressing issue is a forecast of rain on pack up day because you don’t want the canvas on the camper trailer to get wet.
Being away from the routine of everyday life is liberating. The simple things like watching the sun rise and set become the most enjoyable.
Thank you Google
One thing you’re sure to get pummelled with is a barrage of curious questions from your little ones on the road. Be ready and be patient.
A personal favourite went something like “Are we on top of the world now that it’s daylight or are we still down under”?
Sometimes it takes the power of a mighty search engine to brush up on your antiquated knowledge but the good news is queries about when you will ‘get there’ are no match for Google Maps – ‘in exactly 2 hours’, thank you very much!
Australian history and culture
There is something so ancient and sacred about this country. Never have I felt that more strongly than at Nara Inlet. You have to sail into the inlet and then take your tender (dinghy) to the beach. A relatively short but steep walk will take you to the Ngaro cultural site where you learn all about the history of the indigenous custodians of this land and marvel at the well-preserved cave paintings. Here a visual narrative is woven, clearly depicting the relationship between the Ngaro people, the land and sea.
One with nature
To sail around the Whitsundays, we had to learn all about tides, how to navigate with charts, how the direction and speed of the wind affects sailing, and the unpleasant consequences of when the macerator in the toilet breaks down.
We observed an abundance of birdlife, from sea eagles to pelicans, had a visit from a curious turtle and even had the pleasure of camping with kangaroos.
The bucket list stuff
Barefoot sailing in a 40-foot catamaran with friends. Snorkelling in ‘the heart’ of the Great Barrier Reef at Hardy Reef. Watching in awe as young humpback whales breached in front of us and when a pod of dolphins frolicked in the wake of the boat.
Your kids will see life with a new lens
Travel teaches kids that the world is expansive and exciting. It doesn’t just revolve around them and their town, suburb or city. They draw comparisons to their own sense of place and identity when exploring new places and meeting new people.
You get to be a kid again.
This is seriously…the…best…part! You get to do the things your kids love to do – which is essentially what you loved to do as a child. Bike ride everywhere, run from waves, swim, snorkel, play mini-golf, arcade games, jump off cliffs into the water, play board games, make card houses, go tenpin bowling, ride rollercoasters, speed down waterslides, go to the movies, drive dodgem cars, climb rocks, go on nature walks, eat ice-cream, play ‘hide and seek’ and tickle each other until it hurts too much to laugh anymore.
Did that really just happen?
We had some amazing travel moments on our trip, so many that when people ask me what my favourite part was, I just stare blankly as my mind madly searches through a catalogue of 100s of experiences. Umm, any easier questions?
So, if you’re reading this and thinking ‘I would love to do that’. I have to say, please do! Be brave and bold and venture forth with your family. It’s so much fun and yes it can be slightly terrifying at times, but you are in it together, making memories that you will hold onto for a lifetime.
This article was commissioned by BIG4 Holiday Parks in September 2017.