We are a family of four doing the big lap. We are ‘Four Hands in a Tin Can’: Peter, Annie, Liam and Mia and thought that, as our initials spelt ‘palm’, we could use it to describe us in our caravan. We had a dream to leave our daily lives and begin an adventure of a lifetime and it came to reality when we finally departed on January 27 2016. Without a doubt it has been, and still is, the best decision our family has ever made.
We have had a few trials and tribulations during the planning phase and even during our last 20 months of travelling. Our first big one was that the choices were many and required you to become an expert in all things caravanning, and what we actually found was that we still had a lot to learn even after three years of research.
With so many van choices out there, it took us nearly three years, by the time we took possession, to get our new home on wheels. We decided to get a full-size double bunk van with an internal shower and bathroom. In hindsight, this was a good decision as who wants to go to the bathroom with an eight-year-old at 3am in the rain?
You save a lot in the set-up and pull-down times, too. We knew that our van was going to become our full-time home so making it to our needs was important.
We had a few issues with our van that required us to change our plans. Luckily for us we weren’t on a set schedule. The van was fixed and we could set on our way again until we got caught up with family events that were important to attend. This is one thing that you should think about before you set off. Travel can be far and returning can be expensive. Decisions need to be made and possibly upsetting someone may be one of those decisions.
So here are our top five tips, in no particular order, to make a family journey more successful…
1. DISTANCE EDUCATION
Our family believes one of the most important things while on the road is maintaining our children’s education. The kids are in year eight and year three, so schooling requires different attention and commitment. Primary school teachers ring or Skype Mia once a week to go through her work but otherwise it’s up to Mia to get it done with our help if she needs it.
With high school, the individual teachers call once a week for the lesson. Liam is expected to be self-driven and complete his work with occasional help from us. To date he has had to do many different things on the road, from making felt to cooking to building a bird house. With Annie being a qualified teacher, lessons and work are very well managed and our kids are getting a great education on the road. It is important to stay on top of school work, but we have found that the kids have come ahead in leaps and bounds as education isn’t always inside and hitting the books.
It’s learning how to tie ropes, unhitch a caravan, communicate on the radio, explore, team work, sacrifice, and so much more. The rewards on the road far outweigh any negatives that come our way. We believe that when the kids are adults they will truly know what an adventure they have been on.
2. TAKING TIME
We are lucky that our kids are a little older. I can only imagine how parents of younger kids are able to have some chill-out time together. In the beginning of our journey we were together all the time! Needless to say, all concerned started to get on each other’s nerves, on occasions, in our tin can. We found for us that is very important for both the kids and the adults to get away from each other. We (mum and dad) normally have chill time and walk down the street for a coffee or take a walk around town. We have found that the kids have grown in maturity as the trip goes on and we are able to get away for a while.
It’s also good for the kids as well as they can just have five minutes of ‘no mum and dad time!’ It builds trust and responsibility. And for us parents, it’s good to have this time to recoup.
3. CHILL-OUT DAYS
As we are full time on the road we think it’s very important just to have chill-out days to rest, so the kids can ride bikes, play around the van and be self-reliant and, on occasion, we can all sleep in. Yes, that’s right, sleep in. If you are doing a big lap in six months then, sorry, no sleeping in for you.
We think slowing down is important as we want to make the most out of our exploring days and we have found that tired people equals cranky kids, cranky parents and, more importantly, no fun. You can’t be exploring ever day so these days are also great just to watch a movie, hangout, play a family game or plan for the next adventure down the road.
4. INFORMATION GATHERING AND PLANNING
Visiting the information centre is an amazing way for the kids to ask questions, get the inside goss and suggestions on where to and where not to go. In many big information centres we have found free info and local history for the whole family to learn about the local area.
I have a 14-year-old so I have an inbuilt computer and technical adviser. We thought we were tech savvy right up until something doesn’t work. So either get yourself a 14-year-old who knows it all (just ask him) or get learning. Get up to date with Facebook and the many sites that that offer a lot of info on locations, events and personal knowledge that are all invaluable for a smooth run.
Wi-fi, mobile data, mobile phones and free park internet are all important for us. Without it, the kids couldn’t do their schooling and we couldn’t keep in contact with rest of the world. As much as we want to leave the world behind, our life requires it, so we embrace it.
5. ALL THAT STUFF!
You don’t need stuff! When we first packed our van we had too much stuff. Our stuff will be different to your stuff but without knowing what you have I can say that you have too much. Possessions and lack of them becomes a way of life. Yes! Get rid of all those tools, kitchen things, and just-in-case things.
We have four people so four times the stuff. We are up to three culls from the caravan now and have found it to be a very liberating experience. Stuff equals weight and weight in the caravanning game equals money.
A bathroom is an absolute must for us! When free-camping what’s better than having your own inside toilet or shower? How about those freezing nights when you can jump straight into the shower in your van? We think having a separate toilet and shower is one of the best decisions we made when designing our van.
Heating. We found that the roof top air-con shuts itself down if it is too cold. We found this out the hard way at Mt Kosciuszko. We had a generator and it still didn’t work. Caravan insulation isn’t worth squat in the freezing cold. We said never again and got a diesel heater installed. Best decision ever. Diesel was a better fit for us than gas, but either/or is a must.
The best luxury item is a coffee machine, which speaks for itself. If you can’t fit it, then leave one of the kids at boarding school or a rich aunty’s place.
We love the change of landscapes, environments, people and places. We are constantly learning so much about our own beautiful, wonderful country every day. We are so blessed that we are on this journey without an end date. It’s our eternal search for our next home. Biting that bullet, rolling the dice and taking that chance has been and enormous leap of faith. We hope it never ends, but know it probably will some day. But not just at the moment. We have no place to go and all day to get there.
- We really love traveling and it has become our new lifestyle! We hope you have gained a little bit of information from our experiences and if you want to know more about us, visit www.fourhandsinatincan.net or check us out on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fourhandsinatincan
– This article was written by Liam Millward and his family.