We all love to travel and it’s no secret at Places We Go that we are huge advocates of exploring our own country – Australia. But is it possible to travel… full-time? More and more families seem to be taking the leap and rather than take a month, a few months or a year off, some are leaving their lives and homes all together to travel full-time around Australia – many with no firm plans of when they will return.
So how do they do it?
We had a chat with Renee Helms, who has been travelling around Australia with husband Nathan and son Ryan (4) for the past two years. Renee finds work as a nurse as they go so they can supplement their finances and every day is an adventure – with flexible plans and no set date to ever come ‘home’…
- Tell us about your family!
We’re Nathan (36), Renee (34) & Ryan who was 2 when we left and is now 4!
We left from Melbourne, but Nathan is actually a Kiwi.
- Tell us about the adventure you are currently on
We left from Melbourne in January of 2016. Since then we’ve travelled up the East Coast all the way to Cape York, zigzagged back down through the eastern states, travelled through SA & crossed the Nullarbor to explore southern WA. We’re currently in Esperance, Western Australia, stopped to work for a bit.
We’ve been on the road for over 2 years, covered approx. 62,000kms, and stopped to work in 11 different locations across 5 different states.
- What are everyone’s “roles” on the adventure?
Renee is a Registered Nurse who picks up short term rural/remote contracts as we travel, taking us to some more ‘off the beaten track’ parts of the country. Also responsible for pretty much all planning & navigation, and most of our social media presence.
Nathan is a Carpenter but is predominantly ‘tent husband & general fix-it/improve-it man’, and also does most of the driving. He couldn’t tell you where we are on a map 90% of the time.
Ryan generally spends his days asking ‘what are we going to do today’, looking for other kids to play with & getting dirty. He has also just started kindergarten via the Brisbane School of Distance Ed eKindy program.
- Have you always been a family that goes on camping holidays?
Yes we have. Nathan & I have always been travellers, travelling predominantly overseas (we met on a Contiki tour!), but since 2010 we’ve mainly explored our own country. In 2010 we bought a Toyota HiAce Campervan which we drove to Darwin, where we lived for a while. In Darwin we upgraded to a 4×4 & old soft floor camper to reach all those off road destinations we couldn’t access in our campervan, and when we moved back to Melbourne it came too. We then used that set up for years for family camping trips. However once we decided to do this trip we upgraded to an awesome new Cub Campers hard floor camper trailer.
- Are you staying in Holiday Parks or free camping (or both)
We free camp at every opportunity, but do occasionally stay in Holiday Parks as well. Plus National Parks, Station Stays, Council parks, work for accommodation schemes… there are plenty of options!
- What have the highlights of your journey been so far?
For us the highlights are not so much the destinations – although we have been to some beautiful places! – but more so the total experience. The time we have had with our son, and together as a family. The people we’ve met. The unusual jobs we’ve done and the skills we’ve learned. The times we’ve been bogged, the beautiful free camps we’ve found, and the random roads we’ve taken that have led to unbelievable places we never knew existed.
- What were your ‘bucket list’ destinations around Australia when you set out on the adventure and which ones have you so far ticked off?
Honestly our main goal when we set off was just to reach Cape York, which we ticked off after 8 months. But some other ‘big ticket’ locations we’ve visited or experienced include Carnarvon & Lawn Hill Gorges, The Dinosaur Trail, Fraser & Moreton Islands, seeing turtles lay their eggs at Mon Repos, The Birdsville Track, The Blue Mountains, spotted a Cassowary (lots of them actually!) in the wild, visited Kangaroo Island, Crossed the Nullarbor, Climbed the Bicentennial Tree, met wild stingrays & dolphins, swam with sea lions, Driven The Great Ocean Road, seen Lake Eyre, and met kangaroos on the beach at Lucky Bay.
This year we hope to visit Wave Rock, Lake Ballard, Rottnest Island, Ningaloo Reef, Dirk Hartog Island, Karijini, Cape Leveque, the Kimberley, the Tanami Track, & Central Australia (to name a few). We’ve travelled through WA & NT before, so this year we’ll be revisiting some of our favourite places.
- Which destinations would you suggest other Australians put on their bucket list?
Look Australia has tons of big bucket list items. You probably won’t see them all, and we often find great places that we never heard of or expected. But for us some of the stand out places we have visited in our travels (on this & previous trips) include:
- Cape York
- Fraser & Moreton Islands
- Lawn Hill & Carnaron Gorges
- Mon Repos (turtles!)
- The Birdsville & Oodnadatta Tracks incl. Lake Eyre
- The Blue Mountains
- Wilsons Prom.
- The Grampians National Park
- The Eyre Peninsula
- The Flinders Ranges
- The Nullarbor
- Esperance & Cape Le Grand National Park
- Hamelin Bay (stingrays!)
- Ningaloo Reef (whale sharks & manta rays!)
- Karijini National Park
- The Gibb River Road & the Bungle Bungles
- Kakadu & Litchfield National Parks
- Uluru, Kings Canyon & Surrounds
- Have any destinations or experiences surprised you?
The best surprises and experiences are when you just turn down a dirt track and see what you find at the end.
- What has been hard (if anything) about the journey?
Spending 24/7 together has it’s challenges, as does being away from extended family & friends. We’ve also had a lot of car trouble that have been difficult and a massive financial burden. And the camper trailer we left with was written off in an accident 18 months in to our travels!!
- Tell us some of your top ‘tricks’ to making a journey such as this easier?
- Be kind to one another. It’s not easy to live with other people 24/7, so you have to be a bit kind, and a bit forgiving of each other.
- Have set roles, but be able to do the things your partner usually does if needed.
- Put the kids to bed at a regular time each night so you can relax & have some time to yourselves.
- Don’t put too much pressure on yourselves to see and do too much in the time you’ve got, or it won’t be enjoyable. Leave some things for ‘next time’ (because believe me you will want to go again)
- Seek out other travelling families. You will be instant friends.
- Join lots of Facebook groups, and follow lots of other travellers on social media. They are great resources.
- Choose what works for you, and do lots of research before you buy your home on wheels. For us having off-road ability was very important so a camper trailer was the perfect option. But not all camper trailers are created equal, so choose wisely!
- In saying that don’t feel like you need everything 100% perfect before you leave. For us our set up has been a work in progress, constantly being modified, added to, and improved on as we travel.
- Use Wikicamps. It’s fantastic. Not just for finding free camps, but for finding attractions, free water, toilets, dump points, and playgrounds. And it’s got a great trip planner feature you can use to track your route.
- Have fun & relax. You probably chose to do this trip to spend more time together as a family. So make sure you actually do that!
- What do you like most about adventures such as this?
Every day is different, and it’s fantastic physically & mentally for both the adults and the kids. We’ve all learned so much about ourselves, our abilities, and the beautiful world we live in.
- What would you say to encourage others to undertake a journey such as this?
Seriously, just do it. As an Emergency Nurse I am acutely aware that life is short, and can change in an instant. So don’t put it off, if this is something you want to do then get out there and do it. I promise, you won’t regret it!
Would you travel full-time around Australia? Or is it something you are also doing right now? Tell us all about it, and leave questions for Renee and Nathan in the comments!