There was a rumble out the back.
We were doing 80km/h down the last stretch of the Birdsville Track and the sun was about to start setting. The rumble was getting louder. Blast it, I thought, a tyre’s gone and we’re only a couple of kilometres from camp. What a nuisance! I glanced in the side mirror to see if I could observe shredding tyre…only it wasn’t the tyre. All the noise was due to the Rear axle coming out. All the way out. The car lurched and then veered to the right as the wheel and axle came completely away. I went for the brakes, but they had gone, and so we ground to a halt in a cloud of dust as the wheel and axle bounced past us and did a merry dance over a few small sand hills.
Tracey and I have been travelling about for years and there would be a “drama” that would happen on average at least once per trip. I have found out only recently that according to the laws of probability, something going wrong on any trip is an absolute certainty! It does explain a lot. It doesn’t matter how much preparation you do, you are bound to strike a problem of some sort. When children came along we still wanted to go on our trips, though now there were more things to go wrong. The fact that they took up space in the cabin was also a “minor” problem. However, having them come along also forced a rethink on how we were set up because we did have a somewhat luxurious camping style, and some of the luxuries looked like they weren’t going to fit in any more. Like my numerous slabs of beer.
Our trips away with our children seemed to be some sort of enigma to our friends for many years. No one had ever wanted to come away with us! Some friends of ours, the Hewitsons, decided to corner us one night at their parent’s holiday house in order to find out what the hell we got up to when we went away. After an all night discussion they decided to come with us on our next trip. I became very excited at the thought of someone actually wanting to come away with us so I wrote up all our tips and ominously titled it “So…You Want to Come Camping with the Noonans.” On that trip they had such a good time, despite one or two “obligatory” problems, they signed up for the next trip that we were going on, which happened to be into the middle of nowhere.
A long time ago I travelled overseas as a backpacker, having temporarily left the workforce and spending six months each in south-east Asia and North America. Many people taking at least six months off usually do travel overseas – only a few would travel their own country. I travelled various parts of Australia in a whirlwind fashion before I went overseas, and when I came back I decided to travel Australia in more detail whilst waiting for the next overseas opportunity. As a result we have travelled all around Australia, but it took ten years, at four or five weeks at a time. The kids have now been to every Australian state, though not through design. Every year we would pick out a new destination, work out how to get there and back, roughly decide what we would see, and just go.
Over the years whenever we were on a trip, there were always some things that were unsatisfactory, whether it was equipment not performing properly, or chores taking too long to do, or the way we packed the vehicle wasn’t quite right. Improvements would be made that would “go into production” on the next trip. A few strangers we had met during our travels had seen the way our vehicle was set-up, with all its “handy-dandy” gadgets, and listening to all my “war stories” suggested that I should either take out patents or write a book.
Some people may be abhorred by doing any preparation whatsoever however setting up the vehicle and camping equipment beforehand was fun for me because I treated it as a hobby. It also removed much of the pre-holiday stress that comes with organising a trip and which apparently occurs to over 80% of holiday makers whether they go on camp or go to a four-star hotel. I don’t collect stamps and sometimes I watch too much television, so the inventing of gadgets and obtaining skills to make the camping experience more enjoyable can be viewed as a more productive use of my spare time. Though Tracey wishes I didn’t spend so much time in the garage!
I think that the biggest hurdle faced by people who don’t travel like we do is actually deciding to go somewhere really different every year to what they have been used to. Here are some reasons
– we’ll wait for retirement when the kids are gone
– there’s too much planning to be done
– there’s too much stuff to take
– it’s dangerous, and there’s been all those outback tragedies
– advice from the “experts” is overwhelming
– it’s easier to book a hotel and go on sight seeing tours
– it’s easier to do last year’s holiday all over again
– the children get carsick
Whilst I have been through a few camping ordeals, there’s no need for you to go through them to have a comfortable low risk travelling holiday with your children. Note that I’m not advocating being blasé about going to remote places, and I admit that I still feel a little apprehensive taking my children into any desert.
So remember, you live in a free country, so you don’t need Passports, Visas or a Note from your Mother to go.
Cutting to the Chase
This book is mainly about becoming self-contained and self-sufficient on the road. There is a lot of Advice.
Some of the things I recommend will be expensive, others will not. In my “normal” job as a Project Manager we have a saying in the industry for when we deliver something that goes “Good, Cheap, or Fast – Pick Two.” Basically it means if you want something real quick and top quality then you will pay through the nose and most people can’t afford to do that all the time when travelling, so something’s gotta give.
It has been hard to write a book that is a panacea for every camping situation. It seems every other book tries to cater for all tastes and styles. So, I have made a conscious decision that this book is about family-oriented car camping trips where you travel about and check things out, rather than head to a specific destination for a week or two. In other words, you plan to drive from place to place with your family in your car. And, ultimately, any place, including the deserts or any god-forsaken place in the middle of nowhere, on your own, and without the luxury of towing a camper trailer or staying in accommodation most of the time. You are not just going to the Gold Coast for the September school holidays, and there are more than two of you (and probably no more than five – any more and you probably will have to tow something anyway). In an upcoming chapter I explain why we eventually purchased a camper, however it was done primarily to make overseas travel potentially cheaper for us, and not solely to get a better class of accommodation.
The focus is also on Australian conditions; however I would say much of the advice is still very applicable to other countries as well, except by and large you don’t have to worry too much from being stranded and perishing in a baking desert. On our 5 month trip to Europe the cheap campervan we had purchased had a major breakdown in Florence. Aside from the obvious annoying inconvenience, we were never in any danger of perishing because we were in the middle of civilisation, and we had ways and means of continuing the holiday whilst the van was being repaired – which took a week.
So if you are not the desert-travelling non-towing travelling type with no more than a few children, then obviously some of the advice will not really be strictly applicable to you. Though I’m hoping you will get some useful tips or this will be a useful reference guide for you anyway. The advice I give is largely prescriptive, and has worked for us after much trial and error.
Even if you never plan to visit any desert in your lifetime the following are the Key things or principles that I reiterate throughout this book, and if you follow these basic rules you won’t go wrong.