Why This Young Family Packed It All In And Hit The Road
Sitting at your desk eating our tuna and rice crackers under the fluorescent lights, it’s easy to dream about a different kind of life.
One that doesn’t involve being chained to your email, or worrying about whether you have picked up that skirt from the dry cleaner. And when you scroll through Instagram and see the #vanlife or #familytravel hashtag it’s tempting to think about throwing it all in, renovating a bus, getting on the road and pursuing a life of wide open spaces, slow travel, and endless possibility.
Carmen and David Allan-Petale spent four years travelling the world before returning home to Perth to have their daughter Ruby. They are representative of an increasing number of Millennials who are rejecting the idea of home ownership in favour of a less secure life of travel and adventure.
After Ruby arrived, and finding themselves accumulating ‘stuff’ they didn’t need, the couple were itching to get on the road again. So they packed up, sold and donated their belongings and bought a 4WD. They, and their 20-ft caravan, are four weeks into the ultimate road trip around Australia. We caught up with them in Geraldton, four hours’ drive north of Perth.
“It’s taken us a month to get here,” Carmen said. “We’ve been travelling very slowly.”
We love the freedom of not being tied to a place and (we love) the daily change of scene. We enjoy experiencing new cultures and having adventures.
“We returned home to Perth to have Ruby when I was six months pregnant. It was scary how quickly we acquired objects and clutter. One of the biggest things we were looking forward to with our van life was not having so much stuff. Minimalism is a way of life for us, and I think that goes hand-in-hand with travelling. It’s amazing how having too many things creates too much stress. Reducing the amount of stuff we own allows us to see what truly matters to us, and it’s not things.”
The pair knew having a baby wouldn’t diminish their appetite for new adventures. With Ruby starting school in a few years it was now or never. During Ruby’s first year of life David was working full-time as well as writing his novel and was therefore not able to spend much time with her.
“It really hit home how much ‘providing’ for the family takes away from actually enjoying your family. We decided we would rather have more time together, even if it means giving up a steady pay cheque,” Carmen says.
It really hit home how much ‘providing’ for the family takes away from actually enjoying your family. We decided we would rather have more time together, even if it means giving up a steady pay cheque.
“Now we are spending every day together and already we can feel our bond as a family getting stronger. It’s truly special and an experience we are grateful to have.”
Carmen said the pair believes the world is the best classroom and they want to give their daughter once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to experience the world from a young age.
“These are her formative years and we would like to raise a resilient, strong and brave girl who isn’t afraid of the world and the people in it,” Carmen said. “We want her to experience kindness from strangers and learn independence.”
It’s not all smooth sailing though. Carmen said they should have done more research before buying their car: a 2004 Land Rover. They have already spent $AU5000 on repairs, which Carmen said knocked their confidence a little. The challenge of having personal time and retaining a sense of independence is trickier now Ruby is around (a child is 24-7, right?).
“It sometimes limits what we can do,” Carmen said. “We are keeping Ruby to a routine, so she still needs a nap in the day and her bedtime is 7pm. We have to be organised with snacks as she can get extremely ‘hangry’! It’s certainly a different style of travelling compared to our carefree baby-free travel adventures.”
Carmen and Dave have made sure they have got savings to last 18-months but are still working on the road “so we don’t come home broke”.
That ability to work easily has also changed since Ruby came along. “Before Ruby, we would both work for four hours in the morning and then spend the afternoons exploring. These days, we spend all day exploring and work during Ruby’s nap time and after she’s gone to bed,” Carmen said. “It doesn’t allow for much down time, but then again, that’s the world of parenting and it wouldn’t be much different if we were at home.”
And it is not exactly a glamorous life. The family does their washing in caravan park washing machines, and in an investment Carmen said was definitely worth the cash, they have an ensuite built into their caravan.
“We are using cloth nappies, which I thought would be a lot more difficult than it has been, but has so far they have been just as easy as using them at home,” she said.
One of the other big challenges is finding personal space.
“We have realised we all need time on our own, so we make sure we get some time to ourselves each day. For Dave, it’s working on his novel for an hour or two, for me it’s doing yoga behind the van when I first wake up,” Carmen said. “Once a week we try and get a whole day to ourselves, toddler-free. It allows us to recharge and makes us better parents.”
Carmen said the idea only people who are well off can afford to pursue a life of travel is wrong.
“We earned average salaries before we left on this trip. In fact, I earned less than average as I was on maternity leave for most of the time we were saving. Like with anything, if you want to do it and put your mind to it, it’s achievable,’ she said.
The couple save for everything rather than accumulate debt and bought the 4WD and caravan with cash. They purchase everything second hand, from the furnishings they had in their rented house while they were in Perth, to clothes and the car and caravan they live in.
Carmen said watching Ruby grow and become more adventurous has been one of the greatest rewards of taking the leap (again).
“She’s never been the most active of toddlers but this adventure has made her really get up and go. She’s climbing everything now and has no fear,” Carmen said. “I love experiencing the excitement she gets from the smallest things, from seeing a bug on the footpath to climbing a boulder in the bush.”
“I think too often people get caught up in the buzz of marketing and believe you need the latest iPhone, car, clothes to be happy,” Carmen said. “For us, we don’t value those things, as they don’t make us happy, and would rather spend our money on experiences.”
If you want to follow their adventures, have a look at their Facebook page.