THE REALITIES OF FULL TIME TRAVEL
Updated: May 2, 2020
As of today we've been on the road for 947 days. We obviously LOVE the full time life or we wouldn't still be doing it. But of course life on the road has it's own little quirks and challenges, so if you're considering packing up and hitting the road, here's some of the things you might want to think about.
Well, if you're the sort of person who likes to shower twice a day, then you may want to think about whether life on the road is truly for you. We've gone a full week between showers at (rare) times, and god knows how long between hair washes. And that's not because we don't have a shower - we do - but having your own shower isn't the only factor.
When it comes to showering the biggest thing to consider is how much water you have available. Even if you have a fancy modern en-suite and hot water system you won't be able to take a shower if you don't have access to water. So you need to consider the size of your tanks, and when you'll be able to fill them next.
We live in a camper trailer, so we don't have a fancy en-suite. And we actually left home without a shower (we've traveled before without one just fine). But we quickly decided we wanted a shower option, so we bought a 12v rechargeable shower and a pop up shower tent. We don't have a hot water system so we boil water and put it in a bucket that the submersible pump from the shower sits in, and can therefore have a nice hot shower. The good thing about this system is you are very aware of how much water you're using, as you literally watch the water level go down in front of your eyes, so you're not going to accidentally bleed your tanks dry. We rarely use the water in our water tanks to shower unless we know we'll be able to top them up again soon, as that water is precious and more necessary for drinking/cooking/dishes. Instead we only shower if we have a water supply available from a river, or even from the ocean, or know that we'll be able to fill our tanks again soon. You also need to consider your water run off if you don't have grey water tanks, and for that reason we always use environmentally friendly soap options and make sure we're a decent distance from any watercourses.
The other option for showering is of course staying at campsites that have showers. Now most of the time this will be paid campsites, but occasionally you'll even find a free camp with a shower (sometimes hot, sometimes cold), a coin operated or by donation shower, a servo shower, or even a free hot shower in a public toilet block (which is the holy grail when you do find it!) The best way to find these is to use Wikicamps - put in the 'free' and 'has shower' filters and see if anything comes up along your route. And if you happen across a great free shower, add it in to Wikicamps so we can find it too! (Check out our blog on getting the most of Wikicamps here)
Showering in public facilities has it's own challenges too - I can't tell you how many times I've dropped clean clothes on dirty floors, or freaked out when a yucky shower curtain has blown in and attached itself to my naked ass. Not to mention the gymnastics required to put on jeans in a tiny cubicle with a wet floor, particularly if you've got a 4yo in there with you. But hey, you do what you've gotta do to stay clean!
There's a few options for doing laundry on the road - relying on laundromats, buying your own washing machine, or hand washing.
If you rely on laundromats you may find yourselves unable to access one for long periods of time, and they'll cost between $3- $5 per load, which adds up. In our personal experience washing machines that are getting used by random strangers day in day out also don't tend to offer the cleanest of washes, and there is nothing more frustrating than paying good money to have your clothes come out dirtier than when they went in.
So a lot of people in caravans opt to install their own washing machine, which sounds great in theory, and if we had the space we would certainly consider it. But you also need to consider how you will access power and water to run your washer. If you plan to stay in caravan parks most of the time then that won't be an issue, but if like us you stay in free camps/national parks/station stays more often than not, then you'll need to ensure you have a big enough water and power supply to run your washer when you're off grid. Because if you're forking out big money to stay in powered sites just so you can run your washer, then you may as well not bother carting it around and just pay for laundromats or hand wash.
We don't have the space or water supply for a washing machine, so we hand wash most of the time, with occasional paid loads of laundry on the rare time we stay at a caravan park (and very occasionally you find a caravan park with FREE washing machines!!). We used to do the old 'bucket with a lid in the back of the car as you're driving' trick, but we switched vehicles part way through our travels we had less space than before so looked at other options and came across the Scrubba Wash Bag. Since then we've rarely paid for a load of washing, as we do a small wash every day or two and keep on top of our laundry as we go. Obviously we still need water, but it only uses about 8 litres for a full wash, and we use (grey water safe) wool wash so we don't need to rinse. We have also been known to wash with salt water when there is no fresh water option. For more info check out the video below, and you can pick up a Scrubba Wash Bag here
I often say to people that the first thing you have to do if you wanna travel full time (particularly with kids) is to lower your hygiene standards! Even if you have a shower and toilet option like we do, there will be times you go a long time between showers (but a swim in the ocean suffices) and even longer between hair washes. And don't even get me started on things like shaving legs and plucking eyebrows.
There will be times you think you've got a killer tan only to find it washes off when you finally get in the shower and you realize it was actually a layer of red dirt. Times when talcum powder in lieu of dry shampoo in lieu of a hair wash becomes the norm. Times when you've forgotten what your husband looks like beneath his beard. And times when your child is so covered in dirt you need to take to them with a hose before you can even consider putting them in a shower.
The best thing to do is just embrace it. And the biggest paradox is that despite being dirtier than we've ever been in our lives, we're also healthier than ever and rarely get sick. Go figure. But here are a couple of other things we do in a vain attempt to have some sort of hygiene standard:
- We've got a handwash station on the drawbar of our Cub Camper trailer with a water tap (hand pump) plumbed into our tank & some soap cable tied on, meaning if we pull up at a feral toilet with no hand washing facilities we've always got our own easily accessible.
- Failing that we've got alcohol hand gel. Also useful when water is extremely limited.
- Baby wipes are fantastic. We don't use them often as they're not real environmentally friendly, but they're a good option when you're getting a bit gross and need a freshen up. Or you can make your own - check out this DIY option from fellow travelling family The Wandering Steels here
- A swim in the ocean or a river totally counts as a shower (but don't use soap in waterways).
- A rechargeable beard trimmer is more likely to result in neat facial hair than a razor that never gets used.
- Similarly waxing or using an epilator will have more long time results than a razor that also rarely gets used. Or just give up entirely.
- Ladies might want to consider a menstrual cup for that time of the month. Makes life a lot easier and results in less waste. I've been using one for a while now, feel free to PM me to ask questions!
- Consider 2 in 1 shampoo when you do shower. You'll use less precious water and it's one less thing to carry.
- Give up on make up. Honestly, no one actually cares what you look like. Which leads me to our next topic..
Seriously one of the most unexpected but best side effects of full time travel is how it makes you look at yourself. When you don't even have access to a mirror 90% of the time, the way you look becomes very unimportant. You'll more appreciate the time you have with your family, the skills you learn, the places you visit and the people you meet. You won't have time to care about the wrinkles that are developing, the wildness of your hair, the extra layer of fat that's appearing around your middle from too many 'happy hour' drinks and nibbles, or the lack of make up on your face (even if like us you've got thousands of people seeing your make up free face regularly on social media!) And you honestly won't care. And neither will your partner, because he or she will be exactly the same as you. Lets face it, your family already loves you for who you are, so it's about time you did too.
We've traveled previously without a toilet and managed just fine, and we left on this trip without one. But like with our shower we quickly decided we wanted to have one, particularly as we toilet trained the kid on the road. (And I guess this is a good time to point out that you can buy things as you go, so if you're not sure if you'll need something why not just head off, see how you go without it, and if you find you want it then pick it up as you go).
So we went out and bought ourselves a port-a-loo. It was the first time we'd got one, and we didn't really know what we were looking for. We just wanted something all three of us could use, and that would fit within the limited space that we had. So we bought one that was on the smaller side. Now there are pros and cons to the this - small is great as it takes up less space and it's not too heavy to carry to the dump point to empty (a very important point to consider) but small also means it fills up fairly quickly, which isn't so great if you're bush camping for long periods. We get around this a few ways - we limit the amount of paper we use, and we put toilet paper in the bin rather than in the toilet (well for us the paper we use for number 2's go in cause it's a bit gross, but the paper from number 1's goes in a bin we keep by the loo). We also limit the amount of water we use to flush. Plus wherever practical we go for a wee outside behind a bush rather than filling the tank. Poo on the other hand we use the loo for (I've never understood why people buy toilets and don't poo in them?! Whats the point then?). And if you are going to wee outside, don't be a dick and leave your toilet paper lying around, put it in the bloody bin!
Obviously the biggest downside to a portable loo is that it needs to be emptied. Honestly though, we don't find this a particularly difficult task - we find the nearest dump point using Wikicamps, empty the contents (and if you're using your chemicals correctly then it shouldn't have much of a stink), give it a bit of a rinse and that's it really, it's ready to go again. It is however, important to be aware of where you're next dump point is, as in some parts of the country they are few and far between. And you most definitely CANNOT empty your chemical toilet into a drop loo, I don't care how desperate you are.
Regardless of if you have your own toilet or not, you'll be using lots of public toilets, which as we all know can be very hit and miss. I have been known to wee behind a tree in preference to a really foul public loo. And as you can see in our picture below, sometimes you're not alone in a public loo either.
One of the other things to consider with a portable loo though is privacy - we don't have a separate room for our loo, and we don't set the shower tent up unless we're showering. So the loo lives in the camper with us, meaning privacy is fairly non - existent. Which leads us on to our next topic..
Spending 24/7 with your family/significant other
This may just be the thing that many full time travelers struggle with the most. Obviously it depends on your personal family and relationship dynamic, but we hear from a lot of other travellers that it took a fair adjustment period before they settled in to full time life together. For us it's honestly never been too much of an issue though - we wrote a post on it a while back so to save repeating myself you'll find our personal experiences of surviving 24/7 together here
When you go bush for long periods of time without access to bins you need to think about how you manage your waste. The best way is to reduce the amount of waste you create in the first place! We do this a number of ways.
- Take off any excess packaging before you leave the supermarket carpark and dispose of it. The bonus here is you'll be more likely to find recycling facilities. And it means you'll have less rubbish to dispose of later.
- Limit the amount of waste you create. Choose items that can be reused again, or items that have less packaging. I'm talking reusable straws, shampoo bars, beeswax wraps, etc.
- If you're having a fire then it's a great place to dispose of paper waste and toilet paper.
- Ladies consider using a menstrual cup as it saves a heap of waste.
- Always carry your rubbish back with you and dispose of it correctly. We get very grumpy when we see rubbish strewn around campsites. Our Kid spends a bit of time at every campsite picking up rubbish left by others. It may mean a little more rubbish for us to carry back, but at least we're leaving it pleasant for the next camper and reducing the risk to the local wildlife.
One of the definite downsides to life on the road is a huge lack of places to recycle. We've worked in entire towns that don't have recycling facilities, and caravan parks very rarely do. Unfortunately there is often no way around this other than to keep an eye out for recycling facilities and use them wherever possible.
Food & Cooking
This is a bit of a funny one. We cook on the road the same as we do at home really, but people seem to have some warped ideas about cooking in a camper trailer. Just recently we were chatting to our neighbours at a caravan park, and we mentioned we'd been on the road for over 2 years, and they expressed surprise we'd been in a camper trailer for so long. A short while later she walked past as I was preparing dinner and exclaimed 'Wow, you even cook in it!'. I was like 'ummm how did you think we'd been eating for the last two years?'
Honestly we eat the same on the road as we did at home. We don't have specific recipes for travelling because they're the same recipes we used at home. We have a three burner gas cooker, plus a Weber Q that we use as a BBQ and an Oven. We cook toast on the stove. We make pizzas/cakes/bread/biscuits in the Weber. (pizza in the Weber instructions here)
However although we eat pretty much the same, there are a few little extra things to consider. Shopping is a a big one, particularly when you travel remote like we do. While we like to support local business, we don't like spending $13 on a 200g block of cheese, so you need to be a bit aware of where you're going and shop accordingly. We can fit about 3 weeks worth of regular groceries in when we're going bush, and on the odd occasion we need longer than that we can resort to the occasional tinned meal (a rarity however). There are certain items we find cost a whole lot more than others in small outback towns. Things like ham, salami, frozen fruit, or anything where you like a certain brand are worth stocking up on. Whereas items that generally have a 'no name' brand equivalent won't be quite so pricey - things like long life milk, rice, paste, flour, etc. For items like meat and small goods we buy up big and freeze as much as we can. For bread we make our own, and use wraps for lunches rather than sandwiches as wraps last so much longer and take up less space. For fresh fruit and veg we buy as much as we can, weighing up how long it will last. And after that we have to rely on what we can find in local shops and pay what they ask. And when we're going bush where we know there will be limited water we not only fill our tanks and back up jerry cans, but also every single water bottle we can find.
Dishes can also be a challenge when water is scare. We use an external water source when possible (sea/river/tank water), but failing that if we're bush camping for a long time and need to stretch out the tank water we have a couple of tricks; We use the grey water from the last dishes to pre rinse the next lot. Or if things are really messy we give them a wipe over with paper towel to get the worst off. We also put a plug in the sink at the start of the day and keep it in until dishes need doing thereby catching any water overflow from filling water bottles or washing hands over the course of the day. Again you need to be aware of using eco-friendly products for dishes if your grey water will be going on a bush. We use Earth or Eco-Store brands.
Cooking outdoors can also be a challenge in the wind, so it's important to make sure you can get shelter from the wind wherever possible, or the heat from your gas flame simply disappears. More on that below.
Camping in shitty weather
You may be trying to follow the sun wherever possible, but unfortunately there comes a time for all of us when the wind howls and the rain falls, when the heat soars and perhaps even when the ice forms. Extreme weather isn't fun no matter what you're camping in, so if you're gunna be travelling full time it's important to be a bit prepared for it.
We've had all of the above over our time on the road, and we've managed just fine in our Cub Camper trailer. Rain is the one we get asked about the most, but honestly it's the least of our worries. Our canvas is waterproof, our awning is large, we just sit tight and wait it out. And the great thing about having an open time frame is we can either wait for it to stop, or if we've had enough then we can pack up and drive until we find the sunshine again. And yes, we have packed up the camper when its been pissing down rain. No, it's not real fun. But i'm sure it's no fun packing up and hitching up a caravan in the pouring rain either. We've got a waterproof cover we can put on the bed to protect it if the canvas is absolutely soaked when we pack up. But if it's just a bit wet then it's fine, the water doesn't come through anyway, even if it's packed up wet. And obviously we're going to be putting it back up again that night so it's not like the canvas is going to go mouldy in a day.
Wind is probably more of a pain, so we put together the video below talking about how we combat it. Plus this one here about keeping cool, this one here about the fans we have, and this one here about our diesel heater. We also have a freezer to store zooper doopers and water to cool us down on hot days. Plus a couple of other tricks for keeping warm, as we don't run the heater all night. So we've got some extra blankets we carry with us, including a wool blanket that goes under The Kid's bedding but on top of his stretcher to keep in the warmth and to stop condensation forming on the underside of his stretcher bed. In warmer times we use a vacuum bag to compress them down and store them out of the way. Plus we've all got awesome Kathmandu down jackets for wearing outside and thick socks and boots to keep the toes warm. And putting on a red wine jacket of an evening also helps ;)
Dealing with other travelers
Nowhere else in your life will you meet such a diverse range of people than you do on the road. We've camped next to people with rigs worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on one side, and people in a tent on the other side because they literally have no where else in this world to live. We've been next to people visiting from all over the world, and Australians who have never left Australia. People who are using Centrelink to fund their trip (and we know getting money from Centrelink is like getting blood from a stone, so they're obviously entitled to it), and people who have so much money they never have to work another day in their lives. Some who have grey hair, some who are young, some who have kids, some who travel all by themselves. Some who work as they go, some who volunteer, some who saved and dreamed for years, and some who may actually be on the run from the law.
Now not only are you meeting all these people, but you all have your 'houses' lined up within metres of each other (particularly if you're in a caravan park), with nothing but a bit of canvas or a caravan wall separating you. And if that's not enough you are sharing toilets, showers, dump points, and laundries. You will hear each other lives, you will smell each others smells. Honestly, when you think about it it's a potential recipe for disaster. Some people you will meet and instantly click with, others you will hope never to camp next to again. Yet others you will politely get along with despite their outspoken views on 'dirty backpackers' or the local (indigenous) population that you vehemently disagree with but politely change the topic away from so as not to start a war with people living two metres away with you.
Now if you're in a few of the caravan and camping groups on Facebook you could be mistaken for thinking that all travelers are either a bunch of inconsiderate twats, or a group of proper whingers (seriously, the crap some people go on about on social media sometimes..). But in reality we have very rarely had any problems with other travelers, and when we have they have been only minor. This is probably because most travelers understand that living in close proximity to a bunch of strangers requires a certain level of courtesy and understanding, and therefore most travelers (including ourselves) tend to follow the unspoken rules of camping. So we don't make excessive noise early in the morning or late at night, we don't walk through other peoples campsites and we respect our neighbours privacy, we put our rubbish in the bin, and we clean up after ourselves when we use the facilities. We say hello to our neighbours, and we watch out for them. We help each other if we're struggling to set up (or put down a shower tent!), if the wind lifts our awnings, or if it's a tight reverse in. We make sure our campfire is extinguished safely before we leave, we don't camp right on top of our neighbours, and we don't run our generator all day and night (because we don't have one!)
But if someone else isn't following these 'rules' we don't let it ruin our day, and we don't jump on Facebook and have a whinge about it and ruin someone else's day. We say to ourselves 'well that guys a bit of a dick' then we move on. Because we accept that communal living requires some compromise, and that you can't win with everyone. And occasionally when there is need for it, we say something to the person - sometimes they don't realise what they're doing is actually pissing people off. And sometimes they do, and they don't care. But 90% of people are doing the right thing and despite all the differences, and the varied backgrounds we all have one thing in common - we all chose to leave the comfort of home and hit the road. Whether for a day, or a year, or a lifetime. And that means we all have a story to tell if we just take the time to get to know each other.
Recording your journey
When we left home back at the beginning of 2016 we knew we wanted to keep family & friends at home up to date on our journey, but we didn't want to be those annoying people on Facebook constantly posting photos of our trip on our personal profile. So we created a separate Facebook page with the idea that if family and friends didn't want to follow our journey then they didn't have to. What we didn't expect was that so many other people would want to follow our journey too.
These days everyone and their dog (literally) seems to have a travel page for their journey, but when we started that wasn't really the case. Now thanks to the success of a few awesome family travel bloggers many people seem to think they'll be able to blog about their journey, make a ton of money, and have their trip paid for them. Unfortunately even though we have been relatively successful with our 'travel blog', it's still a long way from funding our trip, and we still need to work as we go (post about how we fund our trip here). Plus there are many downsides to putting yourself out there in a public place - the internet can be a cruel place and we've had a few negative (and some downright horrible) interactions with people who want to judge our lifestyle. We're also very aware of safety, and with that in mind we generally don't post our location, and only post about a place after we have left.
But despite the negatives having a public record of our journey has definitely been worthwhile for us. It easily keeps family & friends updated. It allows us to connect with other travellers (a huge bonus!). And following other peoples travels gives us great tips about places to stay, and a heads up about new products and ideas.
Regardless of whether you choose to have a public blog or not, you'll still be wanting to record your journey in some way, and this will likely mean taking lots of photos. We're very much amateur photographers, but we are learning as we go and slowly improving. We regularly get asked about what photography gear we use so here it is: We use our phones a lot - we have Samsungs, a S6 & S7. Plus we have a Sony a6000 camera and we travel with a drone - a DJI Spark, which is super compact and a great beginners option as it's the most budget friendly of the DJI options. We left home with a cheap action camera from Big W as well that we've been using for most of our time away but we recently splashed out and bought a genuine GoPro which is fantastic. We learned the hard way many years ago about not backing up photos when we were pick-pocketed in China and lost a camera (and all our photos), so we always back up our photos online - we use Google Photos. This also means we can easily access all of our photos on our phones whenever we have phone reception which is useful.
Now despite the number of people you meet on the road, making true and lasting friendships can be difficult. You just get past all the preliminary 'who are you, where are you froms' and then right as you're getting to know each other a bit better it's time for one of you to move on. Thanks to social media it's easy to keep in touch, but it can be hard to find your paths crossing again. There have been occasions where our journey has paralleled another for a period of time, which is fantastic, and there have been some other travellers we have crossed paths with a few times over, but it has been the exception rather than the norm. So while you make plenty of friends on the road, finding that deeper level is a little bit harder, and something that can be a bit lacking, particularly as you are so far away from your regular friends back home. And travelling with kids makes it even trickier. Sure they all make friends so quickly and easily, but again finding longer term friends that they can have longer lasting relationships with is difficult, particular when they're very young.
Plus you are also away from your family and friends back home, and while they may support your travels whole heartedly, they will never really understand the life you lead, and the way it changes you. They won't have that sense of freedom, that lack of need for material things, that lack of care for the things that aren't so important in life. Which is why when you do make friends on the road they are so valued, and why you click with some other travellers so easily - because they understand why you made the decision to go, and why you love the lifestyle so much. Similarly the friendship and love within your own immediate family becomes so much more important when you travel together, and it's that sense of solidarity and closeness that many travelling families are seeking when they hit the road in the first place.
So despite some of the more tricky realities of life on the road, for us as a family it has 100% been the best thing we've ever done!
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