The other day, I munched on a dry peanut butter sandwich and water for breakfast – our gas bottle had run out the previous evening, so no tea or coffee that morning! This post is about the realities of living on the road, just in case all these photos of beautiful places gave you the illusion that road tripping is a glamorous experience. The truth is, it’s not always beer and skittles!
You will be kept awake late at night and be woken by the sun. However early you go to sleep, there will often be vehicles pulling up beside you, van doors sliding when people have to make a trip to the toilet in the middle of the night and, if you’re parked up at a hostel, party animals enjoying drinking games well into the night. Regardless of how much sleep you got the night before, you will probably awake around 6 am, when the sun rises and starts to heat up your van. Hopefully you’re a heavy sleeper!
Re-wearing clothing is essential. When you’re travelling in a van, space is limited and you will find yourself wearing the same dress for several days, until it has pasta sauce splashes down the front and smells too bad to be wearing it in public. You will also find yourself getting changed in small spaces often, so its handy to have simple mix-and-match outfits.
Long drives are frequent and hot. Sometimes the air con doesn’t even cut it, so your only choice is to blast the car with the hot air outside and hope for the best. The other week, we drove for 1,400 km, so you really need to enjoy each others company too and have plenty of good music, snacks and water.
Can you deal with hairy legs and unwashed hair, often for days at a time? There are sometimes cold showers at the beach and, occasionally, if you splash out, you might even get a hot shower (not that you need one up here), but until then, you need to survive feeling hot, sweaty, sandy and dirty for a bit longer than usual.
Washing up is never pleasant, let alone when you have to do it out of a plastic tub with cold water. Also, like your clothes, tea towels are not going to stay clean for long. I recommend having lots, so that you don’t have to deal with dirty ones.
Say goodbye to makeup! It will sweat off whether you like it or not and nobody wears much makeup here anyway. Drink plenty of water and try to eat fresh food to keep that healthy, clean-skinned glow.
Hair styles? Your hair will start to resemble a birds nest if you don’t take care of it. Make sure you use a bit of conditioner after being in the water, to keep it nice and healthy. Cut it off short, or if you treasure your long hair too much, put it up in a bun. It’s too hot for anything else.
You will find yourself buying the same kind of food over and over simply for convenience. Baked beans, pasta, peanut butter and noodles will become staples. They are cheap, fill you up and, most importantly, don’t need refrigeration. In fact, the only cold items you might buy are butter, cheese, vegetables and beer. Anything else won’t fit in the esky.
Cold meals are inevitable – sometimes, no matter how well prepared you are, you may find that your gas bottle runs out at the most inconvenient time. You can say goodbye to your pasta and start preparing a cold salad of sweet corn, red onion and chickpeas…or whatever you have left in the cupboard.
Expensive campsites? You would think that travelling in your own van would be cheap, because you can just stop anywhere and sleep over night. Can’t you? Well, you can try, but if you are caught out, you can be up for a hefty fine. Sometimes, you can find some beautiful free/cheap campsites, mainly in National Parks. But, if you want to stay in the more popular places, like Byron Bay, expect to pay up to $70 for the two of you, per night. And what do you get for this? A small patch of dirt in full sun and access to shared showers -you may as well pay for a bed in a hostel for that price. If everything is booked out and you do need to resort to sleeping in your van overnight on the street, you can expect to feel like a criminal, hoping the ranger isn’t just around the corner ready to wake you up and issue you a $200 fine.
Be prepared to put on sunscreen and mosquito repellant every day. In these hot climates, both are essential, unless you want to end up with severe sunburn and some kind of insect borne disease.
Speaking of insects, there are lots to be aware of! And the worst thing is, they will keep bothering you until you squash them. March flies, small flies, bull ants, green ants, mosquitos, spiders – you name it, it will come to find you in your van. Make sure you have good mosquito netting and keep the lights off when you come in and out of the van. We recently had a resident huntsman living in our car. We named him Ronald. He has found a new home now!
Poor internet connection is common and free wifi is particularly hard to come by in Australian towns. Even on Telstra, you may still find yourself with little or no connection. Make sure you are well organised, especially if you work online.
Sleeping in a van is HOT! Make sure you sleep somewhere near a swimming pool or a waterhole, so you can cool off first thing. Or, invest in a solar shower – you won’t even need to heat it up with the sun.
You won’t always know when you’re next pay will come in or, indeed, what your next job will be. This can be stressful when your savings run low. But in my experience, work is usually easy to find, when you look for it. Yes, it may not be the most glamorous job, but it will get you by until something better comes along. If you are holding out for a nicer job, be patient. In a few weeks, you should be right as rain!
Despite all these uncomfortable realities, is it worth it? Absolutely! Why? For the freedom, the open road, the new experiences, the amazing places and the magical memories. There’s a reason why you meet so many people travelling around Australia and that is because it is, quite simply, a beautiful place.
What do you miss most when you are travelling on the road? Are there any other realities you would like to add to the list? I’d love to hear from you!