Packing up your life, selling your family home, quitting your jobs and strapping your kids into the back of the car, with caravan or camper in tow, is a pretty massive lifestyle change.
And it’s exactly what Lynell Taramoeroa and Nathan Hammond did earlier this year, when they hit the road for the long haul with their three young kids – eight-year-old Savannah, six-year-old Harry and two-year-old Rainbow.
We met Lynell, Nathan and the kids at Finke Gorge National Park, NT. Chatting around the communal campfire, swapping stories, I quickly realised they had a fantastic, well-balanced approach to life on the road, and were particularly savvy when it came to making their money last the distance.
The family has now been on the road for more than six months, initially leaving from Brisbane and following the coast south in their secondhand Roadstar Dreamtime Cruiser van, pulled by a 100 Series LandCruiser.
PREPARING & RESEARCH FOR THE TRIP
While Lynell says she wouldn’t swap this lifestyle for anything, she points out that even on the road, family life goes on much as it would have back home. “The reality in regards to cleaning, washing, grocery shopping and kids fighting, etc., are still similar and can be time consuming – this is not an idyllic breakaway holiday!” she says.
In preparation for the trip, Nathan and Lynell sold their family home to buy a suitable towing vehicle and van for their new lifestyle. This is where their budgeting efforts started to kick in.
“We didn’t buy the newest and the best of everything – we spent a lot of time researching the best car and caravan for our needs,” they tell Caravan World.
This might seem an obvious one, but it’s an important cash-saving tip. It’s easy to get carried away and choose to buy the latest and greatest, but you can often pick up good quality secondhand vans or campers just as well suited to your family’s needs.
Nathan and Lynell also did a lot of research around what other families budgeted for on the road, to get some idea of monthly expenditure. Facebook Groups such as ‘Everything Caravan and Camping’ and ‘Families on the Road –Travelling Australia’ were useful tools, although they say in hindsight this research probably wasn’t as helpful as they’d hoped, as there are so many things that impact costs.
“Every situation is different – number of children, ages of children, type of schooling of children, camper trailer versus caravan setup, type of car, different insurances, preferred food and nutrition values, types of accommodation – just too many variables!”
The kids’ ages can also impact expenses and different families are faced with different costs accordingly. For example, home schooling is something Lynell and Nathan factor into their monthly budget that families with younger kids can avoid, and the costs can vary greatly month-to-month depending on the curriculum and extra resources you choose. “We incorporate a lot of activities and experiences to fit into and around the curriculum,” says Lynell. “For example, the month we visited Sovereign Hill, Questacon and two museums cost us an extra $250 for education.”
Age aside, Nathan and Lynell’s research found the average monthly figure most families of five came back with was $5000, including insurances and ongoing costs. Now, more than six months in, their monthly budget is around $3000 per month – a pretty impressive figure for a family of five!
Lynell and Nathan stress it’s important not to treat a longer trip like a holiday, although it’s an easy trap to fall into and they spent far more than planned in their first month on the road.
“Our approach to budgeting is just being more mindful – our first three months on the road was the best budget learning we could hope for!” they say. “We don’t eat out or drink coffee out as much now – the first three months we tracked how much we were spending on coffees and takeaways and it blew us away!
“At the time you are buying it, it only seems like $9 here for two coffees, and $25 there for takeaway or a sneaky burger, but it would actually end up costing us $150 for coffee, and $400 on takeaway and snacks per month.”
The lesson here, of course, is that the little things all add up, and Lynell and Nathan’s advice is if you can cut costs anywhere, no matter how small, it’s worth doing.
A prime example is laundry costs – as a family of five they have to do at least one load a day and they’ve worked out that washing their clothes using the drum Lynell was rolling at her feet during our chat helps the family to save up to $50 per week on caravan park or laundromat washing facilities.
Nathan and Lynell say that, cost-wise, travelling has been more expensive than they’d imagined, although they could be more frugal if they had a smaller, lighter van or camper, as diesel is a big expense for them. And while they’re happy with the capabilities of their semi-offroad rig, they now think bigger is not always better: “The positives would be extra room and storage, the downside is weight, fuel economy and access issues.”
For budget-conscious families, this is definitely something to keep in mind when choosing a van or camper, as it will significantly impact your on-road costs.
They also note that a reliable vehicle is particularly important, especially as you get to more remote areas, and this is definitely not an area to cut costs on.
Good insurance coverage is essential, and Lynell and Nathan’s CIL van insurance comes with the added budgeting benefit of a five per cent discount on food and fuel at Woolworths and Caltex.
“We won’t be able to do everything and we don’t want to do everything anyway,” they say. “It may be the only time we visit some of these areas in Australia, so any activities and experiences we do choose are educational, have a historical significance or are Australian icons – like Mount Kosciuszko, Sovereign Hill and Puffing Billy, for example.”
Their advice to other families considering hitting the road? “There is never the perfect time to do something like this. Make it happen – you can always go back if you need to!
“Australia is a beautiful country. The experiences we have had so far have been magical and you can’t put a price on that.”
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #568. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!