The Lap of Australia is harder than it looks

If you’ve been considering a lap of Australia, or have recently set off I can almost guarantee that you’ll have been following travelling families, couples or individuals who’ve done it before (or are still going) on various social media platforms.

There’s more than ever today and the photos, captions, videos and comments made by many often make it sound like there is nothing better in life than packing it all up, and travelling around this big, beautiful country.

This can be massively misleading, and I want to give you a more balanced perspective of life on the road, and discuss a heap of the things that very rarely (if ever) get talked about.

This is not a whinge either, for ourselves, or anyone else who’s travelling Australia. The fact that we (and many others) can travel this incredible country is not something we take lightly, and there are a lot of people doing it much, much tougher than we are.

Our problems are hardly a blip on the radar of many today; we fully understand that.

This is purely a post to highlight the fact that what you see online in the travelling Australia space is often not realistic, and that really sucks for those wanting to do the Big Lap of Australia in due course, who base their ideas and expectations off such information (consciously, or unconsciously).

Travelling Australia isn't always as it seems
The Lap of Australia is often portrayed as something like this, from our recent Whitsunday Yacht Hire
Terrible seas in the Whitsundays
The reality though, was 6 days of 40 – 60km/h winds and lots of swell

Selling the dream

Social media often gets used for sharing the highlights of someone’s life, and its no different when it comes to travelling Australia. The amazing destinations, experiences and attractions get a huge amount of attention, and everything that is subpar is left to one side.

This is often genuine, as very few people like sharing when things are not going well, but today there’s often also other reasons hidden under the surface that a lot of people miss.

A lot of travelling families, couples and individuals are literally selling the dream. This can be in the form of advertising for camping, caravan and 4WD businesses, or to sell their own products, or to get you to ‘PM me for more details’.

Call me cynical, but I always question motives and in the world of social media when doing a Lap of Australia, there’s a lot of people who are quite literally selling the dream, because that’s what they make a dollar from, which then funds their trips.

I go into a lot more detail about all this, including how we make our money (just the display ads you see here) in this post; Travelling families and individuals selling themselves, but its really clear that the motivation behind some incredible photos, and ‘life on the road’ goes well beyond just sharing inspiring content.

If you’re following others on social media who are travelling Australia, how confident are you that what they share is honest, factual and based on real life, or is it a giant façade and put on show?

Some are completely and utterly honest and realistic, and others create an image through photos and video, or general comments that is nothing like what their real life is. Do you really know though?

For some additional clarity on our situation, here’s a post on why we run 4WDing Australia, and also why we decided to do the big lap of Australia.

Camped at James Price
Are you being literally sold the dream?

A lap of Australia can be insanely difficult, stressful and unpleasant

Over the last few months, I’ve seen a huge number of people posting online that their lap of Australia is nothing like what they expected it to be, and they want to give up and go home.

I really feel for those sharing this, and can completely understand and relate. There is this façade that is created online, which implies that the moment you pack up and head off into the sunset life every day is going to be pure magic, with all your problems just fading away.

In many cases, this relates to those travelling with kids, but it also applies to those with vehicle troubles, financial struggles, bad weather, relationship problems and the list goes on, and on for as long as you’d like it to.

I’ll be perfectly blunt. Doing a lap of Australia is not a holiday.

Sure, there’s days, and moments where you’ll have the absolute time of your life, but like everything in life there’s always a flip side and it can also be incredibly difficult, frustrating, stressful and downright unpleasant, and not just on the odd occasion, but quite regularly.

Your problems do not all magically disappear, and you will pick up a whole realm of new issues that you have to deal with. That’s the raw truth.

Cranky Cooper at Port Augusta
This is our youngest son having a meltdown, but some days we also feel like this (insert loud scream)

What’s it really like?

Sarah and I have two young boys; 4 and nearly 7, and we’ve done a ridiculous amount of travel solo, and with them prior to leaving on our Lap of Australia.

Almost every single bit of my annual leave and long service leave (and some) for the last 13 years was spent on camping and 4WD trips away, and we’ve always loved it.

We’ve been on the road for over 9 months now, and I can honestly tell you that there are moments where I’d rather be at home. That is the bare, blunt truth, and we aren’t unique in this perspective, I guarantee it.

We have a fantastic relationship together (most of the time!), decent kids, a reliable 4WD, and a camping setup that we are extremely happy with, and we’re also doing one of the easiest schooling options for kids, and yet, its not all sunshine and rainbows.

Of course, we have incredible times together, and I wouldn’t change the family bonding opportunities that we have for quid’s, but it doesn’t mean that its always enjoyable.

We’ve threatened to turn our ship around and go home a couple of times now, and our difficult times are almost always related to our two young boys.

Overall, I feel that travelling is a LOT more enjoyable than the daily grind that we were all doing back in Perth, but that’s very much going to depend on your personality, how everyone settles into travelling, what you do at home, relationships you’ll miss, kids ages and so many other variables.

Amazing views from our camp site
Every morning is peaceful, calm and amazing like this…NOT

What’s difficult on a lap of Australia?

Reliability issues and repairs

A lot of people underestimate how many things break or go wrong when travelling Australia, and its amplified dramatically if you like getting to the off the beaten track places.

We’ve had mainly minor things go wrong on our trip, but people regularly pick up bad fuel, or blow an engine or automatic transmission, or develop water leaks in their caravans, or break something else substantial and that is going to hurt your travels hugely.

Just the basic runs to Bunnings and tool shops to fix things on the road can be stressful, and if you aren’t handy and able to fix the basics when they go wrong, it can be incredibly costly and challenging to get repairs done.

You can mitigate a lot of this by buying a reliable vehicle, and looking after it, but the unexpected still happens and there’s a lot of people who get stranded in places that are less than desirable for extended periods when things go wrong.

80 Series wheel bearing
A few years ago we had a major breakdown near Steep Point, and its never fun

Ever increasing expenses

Travelling Australia is really expensive, and with the way prices have gone recently, its not going to improve any time soon.

A lot of travelling families are quoting $1500 a week as the new normal for travelling, and that’s a butt tonne of money. We’re doing it on far less than this, but that in itself comes with sacrifices, and you have to really think about what a realistic budget might be, and how adjusting it is going to affect your travels.

If you set a budget and blow it every week, its not going to make you feel great, and might even leave you in a nasty financial place when you return.

Cairns Skyrail
Travelling Australia can be incredibly expensive, and its not coming down

Being in a tiny space with your family 24/7

There’s a massive shock when it comes to living with your family 24/7, in tiny quarters. Even bigger caravans are a huge reduction in space from the average home, and you will get on each others nerves at times being in a small space.

If you are travelling in something small (like our hybrid camper), its far worse, and with not even enough room for two people to stand up and get changed, its very easy for tensions to flare and someone to get upset.

A lot of families are not used to spending dozens of hours together each week, let alone for weeks on end, and with no where to escape, and its a big hurdle to manage, and get used to.

I say manage, because many people can’t tolerate it (and that’s probably quite reasonable!), and need to put measures in place to make it work.

A lot of people go from having at least 40 – 50 hours a week away from their family at work where they’re busy, distracted or at the very least separated, and that’s a ridiculous change for anyone to deal with.

Even for your kids, who’d normally get their own space, and be separated at school, or around your house its a huge change. Our two boys are virtually within arms reach 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sure, they separate from time to time, but not nearly as much as they would at home.

Kids playing inside our camper
Living in close quarters with your family is a massive change for everyone

Kids

If you haven’t had kids, I don’t know how to explain how challenging they can be. They’re loud, intrusive, messy, unpredictable and often difficult to deal with, and a lap of Australia without kids is insanely different to one with kids.

If you are travelling without kids, you have a totally different lifestyle, and its going to be a lot easier in many regards.

Whether its wet bedding from accidents at night, or siblings fighting (literally, or just words), or the constant mess around camp from them I guarantee that you will get very frustrated at times when travelling with kids.

Of course, their ages play a huge role, but if you think life on the road with children is going to be smooth sailing, you’re in for a rough surprise.

My way of explaining this is simple; you’ll have a lot more highs (where you’re loving life, and feeling so grateful for everything), and a lot more lows (where you’re over the kids, and want to head home), and much less moderate emotions.

I kid you not (no pun intended); you’ll go from high as the sky to low as in a matter of minutes, and this can happen multiple times a day. It’s just what it is; you can’t, and won’t be riding on the highs all the time.

If you are adding in distance education, or home schooling, it only gets more challenging. Kids react very differently to their parents than they do to a formal teacher, and when there’s so many amazing things that they’d rather be doing, its often a daily struggle to get through it all, and 100% adds to the stress.

School under the Redwoods
Travelling with kids is a lot of hard work

Washing

Washing on the road sucks. It really does, and that’s even if you have an inbuilt washing machine and decent awning to hang it off.

Water restrictions (unless you’re at a caravan park) make it difficult, and that’s without the hand washing that so many of us do. We carry a portable clothesline which gets used, but it builds up fast, and we often resort to doing washing in caravan parks.

Washing at Stony Creek Bush camp
Washing on the road is a pain in the backside

Shopping

If you have a big rig, or young kids, shopping can be all sorts of fun and games. Some towns are amazing and completely set up for travellers to pull in and stock up, and others are nothing short of garbage.

Trying to find somewhere to pull in with a 4WD and Caravan can be a disaster, and a lot of people prefer to head in with their vehicle only.

These days, Sarah takes one child and I take the other, as two young kids going shopping in an unfamiliar place always ends in someone getting upset (and its usually Sarah!).

Sometimes I’ll take both kids to the playground whilst Sarah shops, and we play the game of Tetris trying to pack everything into the car and camper at the end.

Sarah feeling overwhelmed at packing everything in
Trying to fit it all in after a big shop is always entertaining

Bad weather

Follow the weather, they reckon. Yeah, right. No matter how good your planning is, you will get rubbish weather, and it will be unpleasant.

It might be freezing wind along the South Australia Coast, or thunderstorms and rain in Victoria, or you’ll realise that the dry season doesn’t actually exist in places like Innisfail.

From lack of solar, to being too hot, or too cold, or drenched to the bones the weather in Australia is very diverse, and it can make your travels incredibly challenging.

The sun will bite you as well, and whilst the warm, sunny days look amazing online they aren’t always enjoyable, depending on where you are.

Mud in the beadlock rims
Follow the weather, and never see a cloud in the sky? Yeah, right!

Bites and injuries

I’ve come to realise that inevitably, you will get more bites and injuries when travelling. Mosquitos, march flies, sand flies and anything else that can get you, will.

I’m forever dealing with cuts, scratches and abrasions on myself, and my kids (although Sarah escapes mainly Scott free, so maybe there’s a method in her madness).

Cooper hurt his knee very badly on a jumping pillow early into our trip, and I can tell you it hugely hurt our travels for the better part of 3 weeks, and it could have been a whole lot worse.

I try and have a balanced perspective on risk and injuries when we’re travelling, but things can, and do go wrong.

Cooper with a bandaged knee
Accidents and injuries are more likely on the road, and are much harder to live with

Sickness on the road

Going on from the above, there is nothing worse than being on the road and getting badly sick. So far, we’ve only had minor flu’s, but even that is enough to disrupt the travels quite a bit.

Imagine gastro, or feeling really, really sick and having no where to go but your little caravan or camper trailer (and still needing to move camps as required).

General travel stresses

Until you’ve been pulled over on the side of the road late in the afternoon, with two fighting kids in the back of the car, phone reception that keeps going in and out, and no camp site with space for you to pull in, you cannot appreciate how difficult it can be.

Finding camp sites is a never ending job, and then you have dump points, potable water taps, rubbish bins that are large enough to put proper bin bags in, checking your vehicle over, watching the weather, trying to get directions from one place to another or find a suitable place to turn your big rig around and so on and so forth.

Driving up Mt Lewis
You’ll end up in a pickle one way or another; I guarantee it

Do you know how many rubbish camp sites there are in Australia, and how often you’ll pull into one and feel all kinds of let down?!

With the age of information so easily accessible, you will build up expectations about places that people rave about, and I guarantee you’ll be let down pulling into some of them.

On the flip side there’s often lots of unexpected places that are amazing, but we’ve found its very important not to have expectations of places or experiences, or you often feel disappointed.

All of these things are generally minor, but I guarantee they’ll come in waves and kick your butt from time to time.

Gascoyne Rest Area
You’ll use plenty of very average camp grounds

Travelling Australia is amazing, at times

Australia is a truly unbelievable country, and you can have such an amazing time exploring it. However, you won’t have an amazing time all the time, and I guarantee that you will struggle from time to time, especially if you have kids.

People think that a lap of Australia is one big holiday, and they’re completely and utterly wrong. It’s a new lifestyle, that is absolutely not without its challenges. For us, compared to living at home, we have a lot more high moments than previously, and we have a lot more low moments too.

There’s far less moments that are bland and in between, and we constantly bounce between having an amazing time in a fantastic location, to pulling our hair out with the kids being a pain in the backside.

Sarah and Oliver walking on the beach
You’ll have magic moments by the bucket load, but plenty of less enjoyable moments too.

There is an adjustment period

Before we left, we kept hearing that it takes at least 3 months for everyone to fall into a routine, and for things to start moving well. I was very curious as to how we’d go, as we had previously done many months away together, we had a setup we were very familiar with and we love to be on the road.

Whilst I’d agree that 3 months is probably a good adjustment period, we found that this time frame came and went, and we didn’t have issues until a few months later, where we’d have a rough week or two with kids behaviours, and then it would come good again.

Neither Sarah or I could explain what would cause these things to happen, but we’ve certainly learned a lot from each occasion, and try and grow from them.

Even now, after 9 months, we don’t have amazing day after amazing day. We still have days where our kids are atrocious, and I’ve lost a fair bit of hair already!

Craigs hut with the family
There’s certainly an adjustment period, but how long and what changes is very individual

Don’t fall for the façade

If you’re considering a lap of Australia, please, please don’t expect that all of your problems are going to fall away, and life’s going to be this magical paradise, or you will be bitterly disappointed.

In all honesty, life on the road can be far tougher than at home (at times), and you’ll get rewarded for that in many ways you probably never even expect. Not everyone is going to enjoy travelling Australia, and that’s just fine too.

If you’re planning a lap of Australia, be realistic, go easy on yourself, and expect it to be tough at times, because it will be!

Is it worth it?

Yep, for us, absolutely it is, but I’d be lying if I told you there wasn’t times where I’m at my wits end, and Sarah can totally agree with this too.

We’ll keep travelling for as long as we can afford, and while everyone is having a good time. If it all goes pear shaped (which it has to a certain extent a couple of times already), for long enough, we’ll change direction and head home.

However, you should know that there are a huge number of people who’ve headed off into the sunset, and returned after a few months, or under a year not by choice, but because they just couldn’t do it.

Zero judgment from us; its freaking hard to travel Australia (especially with kids), and if its not for you, its not for you. Well done for giving it a solid crack, and I bet you look back with an appreciative attitude in due course.

I don’t think there are too many people who’d say it wasn’t worth it, but they’d certainly tell you it can be a lot harder than it looks.

Cape York with the family
Nothing worth having comes easy

How can you make it easier?

Do a trial run

I’m baffled by how many people buy a new (or even new to them) 4WD, camper trailer or caravan and hit the road a few weeks later, with very little camping, 4WDing or travel experience.

Some people even sell their homes, or rent them out for extended periods, and whilst I like the idea of throwing caution into the wind, that’s way too extreme for me.

What happens if you hate the travel, or you realise that the setup you’ve just bought is not at all what you really needed? I’ve seen people spend 150k on a travel setup, and return home after a month or two because they just can’t ‘like’ it.

Work out what is good about your setup, and what needs improving before you are on the road for a long period, as its much harder to do these things when you’re moving around!

Do yourself a massive favour, and don’t go on an extended trip away until you’ve proved your setup, and you’re happy with the travelling lifestyle in terms of how everyone handles it.

Hire a caravan, or take some annual leave, but don’t buy a brand new setup and head away without knowing full well that it might end in tears.

New Caravan buying
Do a few trial trips prior to departing, for your sanity

Ensure your setup is reliable and legal

One of the most stressful parts of travelling Australia is unplanned breakdowns, and some of them can be hugely expensive and very inconvenient.

Money spent on your vehicle and camping setup prior to leaving is often well spent. Do the preventative maintenance before you head off, so you don’t have to deal with a breakdown in the middle of no where, with no help around, and limited spare parts.

Take the time often, to crawl under your vehicle, and look around your trailer, and to make sure its all hunky dory. A few minutes every week spent doing this can save you a bucket load of money and inconvenience down the line.

Reconn R2 wheel rotation
Keep your setup in pristine condition and it will make your life so much easier

On the other side of the coin, you need to be all over 4WD weights, and especially if you are towing. There’s a huge number of people out there who are travelling with vehicles and trailers that are overweight, and that is a very bad place to be.

You need to know your GVM, axle weights, GCM, tow ball weight and so on prior to departing. We have a simple towing guide that explains all of this in detail.

We’ve met a number of people on the road who’ve realised they aren’t legal, and had to deal with upgrading vehicles, or swapping caravans in the middle of their trip!

Mobile weighing results
Getting your setup weighed by a mobile weighing company is a really highly recommended course of action

Slow down

If travelling is a struggle, slow right down. If you’re spending a night or two at a place, make it 3 or 4. The constant moving and change especially for young kids is hard, and they’re behaviour often reflects this.

Our kids are feral if we keep moving too quickly, and early on in the trip Oliver very clearly articulated that he wanted days to stay at camp, where we did absolutely nothing.

This has now become a part of our routine, and we’ll find a beautiful camp site near a creek or river where they can swim, relax and play all day long, and we’ll just let them go for it.

This is absolutely necessary for a happy travelling tribe, and something that you have to experiment with to see what works.

Amazing water front views
If its getting too much, find a great camp site and set up for several days in a row; slow it down

Pick your battles

When you’re living in close quarters with your entire family, its easy to get upset, or frustrated over things that really don’t matter. If you take on every single battle with your kids, you’ll have a rubbish time travelling and no one will be happy.

Does it really matter if your youngest wants to put his shoes on instead of his thongs for a short walk? Does it matter that your oldest son wants to have a wrap with chocolate spread and cheese on it?

Some battles are worth standing firm on, and others are not worth your time, or the pandemonium that ensues if you push it.

Lunch Spread
You want cheese and oranges together? Sure thing!

Reduce the stimulation

Our kids are at their worst when we are in busy caravan parks, and there’s a lot going on. If we go to a quiet bush camp with hardly anyone else around, they’re behaviour generally improves significantly.

Young kids are easily over stimulated, and if you’re not aiming to reduce this it will make life super difficult.

We find screen time is a double edged sword; it might give you some instant peace and quiet, but it seems to make the rest of the day much harder. We’re very careful when we allow screen time, and its not very often at all these days.

Relaxing on the bed with the kids
Screen time is a double edged sword; use it wisely (and the less the better, in general for us)

One on one time

One of the improvements we made with our kids was to spend one on one time with each of them. Often Sarah is with one child while I’m with the other, but dedicated time where you leave your phone behind, and concentrate 100% on what the child is doing is hugely helpful for everyone.

Be involved if they want you to, but just being there and paying complete attention to them is a game changer.

Don’t forget to do the same with your partner too; having some kid free time at the end of the day together is hugely important.

Cooper having fun at Comet Flats
One on one time with each other is hugely important

Get a good nights sleep

If you want a cranky family, disrupt their sleep. There’s very little of more importance than ensuring that everyone gets a good nights sleep.

This is obscenely difficult when you are travelling, and some camp sites are noisy, or its still light at 8PM, or your children are wound up from running around for hours on end.

We’ve worked out that a longer, slow bed time works much better with our kids, and we try and get them inside, doing something calm and quiet for at least half an hour before they go to bed.

Occasionally that’s watching something, but its normally reading books, playing with toys or building Lego, and this wind down time is imperative. Of course, its not flawless and one of our biggest struggles is getting the kids to sleep, but we do what we can and live with the rest.

12V fan for our son
Do anything, and everything you can to ensure a good nights sleep is had (including getting fans if needed)

Respond well

If you want peace and calm in your travelling tribe, have a really good think about how you respond to your partner, and children. If you’re blunt, or snap, or get upset, you are going to cop exactly the same response back, and its no good for anyone.

When I’m frustrated or annoyed, its all too easy to respond in a negative way to my children (and even Sarah!), and it does not help things one bit. Hard to master, but hugely important.

Follow the weather as well as you can

If you do the South Australian coast in winter, and Darwin and the Kimberley in the wet season, you are probably not going to have a good time.

It is possible to get pretty good weather all year round, if you follow the sunshine. It doesn’t work perfectly, and you’ll get whopped occasionally, but its a lot better than freezing your backside off at the bottom of Australia in the middle of winter!

Amazing weather and sunset
Doing your best to follow the good weather will help dramatically

Lots more

There’s a heap of other things that you can do to ensure you have the best chance of a fun, rewarding and enjoyable lap of Australia, but I don’t want to make this post too long. Instead, have a look around the blog; we’ve got more than 1400 posts covering all sorts of things relating to 4WDing, camping and travel.

What’s your experience been?

If you’ve been able to travel Australia, what’s your experience been like? Has it been sunshine and rainbows, or do you also agree that there’s a façade that needs to be pulled down and destroyed?

I’d like to see more honesty in the way people share their experiences, so its not misleading to those who are looking on.

Hopefully this post has been helpful, and feel free to share it, or leave a comment or question below. We’re happy to answer anything you might want to know!

Travelling Australia
Are you having a ball travelling Australia, or is it a big disaster?

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6 Comments

  1. Hi Juergen,

    Thanks so much. I’m glad you liked it

    All the best
    Aaron

  2. Juergen Loos says:

    One of the best articles about “The lab around Australia “ I ever have read
    Cheers Juergen

  3. Hey Elle,

    Thanks so much for your kind words, and for sharing your own experiences. It sounds like you’ve been through the wringer, and come out stronger for it.

    Life on the road is certainly difficult at times, and its not awesome every day. Sounds like you have an amazing attitude, and we wish you all the best

    Aaron

  4. Hey Meagan,

    You’re very welcome, and I’m glad its been helpful. The effort is well and truly worth the reward (in most cases), but go into it with the right expectations and you’ll nail it.

    All the best on your trip!
    Aaron

  5. Elle Atkins says:

    You nailed it Aaron.

    We left to travel full time in February 2020…. Just before Covid arrived on our doorsteps. What a journey it’s been. Covid lock downs, border closures, no where to stay because people feared we were carrying the dreaded virus, abused because our number plates showed we were from a different state to the one we were in, the death of two parents and we couldn’t visit them or attend their funerals due to border closures, our own ill heath, upgrading our car and caravan whilst travelling, 18 months of floods and rain on the eastern seaboard. The Caravan once had to have the ceiling replaced due to water penetration, that meant we had to find accommodation for us and our dog. The contents of the van had to be emptied into the accommodation then back again. When the car gets a service with have to sit in a Park while the work is completed. Parcels often go astray and the list goes on.

    I think there are many who set out thinking everyday will be awesome, the reality is it isn’t. We consider it our way of life and deal with whatever comes our way. We have had many amazing times and don’t intend to return to our home any time soon.

    I think you have covered the reality of full time travel well.

  6. Thank you so much for this post. It’s been the most honest and helpful I have seen.
    We are planning a half lap next year with children a little older than yours and I do worry how we will go in a confined space for a number of months. You have mentioned some great strategies.
    Thanks again