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Sunday, February 10, 2008

The simplicity of travel by caravan

As a child, my parents dragged me around Australia in a caravan for five years. My dad had been diagnosed as having kidney disease and in those days the option was dialysis machine or die. He didn't want to be hooked up to a machine, he told us. If he was going to go, he said, he wanted to see his country before he died. So we sold up everything we had in Sydney, and we took to the road. We had a caravan so massive that it deserved the title 'mobile home', as they call them in the USA. It had separate bedrooms for my parents at one end and my sister and I at the other, with a dining-living area and bathroom in between. Wherever we went people stared and when we pulled up at a caravan park or camping ground, they'd come over for a chat, the blokes asking my dad technical questions ("how much juice does she chew?") and the women asking mum, enviously, if they could stick there head in for a snoop. It wasn't the kind of thing people towed around the country in those days (the late 1970s to early 1980s), but that's exactly what we did, travelling the length and breadth of Australia in those five years. We lived off my parents savings and investments, and Mum and Dad picked up work when opportunities arose... grape picking, shark fishing, and so on. My sister was a toddler but I did correspondence school, eagerly collecting my assignments and library books from prearranged post offices, having 'holidays' when we were on the road, and working hard to make up for the breaks when we settled down somewhere for a while. But the travel itself was the best education of all. We met so many different types of people every day and were confronted with such wildly different kinds of lifestyles. I had to quickly learn how to adapt to fit in. We stopped at places we liked for as long as we liked, and we moved on when we had experienced enough. Or simply missed being on the road. Because we all loved the road, Mum, Dad, my sister, and I. We loved the whole ritual of packing up and hooking the van on to the car and just taking off... we even had a theme song, Willy Nelson's 'On The Road Again', and Dad would pop in the tape as soon as we hit the bitumen. There's something so appealing about traveling in a caravan as I was reminded when we came across this quaint old van parked on an empty paddock in the Arkamas Peninsula, Cyprus. After so many five star hotels with their tedious check in procedures, the well-appointed rooms to inspect, and the expansive buffet breakfasts to try, for the first time in many years, I found myself craving a far simpler traveling experience, that by caravan...

5 comments:

Caitlin (Roaming Tales) said...

Five years, wow! That's a long time. How old were you when you stopped and how did you find it settling back into life in one spot?

I went around Tasmania in a campervan last year. It was five women from my family - my 79-year-old grandmother, two aunts in their 40s and 50s, myself and my 23-year-old cousin. Lots of fun but a couple of weeks was enough.

laradunston said...

I was in my mid-teens when we stopped - mainly because I was demanding to live a 'normal' life, go to regular high school, maintain friendships for longer than a few weeks, and fall in love... I adjusted very easily. That's one of the most important things that I learnt from our travels, how to be flexible and how to cope well with change...

But, Caitlin, five women in a campervan! Are you crazy?! Seriously, though, it sounds like fun - what a way to bond!

Prêt à Voyager said...

Wow, what an experience! You're definitely in the right line of work!

Anne

Xander said...

That's a really incredible story, beautifully told. It sounds like an amazing experience.

Last year when I was back home in the states, I eyed those little caravan trailers rather enviously, dreaming of what it would be like to take a long roadtrip in one. -X

laradunston said...

Anne - yes, I've always blamed, woops, I mean thanked my folks for my itchy feet. You're right, that caravanning trip provided the best possible training one could ever have to be a travel writer.

Xander - thank you! It was AMAZING. Caravanning was so 'daggy' (that's such an Australian word, I know!) for so long, but I kind of think it's becoming cool again. Regardless, I just love the idea of the freedom it provides... the home away from home/home on wheels aspect of it all... but maybe that's just because we're so sick of hotels (not all hotels, mind you, just hotels in general).

I must admit I probably have a selective memory though... that top bunk was a bit claustrophobic now I think about it... but imagine if you could design your own van and fit it out with funky furnishings like you might your own apartment? Now, that's an idea!