Planning Your Big Lap: Before you go

Category: inspired, News, Date: 19 August 2020

Leaving is the hardest part

The first thing you should know is making the decision to leave is the hardest part. Making such a huge life change is a scary thing to do, it really is. I can’t tell you how many times people have said to us “we’d love to travel like you do”. And we always say “well then why aren’t you?” Then nine times out of ten their answer is somewhere along the lines of “my job.. the kids.. the house..” 

But the funny thing is, most of the time they’re the exact same things we had to overcome or sacrifice in order to hit the road too. The difference in most cases is that we simply didn’t let those things stop us, and were willing to make those big scary life changes. And really, once you make that decision, you set a date, and you say to yourself ‘YES, we’re really going to do this!’, the rest is all just logistics.

Plus if it makes you feel better I can tell you this: I’m yet to come across someone who has travelled around Australia and said “gee I wish I’d just stayed home and lived my boring old regular life instead”. 

Finances

Honestly, this is probably what stops most people. They think they cannot afford to travel. They think you need to have a 200 series Landcruiser, and a big fancy caravan, and $80,000 in the bank in order to do a big lap. And sure, for some people that’s how it’s done. But it doesn’t need to be done that way at all. 

Of course you need to have enough to buy a vehicle, but it can be a $10k vehicle. And yes, you need something to sleep in, but we’ve seen families travelling in tents. Or older caravans or camper trailers that cost less than $10k. And yes, you need money to travel, but you don’t need to have it all saved up in advance – we certainly didn’t. 

For us we already had a vehicle that Nathan used for work, we refinanced our house and drew on some equity to pay for our camper trailer, we sold most of the things we owned, rented out our house to cover our mortgage, and hit the road with $12k in the bank. And then managed to spend 3 years on the road travelling Australia, before moving to New Zealand to do the same. So no, you don’t need megabucks. But you do need to be a little bit smart about things, for example it’s a good idea to have a good amount in the bank for that ‘just in case’ event that can (and will, if you’re anything like us!) happen. For us, that was the $12k that we started with – we never let our bank balance fall too far below that. 

And thank goodness we didn’t as we’ve sure had some events that needed backup funds – a written off camper trailer, a cracked chassis on our vehicle, a shot clutch to name a few. But for the most part we’ve paid for our travels as we went, and in actual fact when we finished up in Australia we had more in the bank than when we started. How? By working as we go.

Working as you travel

Look I’m not gonna lie, as a Registered Nurse and a Carpenter we have some pretty good professions for travelling and working. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it, even if your particular skill set isn’t so in demand. There’s a tonne of work out there for those who are willing, and it’s a great chance to learn new skills, try something different, and enhance your experience. 

We meet the best people, and find ourselves in some really great towns that we may have otherwise not visited when we stop to work for a short stint. And we’ve done all sorts over our time in addition to our usual professions – cleaned loos, herded goats, cared for horses, built fences, painted walls… the possibilities are endless. Although if you are a tradie, a health professional, a hairdresser, a truck driver, or have farming skills you’ll certainly have no trouble finding work in your field. 

There’s also some great resources online for finding available positions. Try joining local Facebook groups and asking if there’s any work, or join the group ‘jobs for families travelling Australia’. Also check out the Grey Nomad website, and have a look at Helpx – a website that lists work for accommodation positions that are a great way to try something a bit different (working a few hours a day for food and board, rather than a wage). 

And of course keep an eye on the usual employment pages like Gumtree and Seek. As well as work also look at your options with Centrelink. We’re not suggesting you jump on the dole to fund your travels, but as you’re likely earning a whole lot less than usual you may be eligible for things like a family tax benefit, or even rent assistance, and every little helps. 

To sell or rent?

Obviously this is not a choice for everyone, as not everyone owns a home. But if you do, then this is a big decision for you to make – should you sell it to fund your travels, or rent it out? And honestly, it’s a very personal choice so we can’t advise you one way or the other. But for us we knew that if we sold our house there would be a huge temptation to spend the money, and that we’d then have trouble getting a deposit together to buy again in the future. We also knew that property prices would likely keep going up, and we were concerned about getting back into the housing market. 

Additionally we do actually love our house – despite not living there for nearly 5 years now! – so we wanted to keep it available for us to return to one day, whenever that day may be. We were also in the fortunate position that the rental income we were able to get from renting out our house covered our mortgage and other house related expenses, so for us it made more financial sense to rent our place out. 

If however the rent didn’t cover our mortgage we’d have had to sell, and in that case we’d have done our best to invest the money elsewhere so that it was still available when we were ready to settle down again.

That’s just us though. Many people choose to sell their houses and use the funds so they can do a year-long ‘big lap’ without working, and that’s totally their choice. You’ve just gotta do what works for you and your situation.

Choosing a home on wheels

Choosing a home on wheels is a topic that goes well beyond the scope of this article. On top of that it’s a hugely personal choice. So we’ll just leave you with a couple of quick tips to get you started:

  • Firstly, there is no one best option. You’ll need to find what works best for you, your family, your budget, and your style of travel. For us that was a fully off-road camper trailer. For you it might be a bus, or a vintage caravan. And with that in mind don’t let anyone else tell you what you should and shouldn’t go with – what works for them may not work for you.
  • Research, research, research. Particularly if you’re buying new. Go to as many caravan and camping shows as you can (but don’t get railroaded into impulse buying!) and look at everything there is. Then when you’ve narrowed it down to a few makes/models join the Facebook groups for owners of those models and ask lots of questions. If possible, hire one of the models you’re looking at buying to give it a test run before you go. Once you’ve chosen ‘the one’, bargain hard. And if you’re buying Australian-made then don’t be afraid to make changes to the design – a good Aussie made company should be able to work with you to customise your build.
  • New is not always best. Many second-hand models come with some great extra modifications like a fridge, solar panels, camping chairs/other gear etc that you won’t get if you buy new. But again, do your research.
  • Don’t blow the budget. $$’s saved here allows for more finances on the road. You don’t need an $80k caravan unless you really feel that’s the best option for you (and you have the funds available!) 
  • We see so many people buy top of the range caravans then do a 12 month lap and sell them again, thereby losing a tonne of money as new vans tend to depreciate very quickly. Whereas if you buy one that’s $20k cheaper, and a few years older, you may find it’s barely depreciated at all if you then go on to sell it in 12 months time. If however you end up travelling for a number of years and find you’d like to upgrade, then there’s no reason you can’t do that on the road. We know one family who has been on the road 6 years and have progressed from a soft floor camper, to a hard floor, to a caravan over that time. We also know a couple of people who have switched from a caravan to a camper trailer (or visa versa) while on the road. And we ourselves have changed our vehicle as we travelled.
  • Once you’ve got your home on wheels, make sure you do a few practice runs in it before you head off on your big trip. That way you’ll hopefully discover any little issues that need fixing before you leave, and it will help you streamline your packing  – you’ll be amazed how much you think you need, but don’t.

What about all my stuff?

So you’ve decided to leave, organised to rent/sell your house, thought about how you’re going to finance your trip, and purchased your home on wheels. Now the real ‘fun’ starts as you suddenly realise just how much stuff you really own, and start to figure out what to do with it. This bit, I’m afraid, is no fun at all. Actually, it’s a right nightmare. But once it’s over, you’re going to feel a million times better, I assure you. In fact, getting rid of all that unnecessary stuff, and realising just how little you truly need has been one of the best parts about life on the road.

How much you get rid of will depend on if you plan to return to the same place in 12 months, or if you plan to head off indefinitely. We didn’t know when we’d return, so we got rid of pretty much everything that didn’t have some sort of sentimental value, or great long-term worth. Other than what we wanted to take with us of course.

We sold what we could (which helped top up the bank balance), gave away a tonne, and what was left we actually stored in a locked box within the garage on our rented out property, thereby saving us a tonne in storage fees, which was a little unexpected bonus to keeping our house. (Keep in mind however that if you decide to do this then insurance on your items is very hard to come by, if not impossible, so it’s probably not advisable for items that have any great monetary worth).

Storage fees can be hellishly expensive, so keep that in mind when you’re budgeting for your trip, and weigh up whether the cost to keep items is worth it, or are you better selling them and buying again when you return?

Our other tip is to allow yourself plenty of time to do this, as it’s actually a really stressful and time consuming process. When we decided to do this trip we made the choice to go, then left within three months of making that decision. So we didn’t have a huge amount of time to plan, and start offloading things. If you’re planning further in advance then I suggest starting the process of sorting through your belongings as early as possible, to try and limit that last minute stress right before you leave.

Ultimately though, once you get through those last pre-leaving little stressors you can hit that open road and breathe a huge sigh of relief. You did it! You changed up your life, you took this massive step into the unknown, and now you can drive off into red dust and wide open skies feeling damn proud of yourself! Welcome to your Big Lap, it’s going to be life-changing, I promise. 

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