While life on the road might seem an endless parade of spectacular vistas, glorious sunsets and delicious campfire meals, the truth is that this is only part of it. In reality, you’ll need to swap out vistas with dead-end roads and ‘no camping’ signs, sunsets with days trapped in your vehicle while it gusts wind and rain, and campfire meals with unheated leftovers and dreams of the oven you left behind.
Yep, scrolling through social media is a surefire way to get a skewed perception of the everyday realities of life on the road. As awesome as it is, full-time travel takes some getting used to. We know people who have taken to the lifestyle like troopys to dirt tracks, and others who tried it for a month before pulling the pin.
For us, the transition to living and travelling in a 4WD has been reasonably smooth, perhaps made easier by a previous 19-month caravan trip where we learned a lot about living comfortably away from bricks and mortar. Below are a few things we wish people had told us before we embarked on a long-term journey.
Prepare for shower-free days.
It’s not easy to give up hot showers and we’re not saying you’ll have to all together. However, for the most part, while living out of a car you’re just not going to be able to count on one every day. In a society where daily baths form part of our lives from a young age, this might be the biggest physical and mental adjustment you’ll need to make. When there’s access to fresh water this usually means you’re in an urban setting whose population makes it hard for you to get your wash on without also getting done for indecent exposure. Then, when there’s not another human in sight, you’re usually well out of range of water refills and need to ration the supplies you’ve brought with you.
This wasn’t something we’d really thought much about before our first trip. It was only when the shiny glow of leaving had worn off and we were armpit deep into our second week that it really hit home. We were lucky at that point to be travelling near the ocean and so made the most of salty baths while we figured out how to deal.
For us, the way forward was to make peace with – and later, to embrace – the idea of hot showers as something to look forward to rather than a mundane everyday action. This isn’t to say we’ve given up on hygiene: we “shower” each morning with water and washers or biodegradable baby wipes.
The best bit? As well as saving on water and gas, we really don’t feel much dirtier than we did at home. Smokier sometimes, yes – but as whining about a good campfire is equivalent to complaining that puppies are too cute, we’re not going to do it. We guess what we’re saying is, be prepared for a period of adjustment. It might take a little while but, like anything, you’ll get into the groove.
Things will go wrong. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when they do.
From electrics to mechanics to navigation to bogging, there’s never-ending things that can go wrong while you’re living on the road. At times, the sheer scale of the things you don’t know (and the situations this gets you into) is downright overwhelming.
The trick is to ask for help when you need it. At worst, you might feel like a total idiot. At best, your problem will be solved. In our experience, people are usually more than happy to share what they know and even when they can’t help themselves, might point you in the direction of someone who can or just give you a much-needed emotional boost.
Between strangers offering friendly advice at roadside stops, those rolling up their sleeves to help us untangle the hopeless mess we’d gotten our awning into and yet others who opened their homes to us when things went really wrong and we were left without a place to stay, we now know just how many awesome people are out there.
And don’t underestimate the internet! You’ll be amazed at the wealth of information available in online groups and forums covering just about everything you can think of in the realm of outdoors camping and travel, vehicles, camp cooking and more. Especially when you’re physically away from your family and friends, these online communities start to feel like a real support network.
The best part is, after you learn something, you get to pay it forward. Although we’re still far from experts in lots of areas, there have been occasions we’ve been able to help people out and it’s been really satisfying. Better yet, we’ve made lifelong friends.
It’s not all picture perfect.
It’s clear that full-time travel comes with plenty of highs. It’s the lows which aren’t always apparent. We’re not saying that living on the road is necessarily harder or more difficult than living in a house and working 9-5 but it certainly does come with a set of stresses that aren’t always apparent in photos.
A lot of trouble comes from the fact that your vehicle becomes more than your mode of transport. It’s also your shelter, kitchen, keeper of your things and the place you call home. But unlike a normal house, everything gets rattled around daily as you drive around, it’s wide open to the full gamut of elements, and when things do go wrong, you can be left stranded or without a place to stay.
Speaking of places to stay, although it might look like travellers skip merrily from one gorgeous spot to the next, there’s plenty of campsites we don’t post, mostly because they’re less campsites and more roadside stops on busy highways or parking spots in dodgy industrial areas. Sometimes you’re on edge the whole night, wondering if some angry, drunk or thieving person is going to come knocking on your door.
Day-to-day actions you’d never think twice about at home become central focus points. For example, going to toilet can be highly stressful when, um, there is no toilet. The annoyance of getting out of a cosy bed to walk on cold bathroom tiles pales in comparison to digging a hole in hard ground on a dark, wet night and carrying your toilet paper back to burn on the fire that’s been rained out.
And that’s not even mentioning the emotional pressure cooker your vehicle can sometimes become after days, weeks and months of living 24/7 with the same person. Let’s just say the divorce rate would be significantly reduced if it was mandatory to spend a year pre-marriage travelling in a car with your significant other.
All this is not to say that a long-term trip isn’t worth doing, because it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done. Go into it with realistic expectations and it’ll probably be one of the best things you’ve ever done, too.