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Packing It In: our home on the road

June 18, 2018
Packing It In: our home on the road

My husband, Sean, and I were packing for our trip around Australia in our self-built slide-on camper. Our long-held dream of travelling Australia was finally about to become reality. We had six weeks to finish the project – just in time to drive from Perth to Adelaide for our friend’s wedding. Little did we know just how close we’d come to missing it.

For the past four months, we’d been building the camper six days a week. We’d moved out of our beloved two-by-one rental and into our parents’ place until we had to leave. All our stuff was packed in our parents’ home as they had generously offered to store it all while we travelled. We’d managed to fit almost all our household stuff into a single room. It was a sight to behold; an entire room, packed from floor to ceiling with our possessions. How we’d managed to accumulate so much stuff, I don’t know. When we return home, I’m going on a mission to declutter.


Our deadline for completing the build was before May 17 as Sean was a groomsman for his good friend’s wedding in Adelaide on May 18. The six weeks to go felt like a reasonable timeframe given the remaining work to be done. But as life goes, the time passed quickly and as the time decreased, so did our optimism for leaving with a complete camper in tow. So, we worked furiously to get it done. Thankfully, the groom whose wedding we were to attend visited for a few days to join us in our efforts. What a true friend!


At one week to go, both Sean and I were feeling the pressure. Would we make it to the wedding on time or would we be booking last minute flights? Whoever came up with the saying “time is the greatest motivator” knew what they were talking about. Sean was working on the camper’s gas, water and electrical systems while I made progress on our indoor shower space. Somehow, we managed to host a going-away party that final weekend.

That night, it all started to become real to Sean and I. We were leaving our family and friends, our hometown, the pets – all that was familiar – to embark on a journey to places we’d never seen full of people we’d never met. It was hard to believe. Everything felt that little bit different. I wondered why we were the ones to be able to go on this once-in-a-lifetime trip. It was hard to accept, but we knew there was no other way to achieve our dreams to travel than to say a temporary “goodbye”, or as I prefer “see you soon”.

We had to travel from Perth to the wedding in Adelaide, which takes about 24 hours solid driving. Needing to be there on Thursday for the Friday wedding, we figured our truly latest departure would be on the Tuesday, two days before. Essential parts for the camper, the linear actuators, were yet to arrive in the mail and required significant electrical and fabrication work to install.


Our prospects of finishing in time seemed bleak. And yet, that Sunday night, an angel rocked up at our door and stayed all of Monday and Tuesday to help us. He understood the time pressure we faced as he’d done a lot of work on his own camping set-up. Plus, he was well-versed in camper wiring. So, he was an absolute God-send. Not to mention, he is one of those very calm people that make you feel like taking a deep breath to relax. We were relieved to collect the long-awaited linear actuators on Monday. Our angel-friend worked with us through to the wee hours of Wednesday morning, when the camper was mostly packed and we were madly cleaning up all the remnants of the building process. We’re so grateful to all our family and friends that have helped us along the way.

Packing the camper was a feat in itself. What are the essentials needed for living in a mini home? I’d set myself the challenge of bringing only what we needed. The nice but impractical things were left behind in exchange for the lightweight, multipurpose items. As our camper runs off 12 volt, all our appliances were no good. The toaster was swapped for a stove-top gauze toaster and the kettle swapped for a whistling one. I must admit, it felt great, piling all our stuff into packing boxes. I knew I was bidding farewell to convenience and the joy of having nice things, but the satisfaction of having less made it all worthwhile.


Through all the packing, I was thinking how counter-cultural we were being. Ads on TV, social media and billboards tell us we need more. More stuff. Better electronics. A bigger house. The next iPhone. More insurance. And there we were, doing the complete opposite. Less appliances. One TV. One laptop. One camera. We were condensing our lives into a 16m3 space. The more I think about it, the more crazy it sounds. Then there’s backpackers who manage to live from the contents of their backpack. Given the struggle we’ve had to downsize, I really do take my hat off to them.

We ended up leaving home at 4:30am on Wednesday morning after working through the night. The slide-on camper was securely on the ute tray and the ute was handling the load well, proving worthwhile the major suspension upgrade we’d invested in. The trip across the Nullarbor was surreal. We took two hour driving shifts and napped in-between. One of my favourite moments was stopping in at the Norseman roadhouse in middle of the night on Wednesday. The wind had a chill. Upbeat music played on the loudspeaker outside. Inside was the diner-style restaurant, full of empty booths and tables and chairs. I could imagine it packed with diners and waiters rushing back and forth tending to tables. For now, it felt like someone had pressed the pause button, while we refuelled and prepared for the next stretch of road.


I had an experience I could only describe as magical soon after that. I was driving and thankfully, felt much more alert after some iced coffee. It was still night and I was approaching one of the airstrips used by the Royal Flying Doctors Service that serves as the normal road when not in use. Not long after hitting the airstrip, a thin layer of fog descended. I could have been a pilot accelerating for taking off! Driving through those clouds on the airstrip was an amazing experience.

We rocked up in Adelaide at midnight on Thursday. We were glad for a few hours sleep that night before the morning wedding. The wedding was held near a waterfall and was simply beautiful. Sean pulled off a lovely speech. Apparently (and surprisingly), we didn’t look too tired. As everyone jumped in their cars to return home, it hit us that our ute was our home. We hopped in the ute, surrounded by bits and pieces shoved here and there in the mad rush to leave, and sat for a moment. “Where should we go?” Sean asked me. “Wherever we want!” I replied, smiling.

We had nowhere we had to be. No work the following day. No household chores. No plans. Just each other, our mini home and a whole lot of freedom. We drove a winding route through the scenic hills of Adelaide, past lush trees and homes nestled in the hills to a free overnight camping spot. Warm and cosy in our shiny new camper, we fell asleep to the sound of trickling rain outside.

We’ve left our travel plans pretty open. A trip to the Flinders Ranges is on the list and after that perhaps Queensland or the Northern Territory. We’ll make the most of being able to take whichever road we fancy, whether it be to a sparkling isolated creek, an outback town in the middle of nowhere or nature trail through an ancient rainforest. Our family and friends will be just a phone call away. And our home will be wherever we stop for the night.