Let me set the scene... you have been on the road for months. You’re trapped in a two by four metre cell, a cell with four wheels and a caravan at the rear. Two children, strapped like prisoners in their seats, break the hum of the engine with intermittent screaming.
Your partner has had enough of driving. You’ve had enough of reading maps. At night you bunk down in your confined space, close your eyes and pretend you can’t smell the pungent aroma of toilet disinfectant wafting from the bowl just two metres from your head.
You muster every ounce of mental stamina to block out the incessant drip from the leak in the roof, as a storm whips up gale force winds that rock the caravan like a skyscraper in an earthquake.
The irrational voice inside your head tells you it’s only a matter of seconds before you all plunge to your deaths when the cyclonic conditions outside toss the caravan down a nearby embankment.
The sensible voice tells you to stop overreacting, get a grip and make the other voice shut the f*** up so you can get some much-needed sleep.
As you’re fighting off the fear of imminent death your partner decides it’s time to get a grip on something entirely different. Apparently now is the ideal time to engage in a little adult ‘fun’.
The sound of snoring children just inches away does little to assist your mood.
“Must. Think. Of. England... Go. To. A. Happy. Place.”
A family I know just completed a three-month odyssey around Australia in a caravan. Two adults and two children sharing every hour of every day together, stopping every now and then to pee on the side of the road (make that every three minutes), bathe naked in cold, shallow streams and eat out of tin cans by the campfire.
They say it was the best time of their lives.
Considering no-one died or got divorced, I’m guessing they did alright. In fact, they all came home refreshed, happy and closer than ever.
That’s not how my six months of touring in a caravan with two adults and two children ended... but we best save that story for late at night when the children are asleep. Nightmares all round.
For anyone planning extended travel with children, here is our combined list of what NOT to do:
- Do NOT have mobile phone plans with Optus. You will be unable to communicate with family and friends until your return. You will also be unable to make contact with the outside world in the event of an emergency. For example, when your partner mistakes fabric softner for water in the middle of the night and you’re camped in the middle of the Nullarbor. Burping “Orange Blossom” for two days is not as refreshing as it sounds.
- Do NOT pack saucepans in high cupboards. Avoid concussion and store heavy implements at ground level.
- Do NOT forget to pack CDs. Listening to the 35 songs on your 11-year-old's iPod for weeks on end will result in brain damage. Taio Cruz is guilty of assault and should be locked away for life.
- Do NOT have sex in a vehicle that is only stabilised by four flimsy stilts, unless you’re prepared to face the knowing smiles from neighbours in the morning.
The advantages of extended family holidays in less than five-star conditions are also worth a mention;
- Constant squatting over pit toilets will result in impressive leg and butt muscles. Urination and bowel movements become regular and rapid.
- Limited media coverage means ABC Radio’s Saturday morning gardening show becomes valued entertainment for the whole family. A truly bonding experience.
- Improved negotiation skills and the ability to adapt means no bodies will be dumped on the Great Ocean Road. Diplomats will be born.
- Many new friends will be made through your shared adversity. Allegiances will be formed.
- You will have a greater appreciation of why thongs are Australia's national shoe of choice. They were made for every terrain from beaches to public showers.
And in life as in travel, remember, sometimes going backwards can be just as scenic as going forwards.