Another lovely fresh new week is here and another lovely story for our Vintage Caravan series. This Monday is an extra special one because I have the lovely Donna from @donna_five where I happened to stumble across her, connect and then find out that she has a vintage caravan travel story needing to be shared. How cool is that? I can’t much I am enjoying getting to know all of these fellow vintage caravan lovers and hear their stories. Each one is so unique and special and it’s such a privilege to be able to get their stories out and about.
Like Natasha Lowe with the gorgeous Maudie in our last vintage caravan series story, Donna and her husband travelled around in their vintage caravan with kids, five to be precise. Yep, you read that right. Five. Kidlets!
Thanks, Kim for the opportunity to share a little of our adventures with our ‘70’s caravan, Doris.
It all started one afternoon in October 2013 while we were frying up some sausages at the local skate park with the kids & some friends. The comment was made, “we should just do this full time for a while & travel Australia.”
It was then that the search for a suitable van with enough room to fit us all, began. It also needed to suit our very limited budget of well…nothing! So we knew we had to be self sufficient on this new adventure as we were going to free camp our way around.
In December we found her, a 16ft Franklin van with triple bunks & a gas oven. She was advertised for $5000 but we only had $3500. They took it! I loved her homey feel from the start. We had to register her and didn’t know what year she was, so we had to do a bit of research. The t-bar had some markings which we found to mean she was made in 1974! How exciting. I am a sentimental soul that loves that era and all the décor that goes with it.
So with very little planning and money, we rented our house, bought a 4wd Delica van (picked it up the night before we left!) and left on the 25th Jan 2014 the day our twins turned 2, for an adventure around the country. We have 5 children. Their ages were at that time 13, 10, 7 and the twins who were two at the time.
Most people asked us about schooling. We couldn’t afford distance education and home schooling was a little daunting after I found out I needed to submit lesson plans etc. So we got the school principal to sign a form giving us exemption from compulsory schooling for up to 12 months! Easy! We bought some books for their year level from Aldi, they did a page of English and a page of maths each day. They read lots of books that we traded at op shops around the country, wrote in their journals, learnt their times tables & had endless opportunities for learning along the way. Eg: Plotting our journey on the map, visiting historical places, etc. We spent a week in Canberra visiting Questacon, AIS, War Memorial, Parliament House. (We were doing some family history research in the National Archives when Kevin Rudd walked past and patted our 7yr on the head and said hi! “Who was that?”,our boy asked;)
They returned to school after 6mths off. Went straight into their current year levels and got better grades than ever before!
But back to Doris…
My hubby put in 2 batteries and used an inverter so we had 12 and 240 volts. We also invested in some portable solar panels. as well as these we had a 3way fridge and a gas oven. The only thing we didn’t have was an ensuite. It’s amazing how many free hot showers there are along the way!
Our budget was half fuel, half food. We used an old Camps 6 book & had wiki camps downloaded on our phones. In our 6 month trip around Australia we stayed in a caravan park twice. The rest of the time it was National Parks, random creeks, beach areas etc. We even had a night at a winery by invitation! There were also a few precious nights at new friend’s homes we met along the way.
How did we all fit? Space, like any family living in a caravan, was limited. Luckily the twins were only little and they shared the bottom bunk. Our 7 year old slept in the middle bunk and the 10 year old was on the top. Our eldest son officially slept on the lounge/table that converted into a bed, but it became a bit tiresome to set up and to be honest he preferred to sleep in the car to have a sleep in and some space. We did bring a 4 man instant tent which was wonderful. If we had the room we would set it up and change the dynamics with either mum and dad in the tent, kids in the van;) Or sometimes the 3 older kids would have a campout. Sometimes it would be just the boys.
The kids had a basket each with their personal things in it ie: lego, toys, pencils, treasures, and they only had one shelf each for clothes. A huge challenge for our 10 year old daughter who would inevitably spend the most time in the doorway of the van trying to find the right clothes at the cupboard! We all learnt to get out quick and give her the space she needed.
The table in Doris could be taken outside and we did most of our living outside. It was wonderful to see what our new “backyard” would be like at each new place. We bought a small 12volt TV and would sometimes set it up outside by the campfire and have movie nights under the stars!
We did miss our pets while on the road. Our golden retriever, Ted was being dog sat and being so very much loved that I was anxious we wouldn’t get him back on our return. But I realised the kids were also missing the animals when they would catch little lizards and name them, keeping them as pets for a day or two.
There were times when the weather was bad and I missed an indoor bathroom. But the great thing with a home on wheels is you just keep moving till you find somewhere sunny. We had car trouble the whole way round and our low point was in Perth after a week of cold, wet weather with the car brakes playing up. Thankfully we had a wonderful family we met over Easter camping near Esperance who invited us to stay with them on our way past. They were lifesavers when I had reached my limit. To have a washing machine available was a God send & we were surprised how much we enjoyed just sitting on a lounge watching the footy!
There were so many incredible experiences I cannot possibly tell them all. The most rewarding thing about our travels was time. Time to be together as a family. Time to just be without any commitments or agendas. Time to play and time to spend with people. We met the most wonderful people that enriched our journey. From the blessed families that invited us to stay, to the farmers who were so generous with their time.
There were 3 French speaking girls we kept bumping into along the Great Ocean Road. They loved the kids and the kids loved them. So I used another opportunity and the kids got French lessons each morning over at the girl’s tent!
We stopped at a free camp outside Wilson’s Promontory and found ourselves in the middle of a local camp draft. What a fabulous weekend with the farmers who gave the kids horse rides and took us to their dairy farm to milk the cows and see how it’s done.
As we visited a winery in W.A the owners invited us to stay and the kids got to help feed the sheep and help out. We even got to look after the place while the owners had to leave unexpectedly. But there are just too many stories to tell!
We became slightly well known as we headed north up the coast of W.A as most travellers were heading in the same direction. “Oh, you are the family in Doris!” “Oh, we heard about you guys travelling in the old caravan” “Oh, someone told us about you guys with the 5 kids in an old Franklin van” etc, etc! The wonderful thing about having a gorgeous retro van is she stands out and is a great conversation starter.
We grew very fond of our Doris as she was our constant in a trip of the unknown and new places. No matter where we were we had our home with us.
However, this story would not be complete, I am sorry to say, without sharing it’s ending with you. We were, of course, in The Kimberly’s, half way between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek. In other words, the middle of nowhere! I do feel I jinxed Doris when I had a quiet thought to myself how lucky we had been not to have any flat tyres. A moment later there was a loud bang and we were dragging poor Doris along the road with her axle on the bitumen. Not a flat tyre, but the whole axle had broken off!
Not a happy tale at all. No phone service, late afternoon, in a dangerous spot on the road and stuck. Thankfully a beautiful couple who were working in the Aboriginal communities as teachers passed by and helped us call RACQ. We had the top cover, which I highly recommend, and were able to transport Doris on the back of a truck all the way to Brisbane without paying a thing! Incredible!
We didn’t see Doris again for many weeks later and without our home that was the end of our trip. We took a b-line for home and did 5000kms in 5 days with 5 kids!! Living out of our car with nothing but the clothes on our backs, it was a very challenging time to say the least.
So that’s it in a rather large nutshell!
Doris is in the midst of a cosmetic reno at the moment but we are still able to use her. She is wonderful for the extra beds when we have visitors. If we want to take off for the weekend it is such a luxury to have her. She really is a home away from home. We are hoping to do another trip in about 5yrs when the two eldest are finished school and the younger ones will remember more. The more you travel the more you realise there is to see!
Thank you so, so much, Donna for sharing your lovely Doris with us and your travelling stories. What an inspiring family you are! I couldn’t write this post without adding a little bit about that gorgeous black and white photo up there. That is the caravan and car that Donna’s mum had when she was young. How special is that? I wonder where Donna’s caravan love comes from?
I hope you all enjoyed this next part to our Vintage Caravan series. I really loved sharing it with you.
What do you reckon? Do you feel like packing up and travelling around this beautiful country of ours?