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Our family gap year: what I learned

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We did it. We packed up our home, our kids and our lives and travelled this amazing country for almost a year.

We’ve been to some amazing places, had some amazing experiences, met some wonderful people and learned some valuable lessons. And while it’s bittersweet to be home again, I’m so very glad we took the leap and did it.

We spent 11 months (or 334 days) living in Harvey—our trusty Jayco Eagle caravan that is smaller than my kitchen at home—travelling through seven states and territories (sorry Tassie, we’ll get there one day soon).

We stopped at 84 places, mostly free or low-cost camps, and set up and packed down our caravan 72 times (including twice at the same campsite due to extreme wind that we weren’t sure Harvey could withstand).

We survived rain (including the day we made the rookie mistake of leaving the roof hatch open while we were out and it was raining inside the caravan when we got back); freezing cold weather in the Blue Mountains with a high of 7 degrees; boiling hot 42 degree days crossing the Nullabor; a consistent 35 degrees in Darwin; wind, wind and more wind on the west coast (although apparently we were actually pretty lucky and it wasn’t that windy); and even fires on the far south coast of NSW.

We survived plagues of ants, mozzies and other flying insects in the van; and even two fairy bats who decided our van looked like a pretty good spot to explore (cue me hiding under the doona while hubby tried to catch them in a tea towel and get them back outside).

And not only did we swim in the bluest water, climb the tallest trees and traverse ancient rock faces—we met some amazing people and learned and grew so much as a family.

The kiddies bloomed—their adventurousness grew, their ability to entertain themselves with only what they could find in nature blossomed, they met new people and made strong friendships, they navigated difficult terrain and learned to find the fun in hard journeys, and they grew closer to each other and to us.

I learned to slow down and be present, I gained a better perspective, and my own self-confidence grew extraordinarily. I learned to juggle—I finished writing a children’s book and started writing another. I’ve made friends for life and been inspired by other families we met on the road—some we travelled with for weeks, others we met for a day or two, but they all made a huge impact on our journey and on our lives.

I learned that family and community are the two most important things in my life. And I learned that sometimes we’re exactly where we’re meant to be—whether that’s enjoying life or forging on through challenging times.

And now we’re home. To be honest, it’s hasn’t been that difficult settling back in to normal life—the house is unpacked, the kiddies are at school, hubby and I are back at work—but the routine of school and work feels quite foreign and the days seem to just disappear.

But I hope that the perspective and experiences I have gained from our adventure will stay with me for a bit longer, just like the photos and the memories we have of our amazing year.

So to anyone out there thinking about doing something like this, I say: do it.

Don’t make excuses. Find a way. Take the time to experience life with your nearest and dearest, and explore this beautiful country while you do it—you won’t regret it.

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