‘Want freedom and travel? Consider becoming a nomad’

Feb 15, 2020
Gillian shares her tips for nomadding. Source: Gillian Johnston

You look at some of your friends out there driving around Australia without a care, and you envy their lifestyle. The general statement is ‘we plan to go nomadding in the future’ but are you really in a position to take the plunge and what would hold you back from driving out that gate and getting on the road? There are many things to consider when it comes to choosing a nomadic lifestyle: Is nomadding for you or is it just a dream? What would you have to do to become a full time nomad? Would you be better off than you are now?

Your rig

You’ll need a rig — a car, caravan or RV. What you end up with will greatly depend on how much money you want to spend, and if you want to four-wheel drive or cruise up and down the coastal roads. I have many friends who use a car to tow their caravan and have bought an old caravan to tow behind, so it does not have to be expensive. However, if you do decide to buy old, cheap and worn out, expect things to fail.

Generally, people look at the sort of travel they want to do and then decide if they want a 4WD vehicle, a decent tow vehicle or a utility, depending on where they are planning to go. If you are going to travel off road you will need to consider both a 4WD vehicle and caravan, and you need to make sure your vehicle is capable of carrying the weight of the caravan you buy. You also need to consider solar power, batteries and gas, which will enable you to free camp.

Your possessions

Would you store your possessions, rent out your home, keep a home base or downsize? If you are thinking of loading up and taking everything with you,forget it! Caravans and cars have load limits and they need to be adhered to or you will find yourself in an accident or receiving a hefty fine.

Balancing the weight of a caravan is an art and generally means you are only able to stock your car and caravan with your essentials. Not only is there a GVM (gross vehicle mass) weight on your caravan, but also a tow ball weight (which is the downward weight on your tow-ball), and a limit to what you can carry in or on your car. The solution is for you to leave a lot of possessions at home. You have to make sure if you are paying storage that it is not going to cost more than the possessions are worth over the time you are away.

Money

Travelling costs include petrol every time you move, food and the cost to put your van in a park or showground (though you may look for a free camp). Caravan park costs differ but you’ll need to allow yourself at least $30-$40 per night. However, not everyone can afford nightly caravan parks, which can get between $80 and more than $100 per night during the summer months. Some caravan parks can charge per person (around $18 pp), which can also get expensive. I’ve found a lot of caravan parks will give you a night free if you stay the week.

In my experience, showgrounds generally cost $20-$25 per night, including power and electricity. Occasionally you can find clubs and pubs, which will give you a space for the night for a small fee.

You can save a bit of money if you are set up for free camping with solar and big batteries and gas for your stove and fridge. There are many ways you can make money on your trip and that extra work can be a bonus to your budget. These include short-term casual work such as fruit and produce picking, bark and hospitality work, camp hosting etc., or as a travel entrepreneur doing things such as hairdressing, stall-holding and pet sitting, or digital activities such as social media management, freelance writing, film-making etc.

Consider what mechanical knowledge you have. Could you change a flat tyre or attend to your caravan if the brakes keep shorting out? I recommend learning the basics (an essential), but you’ll also want to have some money reserved for such situations.

Knowing how to connect your van, how to get to you spare tyre, how to change a flat tyre, how to use your jack, how to clean your solar panels, how to change your hot water anode and what tools you need to carry for such jobs is crucial to living out a nomadic lifestyle. If you have to pay someone every time you break down, then you need to factor in those costs to your budget. The more you can learn and the more self-sufficient you can be, the easier and cheaper things get.

How practical are you?

I’ve discovered that a lot of being a nomad is getting to know your rig and how it works. Many people buying a caravan for the first time have no idea how to put out the annex, connect the gas or even how to get the stove working.

Could you change a tyre or fix the air-conditioner? You’ll need to answer ‘yes’ at some point. Don’t be afraid to look for instructions on platforms like YouTube or seek out advice in online forums. Learn from your mistakes! Even the savviest of nomads had to start somewhere and after years on the road you’ll still be learning.

Communication

You will need a reliable internet, phone service, or CB radio. Depending on where you are going, you need to ensure you are going to get a good coverage in case of an emergency. I put a CB radio in the car for emergencies so I could use it if I did not have mobile phone reception.

Fitness and mobility

Ask yourself the following: ‘Could I get under my caravan to check its drainage system?’ ‘Can I manage stairs?’ ‘How fit and mobile am I?’

I know of nomads who have suffered a broken leg stepping out of their caravan. This caused all sorts of problems when they had to stay in one town for six weeks. Others have had difficult lifting the handbrake on the caravan or accessing storage under the bed.

While on the road you might need to life the spare tyre, undo bolts, load and unload your car, and set up and pull down your annex or awning. While you don’t need to be in the best physical fitness of your life, you do need to be able to embrace an active lifestyle.

Going the distance

How far would you drive per day? Some nomads are driving 100 kilometres per day to allow them to enjoy the scenery and get to know a bit of country. This slow travel costs less in petrol but you might find you get moved on if you are in a showground or free camping as many places have a limit on how long you can stay.

Other nomads make a quick trip south in summer and get on the boat for Tasmania hoping for a cooler climate. Many stop after three or four hours of driving as they find they are too tired.

It takes a level of concentration when you tow a caravan.

There are books and apps for your phone that can tell you where you can camp. There are also groups on social media where you can ask about camping destinations. You will get many replies. However, when it comes to driving distances, you need to learn your capabilities and know when to stop.

Nomading with pets

I’ve found there are not often additional charges when you travel with a pet, but some caravan parks don’t allow them on sites. Be sure to check each place by calling ahead, especially if you’re looking at staying in a national or state park. The most common requirement for travelling and staying with a pet is that it is to remain on a lead and under your control.

What about family and friends?

It can be daunting leaving relatives and friends behind when you decide to become a nomad. Consider how much you might miss contact with your children or grandchildren especially. However, the good news is that in some places, nomads can leave their caravan or vehicle behind and fly to visit loved ones. So long as you take the necessary precautions (i.e. locking vehicles, removing valuables etc.) then many caravan parks are agreeable to you leaving your rig for a period of time.

I’ve found nomadding to be a totally different lifestyle and one to be enjoyed. I’ve met so many single, partnered and disabled people travelling. You do not have to be an expert and the best thing is you can ask people along the way and most are more than helpful.

If you have been dreaming of sitting on a river fishing, having a swim at the beach or rolling round in the snow, it all can be done when you’re a nomad. You are the person that has to take that step.

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Could you become a nomad? Does living a nomadic lifestyle appeal to you?

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