It’s time that we ‘normalise’ the idea of young families taking a break from the rat race and driving around Australia.
It should be as normal and common a thing to do for young families as what gap years are for high school leavers and becoming grey nomads is for retirees.
How great would it be if it became a normal part of the conversation to say "so when are you guys doing your Big Lap?"
Some countries and cultures have military service or pilgrimages and other traditions that are designed to build strength of character and wisdom and a deeper appreciation for what really matters in life.
And their cultures are adapted to accomodate them as they are either compulsory or at least considered the right thing to do.
We place a high value on maternity and paternity leave as it provides parents with valuable bonding time with their new babies, but what about when they stop being babies - should it end there?
I think NO.
Having done The Big Lap with our young daughters who were 1yo and 4yo at the start of the trip I know in my soul how valuable it was in cementing their relationship with Jen and I.
Now as they get older the bond we built in that shared adventure continues and I know that we have a closer and more open relationship with our kids than many other families I encounter.
And I’m yet to meet anyone who has done The Big Lap who doesn’t tell a similar story.
When we were planning our Big Lap, a process that ultimately took 7 years from the day we said ‘let’s do it’ until the day we started, everyone thought we were mad.
What about your business, your house, school, money, family, kids etc?
And while all those things are important, the idea of spending a year or so having an amazing adventure with our young daughters was more important
I was listening to a podcast recently where Tim Ferriss (of 'The Four Hour Work Week’ fame) was being interviewed and he was talking about why he's spending a lot of time with his ageing parents and he mentioned a statistic that I actually found quite scary . . .
He said “By the time you finish high school, you’ll have spent 80% of the time you will EVER spend with your parents!” . . . gulp!
Let’s put that another way . . . “By the time your kids finish high school you’ll have spent 80% of the time you will EVER spend with them”.
Let that sink in for a minute . . .
While we’re busy worrying about the mortgage, the job, the next new car, and all that stuff, our kids are growing up and getting ready to have their own lives.
Our window of opportunity to spend quality time with them, while they still want to spend time with us, is fleeting.
And with all of the distractions available to them these days through the online world, the opportunity to really connect with them is also a challenge.
Which is why I genuinely believe that planning to take a big break with your kids while they are young is critical.
Whether you take a year off, 6 months or even 3 months doesn't really matter, the point is to do it one way or another.
The fact that we live in Australia is a bonus.
Driving around Australia is the perfect opportunity for a genuine family adventure.
It gives you a ‘mission’ and a ‘purpose’, challenging but achievable, adventurous but not dangerous.
Something big that you can accomplish together that will cement your family bond.
You’ll build a library of memories and experiences that will be the foundation of your family for decades to come.
All while opening their eyes and minds to the big wide world beyond their iPad and smartphone screens.
So to arm you with some solid reasons to help you make the decision to go, here are . . .
5 reasons to start planning your family Big Lap of Australia
1. You'll Truly Connect as a Family
It’s very easy in todays hyper-connected busy world to live under the same roof as your kids but not really connect in any meaningful way.
While you’re busy working, they are busy going to child care, kindy, primary school, high school etc. and unless you go out of your way to create family bonding experiences, they can easily not happen at all.
Even the nightly catch up around the dinner table has largely become a thing of the past as we sit in front of the telly and have dinner on our laps with our small screens close at hand.
It’s no-ones fault - it’s just the way the world has evolved, but the end result is the same.
Your time and opportunity to influence your kids and who they become as adults is under pressure.
Deciding as a family to tackle a big lap of Australia is the perfect way to push back and regain control of your family and the course it’s on.
Not only the trip itself but the planning before hand.
Most families will spend at least a year or two in the planning stage and during that time the ’shared dream’ of this big adventure will create plenty of opportunities to work with your kids on this family project.
One of the best ’team building’ and bonding exercises used by corporations, the military etc. is overcoming challenges together.
Your first challenge as a family is to figure out HOW to take a year off to do The Big Lap.
Then once you achieve that, you’ll already have a massive sense of achievement on Day 1 of the trip.
The trip itself will then be a series of small and sometimes larger challenges as you tackle the day to day adventure of driving around Australia.
All of which goes a long way to building a strong, connected family and confident capable kids that will set you and them up for a better future together.
Savanna and Sara helping Jen prepare a picnic lunch at Echidna Gorge, Bungle Bungle, WA
2. You'll Learn To Live With Less (Happily!)
Whether you choose to go with a caravan, a camper trailer or a tent, you'll be downsizing your life one way or another.
Chances are you’ll also be trying to stretch your dollars as far as possible so working to a fairly tight budget.
You soon figure out that the less you have to manage the better.
From personal experience I can assure you that the less ’stuff’ you take the better your trip will be. We started out with way too much gear and after the first few weeks where we were constantly in ‘gear management mode’ we figured out that less is more!
We started to offload - sending boxes of stuff home to our parents houses, donating stuff in charity bins along the way and to other campers in caravan parks.
The lighter the load became the easier and faster it was to setup and backup camp and the more ’nimble’ we became.
We were no longer filled with dread at the thought of doing a ‘quick’ overnight stop.
A year into the trip and we could setup our camper trailer for an overnight stop in about 20 minutes and pack it all up the next morning in around half an hour.
Learning to live with less not only made for a better experience on the trip but also proved to all of us (kids included) that ’stuff’ is NOT the key to happiness and in fact the less stuff you have to worry about, the more time you can spend doing the really fun stuff - having experiences together.
Sundowners at Cobourg Peninsula, NT
3. You'll Build a Genuine Passion For Australia
How lucky are we to live in Australia?
Seriously, there is no better country on earth to have a family adventure on the scale of The Big Lap and no better way to learn about Australia first hand than DOING The Big Lap.
People will question why you want to take your kids out of kindy or school for a year but they will learn so much more in that year while doing The Big Lap than in any classroom.
There is more to life than what's printed in text books and displayed on screens.
Getting out amongst nature and experiencing it first hand is simply the best way to learn.
You’ll visit the places in Australia where history actually happened instead of just reading about it.
You’ll get hands on with animals and nature.
Your kids will meet other kids from other parts of the country with different backgrounds, cultures and experiences.
Travelling around Australia and experiencing it from all aspects will give you and your kids a deeper love, passion and appreciation for this great country than you will ever get from the comfort of your lounge room or class room.
Steve & Sara cooling off at Karijini National Park, WA
4. You'll Make New Friends
Making friends for you and your kids is much easier when you've stepped out of the rat race for a while.
Impromptu sunset drinks, fishing excursions and other adventures are all part and parcel of the shared big lap experience.
Your kids will make new friends at every stop and learn skills that will make it easier for them to make new friends for the rest of their lives.
Best of all, you can connect on Facebook and stay in touch beyond your trip, opening the door to new adventures and opportunities in the future.
Savanna giving orders while exploring Lake Argyle in our little tinny, East Kimberley, WA
5. You'll Improve Your Mental & Physical Health
One of the often overlooked benefits of doing The Big Lap is what it will do for your general well being.
With more time to prepare meals you’ll eat better for sure and there’s no doubt you’ll exercise more so losing weight is almost guaranteed.
You’ll get fitter and healthier and get something closer to the potential you know is inside you but hard to achieve while living in the rat race.
You’ll know what it means to truly relax sitting on a beach watching the kids play as the sun goes down and you sip a cold drink or two.
You’ll forget what day it is and actually stop caring after a while.
You’ll have time to indulge your passions - fishing, hiking, painting, photography . . . whatever. And to share them with your kids.
Putting the world on hold and taking some time out for yourself and your family will have a ripple affect way beyond the trip itself and set you up for a better, healthier and happier future.
Don’t worry, the world will keep turning while you’re away and be there when you get back 😉
The obligatory family photo at the tip of Cape York, QLD
Do it for Australia
If doing The Big Lap for yourself and your family isn’t enough then do it for Australia.
By leaving the city behind and travelling to the remoter regions of the country, connecting with the locals, learning about their lives, spending your dollars at their businesses etc. you’re sowing seeds around the country that will help to grow and strengthen Australia as a whole.
Then later on when you’re hearing about droughts or floods or cultural challenges in other parts of the country you’ll have a deeper appreciation of what people are dealing with as you will have been there yourself.
Good advice from a Grey Nomad I met along the way
Just about any grey nomad you meet on the road will tell you they wish they had done it while they were young and were able to climb the mountains and tackle the more adventurous parts of the trip.
In fact we were about half way through our 16 month Big Lap and had stopped for a while at Lake Argyle in the East Kimberley to earn some extra dollars and replenish our bank account.
Amongst other things, we were running a ’Tailgate Pancake Breakfast’ each morning for the other campers in the caravan park and one morning while I was busy flipping pancakes a guy came up to me and starting telling me about how great it was that we were out here doing The Big Lap with our young kids while we were young.
His wife had tried to talk him into hitting the road 5 years ago when they were in their early sixties but he had decided to work another 5 years to add some more numbers to his bank account - not that he needed them!
Now that they had finally hit the road and he had experienced how great it is to live the road tripping lifestyle he bitterly regretted not leaving 5 years ago when he already had enough money - it’s 5 years he’ll never get back.
It’s a conversation I’ll never forget as it really hit home to me just how important it is to prioritise “experiences” over “things” in life.
I’m not sure who said it first but one of my favourite quotes is "It’s not the things you do that you regret, it’s the things you don’t do!”.
This really sums up The Big Lap experience in a nutshell.
Sure it will be difficult to make it happen and to even get to the start line. And there will be challenges along the way but I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t look back one day and say "we shouldn’t have done that".