TWO weeks into six-month round-Australia trip, Aaron and Jacqui Dobner called their real estate agent and told her not to rent their house out.
“We told her to just sell it, we’re not coming back,” Jacqui says.
It sounds like an enormous decision, but the couple says it was surprisingly easy.
“We embraced the minimalist lifestyle,” Aaron says. “It was cathartic and very freeing.”
The Wollongong couple and their four children — Heidi, 9, Ned, 4, Angus, 3, Caden, 18-months — had never really camped before, but now they’ve clocked up more than 50,000km in their caravan.
“We didn’t have everyone’s support,” Aaron says. “Some people thought we were crazy for taking four kids on the road for a week, let alone indefinitely.”
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The Dobners at home in their 25-foot van. Picture: Michael FranchiSource:Supplied
Before their trip of a lifetime, Aaron, 47, and Jacqui, 36, were both paramedics working opposite shifts, which meant they had very little time together as a family.
When Jacqui was pregnant with Caden, Aaron was diagnosed with PTSD, and it seemed the perfect time to make a change.
They sold, gave away or threw away everything they owned and bought a LandCruiser and a 25-foot Leader Explorer Gold caravan.
“Before we left, the kids’ toy room was bigger than our whole caravan,” Aaron says. “That seems ludicrous now.”
The couple say their new life is much simpler and the time with their children has been priceless.
“It’s been such a benefit to our family — there is so much more than working to pay a mortgage,” says Jacqui.
The whole caravan is smaller than the toy room alone in the house they sold. Picture: Michael FranchiSource:Supplied
She says school is often the biggest worry for people considering such a trip, but it hasn’t been a problem for them. Their eldest Heidi started off homeschooling, but this year she’s enrolled in Distance Education and Ned is enrolled in e-Kindy.
In between their lessons, the family spends most of their time outdoors, at beaches, bushwalking and exploring whatever they find in their ever-changing backyard.
With their original six-month plan, the Dobners intended to live off their savings and income from an investment property. They were able to keep their costs low by using home stays or showgrounds for camping, and recently volunteered at the Camel Cup in Uluru in exchange for cheap accommodation.
“Now all of our expenses for a week are what we would have spent on child care alone in a fortnight,” Jacqui says.
Both plan on working in the coming months so they can continue their life on the road.
Exploring Berry Springs in the Northern Territory. Picture: Michael FranchiSource:Supplied
But they are the first to admit it’s not always smooth sailing. Their Facebook page, Chaos in a Tin Can, documents the highs and lows of their travels.
In June they posted they had a “soul-destroying” month: “Some days have felt like everything that could possibly go wrong has gone wrong. And I’ve cried, oh man have I cried, and I’ve yelled, we have all yelled. We’ve all contemplated chucking it in and heading for home for the first time in nearly a year.”
The death of Jacqui’s stepmother, a car crash and their first flat tyre all contributed to the difficult time, but the Dobners have picked up the pieces and are looking forward to the months ahead.
“A lot of people think the life we’re living is all roses and sunshine, and that’s not always the case,” Aaron says. “But even a tough day out here is better than a good day at home.”
Follow the Dobner family on their Facebook page Chaos in a Tin Can.
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Read more road-trippers’ insider secrets in the Escape Camp & Caravan special issue, on sale in Coles, Woolworths and newsagents nationally from Monday, September 24, 2018. RRP $9.99.
Escape Camp & Caravan special. On sale September 24, 2018.Source:Supplied
Originally published as ‘We ditched everything and saved thousands’
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