How to buy a Motorhome ….should I say, how we bought a Motorhome

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Life on the road , Blackwood River, Augusta,  WA.

When we started “planning” this adventure knowing that our starting point was going to be in Perth, we began trawling the net for used motorhomes. We realised we may not find one in Western Australia that fits our criteria of price, size, condition and required features, as the majority of the population lives on the other side of the Continent, thus more choice. We were prepared to head East to find our new home on wheels, as that is what it was going to be, so we had to get this right and not settle for something because that was the only one available at the time. We were looking for a motorhome in good condition that could comfortably house the 3 of us, probably a 4 berth, bucket loads of storage, set up for free camping; that is contain a shower and toilet, kitchen, preferably with solar panels so we didn’t need to be plugged in to live, but air-conditioning when we are plugged in. The pointy end – the vehicle needed to be in good condition, not too many kilometres on the clock and a good service history etc, how hard could it be?

Where do you start? Gumtree of course, it is probably the best window to see what is out there in a desired location, most private sellers list here (why wouldn’t you it is free) and so do the dealers, so it gives you a good snapshot of the market. We also joined various Facebook groups for selling Motorhomes.

What we soon began to realise when we started this venture, not only looking for Motorhomes for sale but researching this whole lifestyle, is that Australians have a love affair with caravans, and their reasonably new off-road cousin the camper trailer. They seem to have had a renaissance, from a vehicle for that stereotypical basic 1970s family summer holiday being towed by a Holden Kingswood or Ford Falcon, to this shiny massive dual wheeled, high wheel base apartment sized trailer with every feature of a small house and a price tag to match being, towed by the latest large 4WD (as they are now too heavy to be towed by anything that resembles a standard car).

So why not join the revolution and get a caravan? There is certainly a huge choice in the second hand market. The main reason is that we have never towed anything in our life, and with towing comes reversing, it is an art form when done well and hats off to all the caravan owners I now see on a daily basis backing their huge rig into a tight spot on their first attempt. All I can imagine is the opposite and picturing myself after 30 unsuccessful attempts in front of a growing crowd of seasoned caravanners. I am sure it is a skill that can be learnt and one day we may too get a caravan as I am quite jealous of some of the set ups I see. Price is another reason, there are families out there that are successfully travelling Australia who have paid less than us for the caravan and towing vehicle, but you can spend a descent chunk of our budget alone on the van, and then you need to buy a reliable “tug” that is up to the task of towing your desired van. Apart from the initial set up cost, there are 2 lots of registration and insurance, more tyres, and more service costs which needed to be taken into consideration too. In our case we arrived in Australia with 3 suit cases and planned to buy and kit out a motorhome from scratch, most families would plan this over a number of years and start to acquire the tools required bit by bit whilst still working so cost was a big factor for us. Lastly we enjoy travelling in motorhomes and campervans, we have hired them and travelled in both New Zealand and Australia and feel we can live for a long period of time in one whilst travelling.

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A Motorhome we hired in Tasmania 2017

When we arrived in Perth the number of motorhomes for sale on the internet had significantly decreased; back in Scotland we could look at what was available from afar but not do much, until we got to WA. We were considering anything as long as it seated at least 3 people and had our required features, and there is many examples of different forms a Motorhome can take, from the conventional 4 -6 berth you see for hire, to converted buses and smaller ones that are built on the back of utes. We also thought we would prefer to buy private as you would expect the price a bit cheaper and usually if some one has owned a motorhome for their own use instead of an ex hire vehicle they may have added some extra features such as better solar, extra storage etc. So all these options were available until we hit sunny Perth, just our luck.

We still hit the ground running, the day after we arrived we visited KB Campers in Wangara which wasn’t far from where we were staying, they specialise in reselling ex rental Motorhomes in all shapes and sizes. We were met by Greg who seemed very friendly and helpful – as all good Sales people should be, they too had recently sold a lot of their stock but had a few vans available, one well above our price range, one within but we thought was a bit tired and maybe too small, and then one “out the back” that had just come in; a 2010  Mercedes Lake 5 berth Motorhome. The price was at our upper limit but seemed a lot less than others we had seen as it was being sold on behalf of the previous owner, we liked the condition of the interior and all the features it had ticked all the boxes, the only problem it had done 310000 km which seemed too high for us, I realise diesel engines have a long lifespan if well looked after but we had set a limit of 200000km, no real science or mechanical theory there, just a figure we thought reasonable. Anyway that gave us an idea of what was out there and our searched continued.

Those first 2 weeks we had booked an Airbnb and hired a car and was part Motorhome shopping and part holiday, we couldn’t be spending hours driving criss crossing Perth everyday, we had a 18month old to entertain as well. We did go to some other dealers, none specialised in just Motorhomes like KB Campers, most were Caravan dealers that had the odd one, and when we told the eager Salesman that we were here to look at Motorhomes you could instantly see the enthusiasm drain away, and we would never see them again. What we did learn or was told in those weeks was that lower kilometres means a lot more dollars, Mercedes are more expensive than Fords, don’t but Fiats, buying privately doesn’t mean you will pay less and people selling stuff on Gumtree don’t always seem that keen to reply to your questions. We did look at only one private sale that our Airbnb Host Nicole put us on too, it was a small truck style motorhome, over 30 years old but had everything you would need including a generator, it was a good price but a vehicle of that age really needs an owner with a bit more mechanical nous than we have.

With almost 2 weeks up and nothing much happening we decided to go back to KB Campers to have another look at the Mercedes, our heart sunk when we couldn’t see it in the yard as we pulled up. All was OK, It was away at the panel shop getting a bit of bumper damage put right but was still up for sale. We had to wait a few days before we could have good look at it and take it for a test drive. We were still impressed, it drove well too and our next step was to get an independent inspection done, we used Phil at AAC Inspections. I spoke to Phil and others at length about the mileage on the clock, and everyone felt that wasn’t really an issue with these engines if well maintained. Being Ex-hire the first thing most people say is that they have been thrashed by people who don’t care as its not theirs, have you ever followed a rental motorhome (not including Wicked Campers) on the road? Usually driven by a cautious mature European tourists and once you drive one of this size with everything rattling in the back, I’m not sure how you can “thrash” it. Australia is a big country with lots of open road so the majority of those kms are “easy” coasting along without strain at around 100 km/h, besides Hire companies want to keep them on the road so they are well maintained and monitored.

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Our first Caravan Park: Kingsway Tourist Park, Perth 

The Inspection came back mostly favourable, the main issues were a broken shock absorber, a muffler in need of repair, a possible oil leak and a split gas pipe. KB Campers were happy to fix everything that was highlighted in the report which was good service, they also offered a 3 month warranty on all parts of the vehicle, and a Year Warranty on the Engine and Transmission. We were happy to go ahead with the sale and within about a week we should have our new home on wheels.  This couldn’t come quick enough for us as we had been in Australia for about a month now, and when you are staying in an apartment in the city you feel and spend like tourists so we were looking forward to living a more frugal lifestyle and get into a routine as much as you can when you are moving about the country in a Motorhome.

What we had bought was a 2010 Mercedes Sprinter 2.2 Litre Turbo Diesel,  Auto Lake (ex Maui Hire) Motorhome. Its main features included, 5 berth, 5 seats, Air conditioning (when plugged in), 80W solar panel (not big enough for our needs but will update) Shower and toilet, 4 gas burner and grill, Microwave, TV, 12V USB connections, Gas hot water. 82 Litre fresh water (could be bigger) and grey water  tanks, with heaps of storage.

The day came to pick up our new home, all the issues had been supposedly fixed, I handed over a rather large bank cheque and Greg talked me through all the features. Having hired a similar Motorhome a year ago I was sort of familiar with a lot of this, however Greg was on his own with customers queuing up and this part of the process was very rushed and the one area where we felt KB Campers let them selves down. This later became evident when the first time I tried to take the awning down, it took several hours and many google searches and Youtube videos before I cracked it; perhaps if he had gone over things a lot more slowly more would have sunk in.

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Is that a sheep on our roof? The “Big Ram”, Wagin, WA

Amongst the stress of driving a large vehicle on city streets and wondering where we were going to stay for our first night, should have come the excitement that our dream had come true, the start of an adventure, the start of a new lifestyle; what was on our mind however was it is Friday afternoon we have a motorhome but no bedding, no cutlery, cups, plates, cooking utensils, no food etc etc, we need to kit his thing out, where’s the nearest Kmart?

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Our first unpowered  site; Martins Tank Campsite, Preston Beach WA

Sun, surf, Eagles and a missing meerkat

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The last week in Dundee is now merely a blur, how Leigh and I got everything done I do not know but it went down to the wire. We painted rooms, cleaned carpets, shifted furniture, gave furniture to charity as well as numerous bags of toys, clothes and general clutter, sold a car, sold a “travel system” (pram), cleaned, re-siliconed a bathroom and completed a long list of little DIY tasks that had been on the back burner for a couple of years. After all of that there was little time to spend with friends and family to say good bye, and I felt sorry for little Emily who must have wondered what was going on as the only house she has known was slowly dismantled.

Our first stop on our journey back to Australia was Dubai, there only seems to be 2 seasons in this Emirates hub; really really hot summer and hot summer, we pitched up in the former and as we headed out of Terminal 1 at  1 am it was a stifling 37 degrees! Our sanctuary for 5 days was the 25th floor of the Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek, we couldn’t fault the place, nice big room, great food and the staff were friendly and helpful. Emily poured on the charm to anyone who would give her a little attention (and some who didn’t), saying bye to the entire restaurant after breakfast or dinner was a daily ritual.img_4875

Much of this stopover was about having a relaxing break after the hectic month we had had, but it is in our nature to get out and explore, we had stayed here a year ago for a couple of nights so had done a whistle stop tour of the main attractions but never spent any amount of time at any one place. Dubai doesn’t really lend it self to getting out for a walk; with 42 degree days and the concrete jungle intersected by busy roads and freeways, you really need some sort of transport, and the hotel offered a daily shuttle service to the Dubai Mall. What ever your opinion of modern architecture is, Dubai is impressive, from pearling backwater to this large futuristic city-scape with a vast infrastructure. Because it is built on a flat desert there is no natural back drop behind the glistening sky scrapers, and with the identical gold metro stations suspended in mid-air and other weird and wonderful structures you get the feeling you are in a science fiction movie.img_5105

Dubai Mall is up there as one of the World’s biggest, but once you are consumed into the bowels of the labyrinth you could be in any modern shopping centre in the world, most of the shop names are familiar, there are just more of those out of reach boutiques here where the price tags start in four figures and rocket up from there. We are not big shoppers but we are big fans of eating, unfortunately Dubai Mall’s food offerings didn’t quite match the scale of its shopping experience. What it does have that most malls don’t is a large walk through aquarium and zoo, complete with sharks, penguins and crocodiles (not in the same tank) and is well worth a couple of hours. The Dubai Mall also has access to the World’s tallest building the Burg Khalifa; we zoomed up the 125th floor (in the worlds fastest lift) you can go up to floor 148 if you pay a fair bit more, the views were spectacular especially the extent of the water features and fountains that surround the Mall. If you are a more prepared than we were, I recommend booking an Aquarium and Burg Khalifa combo online to save a Dirham or two.img_5108

One place that had caught our eye form our vantage point on the 32nd floor whilst having breakfast was Children City, a large complex surrounded by a lush park boarded by the Dubai Creek. Upon investigation it looked a great spot for Emily to burn off some energy; a large soft play area and a hands on science and history centre for bigger kids. It is also walkable from the hotel which was easier said than done in a 43 degrees day, poor Emily melted. Children City? More like Child Village on the day we visited, I think we were the only ones there, apart from a large contingent security guards and staff, but we all had an enjoyable afternoon there before brisk walk back to the air-conditioned comfort of the hotel. Emily and I went back to the park in the late afternoon, when the park comes alive, lots of little kiosks selling drinks and food and various rides for kids, still very quiet, more stray cats than people, who are also kept hydrated with water feeders dotted around the park.img_4987

So that was Dubai, a nice wee break for us all but we needed to get back to work and find ourselves a Motorhome in Australia. Emily travelled well on both flights and Emirates did a wonderful job on both legs by finding us 3 seats together ( under 2s aren’t allocated a seat unless you pay for one) so we were able to spread out and she always slept through meal time, and was even able to watch a movie or two.

Home for the first 2 weeks in Perth was an Airbnb in Sorento close to the white sandy Northern Beaches, it was a lovely Studio complete with deck and lemon tree at the back of Nicole and her family’s home and had everything we needed. Out the front was a beautiful fish pond with with 4 large Koi Carp and many smaller fish, we couldn’t go past it with out Emily wanting to have a look and when satisfied a wave and a bye.img_5271

These first 2 weeks were part holiday and part Motorhome shopping, Perth is very spread out so it was easy to do long distances and not leave the city’s environs, we were north of city centre and unfortunately most of the vans on offer were South so we had to be mindful of Emily’s comfort especially as she is no fan of sitting in a car seat. There was one place close by called KB Campers so we paid them a visit on our second day, they sell mainly ex rental motorhomes, there wasn’t much in our price range, but they showed us one that had just come in that we really liked: (We ended up buying this one but it took us almost 3 weeks to do the deal – that’s another story/blog).img_5288

Between Motorhome hunting we dipped our toes into the Indian Ocean on more than one occasion; at the rugged Burns Beach with waves crashing, the calm protected waters of Hilarys Boat Harbour and Australia’s only licenced beach; Fremantle’s aptly named Bathers Beach. The weather was warming up and Emily absolutely loved it, you have to hold her back as enthusiasm for being in the water takes over. We visited many a park for Emily to run off a bit of energy, including Perth’s jewel in the crown; Kings Park which was at its best with the spring wild flowers all in bloom.img_5206

We also visited Perth Zoo, and ended up buying a zoo pass that will get us into all the main zoos in South Australia, NSW, Victoria as well as Perth of course. The day we were there a baby meerkat went missing, we had nothing to do with it, and initially wild birds were blamed. I did notice when we were looking at the meerkats there was no one on lookout (usually a meerkat climbs to the highest point to warn the others of any danger), so slack security there, they must be getting a bit complacent in the zoo environment. The birds were off the hook when the missing kitten/pup was found over 100km away in Beverly, Police were investigating if it was stolen…….it wasimg_5226

Speaking of birds of prey we arrived in Perth in the middle of Eagles mania, not the feathered variety but the team of 18 men who run around a large round field chasing an oval red leather ball, kitted out in Blue and Gold, called the West Coast Eagles. This is Aussie Rules (AFL) and it was finals time, Perth’s West Coast Eagles had made the Grand Final against the passionately hated Collingwood Magpies from Melbourne. I first settled in Perth in 1994 and arrived at the same time of the year, the Eagles won their 2nd premiership that year, but I had no interest and equally no understanding of the game back then, this year they won their 4th Grand Final and although I had been away from watching this game for sometime I was able to rekindle my passion whilst viewing a classic contest. We joined the 40 – 50000 fans at Langley Park to welcome the victorious team back to the West the following day, our Hotel at the time was a stones through away so it seemed a good cultural experience for the family to enjoy.img_5316

So that was our first 4 weeks away from Dundee, enjoying the mostly balmy Australian spring sunshine, the great outdoors but always with one keen eye on Motorhomes for sale, not loosing sight of the big picture.img_5380

No van and not much of a plan

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cropped-nicks-photos-2262.jpg“No need to fall on your sword”; that was the reaction after a robust discussion with my boss when I decided to hand in my notice. I wasn’t falling on my sword just seizing on an opportunity during a moment of frustration to deliver the news that I had been dreading.  I had planned to do this the following week in a more by the book style resignation letter, followed by the discussion when it would best for me and the company to part ways.  There was no such discussion, in two weeks time I had worked my last shift  and still had nearly two months to go before we jet off from Scotland to the sunny shores of Australia, to travel that vast country full time in a motorhome!  Easy to write in a sentence but still unbelievable that this dream of ours will soon become reality.

Two months not earning a salary, but on a positive note plenty of time to plan our trip, to get two properties ready to rent out, to pack up, and to have a few days here and there to visit places we have always wanted to, but never got round to whilst living in Scotland.  So why as I sit here a 7 days before departure we are surrounded by a cloud of stress, dread and trepidation? The list doesn’t seem to be getting shorter and none of those day trips to the beautiful Scottish countryside have materialised, and what planning? On September 7 at 2:15pm however we will be on a plane leaving Glasgow Airport, everything will be done and we will be ready to start our big adventure.

Why the Change?

We: My beloved partner Leigh, a Dundonian (she’s from Dundee in Scotland), and a Postie for Royal Mail, our 17 month old delight (and Boss) Emily and myself; Nick a Kiwi  Chef have always wanted to spend some time together living in Australia.  Both of us have a long history with this country, we have both lived, worked and travelled the country extensively before our paths crossed on the Dorset Coast in England 6 years ago. Once we got together it was our ambition to return to the big brown land and we did this in 2014 spending the majority of the time working in the beautiful and limitless  outback near Kings Canyon, Central Australia.

We decided to move to Dundee in 2015 for a year or so to spend time with family, that year turned into almost 4 years and a baby,  and before we new it we had stepped into a “normal” routine of working, dealing with the day to day chores to being a successful family and investing to increase the household clutter. Normal to most but for us it was a little foreign, the 5 or more years before we met and during our time together we had been essentially on the move, most of our work involved  live in accommodation, our worldly possessions fitted into a backpack, and we were always looking forward to the next adventure.

I work as a Chef, a great vocation when travelling, but when God was handing out the 37.5 hour working week, I think the chef representative must have been out the back having a smoke, as it seems quite acceptable when on a (modest) salary to put in  55 to 60 hours a week with no breaks!  Now many chefs revel in this, like its a right of passage, a badge of honour, but with alcohol and drug abuse rife within the industry, as well as a rise in mental illness something needs to change; a subject for another day perhaps.  I can appreciate a young chef wanting to put in the hard yards to grow their career, and grasp some of the fantastic opportunities that exist, I’m not afraid of hard work, but I am in a stage in my life where I want more of a balance.  Having only 2 quality days a week to spend with my Daughter, and no days off together with Leigh is unacceptable when we are in a position to pursue an alternative

We are what is classed as “mature parents”, both in our 40s, we are both fit and healthy but those long hours have taken there toll on me, we just want to spend more time together, simplify life and share in some wonderful experiences together; probably part of the brief for everyone of those families travelling Australia for an extended period of time.

We love Australia, we haven’t seen a lot of the country but we have seen more than most. We have set foot in every State and Territory and experienced many of the country’s icons such as Diving on the Great Barrier Reef, we have sailed  the Whitsundays and paddled steamed the Murray River, Driven the Stuart Highway and the Great Ocean Road, watched  the Sunset over Ularu  and  Mindil Beach, spotted platypus in Tasmania and crocodiles in Kakadu, we have stood on the tip of Cape York and atop of the lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin and many points in between.  We look forward to exploring more of this huge country, but for us the main motivation is to change our lifestyle. and Australia travelling in a van provides an excellent landscape to do this.cropped-nicks-photos-18652.jpg

Why a Motorhome?

For a few years we have had a desire to move to Tasmania, seems to be a trend among Australians too, maybe its the cooler climate, the green wilderness or the cheaper house prices. For us it was all of those things, but as a cook, Tasmania has undergone a bit of a food renaissance, with some great producers, natural resources.  followed by some wonderful chefs and restaurants, which I have been observing from a far. The only problem neither Leigh or myself had stepped foot on the Apple Isle.  To rectify this last year we travelled to New Zealand and Australia to introduce Emily to family and us to Tasmania. For our week in Tasmania we hired a 6 Berth Motorhome, we had hired the small campervans as a couple before but never a serious self contained unit.  Tasmania looks a small speck to the south of the mainland on a map, but it is big and even bigger on attractions and experiences.  We loved our time in the Motorhome, and 7 month old Emily adapted beautifully (apart from an incident with a chicken in Hounville) to life on the road, but they were long days trying to cram in as much as we could, and get to our final destination each day.  What if we could slow this down, have no deadlines, if we like a place we could stay longer, if we want to sit on a beach all day we could.

My romantic view of life on the road involves sitting outside the van in the late afternoon sun, surrounded by loved ones,  beverage of choice in hand, not care in the world, and the only job is to decide where to go tomorrow. The only time on that 7 day trip where we almost reached this state of contentedness was again in Hounville at a wonderful caravan park that was bordered by a gentle flowing river. In that river platypus were rumoured to frolic, being my favourite Monotreme (sorry Echidnas) I was keen to spot one and joined in the local past time of gazing purposefully into the river looking for any ripple or disturbance, trout were quite prolific in that river too so there were many ripples, I wasn’t successful that evening but just the atmosphere of that beautiful sunny spring afternoon still lives with me now and the following day I spotted all be it briefly my first platypus in the wild.  Its these sort of memories we want to have the time to create.

I had heard of the Grey Nomads – retired folk towing their caravans around Australia, following the sun, I was aware that Australians seem to be born with this instinct that one day they will complete a lap of their country; like a circular pilgrimage, but I thought a family travelling Australia full time with a toddler was  groundbreaking, until I hit Facebook.  There seem to be hundreds of families, usually with 3 or 4 young children on the move around Australia, some taking 6 months, most over a year and some indefinitely. There is a myriad  of Facebook groups for what we are about to embark on, ones for finding work on the road, ones for buying or selling a van, and for pages from families sharing their experiences a long the way, this has been a great source of information and inspiration for us, that this pipe dream of ours is very possible and on a variety of budgets and circumstances.

For us we have only considered buying a motorhome, I realise most families opt for the caravan or camper trailer and 4WD towing vehicle, and there are some wonderful set-ups out there. I have never towed anything in my life going forward, let a lone having to reverse a large caravan into a tight spot with seasoned travellers looking on. Apart from that, I think economically the motorhome is better for us, and we have enjoyed our time in them in the past.  I know the debate Caravan vs Motorhome rages on, there are pros and cons for both, but as long as we can find a functional motorhome which is set up for free camping we will be happy.Nicks photos 1931

The “Plan”

We will leave Scotland on September 7, spend 5 nights in a swanky hotel in Dubai, arrive in Perth WA on September 12, have 2 weeks accommodation and car hire booked, look to buy a motorhome, these are all certainties, what happens after that is an unknown and quite frankly a bit scary. Why Perth? I understand there is probably more selection of second hand motorhomes in the Eastern States but my Sister lives near Perth, it is also the destination on the shortest possible flight we can take from Dubai, and with a 17 month old toddler, without a seat this is quite important.  From our internet searches there are a range of motorhomes for sale, but if we can not find what we are looking for we will continue our search Eastwards.

Once we find our desired steed which hopefully will be a 4 berth motorhome, reasonable mileage with shower and toilet for free camping,  aircon and hopefully many more added extras, we plan to head east to Melbourne for Christmas and then to Tasmania where we hope to break ourselves into Australian summers gently. That’s our plan as flimsy as it may sound, and  when I read of other families whose trips are years in the planning I start to get the shakes, then our faith is restored when I read hear about other families who  set themselves up and head out the driveway 6 weeks after making the life changing decision.  In defence of our rather simple master-plan until we find our motorhome we can’t really plan the detail; we wont know what funds we have left until we need to work, where we will start from etc etc.   Apart from the detail that is also the attraction of what we are about to embark on; we can decide where we go and  what we do as the mood takes us.

The only constraint is money as it always is, we live pretty frugally in a house so we think we can replicate this on the road. once we are confident with our set up we can stay at free camps and National Parks with the aid of  our Wikicamps App. We will investigate volunteer positions and house sitting,  and when we need to we will have to stop for a little while and work.  There are always places needing Chefs and Leigh is keen to revisit her  berry picking days around Dundee as a kid by getting on the harvest trail.  No we have not been meticulously planning our trip with spreadsheets, lists and itineraries but we have been “researching” for months; there is a huge resource out there on social media mainly from families who are doing or have done what we are about to do, and several of these include job sites for travellers with families who are looking for a short term position before they are back on the road

Maybe our biggest challenge will be keeping Emily occupied, happy and safe. At 17 months she is into the adventurous stage and wants to climb on everything, including up  ladders! She loves being outdoors, splashing in a pool and will spot a bird in a second {or googoo as she calls them) whether its a distant seagull, an abstract picture of a penguin or ostrich, or the Twitter logo, so Australia sounds right up her street. Potty training in a van could be interesting, but we wont be the first to do this and there is always the network of our fellow travelling families to call on for advice if we need it. Emily may not remember her early “Gypsy” life travelling around Australia but we hope the experiences we have, the life we live and the people we meet help to shape her character in a positive way.

This adventure is a big gamble for all of us but we are very confident it will pay off, we still have lots to do this week to get ourselves packed up, as well as  the emotional farewells to loved ones, but we can’t wait to get travelling again. Looking forward to a bit of R&R in Dubai before we start this new chapter. We hope to keep you posted regularly on our travels and the places we go, the things we see and the food we eat.

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