Every month Ashleigh and Anthony’s jobs required them to move to a new small Australian mining town for work. When an influx of mining industry workers hit these small towns accommodations become scarce and prices skyrocket. Tw years ago Ashleigh and Anthony decided to beat the system and bought their own accommodations — a pop-up trailer. A few months into this new way of life — Ashleigh got pregnant. Today their baby is 11 months old, their accommodations have changed a bit, but they continue to move, happily, every month.
Here is a bit of their story.
Is this caravanning way of life more common in Australia than in perhaps in the US?
Anthony: It is not common with people our age here, but a lot of older people sell their houses and cars and caravan around.
Ashleigh: They call them Gray Nomads. We are just a younger version of them.
What amenities are inside?
Ashleigh: It has two beds on the end, a mini fridge, a little cooker and a mini sink.
What about a toilet?
Anthony: We used the bathrooms at the caravan park or the campground where we would stay.
How many square feet is it?
It is 14ft X 6ft when the beds are not popped out on the ends.
Is it cold in the winter?
Anthony: In some places, yes. By the coast it was not so cold, but up through Inland Queensland it gets really cold.
Ashleigh, did you work throughout your whole pregnancy?
Ashleigh: I was working up until half way through my pregnancy doing confined space safety work and cleaning the lunch rooms in the mines.
Do you have any idea how much money you saved doing this?
Anthony: We did this for 12 months. Last year in the caravan park it cost between $120 to $200 a week to stay there. When we were not working we could go park it at the beach and have a holiday. It made beach holidays affordable. Now [with the baby] we pay $770 a week for accommodation.
It costs $100 to $200 to be in a caravan park per week. What are the other expenses?
Anthony: Laundry, extra fuel because it costs more towing and of course, the cost of your caravan. Doing this helped us save a lot of money.
What is the cost of a caravan?
Anthony: It depends on what level you want. Some people have caravans that are $100,000 with bathrooms and toilets and the luxuries of home.
Ashleigh: We paid $13,000 for ours, but it was not brand new. We bought it off Gray Nomads.
And fewer expenses equals more freedom?
Anthony: Yes we want to go to America soon. We do not have a lease, so we can leave whenever we want.
Ashleigh: I don’t think it is just the freedom. I think when you have more stuff and more expensive things you become more attached to them. I notice this with Noa’s things. I buy her clothes and things secondhand, so when they don’t fit in the car I don’t feel badly donating them. I think if I paid full price for them I would not be able to do that. I would want to hold onto them.
What are the annoyances of the caravanning lifestyle?
Ashleigh: You are in a tiny space. Sometimes you have to run to the shower when it is really cold or you have to sleep when it is really hot. Once it rained for two months and we could not get away from mosquitoes, not even inside.
Anthony: Sometimes during that two month period of rain we did get accommodations. There were other times when it was so wet we did not want to put up the caravan because when you pack it up it gets mildew in there. Packing and unpacking it in the rain is a hassle.
I would imagine there could be a lot of freedom in this way of life.
Anthony: It is all worth it when we are staying in it at the beach and it is affordable.
Ashleigh: When not working, we could wake up and be on the beach. There was no guilt or pain on ours wallet.
Are there any concerns about safety in this?
Anthony: We did not stay in places where we did not feel safe. It is about safety in numbers. In caravan parks there are always people around
Ashleigh: We also had a safe we locked valuables up in.
What was it like being pregnant and caravanning?
Ashleigh: That is when it got a little bit more difficult. I had to go to the bathroom all the time and I had to get dressed to go to the toilet. Then I grew out of the bed and Anthony had to sleep in a separate bed because my belly was too big.
Anthony: Because we were moving so much we did not know where we were going to have the baby and because of that we did not tell anyone in my family that Ashleigh was pregnant because I knew they would worry. It was really hard. I wanted to get somewhere and settle down and figure out what we were going to do before we told them. I ended up taking a job in Brisbane and they supplied us with an apartment for the job which meant Ashleigh could go to a good hospital to have the baby.
Ashleigh: That is probably when I started getting stressed. I did not book into the hospital until I was 32 weeks. They were like, ‘Oh my God what are you doing?’ That was a bit unusual. Our daughter was born at 37 weeks.
When did your mom find out you were having a baby?
Anthony: We told her when we found out we were going to be in Brisbane.
Ashleigh: They were excited that they did not have to wait and worry.
How did the whole pregnancy go?
Anthony: I finished work on a Tuesday and Ashleigh went into labor at 6 am the next morning during peak traffic, but we made it.
Ashleigh: The pregnancy was quite easy. I was considered low risk, so I probably would not have been able to travel had this not been the case. I was healthy and active, meticulous about my diet. I saw different doctors throughout my pregnancy which also may not have been possible in a place like America with our ridiculous health care system. I appreciate Australia’s healthcare system so much for this very reason.
After you have the baby did you get permanent accommodations?
Ashleigh: She was born in Brisbane, but when we left the hospital we drove 2 hours to Byron Bay on the coast of northern New South Wales because Anthony had another job. We stayed in a cabin there and then when his job was complete we caravanned back 1200 miles to Tasmania with her. She was six weeks old then.
And you are sleeping in the caravan at night with the baby?
Ashleigh: Yes, she was in a little travel bed. You can make the little table in the caravan really low. She slept great. She was fine.
Since the trip back to Tasmania you have been in permanent housing?
Ashleigh: She has not been in the caravan since the trip to Tasmania. Now that Anthony is working 12 hours a day if I had to put her in a carrier every time I went to the bathroom that would be difficult.
But you still move every month?
What are the challenges of having an 11 month year old daughter when you are moving every month?
Ashleigh: The doctors are always a bit concerned about her handling the change. She sleeps 11 or 12 hours every night. She gets to a new place, she is excited and she explores. It is not really a challenge.
Anthony: She really enjoys it.
Everyone always says kids need a stable place. Do you think that is a myth?
Ashleigh: It is all she has ever known. I think if she would have lived somewhere for the first couple of years and then we tried to move her around, maybe it would have been a problem.
Anthony: The stable things in her life are: she is with her mom and dad every day and we have a sleep routine with her every night. It seems to work with her.
One of the things you said in your email Ashleigh that I thought was interesting was that people always ask where her toys are. I wonder how her version of toys differs from kids who live in the same house 12 months a year.
Ashleigh: If I lived in a house I would probably have all of the same things: the bouncy chairs and the gadgets and all the things.
Anthony: I probably would not allow for that. [Laughing]
Ashleigh: We just do not have the ability to have all that stuff, so it forces me, in a good way, to be out of the house. We are out and about doing stuff all the time.
Anthony: Ashleigh takes her to a lot of play groups and reading classes and music classes, but we do have her little basket of toys.
How is the transition from caravan to apartment?
Ashleigh: It is stressful in its own ways.
Anthony: Because of the mining boom all of the towns are getting booked out when there is work in town and it is hard to find apartments, so we miss caravanning in that way. We are spending a lot more on accommodation, but we are willing to do that for a year while she is so little.
After the year what is the plan?
Anthony: We are going to hang out with my family, then I have another job and then we are going to America.
What about the reaction of other people to all of this?
Anthony: The hardest part is explaining it to people.
Ashleigh: Moms always say, ‘You must have a base. You must have somewhere.’
Anthony: We are lucky to be able to have family in Australia to go stay with when we want.
Is there a part of you that wants the stable house or apartment with a 12 month lease?
Ashleigh: Sometimes I think it would be good, but I enjoy moving around and exploring. Maybe it is because I am not from Australia, but I like thinking about the next place and then exploring it. We are not opposed to living in the same place for 12 months.
Anthony: Living without a lease keeps us free work wise. If work goes quiet in one area we can go to another area and get work.
Have you put thought into what it will look like when she has to go to school?
Ashleigh: We think we have five years to do this, but Anthony will say, ‘there is always home schooling.’ We will see what kind of kid she is. Maybe she will be like us and will not mind moving around, but I would like her to go to school. I think it is important.
My friends that have kids talk about the importance of a support network. How do you handle that moving around so much?
Ashleigh: The only time I felt that was once when I got really sick and I realized there is no one to call. But that only happened once and [our friends] Kelly and Mike happened to be here, so that worked out.
You don’t work 12 months a year?
Anthony: I do mechanical repairs on power stations and in mines. When I do work I work six days a week for 12 hours a day, so I can make a lot of money in a short time and then I have a lot of time off. I do not actually have a permanent job. Every job I do is for a different company. I am always looking for work in advance. The jobs pop up at different times of the years in different places.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Anthony: It is fun.
Ashleigh: It is not as complicated as I think people think it is. It is really easy. We have a lot of freedom. It is fun. We enjoy our life.