In 2005 Steve Baile took his wife, Jen, and two kids (Savanna, then 4, and Sara, then 21 months) on a 16 month road trip around Australia seeking all the geographic extremes of the country from the most northern, southern, eastern and western points to the highest tip of Mount Kosciuszko. The adventure was captured in a new documentary called Expedition Australia – The Big Lap, due to be released in the second half of 2013. Baile tells suitcases&strollers how to he managed 46,000 kilometers driving with kids around Australia.
How did you come up with the idea for the trip?
For Australians like us who love camping and four wheel driving, taking a year off and doing the big lap around the country is the ultimate adventure. We wanted to go because we wanted to escape the rat race for awhile after years of running our own business – live the simple life. We also wanted to do it before we had school-aged kids. When we first hatched the plan in 1998 we didn’t have kids but it was easy enough to incorporate them into the equation.
Why a road trip?
Road trips are a great way to travel because you can carry everything you need with you. You have the freedom to just explore and go where the road takes you. With our 4WD and off-road camper trailer we were able to go anywhere and we did, spending many nights in remote and spectacular places.
What kind of vehicle did you have?
80 Series Landcruiser.
How did you fund such a long holiday?
We sold our business and worked for the new owners helping to integrate our business into theirs. Meanwhile we saved as much as we could. We also sold our house and accumulated what we thought would be enough to keep us going for about 18 months without needing to work. Fortunately, given we were making a film, we managed to get some sponsors on board who helped us out with some of the equipment we needed.
What was the one unexpected highlight of a trip?
Lake Argyle in the East Kimberley. We actually reworked our itinerary so that we could go back and spend another 6 weeks there. I really fell in love with the lake and the history of the area. A lot of travellers drive right past Lake Argyle, despite it being an inland sea over 20 times larger than Sydney Harbour. They really miss what is one of the most beautiful parts of the country.
What was the kids' favourite part of the trip?
Meeting new friends on a regular basis, being free to run around, watching DVDs in the back seat and just being allowed to get dirty without getting in trouble.
Where was the most remote place you visited?
Cobourg Peninsula which is the northern most tip of the Northern Territory. You need a special permit get out there as you drive through Aboriginal land and when you get there you virtually have the place to yourself.
There are lots of stories in the media about people getting into trouble in the outback when their vehicles break down. You drove down the Tanami Road right through the centre of the country from northwest Western Australia. Is it safe?
You are in some of the least inhabited country in the world. But while the road is unsealed and rough in places, its fairly well used so if you broke down someone would be along to help you out soon enough.
Was it difficult to do a long road trip with kids?
It was probably easier to look after them while on the road than back at home. It’s a pretty simple life travelling around the country and kids just go with the flow. I think we were all just happy to be able to spend some quality time together without worrying too much about timetables. There were times when we would have liked to be able to have a big night at the local pub and couldn’t because we had no babysitting options, but this was a minor compromise.
What experiences did the children have that they wouldn't have gotten anywhere else?
At kindergarten and childcare they would have read stories and seen pictures of wildlife but our kids were out there seeing it all first hand. One night I took Savanna to the toilet in Karijini National Park. There was a huge western brown snake. Back in the city this would have been a crisis but it was different out there. We stood there a few metres away and watched it while it slowly made its way around the toilet before sliding out into the bush. We had a close up encounter with a deadly snake but it was a great experience that we shared. We saw a lot of other animals as well including several more snakes, large lizards, wild pigs, camels, donkeys and even banteng buffalo.
What are your tips for doing long road trips with kids?
Take some of home with you. We took our girls’ quilts and pillows and a couple of teddy bears so they had some connection to their life before we left. We also started talking to them about the trip a long time before so they were prepared.
Keep some routine. I think this helped to keep them content.
Lower your expectations of how long you drive in a day. We found that 500 kilometres was about as far as we’d want to tackle in one day and that was with plenty of stops along the way.
We had a DVD player in the car so they could watch movies which made the journey easier for them and us. They also had their own activity bags with some books, games and colouring pencils and textas.
For more tips on surviving road trips with kids, read the suitcases&strollers story here.
For more tips on driving around Australia's Northern Territory with kids in a campervan, read the suitcases&strollers story here.
For more tips on doing road trips within Australia visit Expedition Australia.