Grace, Eric, and 3-year-old Leo are the Dare List Family
, an Australian crew that's been living the nomad life since their son was 18 months old. Their most recent adventure: Touring North America in their 24-foot, 1991 RV, #ValourtheVan. Keep reading for Grace's insight into van life, travel gear, and battling fatigue on the road.
Parennial Travel: What do you love about living and traveling in a van? What are some of its challenges?
Dare List Family: We are brand new to van life and so far we are loving the lifestyle as we road trip through Canada and the USA. That being said, it was a steep learning curve at the beginning, and other seasoned vanlifers warned us of this, so we knew it was normal to feel out of our depth.
The week we began van life I (Grace) was soo nervous at about 2 p.m. every day until we found a spot for the night, and sometimes we had to backtrack and drive in circles a lot to find a spot we could fit our 24-foot RV. But we've been "free camping" (finding legal, out-of-the-way spots to park overnight) for over a month now, and it's getting easier and easier. We use an amazing app called iOverlander which helps find locations contributed and reviewed by van dwellers, and it has come to our rescue more times than I can count. And now that we have settled into the routine of living in a van and moving every few days, we are absolutely LOVING it. I think I've been the most surprised at this because I'm a travel planner who likes booking accommodation in advance, and yet I have come to really enjoy the unpredictability and freedom that the van dwelling lifestyle affords.
PT: What was the first major trip you took with your son, and how did it go?
DF: We've actually been full-time nomads for almost 18 months now—our first trip with our son (who was 19-months-old then) to Bali in 2017 turned into 10 months of international travel through Asia and Europe. We had the time of our lives, slow travelling and booking monthly Airbnb rentals in Bali, Malaysia, Thailand, France, Italy and Croatia. By the end of our time in each country, we felt like locals and we now feel like we have many "homes" around the world because of the experiences we had and the incredible people we met.
But the continuous travelling lifestyle wasn't a complete accident. We took the full-time travel leap after deciding that we wanted to live more adventurous, daring lives. In the space of three crazy weeks in late 2016, we rented our house, most of our possessions, quit our jobs and moved in with our parents to save (that's a WHOLE other story which you can read more about on our website Dare List Family).
PT: What's your favorite type of destination when traveling with your family, and why?
DF: Is it cliche to say we love it all? We've travelled through the Alps and Canadian Rockies, lived as beach bums in Bali, Malaysia and Queensland and lived in cities like Kuala Lumpur, Grenoble, Zagreb and Vancouver. I think if we had to pick, it would be the cities or big towns which are buzzing with activities, arts and culture, but are also close to incredible lakes, beaches and hikes in nature. While we love heading out into nature to unplug, we fund our full-time travel by working online, so we need wi-fi and contact with civilization fairly regularly. And as such, we've discovered that spending time in urban areas suits our everyday routine better. We spend 3-4 days in a town to get work done, enjoy all the city has to offer (good food/coffee at the top of that list!) and then head out into national parks again.
PT: Have you had any disasters while traveling with your son? How did you deal with it?
DF: Thankfully there hasn't been anything too disastrous so far, but Leo has had a few minor trips to the hospital which have been made a little more complicated while abroad. Australia has an incredible free healthcare system but every time we so much as see a doctor while travelling we need to file paperwork and claim it on travel insurance, which takes getting used to. And visits to ER when you're a tourist can be very expensive so it's worth getting travel insurance that covers hospital visits, and $0 excess if possible (something I'd highly recommend for peace of mind).
Most recently, Leo stepped on a rusty nail during our RV renovation. It wasn't a major injury but we took him to Vancouver Children's hospital as a precaution against tetanus. Thankfully he was up-to-date with his tetanus immunisations (a super important part of travelling with kids) and healed quickly.
PT: How does your travel style with a kid differ from before you were parents?
DF: As much as we love trying adventure sports, spending hours doing wine tours or going to Broadway musicals, stuff like this isn't always practical with a toddler.
We know it's just a season, and in the next few years we will be able to do more of these things (minus the wine tasting! haha) as a family. So for right now, we just try to slow our pace down to Leo's stride, and keep our days simple, carefree and most importantly FUN for him. Sometimes we'll want to do a massive 10-hour drive in one day, but that just doesn't work with a toddler who spends most days travelling 2-3 hours in the car. We have to remember to have "down days" too, and let him settle into a location and get his bearings.
What we're now discovering is that while we're onboard for full-time travel, we're all really different travellers. Leo likes a slow pace and lots of playgrounds, Eric gets people to dare him to do crazy stuff as an authentic taste of each city, and I love photographing Leo's reaction to new places, immersing myself in culture and sampling (lots) of the local food and coffee. As long as we're able to slow down and/or pump up the speed when necessary, everyone is happy.
Creating a strong sense of home for Leo is really important to us and a big part of why we bought an RV this year instead of staying in Airbnbs. We are his home and we strive to create a sense of familiarity for him wherever we go. Valour the Van
really helps with consistency and we created him a custom playspace and bedroom
to call his own. At the tender age of 3, Leo's cultural perceptions are being shaped by exposure to all kinds of people, shattering the prejudices that might form if he was to stay in one spot his whole childhood. We want him to have a global education, so what better way to do it?
PT: Any gear you always travel with?
We are vloggers
so we have a lot of camera equipment, microphones, tripods, lenses and two Macbooks to edit and work on. We also carry a MavicPro Drone and a GoPro Hero 6. In terms of the van, it's fully off-grid so we have two roof-mounted solar panels running to an internal inverter, which means we can charge our devices and make smoothies on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.
PT: How do you deal with travel fatigue?
DF: It depends! Last year, after 10 months of travel we knew we needed space to visit family, apply for Canadian working-holiday visas and plan what 2018 would look like, so we went home to Australia. But instead of staying in our NSW hometown the whole time, we rented Airbnbs in Queensland and explored another part of our beautiful Australian backyard. If we feel like we're moving too much, we find somewhere to stay for a week (big bustling cities are surprisingly easy to do this as it's not as obvious that you're there a week). Or we've talked about house sitting or renting an Airbnb for a few weeks if we need some more space or it gets too cold in the RV in winter. Mostly it's about reducing pressure to stick to a schedule and each family member having the freedom to voice how we feel and if we need a break from road tripping. This is the lifestyle we chose after feeling burnt out by suburban life and city jobs that we commuted to, so preventing travel fatigue and meeting everyone's needs is a top priority.