On past AT assignments, Robyn Rosenfeldt has crossed the continent, been to Jillaroo School, met her soul mate, fallen in love and become a mother. Now she compares travelling with two tiny kids to her old life as a rugged, carefree camper. After 1800km and a high-speed encounter with a wild pig, she’s learning that the challenges may be different, but the lessons – and the rewards – are every bit as valuable . . .

I consider myself a fearless traveller. I’ve ridden horses across the Mongolian steppe, I’ve sailed a yacht across the Atlantic Oceanand I’ve travelled solo into the Peruvian jungle. Not once have I felt that there was an adventure I was too scared to embark upon.

Yet now a simple drive within Australia from Melbourne to Maleny, in Queensland’s southeast, has me seriously questioning whether I can do it. Why? Because I now have two small kids.

Less than three years ago I was single and free. At the drop of a hat I’d pack my bags, jump in the car and head off on all kinds of adventures around Australia. Like my Valentine-inspired dip in 2006 into the world of chick rodeos (Rhinestone Cowgirls, AT issue #007.) On one of these journeys, venturing across the continent, down the Oodnadatta Track from Alice Springs to the Victorian coast (Centre to Surf, AT issue #010), I fell in love and – though I didn’t know it yet – my travelling ways were about to change forever.

In Alex I found an adventuring soul mateand within a couple of weeks of returning from Central Australia we headed off again, this time to Tamworth where I attended Jillaroo School and learned to crack a whip and tame a bull (Jillaroo 101, AT issue #017). Again we hadan amazing trip, camping in swags, driving by moonlight, exploring more of Australia and planning future adventures.

Then a month later we found out we were having a baby.

Now three years on we’ve got two kids, a mortgage, a house in the ’burbs and a whole lot of responsibility. The only travelling we’ve done since is a few small camping trips in Victoria. After the birth of our second daughter in April 2008, we decided it was time to get on the road again and regain something of our old life. Although this time, instead of swags and beer in the back, it would be baby seats and nappies.

Travelling on impulse

Having kids can diminish a lot of your feelings of freedom and spontaneity. It also changes your sense of identity. Prior to having kids I considered myself a freewheelin’ travelling chick. Now, with my hands full with two beautiful girls, both under the age of two, I find it hard to think of myself as anything other than a mother.

Planning a trip to see my sister in Maleny 1800km away seemed the perfect opportunity for another adventure on the road. Our original plan was to fly, but the thought of hauling everything we needed onto the plane – including portacot, esky, pram, bedding, clothes, toys and books – seemed a bit of a nightmare. By driving, we’d be far more independent. We could stop and start whenever we liked, stay where we wanted and – most importantly – fulfil our desire to feel like free, young travellers again.

Although a road trip with kids might be hard work and not quite the easy ride solo travel can be, it offers something else just as valuable.We were to discover, by journey’s end, that itis a really beautiful thing to travel as a family.In the past, roaming around on my own had felt liberating, but at times lonely. On this journey,I was anything but lonely. It was also incredibly fulfilling to see all the things you usually take for granted in a new light, through the eyes of a child.

The biggest initial difference between this and previous trips was all the planning involved. Gone was the impulsiveness of packing our bags and seeing what happened. Normally we’d drive until we were tired, pull up and find a place to stay. If there was nowhere, we’d find a quiet spot and roll out the swag. This time we had to know for sure we were going to be arrivingat a certain time and that there would be accommodation to suit our needs.

So, before we left I had to estimate howfar we could comfortably drive each day, which town we’d make it to, and if there was a caravan park with cabins, since we needed a kitchen and bathroom. Working all this out before leavingis simple these days, thanks to our old friendthe internet, and I had all the accommodation booked and the trip planned. Having never done this before, I wondered if all that organising was a bit over the top. Our first day on the road confirmed that it wasn’t.

Through newer eyes

The planning was perfect and we pulled into the campground with time to spare. It might not sound incredibly exciting and daring, and, well . . . it wasn’t. But there’s nothing worse than pulling in right on dinner time with two hungry kidsin the back and being forced to drive around looking for somewhere to stay, only to find you have to drive to the next town.

Staying in caravan park cabins, we couldn’t help having a few “how things change” chuckles at the differences in our lives. Rather than swagging it under the stars by the light of a flickering campfire, we found ourselves staringat fluoro overheads and generic furnishings. Where was the adventure and romance we’d hoped for from life on the road? As the trip went on, though, the weather became warmer, our bare feet emerged and the stresses of the city dissipated. By the time we reached Bellingen on the NSW mid-north coast, where we’d planned a day’s break from driving, we were really feeling like we were on holiday. A beautiful mud-brick cottage on a farm became our home for one of the most relaxing days I’ve had in years. In the afternoon while the girls slept, we lay in the sun, had lunch and even indulged in a glass of wine.

The five days it took to reach Maleny,at around five hours of driving a day, were surprisingly pleasant and stress free. The actual time spent on the road wasn’t nearly as badas we’d anticipated, partly due to the planning but also due to a wild card we had up our sleeves. Something I swore I’d never own: a portable DVD player for the car.

Arriving at my sister’s house, we felt a great sense of achievement. We’d made it; five daysof driving with two young kids and we were stilla very happy family. We’d left the Melbourne winter far behind and had a week ahead of us to hang out in Maleny and explore sunny southeast Queensland. It felt amazing to be away, even ifit wasn’t exactly the style of trip we were used to, and I must admit I felt proud of the effort.

In the past, my holidays had been a time to relax, read books, sleep lots and unwind – and perhaps they’ll be that way again one day – but it was important now to be able to let that go and realise that the reality, for now, is different. Ella, our youngest, decided to wake up every couple of hours through the night and Ruby thought 5.30am was a better time to start the day than her usual 7am. Sleepless nights, lumpy beds and none of our usual routine and comforts made for a fairly exhausting trip. But life with small kids is exhausting anyway. At least this way the scenery was different, the weather warmer and we were travelling again.

You can never plan for everything

Before taking off on our homeward journey, we got stuck back in to the all-important planning, so that by the time we left we were itching to be back on the road. Our route was set, our accommodation booked and we were confident from our journey up that the girls would befine in the car. What could possibly go wrong?

Heading off at night so we could get a bit of distance under our belts while the girls slept, we were happily cruising along the highway after battling through Brisbane. Driving througha star-lit landscape, Alex and I chatted warmly about our adventures together when we firstmet, when it was just us and the open road,when BANG! We hit something and hit it hard.

All I saw was a flash of dark fur and what looked like some sort of wild beast caught inthe headlights as it smashed against the front of the car. I let out a guttural scream as I held tight to the steering wheel, keeping it straight, as the beast, which later turned out to be a wild pig, was dragged along by the car before rolling under.

I pulled over, my hands shaking, as steam poured from the engine. It soon became obvious our car was going no further. Sitting on the side of the highway in the pitch black with huge trucks rushing past and the two kids still miraculously sound asleep, the situation seemed a bit dire.

We had no idea where we were, our meansof travel was no longer travelling and we needed to find a hotel and some way to get to it. Luckily for us, the tow truck driver had a heart. His wife followed him out in her car, bundled us into the back and drove us to a hotel, the only one in town and the last room available. So, withinan hour of hitting poor piggy, we were safely ensconced, putting the girls to bed andthanking our lucky stars we were all okay.

The next day it became obvious that our car wasn’t going anywhere. The only thing todo was cut our losses and fly home. Which is slightly ironic, since we’d decided not to fly in the first place because we’d have too much gear. Now we had a whole carload to squeeze intothe overhead compartments.

We condensed everything down to twocar seats, a pram, three bags of clothes, books and toys, a doona, blankets, pillows, nappy bag, camera gear and my laptop and somehow managed to take it all on the plane with usfor no extra charge. The rest we organisedto have sent home, including what we could salvage from the car.

Even though we arrived home without wheels, we were elated with the trip as a whole. We were a day early, the kids weren’t stuck inthe car and we’d inadvertently found that sense of excitement and adventure we’d been looking for. (Not that I’d seek out high-speed porcine encounters just to make a trip more exciting.)

So, despite the long days, extensive planning and returning home carless, it was definitelyall worth it. It was great to break out of the day to day routine of life as parents and feel thatwe could be travellers again. And if in some small way I’ve given my two girls a taste for adventure on the road, then at least I know they’re in for a satisfying and thrilling life. The life of a fearless traveller.

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