The Great Australian Road Trip: dream on Gen X

I wondered if my dad and his partner were having a second mid-life crisis when they told me they’d bought a truck and caravan.

It was hard to imagine Dad, who’s had a quadruple heart bi-pass, prost(r)ate cancer, and a near-miss with bowel cancer, stuck in the middle of nowhere with a blown out tire, broken generator, or worse. Don’t get me wrong – he’s far from being frail or washed-out; Dad is strong and busy as they go, building furniture, house renovating and generally living life to the fullest, freed from the burden of 9 to 5 work.

On reflection, Dad spent his entire working life looking forward to the freedom of retirement when he could take to the road and not look back.

While we may scoff at the grey-nomads living a caravanserie life, stopping at the side of the road for a night or two, chasing dust storms across the Nullabor, searching for the elusive Sturt Desert Pea or that insurmountable view, is it really so different an aspiration to one of taking a sabbatical to backpack across the globe?

Mine is a generation which not only wants it all, but appears to have the means to accrue it. Mobile and aggressive career paths lead to substantial income rises at younger and younger ages. The traditional path of marriage-children-grandchildren-grey nomadism is vetoed as we have the luxury of double-income. And heaven knows we need every dollar we can save if we want to be able to buy a house in today’s Australian market. We squirrel our savings to fuel a commercialised dream of ‘happiness’ and fulfilment. Overseas holidays either provide a short haven from work, or add to our CVs with volunteering.

And then, career burn-out begins to disillusion us. What happiness do we really achieve from working harder than the 38 hour week our forebears fought for? Why should we wait until we’re old and grey to explore the places that fuel our imagination and get us through the tiresome work week – the depths of the Amazon jungle, climbing Machu Picchu, sunbathing on the pristine beaches of (insert place of choice), exploring the backwoods of Romania… wherever it is you long to see.

We can’t predict what lies in store for our future lives. Will we be healthy and fit when we can finally afford to retire at 65 (will we even be able to retire at 65?), or will we be beset by health issues – diabetes, arthritis, cancer – which render us physically unable to undertake our adventurous dreams, let alone qualify for travel insurance? Will we even want to explore then?

Regret is not the word I’m looking for, but it partially sums up the dilemma Josh and I found ourselves in when we began thinking about world travel. We didn’t want to look back in 30 years time and wish that we’d bought that plane ticket and taken off to see the world. Equally, we knew that pouring our savings into such indulgent travel plans would wipe buying a house out of the picture for years. We thought about planning a family – how long can you leave it?

Each of us has an accountant in one of our parents. They encouraged us to travel, but then to come home and settle down. Unfortunately the problem with travelling is that it creates the desire for more. Freedom from the ties that bind us to the physical world – the loans, possessions, jobs, responsibilities to people other than ourselves. These things mark us. They line our brows and lighten our hair. They offer us a place within the conventional world. They give us a sense of success or failure, a place amongst our peers. Travel offers us retreat from this.

My dad was simply chasing an achievable version of this dream of ‘freedom from other people’ in buying his caravan. I wish him safe and exciting travels around Australia and only hope that I am brave enough to do the same at his age.

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