There’s been a fantastic response to my Sydney Morning Herald article about wanting to have a second child, most of it really supportive and positive. A couple of grumpy people have also been wondering how I managed to afford all the travelling. A better question to ask would have been, “how on earth did you mange to write that article with a teething toddler in the house?!” Not that my finances are anyone’s business, but sure, let’s talk about money.
I want to preface this by saying that while I am not wealthy, in some ways I am very privileged. I am a white middle class person who has had access to higher education, and who has the safety net of an extended family who are financially secure enough to be able to bail me out in a dire emergency. I also have no dependents other than my child, who is currently too small to cost very much. I have some savings in the bank that I accumulated while working my arse off before my baby arrived. However I am anything but rich. The only thing of any value that I own is my second hand car. I shop at Kmart, my child almost exclusively has hand-me-down clothes and toys, and I use second-hand cloth nappies, which has saved both me and the environment an absolute fortune. On the plus side this means that I didn’t have a mortgage to worry about when I was off galavanting around Australia, or as I like to call it, raising my baby. So how exactly did I manage to afford a six month road trip around Australia with my 3.5 month old baby, and how have we also managed to visit eight different countries in the last 1.5 years?
1) I stayed with family and friends. All of my trips, both on land and by air, were structured around visiting people. Only on rare occasions did I pay for accommodation. An old uni friend and her kids live in Port Moresby, my extended family live all the way across the UK and through parts of Europe, my ex is Swedish, my aunt is a teacher in Bali, and my parents are close to retirement and have been working short contracts on aboriginal communities in Arnhem Land, and volunteering with NGOs in Cambodia. I also have a widespread community of queer and activist friends scattered across Australia. If I’m honest we probably slept in more spare rooms than campsites on our trip.
2) We ate at home. Visiting people also usually means lots of cooking at home, so airfares and petrol aside, the main cost of travelling is a supermarket shop every three or four days, which you’d be doing whether you were at home or away. NB: flights to most parts of the world are pretty cheap these days if you’re willing to fly with the shitty airlines. Also infants virtually fly for free until the age of two, which is why I’m trying to get overseas travelling out of my system before the clock ticks over. It means having a squirming toddler on your lap, which is my version of hell, but I have a knack of forgetting this the moment we’ve touched down.
3) I sublet my apartment. This can be a huge hassle, but it saves me a lot of cash. Disclaimer: Another privilege I have is that I live in a queer housing coop, where rent is set at a quarter of your income, in accordance with international housing affordability standards. If this makes you angry, don’t direct it at me—get angry at the ridiculous over-inflation of Sydney rental prices. Rent should be capped at a quarter of everyone’s income, not just mine.
4) I camped in free campsites. There’s this brilliant app called wikicamps that lists all the free and cheap campsites around Australia. This often means no showers, or sometimes even toilets, but the stars, the trees, and the sea are all free!
For the first part of my trip I was on paid maternity leave, and for the rest I was on the single parent pension. I’m not interested in having an argument about who is deemed “worthy” and “unworthy” of welfare, or who is deemed worthy or unworthy of travelling. I don’t recall Centrelink having a clause that in order to receive benefits you have to stay at home all winter in cold miserable Sydney, sinking deeper and deeper into “I have no life” postnatal depression, like happens to so many new parents. I work very very hard for very little money. Raising a child is an invaluable service to society, and any economist will tell you that a capitalist economy would not survive solely on 9 to 5 workers—we also need people at home raising the kids. I put so much effort into having this kid, and I didn’t want to stick my newborn in childcare and get straight back to work. I fully support everyone’s right to do this if this is what they want or need to do, but it’s not the way I wanted to do things. I am so grateful that I live in a country where human life and equality are valued. In places like the USA, where welfare is virtually nonexistent, it’s only the wealthy who can afford to stay at home with their kids in those early, vital years. I would be heartbroken to live in a society where raising our future generations wasn’t valued, and where only the rich and the partnered were deemed worthy of reproducing.
I am a member of several Facebook groups dedicated to solo parents who are currently living on the road, travelling the country or even the world in tents, caravans, and boats. (To date I am the only one who has done it in a polkadot teardrop camper though.) The vast majority of these parents aren’t very well off at all. They’re just really good at thinking outside the box, brave enough to go out seeking new adventures, and dedicated to giving their children a well-rounded experience of life. After all, if you’re going to be stuck at home raising a baby, why not put that home on wheels and see some of the world while you’re at it?!