Having recently written an article on my own attempts to be an Adventure Dad, I was curious to talk to other adventure parents out there who are pushing societal boundaries with their ankle-biters. Turns out, there’s quite a few!
I’ve been in touch with a number of adventure parents who’ve thrown the finger at traditional codes of child rearing and have instead opted to re-write the rule book. From desert crossing vagabonds to swashbuckling seafarers, they’ve each made the outdoors the foundation of their lives and truly live the adage “the best presents you could give your kids is your presence”.
Below are 6 testaments to outdoor parenting; individuals who encourage us all to make life one big badass adventure before, during and after kids. I for one am inspired to my core. What do you think?
Read more: 5 Child-Friendly Hikes near Sydney
The Desert Rollers: Justin & Lauren Jones (aka The Jonesys)
Over 102 days Justin and Lauren Jones walked 1800km across the Australian Outback; unaccompanied and on foot, with their one year old daughter Morgan. Starting from the centre of Australia they navigated south through some of the country’s harshest, most beautiful landscapes whilst lugging two carts: one for Morgan and the other; a 270kg cart crammed with everything they needed to survive.
Temperatures ranged from below 0°C to 43°C over the course of the expedition; a disparity akin to Justin and Lauren’s experience as “adventurers” — they’re quite literally polar opposites.
Justin is a seasoned explorer who’s skied to the South Pole and kayaked to New Zealand (both totally unassisted). Prior to the trip Lauren had gone camping a few times and was by her own admission a new mum struggling to come to terms with the monumental life shift and keen to find her own path through it. They didn’t want to just survive a 9-5 and live only for the weekends, they wanted to build a life they didn’t need a holiday from.
Lauren shared her desert wisdom on what they all took from the adventure: “It was amazing to prove to ourselves that we could still chase big dreams as parents. We realised that finding our purpose and following your passions was even more important after parenthood because you are not only proving it’s possible to yourself and finding resilience and strength along the way, but you are also paving the way for your kids too as they are copying and watching everything you do in those early years. We hope Morgan is curious enough to find her own passions, loves and purpose and have the bravery to do those things everyday.”
As Justin grew up, he realised he wanted to have a family but avoid the settling down part, yet after marriage and Morgan’s arrival the planned solo expedition somehow lost its appeal — he realised he didn’t want to miss the adventure happening at home “first words, first steps, first experiences with the world, bath times, story times, family time…I realised my adventures needed to evolve.”
The trip was a clearly a big test for the family, in every way, but they came through stronger and closer as a team than before, with memories that will surely have Morgan winning some playground points when she’s older. “As a new dad, I got to experience something that a lot of fathers that work conventional lives don’t get. Uninterrupted time with my family for 102 days straight.”
“For me, the most rewarding part was the shift in mindset that happened along the way. What started out as an almost impossibly big goal, at some stage along the journey, just became the new normal. The impossible became possible”, says Lauren.
The Sailors: Rob Hamill and family (aka The Cruising Kiwi’s)
Having completed an initial 7 month family sailing trip to the South Pacific in 2015 with minimal experience, Rob, his wife Rachel and 3 boys Finn, Declan and Ivan have decided to supercharge it and go for a round-the-world’er.
Setting off in September 2018, they hope to circumnavigate the globe starting in the South Pacific before before following the fatal journey his brother Kerry took through Southeast Asia in 1978 — he was captured by the Khmer Rouge, tortured for 2 months, forced to sign confessions to being CIA and then executed after straying into Cambodian waters (you can see the trailer to a film that tells the story here).
This one is only just getting started, but it’ll be one hell of a journey to follow.
Rob believes that we underestimate a child’s ability to self-learn: “ I think that to some degree, most, if not all children in our society miss this opportunity due to being ‘forced’ to sit down and ‘learn’ too soon in life.”
A lovely piece of research conducted on children aged 11 years seeing what their reading ability was like. The comparison was between Steiner (Waldorf) kids who don’t start to learn to read and write until the age of 7-8 and conventionally taught kids who start aged 5 or earlier. The result showed there was no difference which begged the question what was being compromised by beginning academia earlier?
“We want our kids to discover boundaries and take low level risks through play. We see this as critical to developing an ability to make good choices later in life. Our society is so risk averse that I find it frustrating and actually a little scary. Kids are not learning how to handle difficulties with good decision making. The long term negative outcomes are palpable.”
You really need to subscribe to the Cruising Kiwi’s YouTube channel too – each 10 minute episode is wonderfully made and guaranteed to put a smile on your dial and give you a thump in the rump.
The Travelling Photographers: Sherrin and Tom (aka ST Images)
The intrepid duo have been travelling around Australia for years with their 2 kids, funding their nomadic lifestyle through commercial photography assignments up and down the country. They’ve crossed Australia from northern Queensland into the Northern Territory and then through the Western Australian desert to Broome. Prior to this they’d been full time on the road for 2 years scaling the east coast of Australia.
The life changing experience has given them the opportunity to build incredible careers whilst developing an intimate knowledge of the country.
“The conventional way of living can suck the spirit out of you,” Sherrin says, “time goes by so fast when you are in routine and our kids were growing up too fast. We wanted quality time with them. We wanted adventure for them, we wanted to show them (and ourselves) that you can chase a lifestyle far removed from the normal or expected way of doing things. The most rewarding thing was family connection and growing curiosity of our natural world for all of us, not just the kids. Our time feels well spent; we are happier and more full humans since embarking on this lifestyle.”
So what then are some of the things kids can learn on adventure that is difficult to learn in any other environment?
“The art of curiosity. Nurturing that sense of wonder in the world. Taking them out of institutions that zap their creativity. The lessons from nature are all we really need in the world. Being immersed in nature is the fastest way to learn those valuable lessons. As I write my family is driving a 2 hour round trip to the Australia Zoo animal hospital (on the Sunshine Coast) after saving an injured baby bush turkey that was hit by a car. That compassion is deep and that love of nature is strong. This sort of stuff isn’t encouraged by playing Xbox or sitting in a conventional classroom. Going on adventures with your family will help this future world like you wouldn’t believe and strengthen your bond like nothing else will.”
The American Thru-Hikers: Natasha, Jacob and Zoey Moon (aka Moon Mountain)
Family life on instagram doesn’t get much more ludicrously wild than this trio of travellers — in Zoe’s short tenure on earth she’s road tripped, hiked and camped her way through the US and Canada, and has also spent 2 months sampling the Great Walks of New Zealand, including the Routeburn Track, Abel Tasman, Tongariro Alpine Crossing. She’s 16 months old.
We asked what drove Natasha and Jacob to swap the “conventional” family expectations for the adventure life and what’s been the most rewarding part of their decision:
“We simply wanted to chase our dreams and do what makes us happy. This change didn’t happen overnight for us but it was a process. Right after we got married we saved some money, quit our jobs, and bought a one way ticket to Peru where we embarked on a series of big treks.
“There were a lot more adventures to follow after that because we realised something important; we didn’t miss the things we left behind in a storage unit. We decided that we wanted to continue this kind of lifestyle even when we had kids enter the mix. Many people thought we wouldn’t be able to do it, but so far we have proved them wrong! Our adventures might look different now but we are still collecting memories in beautiful places with our daughter.”
The Aussie Hikers: Kelly, Greg, Audrie & Ava (aka Only Footprints)
Adventures come in all shapes and sizes, and as we know through the wonderfully accessible art of microadventures, it’s possible to pack the spirit of big trips into amazing weekends away. That’s exactly what this family does; at every opportunity possible they gather the troops in the troopy for 4WD car camping escapes, overnight bushwalks and more day hikes than you can shake a walking pole at. Spending the weekends together in the outdoors like this has supercharged their imaginations and inventiveness, developed a beautiful appreciation and respect for the natural world.
We’re curious to know how they balance helping their children understand and assess risk, without scaring the shit out of them:
“In the last 7 years of adventures with our girls the main thing that’s been helpful is talking with them, and there’s lots of time to talk when you’re hiking all day or in a tent at night! We make sure we’re prepared with enough water, a medical kit, warm clothing, spot device etc when we go wild and we talk a lot with them about how we prepare and why we bring certain items so they can feel at ease and part of the journey.”
And what are some of the more challenging parts of your lifestyle choice…?
“Being mentally strong for them. Hiking is a mental game more than anything. When it’s hot or you’re heading up a hill or nearing the end of a long day hiking with backpacks, you need to be mentally prepared to encourage them (and it’s usually when you’re tired, hot and grumpy too which is a hard time to be perky and encouraging). Kids might complain, but most of the time they don’t mean it seriously — we learned this once on a day hike when our kids told us how tired they were and later they ran around doing cartwheels!”
Follow along with their weekend adventures via their Instagram
The Vanlifers: Rob, Tracy, Marli & Ziggy (aka The Blonde Nomads)
After selling everything from their house to their hoover, the Blonde Nomads have spent the last 12 months living in a caravan in some of the most far flung corners of Australia. Earning their crust through travel journalism and content creation, they’re constantly on the move around the country, filling their lives with new experiences.
They knew the fast-paced 9 to 5 “hamster wheel” thing wasn’t for them and and Rob was feeling the pressures both physically and mentally of keeping the family afloat in the “rat race” while Tracey looked after the kids full time. So they jacked it in to live a slower, simpler more meaningful life. They’re able to run their own race.
We asked what the hardest thing about travelling with your nearest and dearest is:
“Being together 24/7! Along with being the best thing, this can also be the hardest. Most ‘normal’ families spend very little time together when you consider school, childcare, both parents working etc, whereas we are literally living in each other’s pockets in a box on wheels!! Raising kids is hard regardless of where you do it and sometimes this is accentuated in the lifestyle that we have chosen.”
Feature photo thanks to @mattiejgould