The PM’s implored us to stay home, but what if you’ve got no home to go to? For many full-time travellers living on the road, going home isn’t easy, or even an option.
Before we get into this, it’s worth noting that this article is about travellers who are either optionally without a fixed address or simply spending a long time away from their home. Homelessness during the pandemic is another awful issue that’s not covered by this article.
Mike and his family were travelling around Australia when news of a dangerous virus began filtering into local news. Like many of us, the family initially wasn’t concerned; they were out near Esperance on the WA south coast, about 700km east of Perth.
Surely this was one of the safest places to be?
But as the tide turned and epidemic became pandemic, suddenly the adventure seemed like a no go.
‘We cancelled our trip weeks ago and we’re staying put for now. Many other nomads aren’t so lucky. Some are being persecuted by locals and asked to move on. It’s very sad to see.’
Mike’s the owner of Aircamp, an Aussie app that makes it easy for people to find campsites and caravan parks around Australia. Although you’re currently allowed to head back to your home state, it’s a long and uncertain journey at the moment. So many are taking to caravan parks, campsites and rental accommodation.
‘Many caravan parks are now a lifeline for these full time travellers with no home to go to.’
His family have holed up in a flat to email over 3000 campsites and create this mega-list of open and closed sites. It’s also available in the app and just yesterday became searchable on a map.
It’s a scary thought, suddenly being unwelcome in towns that just weeks ago were begging for visitors. As campsites and borders close, how are full time travellers dealing with a situation and guidelines that don’t include them?
Waiting It Out
For those without a home or family to go to, waiting it out is the only option. Trisha posted in the Facebook Group ‘Full Time Travellers Australia’ that the police had asked her to sign a statutory declaration that she’d wait out the pandemic at a caravan park in Clermont, Queensland.
Her setup’s fully self-contained, which is good, as power, water, and the toilets aren’t guaranteed.
‘Seems people want to be mad at someone and us full-timers are the latest go-to… how can people bunker down when they’re constantly being moved on by councils?’ says Jo Anne, another member of the Facebook group.
For others, fear is the motivator for staying put. Backpackers have reportedly been reluctant to leave, unsure if they’ll make it to their home country if they flee, with an Italian traveller scared to leave the relative safety of Australia, for the terrifying situation playing out in Italy.
Daniela and Ales of @framechasers have been on the road for 4 months. At the moment they’re holed up on the Eyre Peninsula – sure it doesn’t look too bad at the moment but Ales reckons they’re ‘in for a ride’ yet. Especially with their NSW plates!
Others are more scared of the abuse, with out of towners clearly unwelcome in many regional towns that see themselves as protected from the virus. Reports flood the Facebook groups of threats, torches through windows in the night or simply constant move along orders from local police.
One post even lamented that their number plate was from another state, and it had led to abuse from locals.
‘We got told by the people next to us to ‘fuck off to where we came from’. He then started shining a torch in our van. Yelling abuse at us.’
Angela Feton’s one half of overlanding fitness duo The OutFit, and tells of a race against time to get past the WA border before it shut. With national park camping off limits and many caravan parks closing, the goal was to find somewhere isolated to wait it out. I asked Ange how the law affects nomads. Many are still unsure what happens if a complete lockdown is announced and regulations seem to differ day-to-day, state-to-state.
‘It’s really unclear. It’s tricky for people in our situation, but we’re doing our best’.
Recently the government announced that essential travellers should be welcome at caravan parks, but the term is poorly defined and other stresses have led to campground and caravan park closures. On top of this, reports abound of non-essential travellers seeking to ‘self-isolate’ by camping, or simply refusing to cancel their holiday plans.
Ange and Chris of @the.out.fit are travelling full-time in their modified Jeep. They shot through to Western Australia and plan to spend the next few weeks camping off-grid.
James and Kate Dimond were 1360km from the South Australian border in Western Australia when border closures were announced. They began driving home to the East Coast, a seven day, 4200km journey that involved a wild camp on the side of a highway due to closed campgrounds and an official quarantine checkpoint 500km into SA – which resulted in many people missing the deadline and committing to two weeks of isolation.
They’ve just arrived home, but it was a harrowing journey, and it’s only getting worse. Especially for the grey nomads who live slow at the best of times.
For freshly minted permanent residents like Sam and his fiancé, the news of border closures meant a 900km dash to avoid being stuck in the Northern Territory.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Apart from Aircamp’s list of safe-havens, farmers have been opening up their properties for travellers with nowhere else to go and long-term stays. Posts on Facebook groups offer safe places to stay on long journeys. Often those offering have been travellers themselves.
The big message is for people to be understanding. Many posts point out how united Australia was just months ago during the bushfire crisis, in fact, many travellers were drawn to regional areas through a desire to support Australian tourism. The ‘Holiday Here This Year’ campaign run by Tourism Australia was only launched at the start of March.
It’s hard to know how many people travel full-time around Australia, but the Caravan Industry Association of Australia reckons around 75,000 are currently stuck in caravan parks. They’re all reacting to a rapidly evolving crisis that they’d never dreamt of. And privileged as it may be, the van life movement has grown rapidly in recent times and the government is unsure how to deal with them, as the rules become more black and white.
Unfortunately, many full-time travellers factor in work on the road to afford their lifestyle, while still others have fallen upon hard times and have no choice but to live out of the back of their car. With work drying up it’ll be increasingly difficult for nomads to pay for accommodation, fuel and necessities. Centrelink payments are tricky on the road too, and for foreign travellers, not an option.
Luckily, some farmers are offering to pay for farm work, but for many the game plan never included the risk of a global pandemic. No one’s plan ever does.
On a VanLife Australia thread, a simple post defines the issue.
‘My van is home’