Some of Caitlin’s most influential memories as a kid are from the three-month long road trip her family took around Australia. These are the lessons she learnt on the road that she’d never have studied in the classroom.

When I was 12, my parents decided to take my ten-year-old brother and I out of school for three months.

I don’t remember the conversations told to school teachers as to why we weren’t attending for such a long time, but there was a shared sentiment between other families that reinforced, ‘Oh, they’ll learn so much more than what school can teach them; it’ll be a life-changing experience’.

 

 

So, if 16 years later I still remember most of the events, stories, and places we experienced, and the lessons learnt along that very long drive, then I know there’s truth to that statement; it changed our lives. Here are some of the things we learnt while we weren’t at school.

1. To Love Your Own Country Before Seeing the Wider World

I love Australia. I tear up when QANTAS ads come on TV or when I land at Sydney Airport – it’s simply beautiful. To be able to say I’ve seen a lot of my own country still feels special.

The first decision made when organising any holiday is around how much money to spend and obviously, where to go. So it was a wise choice by my parents to use the money they would’ve otherwise spent on expensive flights to foreign countries to allow us to have a much longer time away in Aus.

The sense of adoration for Australia we gained from that trip is rooted in these early experiences.

 

 

Of national parks, being in wildlife sanctuaries surrounded by butterflies, climbing up mountains, walking through world-famous rock formations, zig-zagging along 4WD tracks, standing on tree platforms in the middle of a rainforest, and running on the whitest beach in the world. Every day was something new.

During our trip, a lot of the learning came from doing. We experienced a very raw type of education that pulled the stories we’d learnt in books off the page and into real life.

We knew what Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef looked like from pictures, but to spend eight hours circling the monolith, staring up at it, and a whole day with family, snorkelling above the colourful coral far exceeded time spent reading.

 

2. Master the Art of Problem Solving: Kids and Camping Edition

One of the funniest memories I have of this trip is pitching a tent in the rain on K’gari. Everyone was tired and easily upset, it was dark and raining and it was the first time we’d pitched this massive tent; our unfamiliarity, the weather, and the light all rallied against us.

Tensions were high and we’d been travelling all day, but eventually, the job was done and the most important thing we learnt was how to work as a family unit.

When arguments arise in a family, children sometimes shy away from the battleground, and the adults take over. But to have these hard experiences with each other and not be able to move to a different part of the house (because we were all in one tent!) meant we had to collaboratively find solutions.

We learnt which jobs we were good at, which we were terrible at, and how we could be helpful to avoid the same problems in the future. This isolated incident is still really important to me to reflect on, knowing how much growth we’ve all had as a family.

At school, problem-solving isn’t as rewarding. If you have a problem with someone in the playground, it’s sometimes easier to avoid them, and when you run into that situation again it might be more difficult to resolve. You can’t run away from problems if it’s dark, raining, cold, and there’s no one else around.

Read more: 25 Tips For Road Tripping With Kids

3. Don’t Fear the Wacky Wildlife, Respect Them, Appreciate Them and You’ll Love Them

The biodiversity of Australia is actually insane. As we embarked on this trip in my first year as a teenager, the following years I grew up absolutely in awe of the wildlife I learnt about and lived with.

Every possible stereotype of dangerous animals is true, but they shouldn’t be feared because they’re what makes this country truly special.

We visited a Cassowary sanctuary in Tropical North Queensland, we didn’t see a single dingo on K’gari but knew to be wary of them, and on the reef, you have to wear stinger suits almost year-round because of Box jellyfish and Irukandji – but that doesn’t stop you from enjoying the experience.

We spent my brother’s birthday at a reptile centre in Alice Springs, looking at Inland taipans, Eastern brown snakes, Red-Bellied black snakes, and other desert scaries.

 

 

We visited Australia Zoo, and like everyone else, were obsessed with the Irwins. They have an enormous Boa constrictor which was the biggest snake I’d ever seen, and there was a lean towards education and infatuation of the natural world.

Saltwater crocodiles in Northern Australia are, without exaggeration, everywhere, and there’s simply an attitude of coexisting. The best and most confusing sign we encountered on the trip was a ‘Beware of Crocodiles’ sign in Darwin within 2-3 metres of a playground by a Darwin beach. We went on a croc-feeding river cruise which gave us mixed feelings as it felt very fake and commercially toxic.

Being Australian, it’s easy to be comfortable or even blasé about the dangerous creatures in our country. We laugh at the comments made by overseas visitors, but mostly because I believe there’s a collective admiration for our more threatening fauna, which usually overcomes fear. We like to be close to them, but hopefully not close enough for regular hospital trips.

Read more: How (And Where) To See The Coolest Native Australian Animals

4. Australia Has the Oldest Living Cultures on the Planet – Don’t Forget That

My last lesson from the ‘Road Trip Classroom’ is about nurturing a deep appreciation of the First Nations cultures in Australia – and making sure that it starts early in life.

It truly is a lifeblood that runs throughout our whole country and after visiting Far North Queensland and the Northern Territory, we learnt to recognise it more back home on the NSW Central Coast.

 

 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the oldest living cultures in the world and have tens of thousands of years of stories and knowledge to share.

It’s always worth seeking out spaces and events that are dedicated to learning and sharing cultural experiences. On our trip, we were guided by locals in a lot of experiences like food, cultural landscapes, and landmarks that we chose to seek out instead of more popular alternatives.

Read more: Here’s Where You Can Find Aboriginal Cultural Tours in Australia

But what did we miss at school?

To be perfectly honest, we didn’t miss much at all.

As far as lessons without classrooms went, our daily maths class consisted of Dad making up problems to pass the time in the car, (‘If I’m driving 100km/h and we have to drive 400km today, how long is it going to take us to get there without stopping?’).

For English, I wrote nearly 100 daily diary entries, and our history lessons were on the information boards in every town we visited.

Lessons can be found in the strangest of places, and we found them all along the dusty roads of Australia’s Outback in our trusty Toyota Prado.

 

What a 3 Month Road Trip Taught Me That School Never Could, caitlin robson, road trip, family road trip, australian road trip, prado on australian road trip

 

These are the reasons why I’ll eventually be taking my kids on a road trip around our country (maybe this exact one, who knows?) and I hope you think about doing it too.

I loved my time at school, but I loved my time out exploring more. My life would’ve taken a very different path if my parents hadn’t planned this trip, and my brother and I are better for it. I’ll always thank them for that – cheers Mum and Dad!

Read more: We Road Tripped From Sydney to Perth With a Three-Month-Old

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