I'm a freelance writer based in Perth, Western Australia, who enjoys writing about the things I love: travel, nature-based activities, the arts, spirituality and creative, fun activities for children.
Published June 4th 2012
Bringing Back the Family Holiday
With the cost of living becoming more and more expensive, sacrifices have to be made, often at the cost of our quality of life. Unfortunately, holidays are frequently the first casualties, as they're considered to be indulgences which aren't truly necessary.
Such a perspective is tragic, since such family trips are an integral part of the Australian way of life: opportunities to refresh and rejuvenate ourselves, to play, and to bond together as a family unit.
These days the word 'holiday' often conjures up images of overseas trips and five-star resorts: expensive treats, indeed. Consequently, many Australians have forgotten the pleasures of a good, old-fashioned family camping trip, and simpler, less expensive ways of enjoying themselves.
Here are a few suggestions about how we can reclaim our leisure time as a family unit, in a fun albeit affordable way.
Australia's warm, inviting climate, and its spectacular and diverse natural environment make camping a very attractive option for the cash-strapped lover of holidays.
Camping in the Pilbara
All cities and most towns provide caravan parks and / or camping grounds at very affordable overnight rates, usually from between $25 and $45 (for two people) for a site which has electricity connected. Unpowered sites usually cost from $20 to $35. Smaller country towns are usually cheaper, while sites in capital cities or popular tourist destinations can be much more expensive.
The standard of facilities provided also varies greatly. Larger caravan park chains in tourist areas usually provide more facilities at a higher standard. These can include a campers' kitchen, special children's bath and toilet facilities, a television / recreation lounge and a kiosk. In contrast, those in small country towns usually provide just a basic site, with simple toilet, shower and laundry facilities. In order to help campers make the right choice, the RAC of WA provides a guide book in which caravan parks and camping grounds are rated, according to a star system: the more stars, the higher the standard of facilities, and the price.
Camping is also a fabulous option for families who want to get off the beaten track, since you provide all of your own necessities. It's a great way to experience the natural world, and most national parks in Australia have camping facilities provided. Facilities in national parks vary greatly. While some provide a high standard (for a corresponding price), others, especially in remote areas, provide just the simple basics: pit toilets, gas barbecues and cold showers. While this definitely isn't for everyone, it makes for a memorable family holiday, giving children a taste of a simpler, more natural way of life.
In Western Australia, there are also many free camping areas, usually situated off highways and roads in rural and outback locations. While pit toilets are sometimes provided, there are no showers, so if you plan to make use of these it's an idea to invest in a portable shower system and an appropriate screen. There are often gas barbecues at such sites, but veteran travellers usually bring their own camp cooker along with some cooking implements.
Some great guides to purchase which give details about Western Australia's free camping areas are The Guide to Free-camping in the South of WA and the Guide to Free-camping in the North-west of WÁ by S & S Collis.
Youth Hostel Association (YHA) and Other Backpacking Hostels
Despite its name, the Youth Hostel Association (or the YHA, as it's affectionately called) is open to people of all ages, and is one other option for travellers on a budget.
Established in 1909 in Germany, Youth Hostels are now found in most countries and provide simple yet comfortable accommodation for the budget traveller, often in unique structures such as old churches, barns and cottages. In Australia, YHA hostels are located all around the country: in the capital cities, popular tourist destinations, picturesque rural towns and remote outback regions.
Although the vast majority of YHA patrons are young backpackers, an increasing number of families (many of whom are former backpackers) are now beginning to enjoy the benefits of hostelling.
These days most hostels provide simple double, twin and family rooms, in addition to the traditional dormitory accommodation. In addition, some hostels (especially those in the city or in popular tourist spots) are quite luxurious and provide en-suite facilities, a dramatic contrast to the rustic, old-fashioned hostels of yore. However, even today most hostels keep their prices down by providing shared bathroom facilities and communal kitchen. Apart from financial considerations, the benefits of a communal kitchen is that it encourages increased interaction between hostel guests, many of whom are visiting from overseas. Many a good travel yarn has been swapped in a YHA kitchen.
Unlike a few decades ago when the YHA monopolised the hostel scene, these days many other travellers' hostels are operating. These range from the luxurious to the rustic to the downright dodgy.
It's best to check the place out thoroughly before you book your accommodation. Websites such as Hostel World provide reviews by travellers who have stayed at each establishment and can give prospective guests an unbiased idea of what to expect.
One thing, though, which most hostels provide, is heaps of good information about local tourist attractions, many of which give discounts to members of YHA or other reputable travellers' networks.
A terrific holiday option which has become more popular in recent years is house-sitting. Many people are reluctant to leave their home vacant when they go on holiday or are absent for business and family reasons, and engage the services of a house-sitter for the time that they're away.
Duties can include feeding pets, watering the garden, taking out the rubbish and emptying the mail-box: basically caring for the owners' home in the same way which we would our own.
Several Australian websites are dedicated to house-sitting, and jobs are available all over the country for periods spanning from a couple of days to several months. Home owners specify what kind of person they want to care for their house (singles, couples, pet-lovers, garden-lovers, mature-aged people, etc), and prospective house-sitters generally create an on-line profile so that home owners can learn a little bit about them.
Naturally, honesty is a crucial part of house-sitting someone else's cherished home, so it's strongly recommended that you apply for a police-clearance before you begin. In short, house-sitting provides a wonderful opportunity to holiday comfortably without the outrageous costs of most types of accommodation.
Whether you're a country person who wants to spend the weekend in the city (or vice versa), or are looking for a longer vacation option, house-sitting may be the budget holiday option for you.
Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOFing)
From its inception in 1971 in England, WWOOFs (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) has become a popular working holiday option for generations of local and international travellers.
If you love the country or have always wanted to have a farm-stay holiday, but couldn't afford it, this may be the holiday option for you.
In a nutshell, people who are interested in becoming 'WWOOFers' firstly purchase membership online or from selected travel agents, after which they are provided with a list of participating farms around the country, or overseas, if they're heading off on an international jaunt. This annual fee also includes insurance.
After purchasing membership, travellers can then choose the farms which best suit them (according to location, interests or life circumstances) and contact the owners, thereby arranging their visit.
Visitors are expected to contribute approximately six hours of work on the farm, in a variety of capacities. Each situation is different and duties could include weeding, cooking, building, feeding livestock or planting. In return for their labour, visitors (known in traveller circles as WWOOFers) are provided with accommodation and share meals with the family.
WWOOFing has gathered incredible momentum over recent years, and is popular both with local people who want to escape the city for a couple of days, and those who want to travel the country for an extended period. It's especially popular with international visitors, as it gives them the opportunity to experience a way of life which is uniquely Australian.
Finally, while not all WWOOF farms encourage families, some do, so it can also provide a wonderful opportunity for city children to experience the joys of rural life.
Cycling and Hiking
With the escalating price of petrol, even the cost of a road trip can work out to be more expensive than we can afford. However, here in Perth we're fortunate to have a couple of wonderful holiday alternatives right on our doorstep.
The northern terminus of the Bibbulmun Track at Kalamunda
Beginning in down-town Kalamunda, the Bibbulmun Track is one of the best-known hiking trails in Australia. Extending from the Perth Hills, all the way down to Albany in the state's far south, it passes through a diverse range of scenery and offers an immense range of walks from short local rambles to the whole thousand kilometre trail, a route which would take the average walker approximately six to eight weeks.
Thanks to the dedication of the Bibbulmun Track Foundation, the trail is in very good condition and well-maintained camping areas are spaced a day's walk apart from each other. These campsites provide simple three-sided cabins (which can accommodate between eight and fifteen hikers) a camping ground for tents, a pit toilet, fresh-water tank and picnic tables.
Despite the provision of the cabins, it is strongly recommended that all hikers take a tent, as during peak times (autumn and spring), cabins can fill up quickly. Similarly, although fireplaces are provided in several camping areas, hikers are encouraged to bring their own fuel stoves in order to protect the rapidly decreasing supply of natural firewood.
For cycling enthusiasts, the Munda Biddi track is a world-class, nature-based off-road cycling trail which begins in Mundaring and ends in the tiny hamlet of Manjimup, after winding for 600km through the spectacular forests of south-western Australia.
Cycle-friendly campsites have been built at regular intervals along the trail (every 30-45km), and provide accommodation for 25 people in specially-built shelters, as well as extra room to pitch tents. Picnic tables, water-tanks and composting toilets are also available.