Grey Nomads - a term coined to describe people, mostly over 55, who travel in caravans, motor homes, campervans, or camper trailers for extended periods criss-crossing the country - are a growing trend.
According to Tourism Research Australia, last year about 2.6 million of these kinds of trips were taken by 55 to 70-year-old domestic travellers. This was up 12% on the previous year and a whopping 90% increase on 2000 figures. So what are they doing and why?
The big lap
While being a Grey Nomad is now ‘a thing’, the reality is that these baby boomer gypsies are all doing different trips. Some are doing the big lap – the drive round Australia, taking a year or more to do it.
Some choose to spend a month or two in the north at the same time every year to escape the southern winter, others have sold up their homes and are traveling full-time, while some have just ‘stepped aside’ from their ordinary lives to recharge, or to reflect mid-life.
There are some nomads who only stay in caravan parks and others who wouldn’t go near one. What they have in common is they’re living out a dream of hitting the open road.
Where are the Grey Nomad hotspots?
It’s the more exotic locations that get the most action, and as a general rule, grey nomads like to make the most of the sheer size of the continent avoiding extreme weather in both north and south. Places like the Kimberley’s, Darwin, the Gulf, and North during the ‘dry’ are top spots for the majority.
It’s towns right across northern Australia between May and October, where the Grey Nomads flock. Michael and Alana, a couple in their 50’s from Melbourne just got back from their eleven month tour.
“Everywhere we went was amazing, but what really stood out for us was the Top End. We loved its ancient landscapes, and the fact that, for days on end, it was just us out there – alone – that was really special,” says Alana.
Funding the trip
For many older Nomads, travelling means they can stretch out their retirement savings and they may even sell up their home, while for others it’s all about adventure and having fun on a bigger budget. Sometimes these Nomads work remotely or do casual work on the road.
Michael and Alana funded their trip by renting out their house while they were gone and supplemented that with savings. “We carefully planned for the costs, we had a budget and we stuck to that even though sometimes things were a bit lean,” says Michael.
One of the reasons the Nomad lifestyle has taken off is because it’s now so easy to stay in touch with family. Up until a few years ago, staying in touch meant the odd postcard and call from a phone box. These days mobile phones, 3G wireless and laptops are making things much easier and viable for people.
And Grey Nomads are increasingly embracing social media, posting photos and updates of their trips for friends and family back home. Affordable mobile broadband also means that Nomads can keep a finger on the pulse and even keep working.
For many Grey Nomads, time spent away from family and friends and familiar routines, merged with suddenly living in small confines with their partners is a test. Even long term married couples can find this a challenge.
Alana and Michael who hit the road because they wanted a change of pace and a mid-life break, got through this particular hurdle by giving each other plenty of space to allow each others’ individual, unique and personal experiences. And as Michael says, “you need to have a good sense of humour, be really patient, and make sure there’s still a budget for beer!”.
Deciding to go
Want to take to the road but not sure it’s for you? Travel writer, Steven Baile says, that one of the most common conversations he hears from Grey Nomads is that they wished they’d gone earlier: That they regretted taking so long to decide to go. His advice is that the very first step to turning your dream into a reality is to commit to the trip and start to plan.
“Most of the people who will be on their way around Australia 2, 3 or 4 years from now are dreaming about it and planning it already,” he says. “They’ve made the decision and are working towards it.”