Have you ever wondered what life as a grey nomad is like? Each year Australia’s retirees escape the southern winter like flocks of birds in their mobile homes, up the coast, East and West of the continent. They usually come in pairs. He takes care of the maintenance, she takes care of the tucker. Or perhaps the other way around. In any case, it makes sense to travel as a couple. There is always someone to talk to and there is always someone to watch out for you in that wide Australian emptiness. But what if you don’t have a hubby?
Meet Jill Musgrove. She’s 68 and in 3 years she’s driven 76.000kms around Australia in an 8 year old custom build Trakka van. Alone. And that’s how she likes it.
I meet her at the Bingil Bay council campground where I’ve come for a couple of nights in a borrowed van with insufficient equipment. I run out of gas before the kettle has boiled. Not to worry, Jill has got me covered. But first I get a guided tour of Rubino.
“It’s got a bathroom to die for,” she says, asking me inside. It’s immaculate and far more spacious than I’d imagined. She’s gone for the de-luxe edition. There are cream coloured leather seats, easy to keep clean and so comfortable in hot weather, she says. A shower, a 18 bottle wine cellar, a tv and a sound system that’s better than the one she’s got at home. “I love driving and I love my music,” she says with a smile that gives a hint of the 23 year old adventurer who left on the spur of a moment to take up a 3 months appointment in Singapore.
3 months became 39 years of living overseas, she says pouring me a cuppa. From Singapore she ended up in Europe, because everybody was doing Europe then. Like so many Aussies, Jill made London her base, but work in oil exploration took her all over the world. “I was the first and last woman to have the title of manager in the oil industry,” she says.
She loved visiting Arab countries in the 70s because “there was a tremendous amount of respect and hospitality which is part of their culture”. “We used to work hard and play hard,” she draws hard on her cigarette, a habit she’s been unable to kick. At one time she was engaged to a Saudi, a PhD from Stanford who had been adopted by Prince Abdullah. “My mother still to this day rates him as one of the best boyfriends.”
But Jill never got married. When she moved back to Australia 3 years ago to be close to her aging parents, becoming a grey nomad seemed the obvious choice. She did her first trip in a hired van. “It should be compulsory to hire first,” she insists. Life on the road is not for everyone. Jill also made sure she’s got a plan B. A fully furnished apartment with ocean views in Sydney is important to her and she returns to it every Christmas.
In the meantime she is totally self-sufficient. She carries 120 litres of freshwater and a 20l grey water tank that feeds her bathroom and kitchen. 2 solar panels provide enough energy to keep everything going. In fact she’s got enough power to charge my phone and laptop.
I can’t get enough of her neat set up and ask for a guided tour of the ‘shed’, a storage area accessible from the back of the vehicle. It holds golf clubs, tennis rackets, a fishing line, yabbie nets, scuba dive gear, wetsuits, a box with neatly folded summer clothes, another with warm clothes. Everything is minimal, but she’s got everything she needs, including a ballgown. It’s to die for, just like her in-house bathroom. She bought it in Coral Bay for a song and wore it for the first time this year at the Mt Isa Opera in the Mines event to the tune of “Ballgowns and Gumboots”.
Is she ever scared?
“What’s the biggest threat?” she answers with her signature smile. “Let’s face it, who is going to disturb you? It’s fellow human beings.” In 3 years she’s only had trouble 3 times and each time it happened at a caravan park, involving people who’d drunk too much. That’s why she likes free camping. 80% of the time, or 4 to 5 months of the year, she makes due without a caravan park. It’s infinitely more peaceful and scenic.
Does she ever get lonely?
“Heavens no,” she chuckles. There is always someone to talk to and you often find yourself travelling in the same direction as others and meet up again to share sundowners and compare notes. And there is a growing population of female grey nomads. In Kalgoorlie earlier in the year, Jill met a group of 8 single women driving in convoy. She shows me the print-out of their itinerary. “Look at that, they know where they will spend every night 3 months in advance.” She shakes in horror. It’s too limiting and too much of a compromise for free-spirited Jill.
What she loves about her mobile lifestyle is precisely this freedom to be able to go wherever she wants, whenever she wants. “If I like it somewhere, I’ll stay another night. If not, I might pack up and leave early. It’s easy.”
As the heat of the day begins to fade, we pool our wine and nibblies and I invite some of my Mission Beach friends for sundowners to my temporary home the Bingil Bay caravan park. Who needs a hubby when you’ve got good friends?!
Would you travel solo as a woman in a motorhome?
In the US single women are the fastest growing group of motorhome buyers, yet overall women travelling solo in motorhomes are still the minority. But if Jill can do it, you can do it. You don’t need particular driving skills. Just a good vehicle, good roadside assistance and good common sense.
If you are thinking about hitting the road in a mobile home, take Jill’s advice and hire a van first and see if this is for you. And if you don’t love solitude as much as Jill does, you can always join other women and drive in convoy.
The internet is full of handy resources and forums here are some:
Jill’s Australian Highlights:
- For every trip Jill picks an ace. In her first year she flew in a helicopter without a door over the Bungle Bungles with a gorgeous 6 ft4 Kiwi pilot. “All I had to do is grab on to his knee, because I was strapped into my seat with a belt that wouldn’t have passed the test 20 years ago.”
- Horizontal Falls was another highlight she visited by plane as a day trip from Broome in WA.
- Swimming with whale sharks and manta rays at Exmouth and Coral Bay in WA rate as items off her bucket list.
- This year’s highlight was a scenic flight from Cairns to the tip of Cape York. “It may be a remortgage job, but it’s worth every penny.” You’ll fly over some of the most stunning, colourful, rugged, stark and moving landscape imaginable. After refuelling at Weipa, you’ll see heartbreaking and irrversible damage done by Bauxite mining.
- Jill’s perennial favourite is the inland road up the East Coast, the Pacific Rim Road, then inland via Emerald, Mt Isa. This year she reached Cairns via the Savannah Way.
- Another highlight she discovered following travelpilz’s advice is Crystal Creek near Paluma on the way down to Townsville
- Jill finds Music festivals are a great way to meet people and become part of a community for a limited period of time. Her recommendations: Boyuap Brook Country Music Festival, WA’s answer to Tamworth; Walking with Spirits Festival at Beswick Falls, south of Katherine in the Northern Territory. It’s a very special place, on aboriginal land, set amongst a natural rock ampitheatre; this year she’s also attended Opera in the Mines in Mt Isa to the theme of Ballgowns and Gumboots.
- And of course the refurbished bathroom at the Bingil Bay caravan park, because the old toilet block gives no hint that the evening shower will be a hot water treat.
Can you imagine travelling alone in a mobile home? If not, what’s holding you back? Or maybe you have done it already?
I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to leave a comment below.
You don’t have to wait until you turn grey to make the road your home. Next week I’ll be profiling a thirty-something couple from Germany who choose to live as digitial nomads. Stay tuned!
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