The Road Ahead : December January 2008
and have no plans to ever stop adventuring. "It's a great life and a beautiful countr y," said Mr Thompson. "We love to get right out into the outback, where the people are super friendly and just enjoy the experience." Grey nomads like the Thompsons are a special breed. Yet, while nomads share common traits -- they are over 50 and boast a love of life and some form of mobile accommodation -- they can also be quite dif ferent. Their rigs var y from $500,000 luxur y motorhomes to battered 30- year-old caravans and even tents, and they form clearly distinguishable groups. The full-timers have normally sold their house and invested the proceeds in a rig that will be their home for the foreseeable future. The 'trip-of-a-lifetimers' plan a journey lasting anything from a month to two years but fully intend to eventually return to 'normal' life. And then there's the 'seasonal grey nomads'. They generally head nor th ever y winter, commonly staying in one spot for months -- Broome in Western Australia and Por t Douglas in Queensland are two famous hotspots. The fact that Frank and Pam Thompson travel in a comparatively modest motorhome, a 16' Winnebago Chinook with no shower or toilet, means they spend a lot of time in van parks, but many nomads prefer to camp out in the bush. While mad outback murderers, spiders and crocs may be the first things that spring to mind when jitter y new nomads take to the road, in reality it is the road itself which presents the most significant dangers. There are no specific statistics relating to the number of grey nomads involved in traffic crashes but, ever y year, the dream becomes a nightmare for some. Driving a large vehicle like a motorhome or bus, or towing a caravan or trailer, presents considerable driving challenges. Many nomads struggle when they find themselves driving huge distances on unfamiliar roads, and have to deal with ever ything from road carrion, wandering camels and heavy traffic, to narrow, single-lane carriageways, dir t roads and giant road trains. Tales of frustrating hours stuck behind slow- moving nomads have become commonplace in some circles, but around the campfires and caravan park barbecues, it is the nomads who are telling the tales -- this time of tail-gating truckies and recklessly impatient motorists. Frank and Pam, who list the Daintree and Cape York as two of their favourite destinations, drive for a maximum of four hours a day -- two hours each -- and then stop to find a place to camp. Although the rule is sometimes temporarily suspended when they cross the Nullarbor or a similar region, they say it prevents them from getting too stressed. "Motorists are cer tainly not ver y considerate of us grey nomads," Mr Thompson said. "When there is a 100 km/h speed limit, we like to drive at 85 to 90 -- but other road users want to drive faster and get ver y impatient. We often pull over to let people pass but it's not always safe to do so." When you add the driving pressures to the challenge of living 24/7 in close quar ters to your nearest and dearest, you could be forgiven thinking that becoming a grey nomad is not all it is cracked up to be. In reality, the closest most of these older travellers come to any other stressful activity is folding up the camp chair or putting on the sunscreen. Indeed, it can be a social whirl where, almost without exception, grey nomads' numerous contemporaries are friendly, open and generous. Long evenings are spent over a bottle of wine, a couple of beers or a nice cup of tea, discussing the best places to camp, the cheapest places to buy fuel, and the best routes to take. There's no reason to rush and no need to feel guilty about lazy days spent reading beneath a coolabah tree. Frank and Pam said they love to take long bushwalks, while other nomads while away the hours fishing, birdwatching or playing cards. "It's not really surprising that there are so many grey nomads who have sold up to travel forever," says Pam. "It is tempting I admit, but we like to have a home base, and our four children and seven grandchildren like us to be around." Nonetheless, the internet, mobile phones and laptop computers mean news from home is never far away and e-mailed images of grandchildren's bir thday par ties help to keep homesickness at bay. But it's the camaraderie of the road that, more than the scener y and the adventure, keeps grey nomads going back for more. "I remember we were once with a group of people listening to a bush poet around a campfire at Winton," Mrs Thompson said. "He said: 'look at you all telling your life stories to total strangers and I bet half of you don't even talk to your neighbours at home'. "He was right, of course, and that sums up what is so wonder ful about being a grey nomad."
October November 2007
February March 2008