Sharonika Camplin is a successful marketer with more than 20 years’ experience working in senior roles in technology multinationals. She is also a wife and a mother of two young children.
In September 2017, Sharonika stepped back from her high-flying career to embark on a big family adventure. Setting off in a truck and caravan, the family began a lap of Australia that would last for 20 months. After returning home, the family now enjoy a free-range life on their own farm, and Sharonika has started an exciting new job as head of marketing at a workspace company.
In this interview, Sharonika discusses how the family adventure came about, their experiences on the road, and how it has impacted their lives.
What was your career situation before you took a travel break?
For the 10 years before I took a break I worked in a variety of marketing roles for a global technology company, originally in Sydney, but when I made the decision to move to Cairns in 2011 I was given a broader role working with marketing teams across Asia-Pacific and also on global projects.
I had a multi-national team of amazing high performers. I feel I was very lucky but I also worked hard and some odd hours. It wasn’t unusual for me to be on a video conference at 1am and then back on at 6am the next day.
I worked with wonderful people of all different nationalities. I was the advocate for flexible working, being featured in radio, press and television because I did all that working from my home office in Cairns. Oh, and I managed to pop out two kids too.
Why did you decide to take a career break and travel together as a family?
I remember it vividly; I was taking a short reprieve at a wellness retreat in 2014 and thinking, is this it? Kids are wonderful, but life can start to feel very mundane. Breakfast, get to daycare, work, pick kids up, dinner and bed routine, go back to work.
Not only was I on a hamster wheel at work and at home, I was also dealing with a chronic condition and, well, my life was feeling meaningless. Where was the fun?
Topping it all off, I lost a very dear friend that year in the prime of her life, and that caused a lot of reflection about life and not waiting – and also what is important. Spending quality time with my family was my priority.
How did the people in your life – friends, family and workplace – react to the decision?
There were some family and friends that were nervous about the decision, that it was a big risk. We sold everything – investments, assets, you name it, we sold it.
That is hard to accept for some, because we are brought up thinking about creating a nest-egg for the future and slogging out during this period of our lives to make that happen.
“What will you do when you get back?” That was a common question. When you are in a white collar career, it’s all about climbing the ladder and when suddenly you take a big break, it’s hard for people to compute.
Surely you have a plan for when you get back? – Umm, no. On the flip side, they also said “I wish I could do what you are doing”.
With work, I was very open with my manager about my plans. After all, I had been there so long and had a lot of retained knowledge. I gave her 12 months’ notice and we were able to plan around that for least impact to the team.
What were the biggest logistical challenges of preparing for a long-term family travel adventure?
This was not a fly-by-night decision. It took three years of planning. We put a line in the sand that we wanted to leave in October 2017, which allowed for a weather window leaving Cairns before the wet season, and also my ten years’ service.
We sat down and drew it on a piece of paper, like a vision board, starting with October 2017. Then we wrote down all the things we would need to do to get there.
“This was not a fly-by-night decision. It took three years of planning.”
My husband would need to sell his business, and we needed to buy a caravan and a fit-for-purpose tow vehicle for the type of travel we wanted to do while we still had income.
We needed a lot of money in the bank so that we didn’t have to work. We needed to know our caravan systems, what to do if we got bogged and things like that. We needed to be self-sufficient and prepared in case of emergencies.
Why did you choose a caravan adventure around Australia?
Australia is an amazing place – there is so much to discover. My husband and I both like travelling, 4WDing and exploring, so when I suggested a year of caravanning around Australia, he was all for it, even though back then it seemed like a pipe dream.
With kids, it just felt easier too. It’s our own backyard, and we are not too far away from family and friends. I really wish I had travelled a lot more of Australia when I was younger.
Do you have any stand-out memories of the trip?
Everything! Every state has its own personality, beauty and culture. Stand-outs include soaking in the ancient Dalhousie Springs in Witjira National park (bordering the Simpson Desert), not a soul in sight except us; camping beachfront on a cattle station on the westernmost point of the mainland, watching the kids from the window as they picked pippis from the beach for lunch; taking a swim in one of the most secluded pristine crystal blue beaches at Cape Arid; going for a snorkel with big turtles and manta rays straight off the beach at Ningaloo; soaking in the top pools above a waterfall in Maguk falls, Kakadu; and watching a Kimberley sunset, there’s nothing like it.
And when you take the time to look up at the amazing night sky, next to a roaring fire, the starscape changes depending on east to west. And oh – the shooting stars!
What did you learn from taking a family travel career break that you would never have learned otherwise?
Firstly, not really a learning, but I watched my kids blossom. I really saw who they were as little individuals, and I saw developments in them I would have otherwise been too busy and missed.
“It allowed me the space to get a real perspective on life, which was the reason for taking a break in the first place.”
Secondly, I have become a lot more capable than just what I do for work. When you are travelling, nobody cares what you did for a living. I found that indeed there’s more to me than that. I absolutely loved driving through rivers, up rocks, through sand. I learned I can live off the land.
Thirdly, it allowed me the space to get a real perspective on life, which was the reason for taking a break in the first place.
Finally, I thought I knew Australia but I knew nothing really! The land is so ancient. This is not a young country, and the indigenous tribes in Australia know it. Did you know the Pilbara was once its own continent some 4 billion years ago? I thought it was a red barren mining hub, when in fact it’s the opposite.
And then there’s the people of the country. Go outside the cities and you suddenly have different, real conversations and the most amazing hospitality.
Do you think your children have benefited from the experience?
Absolutely. Family and friends were worried that they won’t socialise with other kids. We met so many travelling families in the most remote areas, and it didn’t matter what the ages were, they all played together – in the dirt, up a tree, or on the beach.
It was common for my kids to call the people we met our travelling family, and that is how it felt. They have seen more of Australia than most people, and while they won’t remember everything, they are ‘of the land’ – they see the world through a different lens, and that’s what I hope they will take with them into adulthood.
Has it been difficult to settle back into a ‘normal’ life since returning from the adventure?
We were warned that the transition would be hard, and I really miss being on the road exploring the next amazing place. But we decided life was never going to be normal.
We always wanted to live on a farm, but decided to travel instead. Since we’ve come back, my husband has become a full-time farmer, me a part-time one, and we have our own piece of paradise.
The kids can still be free-range and are in a progressive school, and we are all learning new skills every day.
Did you find it challenging to find work again after the trip?
I picked up my current gig while travelling back up the east coast. I have earned a good reputation in my industry and have kept good relationships with past colleagues, which is how I started working again.
I’m actually like a bull out of a gate. I’m doing something I really enjoy, I am using my brain in a creative way – but it’s on my terms.
Do you now approach your family life and career any differently to how you did before the trip?
Working from home I am very productive, which means I get more time to work on the farm and spend with the kids. The time away has helped me not to ‘take my work home’ mentally.
I am on the constant look-out to ensure I don’t fall back into old patterns, but I think I well and truly broke my hamster wheel.
When the kids come home, we don’t rely on the TV or devices, and they spend more time outside, just like when we were travelling.
What advice would you give to other people who are considering long-term family travel on a career break?
Do it. It is the best decision I ever made. It is by no means a holiday or easy.
“You come back refreshed and happier with a renewed sense of purpose, and can make better decisions on your career path.”
Kids are still kids and your partner can still be irritating, but the size of your problems are miniscule compared to before. Oh, the toilet cartridge is full, we need to lower tyre pressure on the next stretch of road, the caravan lights are not working… you have a sense of what is most important and don’t sweat the small stuff.
You learn to manage on two weeks’ worth of clothes, a small fridge of food, no technology and it’s easy. You end up craving solitude, where it’s just you, your family and nature – with the occasional goanna or dingo.
A career break can make you a better worker too. You come back refreshed and happier with a renewed sense of purpose, and can make better decisions on your career path.
But here’s the tip: your career and personal life don’t necessarily have to be so distinct. You can blend them if you structure it properly and then make it a habit.
The future of work is going contract; it’s the thing to do if you’re a millennial, living in some far-flung exotic country. So why can’t the other generations do the same? Your kids will thank you.
More career break interviews
Inspired by Sharonika’s story? You may enjoy reading more of our career break interviews:
- Overcoming burnout: the career break reflections of a higher education professional
- The NYC firefighter embracing van life after a travel career break
- How a travel career break inspired a teacher to start her own business
- A legal researcher’s travel-inspired decision to move to Zambia
- How travel opened new doors for a corporate communications professional
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