Grey nomads find work on the road travelling full-time

Judy and Erle Williamson call themselves The Travelling Willies and they’ve been on the road full-time for 12 years. Moving house might have brought them together but travelling in their self-described mobile granny flat has opened up their world to experiences like no other. 

They volunteer and work their way around Australia and will tell you exactly what it’s like to sell up the house and live on the road. They put five years of research into their plan to drive around the nation, and really love the grey nomad lifestyle.

Judy tells their story:

We spent five years working through our plan and researching, it didn’t happen overnight. But once we set travelling as our dream, all we had to do was work towards that goal to make it happen. 

We were still both working full-time, and we both had the same idea [to travel] before we had even met, then we were fortunate to meet each other, and we were able to decide to travel together. We have a blended family of 11 children and 22 grandchildren, so having the freedom and the flexibility to travel around to visit all the kids [and grandkids] is really important to us. 

We do have travel plans, but we always organise our trips with the options of A, B, C or D. We do it that way because things change quite frequently, depending on our health, depending on the weather, and depending on our family, so we try to have a somewhat flexible plan.

But our plans don’t always pan out exactly as we imagine them. Originally our idea was to do our furthest ‘away trip’ first, and that would have been Western Australia, but it ended up taking us about seven years to even get there. Once we got to WA we spent eight months there, working for two months on a cattle station up in the Kimberley. If we come along to a place and there’s a job going, and it suits us to pull up for a little bit and put a bit of cash in the bank, we do. 

We don’t look very hard for work, it finds us easily. There’s plenty of work out there, and it’s amazing how much casual employment is available. 

Initially, my first job on the road was in Alice Springs, as interim manager for the Stolen Generations office. Once we got to Katherine, we were offered a job on a cattle station, so we went out there. We’ve actually been to four cattle stations altogether. After that we worked in Emerald (Qld) driving coaches, taking the miners to work. We did that for a total of six months. 

Judy and Earle in front of their caravan

Guide to finding work on the road as a grey nomad 

People we meet often ask us how we find work. We tell them that there is a dedicated page called Rural and Remote Cooks on Facebook; it’s for roadhouses cattle stations, shearing teams and those sort of places. There’s another one called Station/Farming Jobs. If we wanted to, we could work all year round, but as we say we just like to go and do a little bit of work to get the experience of meeting people.

We found it a bit daunting at the first station we went to because we hadn’t done that sort of work before, but we just went. We met a woman who worked at the Landmark office in Katherine, and she said to me as we were passing through, “Do you want a job?” And I said no, and she said, “Yes you do!”

I told her that we were going to Darwin, but she insisted, saying, “Oh you really want this job!” So [on her advice] we ended up out there and that was it. We quite enjoyed the work and we decided to do more of it.

The people you meet make your travels memorable

We’ve met some amazing people. We just try and talk to everybody, and it doesn’t matter what they’ve got or haven’t got. We know that everybody has an interesting story, however, I think the most interesting couple we met recently was at Richmond in North Queensland. They’d come out from Nova Scotia in Canada, and they told us that they do that every year, camping at the caravan park and volunteering at the dinosaur museum

We’ve now spent 12 years on the road. We initially thought we’d go for five and just see how it goes, but the first five years just flew by and now we’re up to 12 and we still have a lot of Australia to see.

Judy and Earle prepare a meal inside their caravan

Judy and Erle have some advice for seniors looking to travel Australia 

When people first start out, we think that the best advice we can give them is to just do short trips to start with. We see some people who have just bought their ‘big set-up’, and yet they’ve never even towed before, and haven’t travelled in the outback. Then they jump in their car and caravan and they set off on a big trip around Australia. It’s asking for trouble.

But [when we were starting out] we spent around 18 months just doing short trips, such as weekends away, or a week away, and [this allowed us to] get the feel of our van and the lifestyle, and what we needed to take or not take with us. [We think it’s] better to do short trips to start with – what we call shake-down trips – than do one big trip when you’re new to the lifestyle.

Hear more of Judy and Erle’s tips by streaming our podcast, Life’s Booming


This article has been edited from a live audio transcript. In some cases, words have been altered for clarity, while maintaining integrity to the meaning of the interview. For a full audio version of Judy and Earle’s story head to (episode 3).