Children add a different, sometimes challenging dimension to caravanning. But there’s no better way to spend the school holidays than pulling up at a beachside camp. However, if that beachside spot is more than an hour down the road, you might be in for a world of hurt.
Kids, naturally and excusably, don’t always travel well. If your children can spend two or more hours in the car without moaning or squabbling, please comment below with your secrets.
For everyone else, a few tips and a little strategy can go a long way. Here are our top five tips for back-seat peace during long hauls.
This one is the most important. Never, ever attempt a trip without devising clever ways to entertain your little miracles. The most popular, no doubt, is the portable DVD player. But here’s a tip based on bitter experience: don’t purchase a player that has two screens (each of which strap to the passenger and driver’s seat headrests) connecting to a common player. Unless your children are particularly in sync when it comes to movies, your attempt to keep them quiet will result in fights over which DVD to watch.
The best bet is to get each kid their own portable DVD player. They look like little laptops, with flip-up screens and their own earphones – so you don’t have to listen to their claptrap. What would you pay for at least 1.5 hours of peace and quite during a long drive? Individual portable DVD players are worth every penny.
Be honest: have you ever resorted, or at least thought about, dosing your little blessings with Phenergan? You’re not alone. This antihistamine, which has the occasionally-useful side effect of acting as a sedative, has grown in popularity with parents looking for a last-ditch solution to calm boisterous children during long hauls.
I’m not judging those who do, nor am I recommending it. And I’m certainly not qualified to assess whether giving children Phenergan to calm them down is a good idea or not – that’s between you and your doctor – but one over-the-counter medication that I wouldn’t be without is travel-sickness tablets. My kids are prone to car sickness but a Kwell or Travacalm taken as per the directions works wonders. I recommend them highly.
3. HIGH AND DRY
Never leave home or the van without towels and a change of clothes. I’m not sure why, but kids – especially mine – have a way of getting saturated. We could be in the middle of the outback, miles from the nearest spring, and they would find a way to get soggy.
Not so long ago, on a cold winter’s day, we pulled over to check out a beach. As we were not prepared for swimming, our little darlings were told to only play on the sand. Playtime inevitably led to them being ‘chased’ by the tide, which inevitably led to our three-year-old being caught by the tide. Of course, he tripped, fell, and was immediately soaked to the bone. We had to wrap him, naked and shivering, in Dad’s jacket, put him back in the car and blast the heater. What else do you do with a crying, wet, cold toddler when you don’t have a towel or a change of dry clothes?
Needless to say that spoiled our plans for the day. So always pack a towel. And extra clothes.
4. SUGAR RUSH
I know, I know, avoiding sugary stuff, especially during long stints on the road is old-hat advice. There’s no-doubt merit to this wisdom but, in my experience, it’s equally important to be firm and consistent on this front. Avoid the ‘just this once’ trap. Once upon a time, during a family trip, ‘just this once’ turned into an ice-cream at every roadhouse between Melbourne and Darwin.
Kids, sugar and caravanning. Just say no!
5. SEPARATION OF POWERS
Our eldest son is able to sit in the front passenger seat. So when our other two kids are particularly restless, we’ll put him in the passenger chair with the official title of ‘navigator’, and either my wife or I will bunk with the younger ones in the back.
Sometimes, that little bit of separation, making it harder for them to squabble, is all that’s needed for them to lapse back into the beautifully-behaved kids they usually are. After 100km/h or so, we’ll revert to the original seating plan and the eldest’s absence will have made the hearts of the younger two grow fonder. They’ll play and talk nicely for the rest of the day. Usually.
LESS IS MORE
Adele Dyson of Caravanning with Kids has two daughters, a husband, and many thousands of kilometres of touring with her family under her belt. Her Facebook page is also a treasure trove of advice from like-minded travellers.
“We learnt very early on with our adventures that less really does equal more,” she said. “We remember our first few holidays when we would pack more toys and ‘what if’ items than anything else. And then we came home to realise that we did not need most of what we took.
“It always reminds us of the first few Christmas mornings when Ashlee was more interested in the wrapping paper than the toys and gifts. We tested our theory of ‘less equals more by packing only the bare essentials, a couple of books and a pencil case, and we were surprised and elated at the results. Our girls explored, collected leaves, made up shows, investigated, sang, danced, met the other van owners and it was such a joy to watch.”
With all of her experience – and success – we asked Adele for her top three tips on how to have a successful caravan trip with kids.
1. FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
Caravanning with kids is an adventure, with every trip being different. If your kids are anything like ours, their moods, likes and attitudes can often change from day to day. You will find what works best for your family as you go along.
Many kids respond well to having responsibilities, from passing dad the tent pegs, to attaching the hose, setting up the camping chairs or helping with preparing lunch. Arriving at a campsite or caravan park is so exciting for kids (and grown-ups), so the sooner you are set-up the quicker you can all enjoy where you are.
Giving our girls little jobs with setting up has worked a treat. They know exactly what needs to be done, they get involved, feel responsible and enjoy the sense of achievement after set-up is complete, and then the fun for the whole family can begin.
Mix it up! Even in the most amazing places, kids can get bored. Mix up your day’s activities so they are not doing the same thing over and over again. “Not another gorge…”
What are your tips for caravanning with kids? Share your experiences, hints and tips below.