When we left for our trip in May, Kawhi was 2 years & 8 months old, and Luna was 8 months old. We have since celebrated their 1st and 3rd birthdays, travelled over 13,000km and set up at 37 different places. So, you could say we’ve learnt a lot – what works and what doesn’t, what we needed and what we didn’t.
We’ve put together our top tips in regards to travelling, in particular, ‘caravanning,’ with young kids, which we think might be helpful to other families looking to hit the open road. Not all of these things will apply to every family, but it’s what worked for us.
- Move into your caravan for at least a few weeks before you take off to let the kids get familiar with their new environment. There will be a lot of change going on in their little worlds – their house is being packed up, their toys are being given away, Mum and Dad are probably a bit stressed with everything that needs to be done. Remember that this is a big change for them. We moved into our caravan 6 weeks before we took off (parked up in our parent’s driveway’s) and this allowed our kids to adjust to our new home, while still having a familiar external environment and regular faces around. As a bonus, it also allowed us to get everything set up how we wanted it.
- Pack a few of their favourite toys and leave it at that. They don’t need a lot of toys. They will have a whole new, ever-changing playground outdoors while you travel around. Without the distraction of toys, they’ll be more curious as to what’s going on, they will learn so much, they’ll be more creative and use their imagination a whole lot more. Our kids LOVE playing in the dirt and sand. They’ll do it for hours on end. Plus, by not having a lot of them, you won’t be constantly stepping on them (as much,) having to pick them up (as much,) and trying to find space for them.
- Keep a few indoor toys or games hidden from them as a backup for rainy days. This way, if you’re stuck in the caravan due to bad weather, you can whip out the new activities and hopefully keep them entertained for a while.
- Have routines, but be flexible. One example of a routine we have kept is bedtime (dinner, shower, teeth, book, bed) so that it’s the same every night and it’s what we used to do in our house. However, during the day you need to be flexible. You’re not going to be in the same place at the same time day in, day out. We do try to leave on our drive days around 9am as that’s when Luna generally needs to go to sleep, so we’re then able to smash out a couple of hours in the car. Apart from that, we like our kids to work around what we have planned for that day. It teaches them to be adaptable.
- For set up and pack down, give them a job to do. It makes them feel important and included. For example, when it’s time to put the stabiliser legs up/down on the caravan, Kawhi likes to get his toy drill out and do each leg while we then follow him with the actual drill. He loves it and looks forward to it each time we move the caravan.
- If you have trouble getting the kids to sleep at the same time, try staggering their bedtimes so they can’t distract each other.
- Short drive days are important for us. The longest we’ve done in the car on any one day has been 4 hours, and that’s only happened a handful of times. Being in the car any longer than that is not fun for anyone.
- Speaking of being in the car, snacks are your best friend (and not the sugary kind!) We always have a number of different snacks in the car to pass to the kids when they start whining. For example, fruit, bliss/protein balls, sultanas, rice cakes, freeze-dried fruit and mixed nuts. Our kids don’t have DVD players or iPads in the car – we never had them when we were kids and we used to survive big road trips!
- For babies in the car, if they take a dummy keep a stash of them in the front. Our daughter likes to throw hers and often we can’t find it without pulling over and searching for it. Having a few kept in the front that we can pass over to her has often been life-saving! We also keep a bunch of toys in the front that we can pass over one by one as she gets bored.
- Know that toilet training on the road is 100% possible!
- Disciplining is a tough one. You don’t want to be that ‘yelling parent’ that everyone else at the campsite can hear, yet sending them to their bedroom (bunk bed) isn’t as isolating as you may have hoped. We have found that rather than disciplining when they have been naughty, (although we still do that to an extent) we reward their good behaviour and really make a big deal about it. Whether it’s taking them out for a babycino or getting them a new book, we really make sure they know that it’s because they “listened really well” or “their behaviour was excellent today” or “they slept in their own bed all night!”
- Video call family and friends back home regularly. Your kids will surely be missing their grandparents, cousins or friends, so let them ring up and tell of all the wonderful adventures they have been having! Also, send postcards! We tried to get a postcard from each town that we stayed at so the kids could send them back home to their cousins.
- Don’t bother with expensive clothes. Their clothes will get stained, ripped and just generally worn a lot quicker with all the outside play. Dark colours are good for hiding some of the stains. Also, check out the town’s Vinnies for a good buy and donate some of their old clothes that are too small, or toys that are un-used while you’re there.
- A bucket makes a fantastic bath! I think ours was $5 or $8 from Kmart and we have a few of them as they all stack into each other for storage (we use the other ones to store our sullage hose, for washing, etc)
- A good baby carrier that is comfortable for both the baby and the wearer is great to have. We have an Ergo Baby 360 that we’ve had since Kawhi was born and it’s still going strong 3 years later. It allows you to do bush walks or continue with your jobs hands-free if you have an unsettled baby.
- Whether or not to take a pram seems to be a hot topic for discussion. For us, it was a ‘must-have’ and we’re so glad we decided to bring our double pram along because we used it nearly every single day. We like to do a lot of walking, both for exercise and for sight-seeing. Our pram has big wheels which allows us to walk on dirt roads. Kawhi is still happy to go in the pram, which makes things a lot easier, and we can often get them both to sleep at the same time in there if we take them for a walk after lunch. It sure does take up a lot of space in the back of the ute, but it’s definitely been worth it for us.
- We would definitely suggest a highchair of some form for the young ones. We started with a Bumbo which we put on the dining table seat for Luna. Once she grew out of that we had an Oz Tent camping highchair, and while we love that it folds up easy and is great to store along with our other chairs, we don’t love that the tray table isn’t flat, and it’s also hard to wipe food off it. If we had our time again, we would have just bought our Ikea highchair along.
- A reusable swim nappy has also been a great investment. Not only are we doing our bit for the environment, but it has saved us heaps of cash in comparison to buying disposable swim nappies and it also takes up a lot less space.
- Always have a backup, easy, quick to prepare dinner plan. Our adventures often kept us out late into the evening which we hadn’t planned and so being able to have food on the table within five minutes for tired kids was really handy.
- Baby wipes may just become one of your most used items! We try to use them sparingly as they’re not very environmentally friendly, but they certainly come in handy when you’re free camping and are trying to preserve water. We often used them for wiping down both benches and bodies!
- If your kids aren’t able to confidently swim independently then a good life vest can be handy. We have loved our Wahu swim vest for Kawhi.
Travelling with young kids is one of the most rewarding things we’ve done. The time spent with them is invaluable because they really do grow up so fast.