Travelling with kids can be daunting if you’ve never done it before but seeing the world unfold in their eyes is well worth the effort. Kids who travel and camp gain a broad perspective and unique appreciation of the natural world that can foster a lifelong love of the great outdoors. But if pre-trip jitters are thwarting your family adventures, check out Mars Campers top tips to help smooth out the ride.
It’s tempting to hook the kids up to devices on a long-haul trip, in fact, a little zone-out time can work well. Not every moment needs to be amazing. But kids constantly transfixed on devices can miss out, especially when you’re approaching a new destination.
Eye-spy and number plate games are short-term pleasers but piping audio books through the car audio system can quell sighs, elicit some laughs and encourage conversation. They’re easy to download, too, and may even be available on disc or via online portals at your local library to loan for free.
Helping kids build a shared playlist with a few of your favourites prior to kick-off is another way to form fond travel memories on the commute. Catchy tunes with easy to remember lyrics will soon have the whole family singing along.
Yes, it’s true, you can make it from Melbourne to Sydney in one day at a push – but if you want to arrive as a family without going spare, factor in your kids’ capacity to last the distance. Some cope better than others but if your family is new to travel aim to stop at a playground, national park or roadside attraction to stretch the legs every two to three hours to start with and go from there.
Try to build in a bit of flexibility into your itinerary as a child’s ability to deal with distances can diminish under certain conditions or if there’s a change developmentally, say, in their sleeping routine.
While Australia is a vast land with long stretches of road, some destinations pack in a lot of attractions per kilometre, with many being free. The Far North Queensland Coast, the Tassie East Coast and other island destinations such as Kangaroo Island are brilliant road trip destinations if you or your family are new to travel.
Berry picking sites and roadside stalls are great options to break a trip on the way to camp, especially in our food bowl regions — you’d be surprised at how memorable these little foodie experiences can be.
Grab some brochures of your next planned destination to spearhead conversation mid-commute.
Camping with one of our camper trailers affords many freedoms, but there are long periods of time when you’re sharing space in the fourbie’s cabin or camper tent. One way to encourage a sense of self is to let your kids pack a few of their own items in a small box that can be carried from the car and into camp. Stickers, attractive stones or trinkets collected on a trip, reusable drawing surfaces, Lego and coloured pens or even a favourite soft toy or figurine can provide comfort when travel gets tough, the weather turns or there’s a break in routine. And make sure birthdays on the road are a big deal, especially on a long-haul trip away from friends. Older kids and teens need time on their own, and privacy to reach out to friends at home.
If you’re investing in a tow-tug for long-haul travel with kids, check out the view, airflow, comfort and audio reception in the back seat, and ensure all kids’ seats are adjusted appropriately before setting off.
We all love feeling useful and involved, so why not do your kids a favour and talk about your plans ahead of time and ask older crew members for input? If one of your kids is a natural navigator you can take advantage of that skill when it’s safe to do so on the road, they will enjoy taking a ‘leadership role’ especially if they’re shoehorned in the middle seat.
You can also encourage kids to assist in setting up camp. Appropriate jobs vary according to experience and age and can include setting up beds, clearing sites of stones and scouring for campfire twigs, laying out mats, sorting ropes and placing pegs, or even when they’re a bit older hammering them in or adjusting camper tent poles.
Play it by ear as long days on the road can take their toll.
Some kids struggle to remember or articulate their experiences, which can cause them some embarrassment. Encouraging them to record their trips with drawings, brochure clippings, postcards and photos is one way to help them cement their memories. It’s a lovely way to see how they view their experiences, too, and you may be surprised by what they say, collect or see.
If crafting or glue sticks are too much for you or your budding explorer to bear, providing access to a cheap digital camera or even an old offline game-free mobile phone can help achieve the same thing.
Treats are fun for the kids when they’re bored in the car, but the pleasures are short-lived on a long-haul trip. Relying solely on sweets is just asking for trouble. So mix it up and level them out with a bit of fruit or chopped up veg, dry wholemeal biscuits and protein-packed trail mix that will keep them fuller for longer. Chilled water bottles after ideal options for drinks, and packed lunches will save you a bit of money, too.
As a general rule, kids love kids so if you have a penchant for remote campsites, spare a thought and check-in for a night or two at a popular campsite or family-orientated caravan park every now and again to let them socialise. In these scenarios, a bike is the equivalent to a Commodore in the mind of a 12-year-old kid but if room is limited try to at least to take a scooter; they’ll be out and about with their ‘new best friend/s’ before long.
That’s not to dismiss what natural environments offer. Remote locales are awesome playgrounds for kids, being full of critters, sticks for inspired free-play, water to splash about, rocks to climb, flowers to pick, yabbies to catch and nooks to discover and explore.
Animal sightings are thrilling for kids and can be enhanced with binoculars, torches for after dark and resources to provide context, such as a book or brochure on local birds. And if you don’t spot any animals in the flesh, you can always search for their tracks on dry creek beds, unsealed roads and soft ground.