“The kids are feral and my wife’s got the s#!*s”!
How to avoid turning your family camping trip into a complete disaster
Tired of watching the kids sitting on the iPad or flogging your mobile phone, feeling inspired by a Sunday session of back-to-back outdoor lifestyle TV shows, a thought pops into your head. “Hey sweetheart, we should take the kids away camping.”
This could be the start of something wonderful creating lifelong memories, or a zombie apocalypse gone wrong. My father once said to me: “Make the first experience a good one or they will never want to do it again.” Over the years, I’ve applied this to a couple of different things but we won’t go there.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Thinking back to my first trip away with the family we did a few things right and a fair bit wrong. We can laugh about it now but at the time it was a complete failure of the highest order. For example, we were smart enough to pick a campground close to home in case we forgot anything… but I ended up returning home on four separate occasions for minor things like pillows and the winder to the caravan. In the end, we left the caravan there and drove back home. That’s right, folks. We did not even stay the night.
I’m pleased to say it was not the beginning of the end for our family adventures and over the years we have learned some tricks to make life easier and ensure things get off to a smooth start.
DO THESE FIVE THINGS AND YOU MAY JUST SURVIVE
Make a list of things you will need to go away with and tick them off as you pack them. Keep the list for future trips so you don’t have to rethink it every time. Sounds simple but it has saved me so many times.
Don’t be that guy that tries to set up the tent or caravan for the first time when actually on the trip. Practice makes perfect and you will become quite proficient (which means you will be kicking back in your favorite camp chair a lot sooner).
Pick a caravan park or campground relatively close to home in case you forget something or you need to pull the pin early. As tempting as it may be, don’t be lured into driving for eight hours one way on your first trip. Keep the ‘are we there yets’ to a minimum for everyone’s sanity.
Choose a spot with amenities. Hot showers, clean toilets and power go a long way to keeping everyone in good spirits. Yes, in time you can go full Malcolm Douglas – drinking rainwater and hunting feral cats for dinner – but ease into it as you become more prepared and knowledgeable.
If possible, visit the place before your trip so you know the layout. Pick a few spots where you would be happy to set up camp and ask if they’re available when you’re making the booking. Trust me, you don’t want to be put on a site near a busy road; or next to the dunnies when Ivan wants to kick a brown clown out of the circus after a bad prawn curry.
EXTRA TIPS (BECAUSE THIS STUFF IS IMPORTANT)
- Get the kids sorted first! Feed and water them, stick them in the shade and give them something to do before you start setting up camp.
- You don’t have to set up in the middle of the day! Yes, if check-in is 11.30am arrive then, drop your gear off and go find something fun to do until later when it’s cooler. Trust me, it’s a marriage saver.
- Pay for the extra night and leave when you want. It beats getting booted out by 10.00am. Enjoy the day and take your time packing up.
PAT’S TIPS FOR TRAVELLING AUSTRALIA WITH THE FAMILY
- Keep them entertained with exercise… everyone will sleep better for it
- Keep them safe… especially in areas where campfires are permitted
- Involve them in day-to-day activities… camp cooking is a great skill to learn at an early age
- Get them taking images and videos to show their friends back home
- Encourage them to write a daily journal… it keeps them reading and writing instead of looking at screens
PRODUCTS EVERY TRAVELLING FAMILY NEEDS
- An iPad or tablet device. If all else fails, chuck on a cartoon and enjoy some peace.
- Baby wipes. Pretty obvious, no need to use your imagination.
- Small sporting equipment. Soccer balls or Frisbees take up little space.
- Music for the kids! Be fair and share the radio (even if it hurts, bad).
- Their favourite toy. Space is at a premium, so ensure they will use it.
- Sun protection gear. Sunglasses and rash shirts are good ideas.
- Seat organisers. These are great for storage, and they allow the kids to manage their part of the vehicle.