Camping with kids
When I was a kid, pretty much all our family holidays were spent towing our Jayco campervan around Australia. The memories of those holidays are some of the best of my life. I guess it’s no surprise I have been itching to recreate those times with my own family. Just two days ago we got home from our first (but definitely not last) camping with kids trip, in a Jayco campervan . We went up through Victoria, crossed the border into New South Wales, back into Victoria, over to South Australia, then back through Victoria again as we heading back towards home.
It was 10 days of complete screen-free travel, exploration and fun. We played board games and drew pictures, read books and completed mazes and word-finds. We walked through swamps and climbed mountains, played by rivers and visited caves.
To tell you we had an amazing time would be a massive understatement. It was the best holiday I have had since becoming a grown-up and my husband and kids loved it just as much.
Throughout the trip it occurred to me just how many life lessons can be related to the experiences you have whilst camping, so I thought I might record some of those life lessons in the hope that they keep me going until our next trip!
Plans are great, but flexibility can be fun
We had the majority of our holiday planned, booked and paid for (I am, by nature, an organiser) but I remembered how much I enjoyed the days when, as a kid, my parents would tell us they weren’t sure where we would stay that night, we’d just drive and then decide. With that in mind, we deliberately left two nights unbooked along our path. We had a direction we needed to go, but the destination was undecided. As a result, we ended up in Nhill – a small (but not tiny) town not far from the South Australian border.
The Nhill Caravan Park was not exactly bursting with amenities and it was not the prettiest of places, so much so that as we were selecting the least slopey site in which to attempt to chock the van high enough so we didn’t roll out of bed, my husband and I kept looking at each other with eyes full of the question: “Should we keep driving?” but we didn’t; we set up – using every chock we had and ended up having an absolute ball! Turns out Nhill is a very pretty town and the kids had more fun in that bare-bones caravan park than in any other. We wouldn’t have planned for Nhill, but we are extremely glad we happened upon it.
Things will go wrong, but every problem has a solution
We very nearly didn’t even make it out of our driveway on the very first morning. The portable brake cable wouldn’t work and kept blowing fuses in the car. It looked dire, but we learnt how to change fuses in both the car and the cable and we got it working! When we arrived at our first destination, we had the van completely set-up, when we realised we’d forgotten to put out the rain canopies – the only access to which was at the very top of the van – totally out of reach. We didn’t panic or get upset, we just thought, “Well, how do we get up that high?” and the kids thought it was pretty funny when Mummy climbed on Daddy’s shoulders and got those rain canopies out!
It wasn’t quite so funny when both my husband and I came down with a throat infection (throats so swollen we couldn’t actually speak) when we were in Naracoorte. But Naracoorte has doctors and chemists and pretty soon, we were on enough medication to be able to chuckle about our crazy voices and keep having fun. Things did go wrong for us, but with each problem, we learnt and we ensured that problem wouldn’t occur again. Each time we ended up feeling proud of ourselves and more and more like a team.
Attitude is key
When camping with kids, deciding to laugh when things go pear-shaped, really does make things less pear-shaped. When small things go wrong, we have a choice about how we respond and that choice changes everything. We can get upset, throw a tantrum, grump and fuss, or we can decide that it’s not that big a deal, it won’t end the world and maybe it’s a little bit funny. In Cohuna, I decided it would be fun to ride off down the footpath on my son’s scooter. Turns out I’m not so good on a scooter and I went crashing down after a few metres.
As I sat there on the concrete, still holding my son’s lollipop aloft, family running towards me and well aware of passing cars who must have been declaring, “The mum’s down!” I had a decision to make: do I get upset about my stinging hands and ego or do I laugh? Obviously, it was pretty funny, so I chose to laugh and suddenly, the whole family was laughing and the whole thing was not a big deal. Will I stay off my son’s scooter? Yes, but it’s not a terrible memory!
Sharing is caring
Being in such a small, confined space with your family really does make you more considerate of one another. We had to constantly pack away our things, move over so others could sit, sit down so others could pass and behave in a way that respected the wishes of all. The kids were amazing at this! At home, getting them to pack up is a constant issue, but in the van they could see the importance of it. At home there are often arguments because one wants to sing and the other isn’t so keen on listening, but in the van, those things just didn’t cause the same problems. They just understood that respect was vital and the family unit just worked.
Some of the happiest times we had were doing the typically mundane chores: putting up or packing up the van or washing and drying the dishes. There was such a sense of team and family and everyone pitched in and felt proud of their efforts. The kids learned new skills and we all got to work together to problem solve and just simply ‘get the job done’. I never thought doing the dishes would be fun, but in the van, it was and my husband told me that the photo he took one night when we were washing up is one of his favourite photos from the holiday. Every set-up or pack up of the van got a little faster and a little smoother and after each one we would smile, high-five, and feel proud of our team effort. Go team Goudie!
It feels great to be young at heart
My husband is the parent who regularly achieves this; I am the more serious one, but on this holiday, I got to let my hair down a bit and really laugh.
We had a little lunch stop in a town called Birchip. There’s not much in Birchip, although their bakery does have ‘Australia’s Best Vanilla Slice’ (and it is good!!) but we popped into the newsagent to get the kids a colouring book or something similar and ended up walking out with a game called ‘Gas Off’. This is basically a game with a green plastic buzzer thing in that looks like a poo with a face and a pack of cards with numbers. All you do is take it in turns to flip a card and press the buzzer the number of times specified on your card. With each press the pressure in the buzzer builds and if you make it fart, you’re out! I can’t remember the last time I laughed that hard or had that much fun!
The four of us, huddled around the table in the van, playing Gas Off, will stick with me as one of the happiest memories of my life. I was not the serious parent that day.
Less is more
Basically no one walks through a swamp when there’s a fun park to visit and no one watches the ants crawl up the tree when there’s a jumping pillow to play on, but the swamp walk was incredible and watching the ants was amazing. When an iPhone is not an option, you discover you actually love colour-by-numbers and when you have 5 toys in a tub instead of 100 toys in a room, you actually play with them. Less is most definitely more.
Preparation is important
I don’t think the holiday would have gone as smoothly, or we would have had the amount of fun we did if we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’) had not prepared. I had thought through the activities we would most likely do and the items the kids would need and we pretty much had everything on hand. We had paper and pens, pencils, Textas, crayons, activity books, reading books, scissors, sticky tape, glue, rubber bands etc. We had games, food, torches, bug repellent, sunscreen, the list goes on. After eliminating much of the everyday clutter and still had what we needed to be creative, entertained and safe. I wouldn’t recommend embarking on a completely ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ holiday with young kids. A bit of preparation makes a big difference.
We are all so, so busy in our daily lives. We are racing to school, to work, to the shops, to social events, racing to get chores down, meals cooked and life lived, sometimes just forcing yourself to slow down is the best possible thing you can do. I think this is almost impossible to do at home. At home we are surrounded by the reminders of what needs to get done. In the van, there is very little that needs to get done: ‘I need to move that bag to the couch before I can get into bed’. There’s not much more to it than that.
When we slow down and take the pressure off ourselves we kind of get back to the real us. We get to see who we are without the stresses of daily life. One night in the van, I was asking my son to put his pyjamas on and instead of doing that, he was on his hands and knees waving his bottom in the air. I turned to my husband and asked: “Why does this sort of thing annoy me so much at home, but make me laugh here?” He answered: “Because you’re relaxed.” Simple.
I wasn’t thinking about how the kids had to get to bed quickly because we had a big day coming up or because I had work to do, or just because I’d reached my parenting limit that day; I wasn’t thinking at all, really. Just seeing my son being a five-year-old, I found it amusing rather than frustrating. I need to try to bottle that feeling – to slow down and stop stressing about those little things. I’m going to work on that one.
Mirrors can be evil
It was seriously, so great to take a break from worrying about my outfit or my make-up. The whole time we were away, I did not come across a full-length mirror, and lo and behold, I did not constantly assess my appearance. I didn’t even think about it. How refreshing! On the last day of the holiday, I saw a quote, posted by my friend’s Mum and it read: “She began to measure herself in contentment and laughter rather than in inches and pounds” and it just totally rang true for me. What a wonderful measure of life! I’m pretty sure that now I’m home I’ll go back to my regular make-up and mirror checks, but I did gain a little perspective and the break from caring about my reflection was a welcome one.
It’s healthy to get out of your comfort zone
We build our lives full of creature comforts and familiar, settling routines, but sometimes exactly what we need to recharge is to remove those creature comforts, change those routines, or eliminate them entirely. We saw new sights, travelled along roads and through tiny towns that were unfamiliar, and totally different to our ‘normal’, it put such a huge smile on my face and a skip in my step. My daughter is a lover of creature comforts, but I saw the pride she felt in herself when we conquered the shower block of a new caravan park, or climbed the boulder on the walk through the Grampians. We all shed our creature comforts and found our bliss. Each day I woke up feeling relaxed, rested and genuinely happy. We all did.
So my advice to you: Get camping! Even glamping if that’s what you need, but get out there! You will learn so much about yourselves and about how to deal with life’s bumps and hurdles. You will learn what makes you happy and what is really, truly important.
We cannot wait for our next trip!
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