“You only get 18 summers. One of the most valuable things I’ve learnt over the years from having 7 kids is this…
Do not miss out on school holidays with your kids. Because the truth is, you only get 18 summers with your kids.
And once those summers are gone, they are gone. And then they are all grown up.
… I’d encourage you to take some time to plan some things this school holidays. It doesn’t have to be expensive. They want YOU and your time more than anything.
With kids, love is spelt T-I-M-E. They just want your time and attention …”
– Gavin Topp, “A Rite of Passage”
I love these words, and as now we have only one of our four kids left in the nest, it is something we try to impress fellow campers and families.
The best thing we ever did was take our four on a lap around Australia. I treasured those months of uninterrupted family time, sharing adventures. I thought I ‘knew’ our kids before we left. But I learnt so much more about each of them, squished in a motorhome, on our fabulous road trip.
Whether you are camping for a weekend, or a year, these tips for travelling around Australia with kids and teenagers may come in handy:
1. Plan the roadtrip together
Not only day by day, but before you leave – share the responsibility of choosing your destinations and routes. Perhaps they can help navigate? Or help you tick off the packing list?
2. Around the campfire
Building a campfire is a life skill. But it is also fun, as are marshmallows and camp cooking. Campfires are also the perfect place for nurturing conversation!
3. Have them choose the campsite!
It is not that difficult. We did our lap long before we owned CAMPS AUSTRALIA WIDE, using CAMPS 7. They all knew what symbols to look for – and especially searched for sites with wifi, swimming pool and playground! In our latest guides, teens will also find farmstays, games rooms, swimming nearby (for ocean/creek/waterholes etc), fishing and 4WD symbols. Here’s the types of campsites you can stay in with your family. Using filters on the CAMPS AUSTRALIA WIDE App – they can find a farmstay with a playground! Like we did at Taunton Farm and Borumba Deer Park. Or have a night off washing up, camping at a Pub Stay!
4. Rethink technology
We all have to choose our battles! We limit ‘screentime’ at home, and we limit it when we travel. It helps we don’t travel with a TV – it makes it more likely that books, cards and boardgames appear. Maybe they’d like to learn about drones, cameras or a GoPro recording your travels? Or time with the CAMPS AUSTRALIA WIDE App – using the filters, creating trips or discovering camps and destinations! Or other useful apps – here’s our 2022 list of the 10 BEST travel apps.
5. Enjoy adventures
Choose adventures together. National Parks were a MUST DO for us. There was and still is lots of national park exploring, rock hopping and waterfall chasing when we travel with our family. We spiked up the adrenalin with snorkelling, scuba diving, tree top walks and skiing! One of our most favourite memories was two of the boys capsizing their canoe in the crocodile haven, Ord River near Kununurra, in WA’s Kimberley region, dousing the sleeping bags we needed for our 2 day self guided kayak trip! Heatley came to the rescue, landing his canoe and our arachnophobic youngest into a spider and web! And a baby freshwater croc bumping into my daughter and my kayak! We were worn out from paddling – I think it was about 30km! The most I’ve ever done let alone an 8 year old. But it was one of his highlights of the lap for him!
It doesn’t matter where you are in rural Australia – the stars will be there for you. Do you have a telescope? Add an observatory and a Dark Sky Park to your list. There are even apps to help you stargaze or find a satellite.
7. Tailor trips to their hobbies
What are your teens into? Dinosaurs? Go on a fossil trail to Winton, Richmond or Eromanga in Queensland! Are they keen on science? We loved the Natural Science Loop in south west Queensland. Art? Take a silo art tour, sculptures or indigenous art galleries. Music? Visit Tamworth or the Elvis Festival in Parkes. Animals? Add in a farmstay. Geocaching was not something we got into. But it’s very popular, and finding ‘treasure’ (learning about GPS and maps) might just spice up your teen’s trip! Fishing? War history? Indigenous stories? Farming? Rocks? There is so much to spark an interest.
8. Bring their wheels and sporty gear
If you have room, their own scooter, skateboard or bicycle is a good idea. They can explore the campground or neighbourhood on their own terms. We also pack a football, basketball, tennis balls and racquets. Cricket and badminton set, if room. Frisbee golf was popular on our last holiday. Snorkels, too – the type of gear depends on the destination! Active kids sleep well at night!
9. Go easy on some attractions
We were selective on how many museums and churches we stopped at – and certainly saw more playgrounds, than we did cellar doors! Generally, tours we liked, the kids were wrapped in, too – like exploring caves or a boat trip spotting crocodiles and jabiru! We didn’t realise just how much we all learnt about local towns and their industries. Just in WA alone – we learnt about pearl diving and farming off Broome, sheep shearing in the Margaret River Region, irrigation systems and veggies in Kununurra, marron in the south west, then toured and tasted at a lobster factory at Cervantes. It certainly broadened their horizons.
10. Go back to nature
Have they seen snow? Coral? Whales? Each town or region we visited offered different opportunities for our tribe to not just learn about their natural world – but experience it. Wild dolphin feeding at Monkey Mia, WA and Tin Can Bay, QLD. Spotting sting rays at Coral Bay, WA. Koalas near Mallacoota, VIC. Wombats at Green Cape Lighthouse, NSW. Southern Right Whales on the Great Australian Bight, SA (pictured below). Birds of prey at Berry Springs, NT…
11. Homework and school
Our lap was only supposed to be for seven weeks, so our teens had maths homework sheets. Which they did. There were a few battles over homework. Rather than missing out on learning, I firmly believe their schooling was enriched by the time they spent with us, and on the road.
I also know what we ate each night on the lap. Every night. Because it is all in our daughter’s diary. School wanted our younger kids to keep a record of their travels. Our 13 year old started writing in a book, then transferred it all to her ipad. I love reading over them still! The younger boys’ scrawls are particularly amusing! It is great there are lots of options for distance education/home schooling for families on the road.
12. Rotate seats and think about beds
Fairness and sharing is all part of the trip. Each of our tribe had time in the passenger seat, choosing the music, helping spot wildlife and were king or queen of the CAMPS book! This little strategy also makes for a great reward. We also rotated which siblings shared beds. The bunks, and then swags made for less night-time fights.
14. Find books
You’ll find book swaps at campgrounds and caravan parks, even some towns have them. It was a mission to find secondhand book shops in more remote sections of our lap. In the meantime, our teens not only read more on our trips – but they read more widely. With less options, they really broadened their preferred genres. One became a Wilbur Smith fan, like his Dad! These days, apps like Borrow Box is a winner with free access to library e-books and audio books. Librarians can be very helpful with suggested reading lists for different ages.
15. Listen to their music and podcasts
Take turns with the car stereo. Try to find audio books to suit everyone – Harry Potter was popular with us (we had to find G rated books, to suit the youngest two). It broadened our musical horizons, too – country, rap and the latest top 40 hits. The podcasts they chose are also educational for us. Then there are earphones, for the time they want to zone on their own. I’m proud to say it works both ways. It is so satisfying that they know the lyrics to most ABBA songs, and 70s – 80s tunes are high up in their playlists now.
16. Get active at playgrounds
No doubt about it, our saviour. For morning teas, lunches, afternoon teas and loo stops on the road. BURN that energy, and do more ks! Also wonderful during walks along foreshores and in country towns. I guess it helps if they have younger siblings to play with, but if they see you enjoy a swing or slippery dip, they are more likely to join in! I am especially fond of the old-style (before health and safety) playgrounds.
17. Give them roles
Each member of the family should feel useful on a roadtrip. Like working out where the cheapest fuel is, spotting signs and navigating. (Effortless literacy.) We allocated jobs with the set up (make up the beds, get out the table etc) and a roster for chores, like washing up and setting the table. Our daughter recorded the price of every burger in each petrol station, cafe and pub we were near! It made for interesting discussions about food security, supply and business!
18. Play Cards and Games
An absolute must for our family. We always pack Sequence, often Rummikub, but there are so many others to choose from! Playing cards are a lot smaller to pack. Our favourite camping card games are cribbage, 500, canasta, Hearts, Warlords and Scumbags (it does have less PG friendly names) and Up and Down the River. I almost forgot to mention car games. Just because they are a teen, doesn’t mean they don’t want to earn some coin in a spotting game? Or answer trivia? Help with a crossword? Mine are too old for our spotting game now – EXCEPT our big earner – $1 if you see a belted Galloway. But car puzzles are still go, thankfully!
19. Let them drive
If you aren’t towing, it doesn’t take long to rack up the 100 hours for learner drivers. I’m sooo glad we are past that stage now!
20. Give them time to chat with friends
With all the different socials, it is pretty easy for them to catch up with mates from home. And that’s ok!
21. Invite their friends
This wasn’t possible in the motorhome, but as we lapped Oz – we camped up with friends from home in NT’s Uluru, Alice, Katherine and Darwin, and had some great times! Our kids have wonderful memories when a few families organised camping trips together. Beach or bush – it didn’t matter: massive cricket games, communal meals and endless badminton. We took our youngest and his mate camping in Bargara and watched baby turtles hatch at Mon Repos, Queensland. It really made the trip for our fella – flight simulation at a museum, a soft drink factory sampling, as well as tennis and hire bikes at the caravan park.
22. Praise them often
Let them know you are proud of them, and tell them you love them no matter what.
23. Keep meal times sacred
Our rule at home and on trips is no technology and no TV at meal times. Meal times are for togetherness. (We choose not to travel with a TV, and only put up the State Of Origin on the laptop.) Keep any heated discussions/criticism outside of meal times, and preferably out of the vehicle. Unless they are torturing their siblings in the car, of course!
24. Involve them in meal planning and prep
Perhaps your teen can wow you with their cooking on your trip? Or help you meal plan, write the grocery list or shop? All are important life skills, we often overlook in the busy-ness of home life. They can check out some yummy recipes in our CAMPS Community Cook Book.
25. FOOD and lots of it!
The baker, butcher and supermarkets loved us! Looking back, I should have factored in growth spurts for our crew. Our one frypan frittatta is fine for 4, but perhaps not for 6!
You don’t need to have the most expensive set up – those stars and camp fires still look the same whether you have the biggest motorhome with all the extras – or a compact tent!
Get out there and enjoy your family, and Australia!
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