Hitching up the caravan or camper and hitting the road with the kids in the back of the fourbie has got to be one of the great Australian dreams. However, for many, the dream far outweighs the reality of life on the road with a full brood.
But with a bit of forethought, a lot of planning, and a great attitude, family camping can give you and your loved ones real quality time together.
1. FAMILY-FRIENDLY CARAVANS
Once only a small section of the caravan market, family-friendly caravans are booming in popularity these days, due to the number of younger families getting out and about. Most caravan manufacturers would have at least one in their line-up offer family layouts as options or have entire family ranges.
While the majority of vans on the market still only sleep two people, family vans with up to seven berths can be found! This would include a double berth for mum and dad, a triple-stacker bunk and a convertible dinette to house another two.
As they tend to be larger or longer, full-size family vans are not easily available at the budget end of the market, however, they can certainly be found in all price ranges north of $40,000.
Standard family-friendly features would include a large prize (usually 180L or larger), a caravan-queen-size bed for the parents, two or three bunks for the kids, a combo or full-size bathroom (preferred), washing machine, full cooking facilities including a four-burner cooktop, oven and grill, dual batteries, dual gas cylinders, dual water tanks, lots of internal and external storage, seating for four inside, solar panels and air-conditioning.
Other useful features such as an external shower for grubby feet, a convertible dinette for extra sleeping berths for friends, higher-powered lithium batteries, a larger fridge, an external kitchen or barbecue, heating, more storage and a full annexe with walls for additional living space to spread out.
2. FAMILY-FRIENDLY CAMPER TRAILERS
Some styles of camper trailers lend themselves more to family touring than others but, with the right amount of canvas – and patience – almost any camper could be made family-friendly.
Hardfloors which offer limited floor and under-tent space are not ideal; the more spacious softfloor campers have a larger footprint and more space under the annexe for kids’ bunks and junk.
However, many modern campers – in all shapes and sizes – now come with optional ‘kid rooms’ which can just be added on to the existing or standard tent to increase space.
Pop-out campers, where beds fold out of each end of the camper, are also great for families, providing beds for at least four – or more with convertible dinettes – in an easy setup and hard walls and roof for when the weather turns bad.
Camper trailers, by their nature, are smaller and cheaper than caravans, and you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a family-sized camper for short of $20,000.
3. FAMILY-FRIENDLY TOURING TIPS
Pick your campsite wisely: A good – or bad – campsite can make or break your camping trip, particularly if you’ve got kids on board. When selecting your site, ask yourself the following questions to assess its suitability for your brood:
- Is it safe? Is there water nearby? Or a major road? Are you going to have to spend every minute of the day watching them or can they have some freedom?
- Are there toilets nearby? Enough said.
- What will we do if the weather – or the kids – turn bad?
Pack appropriately: Even at home, kids have a way of getting any outfit wet, muddy or lost before your very eyes. That’s only going to be exacerbated when camping, so ensure you pack lots of spare clothes, towels and clothing options for all weather – even in summer. You don’t want to be taking up space with all your winter woollies, so consider layering as much as possible.
Think about food: Lots of travel budgets have been blown by consistently dining at the nearest take-away joint or outback roadhouse. Given a choice, most kids would choose a sausage roll and an ice-cream from the servo over a delicious, nutritious, campfire-cooked meal – so don’t give them a choice! If you’re not prepared and roll into camp late, having given no thought to dinner, you’ll probably have a mutiny on your hands. So plan your meals and shop in advance, take food and drinks in the car to avoid having to buy them at every rest stop, and make sure they’re nutritious enough to stave off the afternoon ‘hangries’!
4. FAMILY-FRIENDLY TRAVEL IDEAS
When travelling with the family, especially on extended breaks, focus on less driving time and more quality time doing family-friendly activities…
- Stop at as many playgrounds as possible. Tired-out, sleeping kids are happy ( quiet) travellers!
- Bike-riding (see above)
- Visit farmstays or feed farm animals
- Swimming wherever safe to do so: waterholes, lakes, rivers, caravan park swimming pools
- Fishing/dropping a line wherever looks suitable. Catching fish isn’t really the point!
- Floating downstream on a lilo or inner tube
- Collecting shells on the beach
- Wildlife spotting
MEET THE AUTHOR
An RV journalist working across Australia’s premier caravanning and camping magazines for the past five years, Laura is also a judge at the annual Best Aussie Vans awards. She has been camping in the great outdoors since the of two, when she was packed, by day, into a Toyota LiteAce van and, by night, into a brown canvas tent with her parents and two siblings for an extended trip around the vast playground that is northern Western Australia.