The ‘perfect’ family campervan holiday can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But, to pull it off, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got the plans in place. Roaming Australia, especially, promises a whole pantheon of memories, and the natural, rugged beauty of the country’s diverse terrain can be the backdrop of your adventures — as long as you prepare in advance.
These tips will ensure that you’ve not only got the planning phase down correctly, but you’re also well-equipped and prepared for the journey ahead of you. Especially when you’re travelling with children, there may be certain things that you hadn’t considered. It’s not only about the activities to occupy them that you’ll want to plan around.
Traveling with a campervan can be a flexible, fun and cost-effective way to tour all the places you’re hoping to visit without having to book dates and accommodations. But it’s also a unique way to travel that comes with its own sets of challenges and considerations.
Here’s what you’ll need to know when you’re headed on a family camping trip in a campervan across Australia.
1) The Planning Phase
To get the most out of your trip, get started on the right foot. If you’re not a natural organiser or a lover of planning things out, you can allocate this bit to your spouse or partner. Alternatively, you could pack light because you can always drive to get extra supplies in your campervan.
This is still the decision-making phase of your planning: You’ll have to ask and decide on a whole range of things. First off, how old are your children? The age of your children will determine what you’ll need to pack or install in the campervan.
Older children will probably also love going hiking, doing offered activities or exploring. Younger children, on the other hand, will enjoy a family camping holiday that involves connecting with other children their age, perhaps at camping resorts that have playgrounds and other activities. These will help them break up and vary their day, keeping them engaged — and, at the end of the day, exhausted.
For long will you be travelling? While travelling in a campervan, you have the freedom to access many out-of-the-way towns and resorts, as well as city-based amenities like supermarkets to stock up on the essentials.
Once you’ve figured these things out, create a trip that pulls together a mix of beaches, national parks, camping resorts, playgrounds, waterparks, trails, novelty trips and experiences like whale-watching, and nature-based activities like canoeing, fishing or hiking to waterfalls.
2) Outfitting your Campervan
If you hire a campervan for travel in Australia, your motorhome will come with its own inbuilt set of provisions like sleeping areas, tables, outlets, storage space, DVD players, curtains and more.
Take a good look at everything that is provided for and create a list of things you’ll need to bring along.
For example, if you’d like to remain ‘unplugged’ on your trip, plan to bring cards, board games and a couple of crossword puzzle books to keep everyone occupied and connected as a family.
If you’re planning to cook, will you use gas or electric? You’ll need to pack power supply units for backup power. These units will also come in handy if you plan on charging up your devices.
Remember that, when you’re camping, there is really no privacy. And that’s the whole point. Plan on bringing more than a few blankets and foldable chairs and tables so that you all can park at a site, sit outside and view the night sky.
There are also laws for child restraints that you’ll have to follow for your campervan. Depending on their age and weight size, small children will require booster seats or half-booster cushions. Older children, too, should be in restraints but in the back.
(Image Source: discoveryholidayparks.com.au)
3) Short Days with Long Stops
Unless they’re napping, kids call for a blend between rest and stimulation. This means that your activities — and, indeed, even the spots you pick to visit on your trip — will have to be geared around their needs and when their energy levels are the highest — or when they’re ready to rest for a nap.
You should also get over-the-ear headphones for your kids so that if they’re watching something late at night and you’re driving, or others are sleeping, they won’t disturb everyone in such close quarters.
The biggest mistake that parents make when planning a family camping trip in Australia is to over-schedule the day. Instead, you’ll want to plan for shorter days with longer stops in one location. If this means you see fewer places or you don’t get to do everything, don’t fret. Children that are overstimulated tend to get cranky very quickly, so a more leisurely pace is best.
You’ll also want to leave some amount of flexibility and serendipity through the day. If the kids seem to be enjoying a camping resort’s playground or waterpark, for example, skip the plan to go hiking. Allow their fancy to take over the day, and you’ll have much more fun.
During these ‘longer’ stops, you can set up the campervan in a convenient location and take a rest yourselves as the kids amuse themselves with the beauty of nature around them. More than likely, however, they’ll be ready to take a nap.
4) Eating Right When On-The-Go
You may notice a pattern here: Traveling with children means that most of the trip is going to revolve around their needs. And that’s fine. But this does mean that you’ll have to do a little more than considering what snacks to bring and where you might be eating in the area.
Consider how many nights (or weeks) you’ll be away for. How many lunches, dinners and breakfasts is the total trip? Now consider which of these you’ll want to actually cook up something from scratch (which means that you’ll have to bring the necessary camp-friend cooking equipment) and how many you’ll be eating ‘out’.
Start with setting a budget and then look around your planned spots for irreplaceable delicacies or recommended food experiences. For example, if there’s a popular restaurant that has one thing that makes it well-known but is also something you can’t find anywhere else, definitely plan to visit this, rather than a more generic restaurant in the area.
Now, travelling with children means one thing: stay far away from snacks with high sugar content. Your kids may love them, but you’ll be the one paying the price. It’s hard enough to be stationary, as a child, in a camper van, without being a child in a campervan who happens to be on a sugar rush.
Another great tip is to freeze your bottles of water. This frozen state will help kids naturally pace how much they can drink at a time (and will also help make requests for bathroom stops a little less frequent).
And, finally, depending on the season you’re travelling in, don’t forget to chart out your trip so that it coincides with local farmers’ markets. These local markets are a great way to get in fresh produce, re-stock your ‘healthy snacks’ supply and, often, there are stalls with freshly baked, pre-prepared goodies that you can buy for much cheaper.
While there is no dearth of places that warrant a stop in Australia, here are some of our favourites:
The Grampians, VIC
Just three hours west of Melbourne, The Grampians draws families from all over, especially for its lovely Jimmy Creek Campground. Trails are easy to traverse, even for the young, and you can take a day trip to Mackenzie Falls, learn about indigenous culture and sit for a picture on its sloping escarpments.
Mimosa Rocks National Park, NSW
It’s known as ‘picnic point’ for a reason. Located just three hours from Canberra, the rugged and stunning coastline, with its reddish-brown sand, rolling waves and views of Sapphire Coast, this is a spot you won’t want to miss.
North Stradbroke Island, QLD
Yes, you’ll need to get on a ferry to access North Stradbroke Island, and that’s precisely why we love it. The novelty of this location means that you and your kids can look for turtles and dolphins. Visit from June to November, and you’ll catch the formidable and beautiful humpback whale, best viewed from Stradbroke’s Point Lookout.
Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, SA
If you visit this national park, make sure to bring your camera. Not for the stunning views or the amazing wildlife — of which, by the way, you’ll find plenty, like cockatoos and kangaroos. Instead, you’ll be hooked by the mysterious and beautiful range of Aboriginal rock art and fossils.
Bastian is the Sales & Marketing Manager here at Travellers Autobarn. He holds a Master of Commerce in Marketing and International Business Management, and 20+ years experience in campervan hire, road trips and travel.