How camping changes with kids (it does, a lot!)

For those of you who don’t yet have children, I wanted to write this post to encourage you to travel as much as you can prior to them coming along. Kids are incredible, and we now have two amazing little boys, but they change the dynamics of travelling Australia beyond what many people probably realise.

This post should give you some insight into what the change is, and how it might affect your travelling life. For myself, my perspective of what it would be like and what it is actually like were worlds apart!

This post was done for you to get a bit of an idea for yourselves, but also to emphasise the need to really value your travel as a solo person, with friends or as a couple. We really enjoy taking Oliver and Cooper camping, but it is completely different to our travels in the past, on our own. 

Instead of focusing on adventure, exploring and having fun our time is far more often spent on doing what the kids want, relaxing around camp and just appreciating the small things about camping in Australia. That’s not all bad, and I love a quiet day around camp, but it is certainly a change in pace!

Travelling with kids
Travelling with kids is vastly different to doing it solo, or as a couple

Sometimes it sucks

Travelling with kids can be amazing. It can be challenging, and sometimes it can suck, big time. There’s no mucking around here; children require a lot of work, and sometimes it does make your travelling frustrating, overwhelming and disappointing.

I know in the first few days of our 3 month trip to the Northern Territory I was seriously wondering whether we had made a dumb decision. Oliver was hard to contain around camp, made packing and unpacking very hard, didn’t sleep well at all and in general just made things hard.

I remember times when Oliver was young; around 6 months old, and we’d (mainly Sarah) would be up for hours on end in the middle of the night when its freezing cold, trying to comfort and get him back to sleep. There is no other way to say it, than sometimes, travelling with kids sucks.

If you have young kids, this post will help you out and give you the right mindset; 35 ways to make camping with a toddler easier.

Toddler tantrum
Ollie having a tantrum at the Territory Wildlife Park

There are days where you just want to pack up, and head home. On big trips, when you are thousands of kilometres away from home and schedules have been made, and deposits paid, you can feel overwhelmed and very disheartened.

However, the good well and truly makes up for the bad. Despite the average times, you’ll look back with amazing memories, and so will your kids. It was absolutely incredible to watch Oliver grow as we travelled; new words, new abilities, new ways of entertaining himself, an understanding of what is OK and what isn’t and the list goes on.

When the average hours or days come, know that they will end eventually. I remember thinking in the middle of the night when Ollie wouldn’t sleep; why did we bother coming camping, why didn’t we just stay at home. The moment the sun is up though, it all changes and you are back to loving life (most of the time)!

Take your kids travelling, enjoy the amazing moments and deal with the crappy ones. It’s all you can do.

Oliver and Cooper
There are special memories with kids that you’ll never forget

Gear you need to take:

As a single bloke, you don’t need much to go camping. A swag, some food and water and fuel for the car. When you have kids, that all goes out the window. A huge chunk of what we carry now relates to Oliver:

What we take when camping with the kids:

High chair, Cot, Sleeping Bags, Clothes, Nappies, camping chair, car seat, stroller, a fair bit of ‘toddler food’, Toys, tub for washing him in, Trike, Monkey walking harness, cutlery and bowls etc for him etc. We even set a freezer, battery system and solar up so we could take frozen food for long camping trips, to make things easier.

I have huge admiration when I see people travelling in one vehicle with kids and all of their gear. If you can fit everything into one vehicle with your family and keep it legal, amazing work. We chose to purchase a camper trailer not long after Oliver was born, knowing how much extra gear we’d have to take, and that it wouldn’t fit with our existing setup.

Our Dmax loaded up
You have to take a lot more gear when travelling with kids

Eyes in the back of your head

Yeah, go on. Have a laugh. You won’t be laughing when your kids run down the camp grounds and is rolling in a big puddle of mud, or picking up cow manure and eating it. You can’t explain (and expect them to understand) to a toddler that its not safe to cross the caravan park road, or to pick random berries off trees and put them in their mouth.

With young children, you really need to be watching them very closely. Let them go for more than a few seconds and they will be off somewhere, probably doing something you don’t want them to. At least at home you set your house up to be safe, and if they do go AWOL you know they are still safe.

This is probably the biggest change that I had to get used to when travelling with Oliver. In the past, I did one part of the camping setup, Sarah would be working on another, or helping out. These days, we don’t have that luxury; someone has to watch and entertain Oliver, whilst the other person does the work.

Oliver with the ducks
You have to keep a keen eye on young kids

Now, there are a couple of exceptions to this, which work very well – when he is strapped into the car seat and entertained via a tablet or toys, or when he’s strapped into the high chair. We have learned that not only is a high chair great for feeding from (which will keep them busy for a while), but its also good to keep them entertained with toys, books and drawing in their younger ages.

Any time that you can both have together to work is greatly valued! The other hot tip is to travel with other people. In a bigger group, someone can look after the kids fairly easily whilst everyone else does the prep work, or relaxes!

Of course, your setup will determine hugely how easy this is. We eventually sold our soft floor camper trailer in favour of a hybrid camper trailer, which is far easier to setup and live out of.

Oliver playing with cars
You soon work out the best ways to keep them entertained

Slow the pace down

I look back at our previous trips now (prior to kids), and laugh at the pace we used to do things. 1300Km in a day, or visiting more than one gorge each day, or fishing and diving for hours every day. With young kids, things have got to slow down.

They don’t like huge drives in the car, and will let you know very loudly. They won’t walk the same distance you can, and will tire easily. You have to make provision each day for them to sleep, or they will also let you know very loudly.

Some people say you can still do what you used to, but slower. I disagree. There are some things that you can’t do anymore. Young kids require a slower pace in life, and to be honest, sometimes that’s something I don’t mind!

Hot chocolates with Cooper
Every morning we start slow with a hot chocolate

Limit the driving

I mentioned above that long drives are out of the question. For most young kids, if you can do 800km in a day, you are doing really well.

A lot of people limit it to 300km a day; it all depends on your kids and how well you can entertain them. Oliver will fairly comfortably do 600km a day, and occasionally we will push it further than that, but shorter days are the norm.

Beyond that, we try not to stop, and when we do, its for a decent period of time. We’ve found it almost impossible to get Oliver back into the car after a short stop, but if you drive for several hours, and pull over for an hour (at a park or playground) then they are much more obliging.

Bitumen driving
We used to do Perth to Newman in one day, but we’d never be able to do it today with the kids

Accept there is a big change required

Kids will change your life, forever. There’s no denying this. This change though, needs to be worked through from both parties – the kids, and the parents. If you completely change the routine of a child (which you do by going travelling), they aren’t going to adapt to it overnight. It will take some time.

Likewise, for parents, there is a big change too. I know for myself, working around 60 hours a week that just being around Oliver for that extra time was a huge change. Initially I found it completely overwhelming; the constant demands and work required to keep him occupied drove me insane. However, in time we adapt to it (and appreciate the work done by parents who stay at home!).

Fishing with the kids
There’s certainly a big change you have to get used to

Don’t overthink it

Now, this post is not intended to make you scared or concerned. It’s just to open your eyes a bit to the bigger picture. There are thousands of families travelling around Australia every day of the year, with kids as young as new-borns through to teenagers.

Initially, you’ll hear of troubles and difficulties getting into a routine, and that’s totally normal. The one hugely common thread you’ll hear though, is just to get out and do it. You will have an amazing time, and when you hear it from families doing it in tents through to those in big fifth wheelers and busses, its got to be true.

Take it one day at a time. If your setup doesn’t work well, adapt it, or change it. If the gear you bought doesn’t do what you though it would, sell it and move onto something else.

Kids don’t need much in the way of entertainment. You can take all the toys in the world with you, and they will still rather sit in the dirt and play with rocks and sticks, or move leaves around.

Kids at Exmouth
Its still a heap of fun, just very different

It gets better

There’s some interesting phases when it comes to camping with kids. When they are really young and can’t move about much, its easy as long as they sleep well at night time. Then, once they can really move around but not talk, it gets much harder.

When they can communicate, it gets easier again, but in every phase there are a different set of challenges that you have to get used to. Our kids are 3 and 5 now, and they are much easier than before to travel with, but the 3 year old is still a lot of work.

Kids enjoying Barn Hill
The older they get, the easier it becomes

I suspect once they are 5 and 7 it will get easier again, but we thoroughly enjoy every moment with them camping, and would rather be in the middle of the bush than stuck at home with them!

Camping with kids is a lot of fun, but it can also come as a bit of a shock, and hopefully this post gives you a bit of a different perspective!

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