As I sit here and write this, our 6 and 4 year old boys are fast asleep within arms reach, and all is peaceful. You should know though, that this is not what its like when travelling with kids, and as a parent you’ll probably want to rip your hair out more than most will want to admit.
We love our kids dearly, and would do anything for them but there is no doubt that travelling, 4WDing and camping with them is a challenge of great significance. We’re learning as we go too, but for now, this is the greatest challenge that we deal with on the road.
Please know this is an honest post, and not written to put you off, but to give you an idea of what goes on behind the scenes. So much of what you see on social media is a façade, with lots of unpleasant times that happen which you never hear anything about!
Kids are seriously hard work, and when you hit the road that doesn’t just magically fix itself. It can be better in some ways, and much worse in others.
In this post, we’ll be sharing some of the challenges that you might have to deal with when travelling with young kids:
Getting them to have a good nights sleep
Our primary challenge right now is getting both boys to sleep enough. At home, bed time is 7PM, and the younger one will fall asleep relatively quickly, and get up at around 6:30 – 7:30AM, giving him a solid 11 – 12 hours of sleep.
Our older one would often not fall asleep until around 8:30PM, and would get up at about 7AM, giving him 10-11 odd hours of sleep. When we camp though, they both seem to have their sleep reduced considerably, and its not because they don’t have the opportunity, its just that they struggle to wind down and nod off.
We started off putting them to bed at 7PM like at home, and they’d play and muck around until 8PM, and then get up at 6:30AM. We moved their bed time to 6PM, and then they both woke at 5 – 5:30AM.
Lately, they’ve been going to bed later as the sun doesn’t set until around 9PM, and that makes for a later start time. We’re slowly winding their wake up time forward a bit, in the hope that an earlier start will make for an earlier bed time. That said, our oldest still doesn’t start snoring some nights until after 10PM, and its not because he’s being naughty, he just can’t switch off.
As our trip goes on they absolutely get better, but sleep is the one thing you cannot afford your young kids to miss out on; they just become cranky, grumpy mess the next day and when your youngest is already a firecracker it makes for interesting times.
Eating solid meals and dealing with constant demands for more food
We make good, healthy and tasty meals for our kids, and encourage them to eat as much as possible. Despite this, we can feed them a meal and not 5 minutes later have them coming to us for food. Cooper is by far the worst, and will sometimes have dinner, then have a banana, a yoghurt pouch and still want more.
The worst part relating to food though comes when you are in the car. You can have lunch, and take off for a small adventure and you’ll hear within a couple of minutes ‘FOOD’. They eat crackers, dried fruit, shapes, chips, muesli bars and the occasional lolly, but they always seem to want more, and it keeps Sarah busy for a large majority of the trip.
Screen time and toys in the car
Our kids are amazing when it comes to driving long distances. We’ve done some 10 – 12 hour days on the road (not lately) and whilst they are totally over it by the end, they will get it done. Our challenge with them in the car is limiting the screen time, and we generally will only use the tablets if we are doing more than a couple of hours in the vehicle, and they get it after the last part. If we are doing a huge day they might get it after 10AM, but we try to limit it to a couple of hours.
Of course, kids being kids they always want more, and earlier, so we have to be firm and consistent.
In the same way that screen time can be a problem, the kids love to have stickers, or certain toys, and many of them area shared, which means Sarah and I spend our time reasoning with them and giving out clear instructions. Oliver, you can have the toy phone for 5 minutes, and then its Coopers turn, and it goes on and on and on.
Tantrums and fighting
Our 4 year old is a firecracker, and he’ll crack it over anything, and there’s no stages; its either on or off. Its fairly typical for a toddler to do this, but his reaction can take a long time to cool down, and dealing with a tantruming toddler is always fun (not). We avoid caravan parks for lots of reasons, and prefer more isolated camp sites so the kids can play and make noise (good and bad) without disturbing others.
The two kids are learning to get on better with each other and actually play nicely for quite some time, but inevitably one will upset the other, and then the fights begin. Oliver is quite a bit bigger and stronger than Cooper, but Cooper will just lose it and hit Oliver with whatever he has in his hand, and that often doesn’t end well either.
Today, it was a small metal shovel that I use for moving coals around in the fire, and as you can imagine this could have ended badly.
We’re working hard on getting them to call us and get us involved when things aren’t going smoothly, but they don’t always do this and we are left to clean up the mess (sometimes literally!).
Inability to listen and follow instructions
There are occasions where we’ll say something to our kids a handful of times, and they’ll completely ignore it. I can tell Cooper to slow down, or you’ll fall over 3 times in a row, and it won’t be until he does fall over moments later that you can see it sort of sinks in.
Kids require a lot of patience and we do our best to accept the fact that they will not always listen or follow instructions, but it doesn’t make it any easier, and is certainly one of the challenges.
Go with the flow, slow down and appreciate the moments
After 4 months on the road, the one thing we are learning is that you have to let it go, and become more flexible. There’s no point pushing hard for something that really isn’t that important in the scheme of things if it just makes everyone cranky and upset.
We’ve realised that the kids need to have days where we just sit at camp and do nothing all day. They love digging holes, playing in the water and just being kids, and when we are always moving and on the go they are much harder to work with.
On top of this, you have to stop often and consider how good things really are. You will have shocking moments on the road; I guarantee it. However, don’t let that set the tone of your entire day, or week. Think about all of the amazing other moments you’ve had, and it balances out pretty well.
It’s worth it
We can see that our kids have grown immensely since leaving to do a big lap of Australia, and if we are honest Sarah and I have also improved. Travelling with young kids is certainly not easy, but it is completely worth it.
How do you find travelling with your young kids?