Every so often, I’ll see posts from frazzled parents asking how long it takes for a family to settle into a routine, and for everyone to kick back and really start enjoying themselves when they leave for a lap of Australia.
We kept hearing it takes 6 weeks before things get easier, and I was always keen to see how things would go for us, having just left on our big lap of Australia.
We’ve done a heap of travelling
One of the reasons I was so fascinated by this 6 week adjustment period is that we’ve been doing long trips for years now, and even in the Reconn R2 that we travel in now we’d clocked up over 300 nights.
We’d done a heap of 3 – 6 week trips, and never found much of a settling in period, but you always had an end date, and knew you’d be going back to the norm on a certain date in the not too far future, and I promise you, that makes all the difference.
Despite all this travelling, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that there is a settling in period for a long trip, and you should expect this. If you don’t, you’ll want to turn around and head home, I guarantee it.
For us, the first few days were relaxing, but the kids emotions were high, and it took them a good couple of weeks to realise that this was their life now, and that we wouldn’t be going back to our home any time soon.
I’ll openly admit that we had a number of average days, and more commonly unpleasant hours, where the kids would be cranky or naughty, and we’d lose our patience with them. We explained on a number of occasions to the kids that if we couldn’t travel in a way that everyone enjoyed themselves we’d have to go home, and it stemmed from a heap of small issues.
Schooling was one of them, with Oliver often refusing to do his school work at even a snails pace, and the other primary issue was getting the kids to sleep at a reasonable time.
Tempers flared on a number of occasions, and it wasn’t much fun at times. Looking back, we could have done things differently, and in this post I want to share some of our learnings, and hopefully make your life a bit easier when you head off on a lap of Australia.
Why is there an adjustment period?
Before we get into this though, I want to cover why there’s an adjustment period. For kids especially, imagine taking everything that they know, and throwing it out the window.
Their routines, their bedrooms, meal locations, bed location, loved furniture, school friends and so much more all suddenly change, and that’s a hard thing for anyone to swallow.
Then, add in the fact that you are now crammed into a tiny box on wheels, the weather can be shocking and people often get more edgy, and that rubs off on others. As parents, your life completely changes too. We ditched the alarms, and I had to get used to being with the kids 24/7 instead of having at least 60 hours a week away from them in work and travel.
You lose a number of the luxuries that you have at home; no endless supply of water, flushing toilets, hot water on demand and the ability to run any electrical appliance at any time of the day for as long as you want it.
Everything changes, and it is entirely expected for that to take some time to sink in, and for you to get used to it.
How long the adjustment period is depends on a million factors, but expect one! On that note, the purpose of this post is not to compare you to me, or one family to another, its just to try and make sense of why there’s an adjustment period, and how you can make it easier.
If you are travelling with one child for example, life is going to be a million times easier than two. If you are in a caravan, life is probably going to be easier than a soft floor camper trailer. It’s just the nature of the beast, but you can still find a great routine regardless of your situation.
Some days suck
Kids are hard work at home, and heading on the road doesn’t just magically change that. In some ways it gets easier, and in many ways it gets a lot harder, and I can tell you with complete honesty that you’ll arrive at the end of some days and wonder what on earth you’ve gotten yourself into.
The Lap of Australia is harder than it looks, believe me.
In no particular order, I’m going to make a list of things that will push your buttons, and make life on the road a challenge:
Snacks and meal times
Kids not wanting to go on walks, or visit places of interest
Toileting, and bed wetting
Close proximity to your entire family, 24/7
Bed time for the kids
Some days, and moments are amazing
On the flip side, there will be days that you have the time of your life, and you arrive gently and peacefully to the end of the day, grateful beyond words for the opportunity that you have to take your family around this amazing country.
Far more often than this though, is the magical moments. The awe of your children seeing a huge waterfall, or them having a big Emu stick its head into your awning early in the morning. We’ve had so many truly incredible moments as a family that it often makes the bad moments fail into insignificance.
I’ve come to understand that life on the road is less of the mundane, and mediocre living that we so often fall into the trap of living at home, and more highs and lows.
It can be really difficult swinging up and down from huge highs to arguments and breaking up fights between your kids, but its all normal and there’s not much you can do about it.
What can you do to make it easier?
Looking back now, I can see a number of things that we could have done that would have made the adjustment period easier, and hopefully some of these will be an áha’moment for you, and you’ll fall into a better rhythm, earlier.
Children like the security of routine. If you take it all away, its hard for them to get used to life on the road. These don’t have to be set in concrete, but having a routine between dinner time and bed is hugely helpful, so kids know what is expected of them, and they wind down for the day.
Be flexible and pick your battles
We fell into this trap badly, and looking back I know life would have been easier if we weren’t so rigid. If your child isn’t tired at 7:30PM, is it really worth the hassle fighting them for an hour and a half, or are you better off just letting them quietly lie or play for another half an hour?
If your child wants to sit in the back seats of your car and chill for an hour when you get back from a long walk, does it really matter? If they want cheese and tomato on fruit bread for lunch are you going to stop them?
In the early days of our travel, we weren’t as flexible as we could have been, and it meant for more arguments and battles with our kids over things that realistically are pretty frivolous. Yes, you need to be firm with the things that matter (like not hitting their brothers, or running ahead towards a road and so forth), but there’s so many things that you can be flexible with and just avoid a battle all together.
I get itchy spending too long in the same place, and when we left the idea of spending half a day at camp doing ‘nothing’ was not something I looked forward too. As a result, we moved every day or two, with very few 3 or more day stays.
After a number of meltdowns from our oldest child, and some heart to heart conversations with him he explained that he wanted to spend more time around camp, and that meant we had to travel slower.
Our kids love nothing more than to run around camp, or spend the afternoon painting, or playing Lego, or riding their bikes around, and if you are moving all the time they often miss this.
From the moment where we started spending more time around camp, things got easier. The kids started playing better together, and whilst we still had to step in between when someone stepped where they shouldn’t have, or when someone else’s toy was taken life became easier.
I learnt to sit and really relax (as much as I can anyway), and we had some pretty awesome afternoons and mornings at camp together as a family, doing very little.
Distractions work far better than an argument or fight
Its very easy to get push back from your kids, and for you to stand your ground and have a big argument about it. Our kids will sometimes have meltdowns over absolutely nothing, and in many cases, we found the best way to deal with it was to just distract them.
Point out an emu running down the road, or ask them a question about who’s camping near us and the tears and kicking would often dissolve down to nothing in a matter of minutes.
Again, there are times where you have to set boundaries and be firm, but put your pride behind you and offer a distraction instead of making the melt down or argument bigger than it needs to be.
You can’t teach a child anything when they are in that state anyway, so you may as well get it over with and then have a decent conversation about it later, when they are calm and collected.
Spend one on one time with your kids
Kids often act out as a way to get attention, and one of the ways that you can reduce their mischievousness is to spend quality, one on one time with them. Sarah and I make a point of putting our phones away, and going and spending time with each child individually, and really getting involved in what they are doing.
Let them lead the play, and get involved where they want you to, or just sit back and observe. One on one time also has other benefits, in that you lighten the load on the other person, so its not one person looking after two children, or two people both experiencing two children at their worst, when it comes.
Take time out for yourself
Going on from the above, its important that you have time for yourself. Sarah loves to pick up our camera with the zoom lens and go for a walk to take photos of birds, and I’m happy putting my headphones on and doing some work on this blog, or going for a drive to explore somewhere new on my own.
We don’t disappear for too long, but even 10 minutes away from everyone can put you in a better state of mind.
Earlier in our travels, I found myself frustrated and angry a number of times, and it really ruins your day. Kids can be incredibly relentless, and there are times where you’ll snap, and I can tell you that it doesn’t achieve anything, at all, and you’ll feel worse for it later on too.
Remind yourself that this isn’t an emergency, and stay as calm as possible. Walk away if you need to, but I’ve learnt that your children’s reactions are often almost entirely dependent on your actions. If you get angry and cross, they’ll respond in a similar way. Approach the situation in a calm way, and work through their concerns and the outcome is almost always vastly different.
Now, we’re all human, and I guarantee you won’t always keep your cool, but the calmer you are, the better life is on the road.
How long has it taken for us?
We had a decent rhythm early on in the piece, and I’d say after a couple of weeks we were fairly well into the swing of it, however that seemed to slowly fall apart around week 9 or 10, and we had a couple of weeks where we were often struggling with the kids, and not feeling overly relaxed or comfortable with travelling.
Thankfully that has passed, and I think we’re all in a pretty good place, and that’s around 4 – 5 months.
Now, if you don’t know, we had my folks travelling with us in their caravan from about week 3, to week 14 or so. It was amazing, and we wouldn’t change it for the world, but there was something about them being around that made the kids behaviour around us worse for us, and both Sarah and I said a few times that things seemed to be more tense.
Sarah has said that its because many of the good moments from the kids were spent with my parents, and then when they were with us they’d play up, which makes perfect sense.
I don’t feel that the kids were worse behaved overall, just when they were around us! The kids were certainly more challenging at times with them around, but there were a lot of other positives that came out of it, and we’d happily do it again.
Maintaining a balanced perspective
It’s easy to lose your perspective, and to feel run down, tired and unhappy travelling. I make a point to stop at least a couple of times a day and think about what I’d be doing back at home, and I try to think about all of the things that I’m grateful for, and it is hugely helpful.
It’s been said that if you can replace expectation with gratitude your life will change forever, and its very true. You could be battling it out at home, with a million other things on your mind as well, so keep a balanced perspective, appreciate the amazing times and roll with the ones that aren’t so much fun.
How long did it take you to settle into a good routine travelling Australia?