I’ve taken my kids on a few interesting holidays over the years. We usually venture to very diverse, remote locations all over Australia.
International travel is so expensive, and I have some wonderful friends (also with kids) who we can stay with in some amazing parts of the country.
On top of that, Australia is a beautiful place, and I feel lucky to be able to watch my kids’ faces light up when they experience some of the best stuff this gorgeous place has to offer, whether that be a thrilling tractor ride in the middle of the outback or snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef.
But traveling your own (massive) backyard is not without its dramas and stresses. There are some wonderful ups, but there are definitely some downs, even when you do everything you can to prepare for every possible situation.
You might think I’m mad for dragging my kids around the country, (why not just go to a lovely resort and relax in the sun?) But I have an insatiable appetite for adventurous travel and Australian history, and I want my kids to have that too.
So, the road must go on – but not, it seems, without some harsh lessons learned!
5 Tips for a Fun Family Vacation
#1: The holiday is for them, not you
No matter how much you want time for yourself, no matter how much you want to have your own adventure, and no matter how much you deserve it, there is no way holidaying with your kids is going to be relaxing for you.
Sure – you may have a few precious moments of rest when the kids are zonked out after a day of activity. But for the most part, a traveling holiday with your kids is going to be packed with sunburn, stings, and tears.
They’ll have the time of their lives, but you’ll probably end every trip thinking, “God, not doing that again!” (Until the next travel bug hits, that is!)
#2: Don’t take your eyes off them
A few years ago, we stayed with friends on their expansive property in Mount Isa in rural Queensland. All in all, it was a brilliant time.
The kids enjoyed swimming in the man-made backyard pools, spending time with the farm animals, and I enjoyed kicking back with old friends every night under a stunning outback sky of stars with a glass of wine in hand.
But, confession time: at one point, the kids went missing on the property. I know what you’re thinking – bad mum award!
My only defense is this: I trust when we’re staying with friends that my kids will always stay within the boundaries of the property. They’re very good at this, and they tend to not wander much anyway.
This rule however, becomes an issue when the property in question spans thousands of hectares.
Another thing that didn’t help: my friend’s kid enticed my kids to go with him to visit his grandparents, who only lived just down the road. “Just down the road” turned out to be 7 kilometers away on the neighboring property. So off my little ones set, not thinking it was a big deal, as they weren’t technically leaving the property.
They were fine, we found them quite quickly. But what if they had encountered a rocky cliff-face, or some sort of vicious, venomous creature?!
They were only missing for 20 minutes, but I promise you, that 20 minutes in the middle of the outback, under the hot 40°C (104°F) sun, feels like 20 hours to a mother.
Lesson learned here? Always know where they are.
Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that you’re at a friend’s house with other parents and their kids. Also, establish do’s and don’ts with your kids in each new environment, especially if you’ve entered a strange terrain.
Set concrete rules about what they can and can’t do.
#3: Stock up on items and organize everything
You can never have enough baby wipes and healthy snacks on a long road trip, so make sure you bring an excess of everything. Plus, before you pack, make a list of everything you need.
If you have too many bags to count, attach individual labels to the bags with the contents of each bag listed out. This will save you many minutes of stress sweating and digging through various bags to find that one clean t-shirt.
#4: Always have access to lots of drinking water
Australia is an unforgiving land, with intense temperatures and diverse landscapes. You need to be prepared for it unlike any other “normal” holiday. In saying this, you need to be extra prepared if you’re driving long stretches of road.
Never have I been more grateful for my ingenious plan to put a 20-liter container of drinking water in the boot of my car than when our car broke down between Alice Springs and Ayres Rock. On a relatively desolate rural road, the sun beating down on a 35°C (95°F) day, with no phone reception and a 5-year-old and 7-year-old in the car, you can imagine… my first instinct was to panic.
But I took a deep breath and thought it through. We had quite a lot of food and snacks, the doors locked, the water container meant we were fine for hydration, we had portable mini mist fans and Uluru was only another hour drive away.
My plan was to wait it out patiently, wave down cars and ask them to alert the authorities in the next town and get a tow truck to come and collect us ASAP. There is no way we were going to walk it, and there was no way we were getting into stranger’s cars.
We ended up being stranded for three hours and spoke to three car loads of people in that time. Eventually, the tow truck arrived and we were saved just before sunset!
I’ve got to say, even when facing all those harsh natural elements, the biggest challenge by far was keeping the kids entertained in a car for that long.
So, even if it seems ridiculous to over prepare with things like 20-liter containers of water in the boot, it’s worth it. Better to be safe than sorry!
#5: Over prepare, then go with the flow
There are some things you just can’t plan for, so there’s no use stressing. My trick is to do everything I possibly can to plan for the holiday before the departure date, and then as soon as we set off, I try to relax and go with the flow.