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Why I always hate the first week of camping 

My non-camping friends when I tell them we’re going away with our campervan and toddler: 

“Oh how relaxing, have a lovely holiday!” 

 Is it relaxing?  Some of the time. 

Is it a holiday?  About as much as backpacking is a holiday.  Or a stopover in a random city.  It can be the time of your life.  It’s an experience.  It’s the essence of travel.  But relaxing?  Mmmm not all the time. 

 I just don’t think these people who truly believe you are away having a relaxing holiday have any idea of what you are doing in that van most of the time. 

The amount of times I’ve been on the road and have had the thought pop into my head, if today was a normal day at work I’d be having a better day.  Why?  Because sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it would have been much easier to just stay home. 

But it’s not bad, it’s just different. 

And I always need a week to get into the new schedule of campervan travel.  My mind needs a week to move down a gear from normal everyday 15-minute-timeslots to get-shit-done to ‘this task is going to take a lot longer than it should but that’s ok because you don’t have much else to do anyway’.  And eventually I’ll get to that place where I start walking slower, stop wearing shoes and read whatever crap I can find just for something to do. 

Sure you have more time, more time to sit on the beach, more time to read a book or just talk (the beauty of not having a TV) more time to spend with your loved ones.  And let’s be honest, these are the photos we’re putting up on Facebook.  But it’s hard in the beginning because everything takes longer in a campervan.   

Need to wash your dishes?  If you’re staying at a campground you’ll have to work out how to get your dishes to the camp kitchen, then wash them oh so slowly (all the while thinking about how much you love your dishwasher at home) then dry them, then get them back to the van, hopefully without dropping a knife on your foot.  Or a clean dish in the dirt.  But let’s be honest, doing dishes in a camp kitchen is a camping luxury.  Try doing day old dishes in 40 degree heat in a tiny sink with only cold water.  Oh and the water tank is kinda low so you need to RATION that stuff, do NOT waste it on rinsing dishes!   

Have a baby, or toddler, or child under a certain age who might sometimes have a tiny accident in bed or in their pants or in their clothes or on their favourite beloved blankey that then urgently needs to be washed?  This presents another issue while camping.  Doing the washing.   

Been to Europe?  You’ll find yourself walking a kilometre to reception to pay for a token to take to the laundry room (that you need a key for, also from reception) that houses the washing machine, instructions definitely not in English.  It’s probably going to rain just as you’ve finished hanging the last towel on a spare tree branch nearby.  Ah, the luxuries of home that we take for granted. 

And I haven’t even started on the real issues.  The two weeks of uncharacteristically bad weather, cold weather, rain that doesn’t stop, no phone reception to find your camping spot, no map (Melways are SO 90’s!), nowhere to fill up clean drinking water (thanks Kangaroo Island), sick husband or cranky toddler (cranky husband and sick toddler are another good combination).   

Crescents Head campground in campervan

Oh and we can’t forget my primary camping hate – noisy camping neighbours.  So paranoid am I, I won’t camp within 100 metres of another person – OK slight exaggeration but I do search for surrounding P plate cars and then leave the vicinity if there are any, even if we’ve just taken 30 minutes to check in and set up. 

So why do I do it?  Why do I love it so much?  Why do I spend my working days selling and building campervans, my holidays and weekends living in campervans and my nights watching movies about people in campervans?  I’ll tell you why.   

Because those people who have no idea what we DO in a campervan really have no idea. 

They’ve never had that feeling of elation when you roll up at an isolated, pristine and completely empty beach on a perfect summer’s day. 

They’ve never opened their eyes in the morning, opened the curtain and had the feeling of gratitude that you’ve slept IN a beautiful rainforest, on a breathtaking clifftop, the list goes on. 

They’ve never tasted tea or boiled eggs eaten on camping chairs looking over the clifftop, into the forest, watching the sunrise, with the wonderful feeling that there are no other human beings on earth but you.  When the most beautiful places in the world are your doorstop it doesn’t even matter if you forget the sugar for your tea or salt for your eggs. 

They’ve never felt the lightness that comes with only having 2 Tshirts to choose from, no reason to look in the mirror or comb your hair, no housework to do but sit outside. 

They’ve never had the feeling of freedom that you get when you’ve got your van packed and you set off down the road to check out the next beach/town/it doesn’t really matter because you don’t need to book accommodation because you’re like a tortoise or a snail or a gypsy and you are truly free because your home travels with you.  

What can you tell someone whose about to buy their first campervan?  Well it’s the same as having a child really.   

It’ll be hard at times, but it’ll be worth it.  It’s a different way of living, but once you’ve done it you would never go back to the old way.  And although sometimes you’ll be angry and frustrated (at the teenagers with loud music at 4am) the other times it’ll be so great you’ll never want your journey to end.  

Crescents Head campground in campervan

CAMPING WITH A TODDLER – TOP TIPS 

We’ve now spent a total of 12 months (on and off or we wouldn’t have a job!) with our toddler in our campervan.  Some of the time I wished we’d stayed home.  Some of the time I had to admit the way we travelled ‘before’ had to change.  It was tough but when we made a few changes to our camping itinerary and travelling style everyone was happier and we had a much more relaxed time, by the end we’d created a way of living that was sustainable long term (if only we were so lucky!)  Here are a few things we learnt:   

The easy bits… 

  • Always have a pack of baby wipes in the van, even if your toddler is toilet trained.  There will always be accidents, better to be prepared!   
  • As per the above, always keep a spare set of bed sheets in your van with you.   
  • This next camping hack is completely wasteful and goes against everything I believe in, but you only need to utilise it for the shortest time until the ‘learning and accidents’ stage has passed, and it has saved me A LOT of stress when on the road.  Before you leave on your trip, make a visit to the cheapest shop you can think of that sells kids clothes (it was Kmart for me) and purchase the cheapest bulk pack of undies.  I got them for 70cents a pair.  At that price a ‘big’ accident meant the undies went straight in the bin and I saved myself some messy washing. 
  • Have a stash of healthy ‘ready’ foods on hand for when you won’t be able to make dinner by ‘dinner time’ or will be going to a pub or restaurant and don’t know if they’ll offer anything for your little one.   As an example, we always have at least a couple of tins of baked beans, tuna, an avocado, wholegrain crackers and peanut butter on hand.   
  • If you are as unlucky as us and have a toddler who hates car travel, you’ll find road tripping distances in Australia a nightmare too.  I’ve also got a slight problem with utilising our ipad as babysitter so had to come up with another idea – music.  If we played ‘her’ music, she was much more likely to sit there happily for an hour than if we played ‘our music’.  How lovely, a road trip listing to the Hokey Pokey on repeat for an hour.  Enter the best purchase we’ve made in a long time: A pair of children’s Bluetooth JBL headphones.  These are so wonderful I could write a blog on the headphones alone.  No cord, safety volume feature, comfy, great sound, LONG life (I rarely charge them) not that expensive ($50).  You can play your child’s music on your phone and YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIST TO IT.  Bonus: try calling grandparents and friends and letting your little one have a ‘private’ chat = another hour gone. 

 The bits that you might not want to do but make life easier for everyone if you do 

  • This one’s pretty obvious but you may be tempted to push it, don’t bother.  Travel short distances at a time (1.5 hours?) punctuated by 30 minute playground breaks.   
  • Google maps is great.  You can open your map, show your location and then just type in ‘playground’ and they will show up on the map.  You can even see ‘ratings’ and photos if there are any, plus walking or driving directions.   
  • As we all know, toddlers are creatures of routine and familiarity and these things make them feel happy and comfortable.  Sesame Street didn’t play the same episode at the same time for one week as it’s primary marketing activity for no reason at all.  Sleep in a different location every night and your toddler’s likely to feel (and act) a little unsettled.  For this reason, we’d suggest planning to stay longer in each place than you usually would, and try to avoid staying anywhere for just one night.   
  • This one was discovered in Europe where there are more attractive ‘big cities’ that I’d traditionally loved to have visited, but it’s similarly true in Australia (1 night in Newcastle was stressful and disappointing after a few blissful weeks in tiny coastal towns).  With a toddler (and I say this with gritted teeth) sometimes it’s better to avoid cities altogether.  Cities mean it’s harder to get a carpark, there’s sometimes traffic, the campground might be out of the city meaning you have to work out ways with public transport or walking to get into the actual city centre.  At the end of the day, what do WE want to do in a city anyway?  I’ll tell you what.  We want to go shopping (or at least window shopping!), see the sights and go out for coffee, dinner, drinks.  Let’s be honest – none of these things are particularly toddler friendly.  Better to save that Sydney stopover to a weekend away WITHOUT the kids. Enjoying the Campground playground Family fun Camping in bad weather can still be fun

CAMPING WITH A BABY/TODDLER – THE NECESSITIES

Thinking of campervanning with a newborn, baby or toddler? Below we detail the main things to keep in mind before you set off!

The weather
Sure, we went camping in winter BEFORE but NOW? If it’s cold once the sun goes down we can’t just escape into the van to continue on the party/board game playing/reading/watch a movie. Such a small space means lights inside must be kept off once babies asleep (7pm!) This means cold weather camping nights are solely to be enjoyed by the fire. Still enjoyable but don’t forget to bring the firewood or you’ll be up for a very early night indeed!

240 volt power
We would never have been caught dead in a caravan park, and paying for power?! HA! WHAT FOR?! I’ll tell you what for:
Being able to heat up milk or snacks easily using the microwave in our van as opposed to getting out the cooker/pot/cooking utensils to heat up half a cupful of food that will most likely not get eaten anyway…

Your neighbours
Not much has changed here, I am well knows to be VERY paranoid about where we park and who our neighbours are. I know nothing can ruin an evening more than loud/drunk/late parrying within earshot. So what’s changed, I am even MORE paranoid about who we park next to as I know it’s not just MY sleep that will be effected when we woken up at 1am by drunk teenagers.

LWB vs SWB
OK we couldn’t afford a LWB, but MAN how that 30cm would have changed our life in that first year. 30cm?! That’s right, the difference between a LWB and SWB – the difference between being able to fit a porta cot in your van and not being able to. Sure we made do by creating a safe sleeping space for baby in the pop top roof bed but (see point above) how we miss the possibility of being able to pull down the roof of a nighttime to avoid outside noise and make the most of Ronny’s wonderful insulation job…

A bottle off wine
To celebrate what a great job you’ve done when said baby/toddler is finally asleep!

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