Family vanning holidays are a great Australian tradition. What better experience than to corral the kids, load up the van and head off for an adventure.
Incredible memories are made on family getaways, kids make new friends, everyone experiences new environments and learns a little more about our great country. But it’s not quite as free and easy — great family road trips require planning, preparation and an ability to adapt quickly to life on the road and all the challenges that come with it.
Wayne Park, Relationship Manager with finance brokerage Credit One, knows better than most what it takes to have a great holiday with the family. Not only does he deal with RV owners every day trying to decide the best style of RV for their preferred method of travel, he has been on countless caravan trips with his own family. Here, he offers his expert advice to prepare for, and enjoy, a fabulous trip away.
PACK YOUR BAGS
The first step is to decide where you’ll be going, for how long, and where you’ll stay. Bookings take the stress out of a holiday, although some families also prefer the freedom to move whenever they like.
But the style of trip you’ll do — beach vs inland national park for instance — the terrain you’ll cover and the season you’re travelling in all play a part in what you pack. You can’t take the kitchen sink with you — and anyway, it would be too heavy. Families need to be conscious they are not overloading the van or the tow vehicle past its legal limits.
“There is limited amounts of storage inside caravans and of course you will be limited by the weight that you can carry,” Park says. “And remember you’re going on an outdoor adventure, to have an experience that you don’t have at home, so you don’t need to take all your possessions with you.”
Park says families need to be wary of taking stuff they simply won’t need or use. Pack minimal amounts of the clothes and shoes that the kids will need for whatever style of holiday you’ll have, and restrict the toys the kids can take by giving them a storage container each.
“If everybody has a plastic tub to fill and take, the kids can make their own choices, it’s equal space and you’re not taking excess items that you won’t use,” he says. “It just comes down to packing smarter.”
“ARE WE THERE YET?”
Every parent and grandparent can appreciate how grating it can be to hear this constant, classic query from the backseat on long drives. Travelling with kids requires a different road trip plan to what you might be comfortable with as an adults-only touring party, says Park. He says it’s all about being prepared, pulling over more regularly and thinking of ways to entertain the kids in the car.
“You should be stopping every two hours for safety anyway, but think about stopping a little bit more frequently just to get out, stretch your legs and give everyone a little break,” he says.
And, even though there are probably only so many games of ‘eye spy’ you can play, come equipped with an armoury of car games, books, magnetic board games or electronic devices to steer kids away from Boredom Town.
“Pre-planning includes considering what is going to keep the kids entertained and not annoy each other because that will be one of the biggest issues you’ll have with road trips and siblings,” he says.
Park also suggests considering how far you are travelling to get to your destination. If it’s more than a comfortable day’s drive, or you are travelling for longer periods of time to multiple destinations, he suggests leaving early to ensure you have plenty of time for the drive but also the setup at the other end.
“If you can arrive at your destination with at least two hours of daylight in front of you, then you can unpack and settle in before nightfall — arriving after dark can be a stress,” he says.
HAPPY PARK LIFE
Many families choose to stay in caravan parks for the camaraderie of other kids on holiday, the facilities on offer (think water parks and playgrounds) and the convenience. They are great places for families to relax and most people expect the park to have kids running around — but there are some unwritten (and some actual written) rules to abide by.
Park says it’s important to check whether the managers of the park you choose allows things like bikes, scooters and skateboards, as that’s an immediate buzzkill for free-wheeling kids if they don’t.
For parks where kids are permitted to roam freely on their bikes, they must understand the road rules, any speed limits or no-go zones and be considerate of other campers.
“I guess at the best of times you can’t always control them, but the kids need to show a level of respect to the other campers around them who are also trying to have a great holiday,” he says.
As kids make friends, Park says to be prepared for your van to be inundated with new arrivals — even early in the morning and late at night. This is where parental etiquette comes in — make some rules about acceptable ‘visiting hours’ and make sure other parents are aware of them.
Noise considerations also apply to adults — late-night karaoke sessions are unlikely to be tolerated by the park management, and your neighbours will soon pull you into line.
Park says communication is key — while some kids are lucky enough to have their own mobile phone, he and his wife utilised a cheaper way to keep in contact.
“The first thing we would do when we’d arrive is offload the push bikes for the kids and then give them a walkie talkie,” he says. “They were great because the kids thought it was a game but in actual fact, it was us keeping tabs on them. And we could call them back at any time. One thing about kids on a camping holiday, there is no concept of time.”
FEEDING THE TRIBE
On the road you’ll have far less space to store food in both the cupboards and fridge/freezer than you do at home, so Park’s advice is to keep things simple and plan ahead.
He recommends making some meals before you leave and putting them in the freezer (such as the trusty spag bol) for days when you’ve been having a ball at the beach and are simply too tired to put a lot of effort into cooking. Creating a meal plan before you leave — deciding on the foods you want to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner and stocking up accordingly — is also a great idea from a storage perspective.
“Most people that go on camping trips these days pretty much have their meals organised, and it saves time and money,” he says.
Park says to plan meals that are fuss-free and don’t require complicated ingredients or hours of slaving over a hot stove. And ensure the ingredients you do take can be used in multiple meals.
“Don’t expect to have gourmet meals every night,” he says. “At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with a hotdog or cheese toastie for dinner when you’re on holiday. The whole idea of camping is it’s a fun trip, so why stick to the norm?”
Park and his family were big fans of using the communal camp kitchen at parks, especially the barbecue. Think snags and salad, char-grilled corn or chicken skewers — there are literally hundreds of barbie meals that can satisfy a hungry horde.
SLOW THE CASH FLOW
Family holidaying can be expensive, but Park has some great tips.
Making a meal plan and cooking on holiday will cull the food costs — and avoiding or limiting takeaway is a must for any family on a budget. Also, when pulling over for rest breaks, Park suggests avoiding service stations each time, and pre-pack snacks for the trips.
“If you keep stopping at those places where you can buy things, all of a sudden you’re forking out for lunch, for ice creams and for coffee every time someone needs to stretch their legs or take a toilet break,” he says.
“Pack a lunch so you can have a picnic along the way, and try to stop at parks that offer amenities and perhaps a little playground.”
Tourist attractions — and their entry fees — can be an expensive part of an adventure. Park recommends researching the area you’re travelling to and understand what there is to see and do, as well as how much it would cost. Include tours in that research as well. Then work out what you’d like to do as a family and what you can afford.
“You can actually look at the prices online, so you get a real feel for how much you’re going to be up for before you even leave home,” he says. “You can say, ‘OK, of the four attractions that we like, it’s going to cost $100 entry for us and three kids plus items like food and drink’, and then you can plan for it.”
Booking tickets online for the family can also ease stress on the wallet.
“A lot of places, you can get better rates if you book something online versus actually at the front gate,” he says.
And, in terms of accommodation costs, Park says some families may choose to limit their expenses by pulling in to free camping sites along the way, depending on their setup.
Family caravanning holidays are fun, adventurous and memorable for everyone, And, with a little planning and forward thinking, it can be a stress-free experience that doesn’t break the bank.
Interested in climbing aboard the RV bandwagon? Credit One is Australia’s best-rated caravan finance broker and has access to a large number of financiers that can tailor a loan to suit your individual needs. That being either borrowing the entire amount or topping up with a partial loan to get the unit you really want. Having flexibility inside the loan to make extra repayments or to pay out the loan early is fast becoming the preferred option for many borrowers while keeping costs down. The Credit One Caravan team has a 22-year history of getting more people into this great lifestyle with a tailored loan as they deal with industry professionals day in and day out.
For more information about financing your dream or to obtain a pre-approval prior to negotiating with a dealer or private seller, make the smart choice and call the Credit One Caravan team on 1300 273 348, 07 3420 7030 or visit creditone.com.au.