It’s a totally selfish attitude, I have to admit! We take the in-laws with us on some of our trips and then I get to stay out bush longer. It works like this: the in-laws come with us, the wife gets to spend some time with her parents, or with her sister and brother-in-law, and that means she is not pining to see them so much and we can wander on our merry way together and not come home, sometimes (often!) for months. Otherwise, once the three-month mark has passed, Viv is starting to think of home, and by the time six months is up, things are decidedly tetchy and I’d better turn the truck towards the family digs.
“Geez, that is a big price to pay”, I can hear some of you say! But it’s not all bad news travelling with the ’laws.
Luckily, my in-laws had the travel bug early on and loved the camping and caravanning lifestyle, spending more than three years wandering around Oz on the ‘Big Lap’ back in the late 1980s. Before then we had sort of got used to one another’s company over a multitude of 4WD trips to Cape York and the Simpson. However, those were always in our own vehicles, so we weren’t living in each other’s pockets all day and every day. That separation is a big help, especially if you’ve only met them before at those big family occasions such as when you got engaged, married, or on somebody’s birthday.
Travelling in separate vehicles means, as well as the reduction in strain on all concerned, there are different adventures to recount when sitting around the campfire that evening. And if you are travelling with the kids, you can palm them off on the in-laws for a day’s travelling without, “are we there yet?” questions and demands from the back seat.
However, on our last few trips the in-laws have been travelling with us in our vehicle so there were a few things we needed to get straight even before the key to the ol’ Patrol was turned over.
PLANNING THE TRIP
Now, I reckon you have to lay down a few rules so everyone knows where they stand.
Before heading off on a road trip with the in-laws it is important to establish the style of camping you are going to do. They may be thinking that they’ll be staying in motels or cabins or having just a night or two in a caravan park for something really adventurous. If you are like us and enjoy bush camping on our own away from others and generally away from any facilities, this needs to be made clear with them.
Toilet requirements are a necessary discussion point around this time. Your mother-in-law needs to know that a ‘toilet stop’ is accompanied with a shovel and a few rules to follow regarding the hole to dig and what to do with the toilet paper. Your compromise, and the compromises made by the in-laws, may be different to ours, but you’ve gotta work it out before you go.
Perhaps the next most important point to come to grips with is money and who pays for what. One of the upsides of travelling with the in-laws is that there is somebody to share the cost of the fuel, the camping fees and similar expenses but just make sure everyone is clear on that. We run a kitty which covers all communal expenses including fuel, food, camping fees, even a trip to the pub for a meal. Keep the other expenditures, such as grog and souvenirs, separate and ensure that everyone knows where they stand.
Have an idea of where the in-laws want to go and what they want to see. Have a chat about the places you want to check out – you may be surprised at how much agreement there is.
Food is another quagmire where things can go wrong and relationships get strained. Luckily for all of us involved in our family adventures, we all eat meat to varying degrees. I’m a bit of a carnivore, probably more so than the rest of our crew.
Then there are the times when you might just enjoy doing something different to what you’d go and see normally. Like when the in-laws wanted to go to some famous gardens and I baulked at the entry price. With the option of sitting in the Patrol on my own for the next few hours or wandering the streets like a waif, I buckled and paid the entry fee and trotted along like any good son-in-law and spouse does.
The great thing about our in-laws is that we enjoy each other’s company and we get on surprisingly well even after weeks living out of the same vehicle and van. I get to talk to the ol’ man or Rob, depending on who is travelling with us, about the best way to set up the tools in the shed, the best lure to use for barra, or what horse to back at the Oodnadatta Cup. Viv can talk with her mum or sister about cooking, the new dress she or they have bought, or whatever else women talk about when men aren’t around – probably us!
But one of the great things has been the relationship our son has developed with his grandparents. Yep, they were used as babysitters on many of our trips for a day or so while camped on Cape York and many other places dotted around Australia (another advantage of taking the in-laws!) but in the process they all spent a lot of time together doing things in the bush like fishing and exploring. Their relationship now is incredibly strong and loving, all brought about by those earlier bush trips where there is a chance for grandparents to spend time with the grandkids without the distractions of TV, mobile phones and computer games to intervene. It is, and has been, great to see.
And if this has been no help whatsoever and you are looking down the barrel of heading off with the in-laws, just Google ‘how to travel with the in-laws’. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find and how many experts there are out there to help you. Best of luck!
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #568. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!