How to Travel with Children Without Losing the Plot

How to travel with children without losing the plot?

Like most of my parenting journey, I learnt the hard way how to travel with children.

We’ve certainly had moments on our trips that we’d all prefer to forget. For example, when they were babies and we had food poisoning from a questionable chicken burger on our way to a wedding in Queensland. And when we moved to the USA — six flights in 56 hours with three children under five, and no sleep!

On our way home several years later, we traveled through the Rocky Mountains and danced with real live American Indians. We went to Universal Studios and screamed on the Jurassic Park ride. And we visited Mickey Mouse at Disneyland – where our four year old whacked him on his nose! Ouch!

We did things we never dreamed we’d do.

Yet, six months later, our children announced that their favourite place in the whole wide world was Lake Bonney Caravan Park, a couple of hour’s drive from our home in Adelaide. And their favourite ‘theme park’ was the Monash playground, a free community playground in the Riverland.

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Family trips became one of our favourite things to do

and we’ve had fewer of those ‘moments’ since we’ve learnt to simplify and enjoy the journey.scan_20161210-19

On one of our trips, the six of us traveled to Queensland in our Tarago–without a trailer or roof rack. Many caravan parks now have camp kitchens, so we no longer have to take our own barbecue or gas bottle, tables, chairs, saucepans and kettles. On that trip we packed two very cheap tents, and limited each passenger to a back-pack and a handbag-sized bag, a gym-mat, pillow, polar-fleece blanket and quilt cover (without the quilt).

We relied completely on what the towns between Adelaide and Brisbane had for us to do and eat. We figured that they needed our business more than the big supermarkets back home did.

So we got to taste the bakery food in every town, and checked out community centres and local landmarks. In Coonabarabran, for instance, there was a really neat planetarium, where our seven-year-old astounded us with his questions about particular constellations. We had a great trip of over 7000 kilometres.

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Perhaps we’ve missed some of the more famous spots along the way.

But we’ve learnt to have fun, discovered all sorts of surprises and enjoyed the diversity of interests in our family. And the kids have stored up enough silly stories about their parents to write their own novel.

 

Tips we’ve learnt along the way:

.    Treat the whole journey as an adventure.

Don’t try to travel too far in one day with little kids. Take your time, even if you need to take an extra day to get there.

Stop every couple of hours, at least, to break up your trip, stretch legs, wear off energy, find a toilet and perhaps, change seats.scan_20161210-15

Even a pile of stones or a creek on the side of the road can turn into an adventure. More than likely, your kids will remember the tiniest thing you did along the way — as long as they had time to spend with you.

.    Pack a ball or Frisbee and find the local playgrounds. Most towns have an oval or sports park. Botanic gardens and national parks are usually cheap places to visit, and they have all sorts of adventures in store for kids (of all ages).

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.    Have the children participate in the planning. Get some maps or ‘trip-tix’ from your automobile association, information from the internet or library, and help the children to plan and anticipate the trip. On the way, help them to follow the roads on the maps, and look for interesting landmarks such as Big Koalas, old buildings and airstrips.

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.    Save your sanity! As parents of little children you still need to cater, cook, wash and clean, even when on holiday.

Aim for simplicity. Is it necessary to have a big holiday far away while your children are really little? Could you get the same benefit from having a more relaxed time somewhere closer?

Is your destination family-friendly?  Could you be less ambitious about how far you will travel on the first day? Is it possible to get the kids looked after while you pack? Could you spend a whole day just relaxing when you get to your first destination? Can you plan to have a day to chill when you arrive home, so you’re not exhausted when you return to work and school?

We discovered that the most stress came from just getting going.

Our parents/grandparents live an hour away. So sometimes we stay there on our first night, just so we’re on the road – then have an early start from there the next morning. With a box of cereal, a long-life milk, (and a stainless-steel coffee plunger) we head off before anyone is ready for breakfast, and stop for brekky somewhere further along the road.

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.    Keep a list of travel games in the glovebox: ‘I spy’, ‘Car cricket’*, ‘Animal, vegetable or mineral?’ Borrow audio books from your local library or download them onto a phone, or stock up on the CDs your kids like to listen to. Make sure they are not your most ‘unfavourite’.

.    What about a scrapbook? Keep a glue stick handy to incorporate collections you make along the way: tickets,  pressed flowers and leaves. Have pencils/felt-tip pens on hand for kids to ‘journal’ — even a two-year-old can ‘draw’ his trip, while a school-age child can write a diary. Remember, like the trip, it’s not the destination or end result that is always the most important.

.    Keep bottles of water in the car and a picnic kit in the boot or in your luggage, with a plate and a knife, and a jar of Vegemite or peanut butter. Lunch can be as simple as purchasing a loaf of fresh bread at the local bakery and making fresh sandwiches at the local playground, saving money for entrances to zoos and theme parks and for accommodation. A bottle of water and a roll of good quality paper-towel makes great wipes for sticky fingers and faces.

.    A trip to the local supermarket for a roasted chicken, a bag of salad and some bread rolls makes a quick, nutritious and relatively inexpensive meal for a family. It’s easy to pack to take to theme parks or to eat when you arrive at your destination. And it really helps the cook to enjoy the holiday!

Pack a bag of apples, bananas or oranges for healthy ‘fast’ food. Freeze long-life milk or drinks to keep your esky (cool-box) cool, and to keep the little ones hydrated, cool and busy for a while.scan_20161210-ggaf-15

.    Children don’t tend to appreciate the value of your money. While Disneyland might have been your life-long dream, that does not oblige your child to appreciate its monetary value. The simple things in life are often the best.

.    Give your children their own spending money, or even better, help them to save for the occasion. Then allow them the freedom to spend ‘their’ money and learn its value. It’s also an effective technique for stopping the
‘I want…s’.

We found this worked when we stopped for an ice-block too. We told the kids they could choose an ice-block up to x-amount. (As the kids have grown older and gone on their own adventures, our ice-blocks have been replaced by coffee.)

.    Teach your children protective behaviour.

Teach them to speak politely and respectfully to new people, but be aware of their safety and security: Not to tell anyone their name, or where they live. And to not go with anyone other than their family.

DO NOT put their name on their hat, t-shirt, bag etc. in a place where it is visible.

Teach your child to stand still if they are lost in a crowd, so that those they’ve lost can retrace their steps to find them. If someone else wants to help them, teach your child to stay still and ask the person to bring mum or dad to where they are.

Children should especially learn that ‘if you can’t see Mummy, Mummy can’t see you’. Practice at home, and get them to also practice saying ‘NO’ really loudly.

.    Keep a list of what to pack, so that you don’t keep forgetting the same thing, such as the hammer to bash in the tent pegs. (No prizes for guessing why I know that one).scan_20161210-14

.    Plan for your trip home too. Don’t be like me. On our first trip I had all sorts of activities for the way to Brisbane, but forgot about the trip home. Oops!

You might like to send some postcards to your home address to remind you of your trip. Or take lots of photos and put a book together as a keepsake. How about getting the kids to design a ‘slide-show’ – using music and narration, when they get home.  Or keep a private Facebook page or use Instagram especially for your trip.

.    Treat the whole trip as the adventure. So a caravan park an hour away can become as much a treat for your children as Disneyland. (Ain’t that the truth?)

.    Finally, remember that

‘Happiness is not the destination; it is a way of traveling’.

 

Originally published in 'The Lutheran' magazine, March 2008.

 

Where is the Green Yaris?

My plans to fly interstate to see my newest relative changed suddenly.  Instead of spending hours trying to find suitable flights and coordinating train trips, Chris and I found ourselves on the road, in our green Yaris, four days after my sister requested some company.

We tend to have the approach that a holiday isn’t just about the destination – but in the way of travelling. So we take our time to get to wherever we go, and make the most of the scenery and the people along the way. And we hate being in a rush.

There were several slight hiccups before we left

including a sudden shower of water over my feet as I sat in the passenger seat of the Yaris the night before we left.

Adelaide received yet another hail-storm that night. The hail missed our place, but we had a downpour big enough to confuse me. Was the splashing on my feet and the slushy sound in the front of the car due to the rain or had something gone wrong in the engine?

A search on you-tube helped me identify the source of the problem. Armed with very pointy tweezers I removed several leaves that clogged the outlet to the hose that should drain the condensation from the air-conditioner. Fixed!

Instead of leaving before the birds, we left after lunch – and headed to stay with a cousin in Mildura.

The reception by the cousin’s two small children was a little cool initially – until I produced a book from my bag –

‘The Book with No Pictures’.

‘I LOVE THAT BOOK!’

yelled the smaller of the two children, who grabbed my hand, took me over to the couch and climbed up next to me. Then he called to his bigger sister,

‘You’ve gotta hear this. It’s SO funny!’

The three of us sat and giggled, and their mum and dad and Chris came up close enough to discover what was going on, but far enough away so they didn’t look too interested.

Next morning, we left before the birds woke up and headed to Balranald – or so we thought. Let’s just say that Siri got lost. Siri is not intimately acquainted with Irymple – so before long, we discovered that we’d gone a full circle.

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The next time around we followed the street signs instead of the i-phone, and before we knew it, we were in soggy Balranald.

We spoke to the attendant at the servo about the water we’d seen the whole way from Mildura. She pointed out the water behind the caravan park rising up from the Murrumbidgee River. ‘Hopefully it won’t get much higher,’ she said.

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As we entered Hay, a sign said that the West Wyalong road was open. The driver who shall remain nameless rarely takes notice of signs. The navigator at that stage didn’t take much notice of that sign either. We stopped at a  pub for a coffee and a muffin.

A few years ago, we passed through Hay in the middle of a drought when there were puddles where the river should have been. This time, the river filled its banks and the rest of the place was green and sodden.

It wasn’t until we recognized that there were many, many road teams attending the road between West Wyalong and Forbes, and lots and lots of holes where the road used to be, that we remembered the sign that informed us and everyone else that the road was open. It had been flooded for weeks apparently. And  re-opened only the day before we drove upon it.

At Forbes we filled up our petrol tank, and a little further on stopped at McFeeters Motor Museum for a coffee. A cafe inside the museum hosted a bee-hive in a transparent perspex box to promote its ‘Buzz In’ honey shop and educate coffee-sippers like us.

The bees fascinated us.

The bees formed honey bee-chains–I wanted to write human-chains as an illustration–to bridge the gap between  the base of the box and the tray specifically provided for them to build their hive. The bees looked as though they were training for Cirque-de-Soleil and creating their own ‘Wheel of Death’.

On to our new friend’s home on a farm just out of Orange. We were treated to good ol’ fashioned hospitality, yummy food, lots of play and stories with their three-year-old and cuddles with their brand-new-baby.

The evening was full of story-telling, dancing and laughing. It included an impromptu duet performance by me on the piano, and our new friend Dave on pedal organ. We played whichever songs we both knew – which weren’t abundant. But we achieved playing several well enough that the others could recognize them and sing along – well, almost.

I surprised myself that, with a push, I could actually play by ear, and add accompaniment. Thanks for the push, Dave!

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The next morning, I got in the way in the kitchen while Chris ‘helped’ Dave outside doing ‘farm-work’ – but that’s another story.

 

Chris’s Morning on the Farm: Dog and Sheep Stories

Our morning at our new friends’ farm began much later than we expected. We rarely sleep in, but slept through baby’s squawks, Dave having breakfast, and a three year old who wanted to play.

We had the best breakfast! Milk straight from the cow. Eggs straight from the chooks. Bacon – from the friends of the pigs.

Then Chris went with Dave and the sheep dogs to help sort the sheep. ‘Help’ is a rather generous word, by all accounts.

They had to separate the girl sheep from the boy sheep. Chris, being from a farm himself, does know the difference and how to tell. But, try as he might, he could not identify which was which quickly enough to help Dave. By the time he thought he’d identified one sheep, Dave had sorted about four and had swung the gate one way or the other, to separate them into boy and girl pens.

In the end, Chris asked Dave how he could identify them so quickly.

‘Easy!’ Dave laughed. ‘Every sheep has an ear-tag. The boys on their left ear, the girls on their right. I just swing the gate according to which ear their tag is on.’

I think Chris was a little embarrassed, but he told me the story anyway.

Three Sheep Dogs

But his favourite story was about the farm’s three sheep dogs.

Dot, the smallest dog, is a sheep-dog-in-training. To our untrained eyes he looks like a Kelpie. He was efficient and obedient. Despite being the size of a medium-sized puppy, Dot knew where to be and how to convince the sheep where they should be.

Lucy, the biggest dog, was hopeless…well, as far as usefulness on a farm. A Maremma, a guardian of the sheep, Lucy flunked out of ‘guardian of the sheep’ school. Chris described Lucy’s ability to tend and guard the sheep as ‘She just thinks she is a sheep’.

Then there was Lambie. Apparently, Lambie was quite effective at rounding up the sheep and getting them to go wherever Dave wanted them to go.

The only trouble was that nobody has ever told Lambie that she is not a dog. She is a hand-reared sheep. She grew up around the house with Dot and Lucy and does everything with her two doggy-companions.

Even when Dave tried to intermingle Lambie back into the flock, that only lasted until Dave and the dogs headed back home. Then she’d split from the flock and rejoin her ‘family’ at the back door of the house.

So Dave was blessed with a puppy training to be a sheep-dog, a dog that thought she was a sheep, and a sheep that thought she was a dog.

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Today (Kakadu, Day 2): Mozzies 53- Julie nil

After my day in Kakadu yesterday, where my energy output exceeded my input and my willpower, I decided to give the others (Chris and Gabby) a day off.  I volunteered to stay behind at our camping ground at Cooinda in Kakadu, while they went to Gumlom Falls, unheeded by me.

Good call, apparently.

That allowed my companions freedom to drive on bumpy roads, climb and swim while I had a personal retreat day.

My challenge: to be still and to simply be.

The car drove off with them in it, only a few moments before I realized I’d left my hat in the boot.  That just meant that I must stay in the shade all day.

Aah…but…Chris had left his glasses in the tent.

So, very soon, the wanderers returned,  we swapped the pair of glasses for my hat and they departed. Again.

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Under the shade of my hat, I gathered my tools together; books, paper, pens, paints, plates, cups, drink, kleenex, esky, hand-bag. And I wandered through the park to find a shady table and bench.

As I strolled past the bistro directly between our tent and the pool, I noticed the queue of between 50 and 60 people lining up for breakfast.PANO_20160705_090414 (1)

I congratulated myself on our choice to camp, and took a photo to remind myself that camping is a good idea, for the next time I felt that I might prefer a few more luxuries than a tent and a camp-stretcher.

I wandered through the shaded area just beyond the perimeter of the pool fence, found the perfect spot, set out the tools of my trade and began to sit quietly.

Aah! Serenity…

Except for the buzz of mosquitoes…

S l o w . . .  m o s q u i t o e s…

Julie: Five in one swoop

Mozzies: zero

Then… the mozzies I missed called for reinforcements.

And I remembered the one tool I’d left at the tent…

. . . Insect repellent.

Dilemma 1: Do I need to pack up everything in order to return to the camp-site to retrieve the insect repellent?

I continued to sit for about three seconds, thinking I might be able to sit it out… until more of the mozzie-army invaded.

Mozzies: 53

Julie: Nil – and 53 Mozzie bites.

Decided to leave most things as they were, but just take things of value with me.
Then sprinted (in a Julie-style-sprint) laden with my hand-bag, esky and books, across the park to pick up insect repellent, and Tea Tree Oil for the mozzies which had already got me.

Note to self: Always carry Tea Tree Oil.
Great for Mozzie bites, wasp stings, burns, infections: And especially soothing for bites from bugs that hitch a ride in your trousers while you’re on guided walks around the base of Uluru, and bite when they want to get out.

I returned to my spot.

And I sat.

And I wrote.

Dilemma 2: I get bored easily

Before I knew it, I was up and looking for some distraction. Any distraction.
Usually it’s food.
Today, I got frustrated with myself, knowing that at last I was all set up and had actually written something, yet I needed to wriggle.
I look at my phoned and jumped for joy that I’d been writing without distraction for eighty-three minutes. I got up, wriggled a little bit, and sat down again.

Julie: one
Mozzie: Zero

I deemed that I’d earned a coffee break…

The bistro-brekky-bunch had subsided. So I ordered a long-black coffee with soy milk on the side, sat at a bistro bench and sipped while I observed the people around me. But the patrons seemed intent on being peculiarly uninteresting. And the barramundi burger was less than inspiring: Not sure how the cook did that.

Refreshed

I returned to my reclusive table outside of the pool, right next to the playground. where a dad and his three little girls played together for the next hour.

I sat and I sat and I sat.  And listened and smiled and wrote and remembered why I wanted to write to inspire parents. The little family was so full of happiness – enjoying each others’ discoveries, helping but not interrupting, encouraging but not demanding, allowing exploration without initiating fear.  I wished I could bottle that love and spread it onto pages.

The afternoon grew warmer – and I edged closer to the pool, found a deck-chair and nestled in. Several families moved in close around me. I wondered if they knew they’d be observed.

A mum nearby read several new books to her children. Then she decided to read a book to herself while the three children shared TWO books.

Uh Oh!

Of course it was Little Mister Three who missed out. And everyone in the whole resort heard about it.

I love to keep bubbles in my hand-bag for such occasions. But with all the travelling we’d done, bubbles had not been on my list of what to pack.

But, as a writer and experimental painter/drawer, I had paper and pencils. So I wandered over to the family.

‘Excuse me, I’m trying to write a book and I need some pictures. Is there anyone here who might like to draw a picture?’

Mister Three’s eyes popped open. He jumped up and shouted.

‘I can. I can.’

Big brother and sister wanted to as well, but the mum said,

‘No, he was first’, so I left Mister Three with my pencil and some paper and went back to my deck-chair.

A few minutes later, little Mister Three was at the foot of my chair.

He held up his picture for me to admire and told me all about it, that his name was Jack, and that he was having a great holiday. And could he do some more, please.

My afternoon progressed with meeting other families who came to enjoy the pool. I talked with mums and dads and kids and aunties. We talked about where we were from, where we were going, places we recommend, things we’d seen, what we’d learnt along the way, and shared any news we’d heard.

‘Do we have a Prime Minister yet?’ I asked a dad, who had grown up in the town next to where I’d grown up.

But while we were talking, my grown-ups returned from their trip, excited at what they’d done, and not-so-secretly thankful that I hadn’t gone with them.

A great day of climbing and swimming for them.
And a day that reminded me of my vocation.

Refreshment for all of us.

The best kind of day.

 

 

 

MORE DUNNY DESTINATIONS…

Willalooka  - Lovely LOO with piped music
WillaLOOka SA – Lovely LOO with piped music
The people of Padthaway SA tend to a lovely grounds surrounding the popular toilet plot.  (Thanks Kylie for the photos)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to a reliable source, The dunny of Gunnedah (could we call it the Gunny Dunny?) has a reason worth remaining seated…The reading of Australian Tales, probably Banjo Patterson.

If you happen to be passing by the Gunny Dunny, please record it and I’ll put it into this blog.

Thanks!

 

Dunny Destinations

During our recent travels, I noticed that the central theme of travel for middle-aged to older women seems to be ‘Where is the next loo?’ aka toilet, dunny, bathroom, wc, wash-room, rest-room…

At one rest-stop in Northern Territory, between 18 and 20 caravans were camped around one of these ‘dunny destinations’.

And I wondered, if the dunny appears to be the destination, why is there not a bigger attempt at making them more accessible, more user-friendly, more appealing and, dare I ask, more attractive.

Our next ‘dunny destination’ proved that I was not the first to ask this question. I wasn’t quite equipped to take a photo of the actual dunny in question, but found myself taking a photo of its hand-basin, and laughed when another patron pulled out her camera to do the same thing.

So, I invite you to send me photos of your ‘dunny destinations’ – so we can choose the most attractive, appealing and even entertaining dunnies in Australia.

I’m beginning with this one at The Lazy Lizard in Pine Creek, NT.  (Yes, sorry! This is just the hand-basin. But impressive – don’t you think?)IMG_4131

Honorary mention also to Timber Creek caravan park, Northern Territory, and to Bark Hut pub, NT. (Please don’t hesitate to send me photos of these).

 

 

 

 

Home again, home again…

We’re home again. Arrived at the airport at lunch time Thursday with peace in our hearts and minds and only a little anxiety at how things would be at our house.

This morning, I’ve spent my first few hours checking out some photos, my journal, and planning for where to begin this next phase of our lives.

In my  journal I was reminded about a sermon I heard while we were away, by Casey Treat. A phrase he said hit home to me and has been playing in my mind ever since. He said that some miracles are spontaneous and have instant effects.

‘But most times’, he said, ‘you’ve got to walk into your miracle every day’.

When we began our trek around the beautiful Northern Territory, I was unfit and felt sorry for myself. For the past couple of weeks, my mind has replayed ‘You’ve got to walk into your miracle everyday!’ Walking into my miracle has worn out my new shoes and given me a new attitude.

My husband heard the same sermon. Before the sermon he encouraged me up and over and through King’s Canyon. He sat with me when I conked out on the way to the Mirray lookout at Kakadu, and helped me get to the top…eventually.

2016-07-12 16.57.27He taught me about where to place my feet, to take the smallest steps possible to conserve energy. He held my water bottle and my camera. And held my hand when I was scared.

Since the sermon he’s been encouraging me to ‘walk into my miracle everyday’, pointing out my progress.

I need to add here that the kids were almost placing bets as to whether we would come back liking each other more, or ready to throw each other off a cliff. I think they’re happy.

We’ve had lots of coffee. We’ve eaten lots of camp food and many take-aways, especially if there were markets available. We’ve even helped to cater for several meals for 80! We’ve spent time with our daughter and some dear friends, and made new ones.

We’ve laughed a lot. We’ve talked a lot. We’ve held hands a lot and learnt more about each other. We’ve also realized how much we’ve rubbed off on each other over the past 28 years. The past month has refreshed our relationship–another miracle we’ve walked into every day.

2016-06-18 14.50.14Now we’re home again and I guess there’s the temptation to get back into the same life we left a month ago: which would seem to destroy the purpose of having ever left.

My hope is that the good things will continue – spending time together, less television and news interrupting our day, our increased communication with each other.

But what I’ve learnt during this trip is that hoping to do well in anything doesn’t bring the miracles. It’s walking into those miracles everyday that makes the difference.

It doesn’t matter where we walk. What does matter is that we consciously and intentionally continue to walk into the miracle of a great relationship, together. And wherever we are will be home.