Camping: The good, the bad and the ugly

DSC_1483We’ve just completed our 30-day drive up the eastern coast of Australia in a campervan, driving more than 4,000 km from Sydney to Cairns with a few detours in between. We did and saw some amazing things, but I think it’s safe to say that we’re happy our camping days are behind us! I’m still not sure whether it was the best or worst decision we’ve ever made – there were moments where I nearly divorced my husband, disowned my children (only kidding, of course!) and swore I’d never return to Australia. BUT it was a really wonderful way to see the country, and the highlights of our trip were well worth the struggles — snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef was worth the journey alone! I think it all would have been much more enjoyable (and easy) if we didn’t have the kids, but the irony is that the kids LOVED the campervan and could carry on camping forever.
I’m sure in years to come we will look back at our camping trip with really fond memories but right now I’m happy to be sleeping on a mattress, eating good meals and staying put for more than three days at a time.

Anyway, now that I’m a ‘camping expert’ I’ve compiled a list of all the pros and cons of traveling in a campervan (with young kids).

Pros:
•You never have to unpack your suitcases.
•You have everything you need with you at all times.
•You never have to worry about where you’ll be sleeping – you’re always ‘home’.
•It’s easy to stop for lunch whenever and wherever you like, as you always have your kitchen/food with you.
•You can enjoy a more spontaneous schedule – stay for however long you like in each place.
•There are loads of campsites in Australia, which means you always have a choice of where to stay.
•Many of the campsites have pools and other children’s activities which the kids LOVE. It’s also a good opportunity for your kids to make friends.
•Many campsites here in Australia have a separate bathroom for families with young children which usually includes a deep sink for bathing babies.
•Our campervan had a TV and DVD player which kept the kids entertained while we were driving.
•You see so much more of the country if you drive it – the good and the bad – so you get a better appreciation of the country and the people.

Cons:
•The space is tiny and cramped, and it requires a lot of organization.
•You have to use public toilets/showers, some of which are crawling with bugs.
•It’s no fun when your 2-year-old has to use the toilet in the middle of the night and you have to walk across the campsite to the toilet (especially in the rain)!
•You have to set up your beds each night before going to sleep – a process which takes a minimum of 20 minutes… and loads of patience.
•When one person moves/coughs/cries/talks it wakes everyone else up.
•If it rains, everything gets wet. And it’s no fun sitting inside a campervan for long periods of time, especially with kids.
•Before setting off every morning you have to put everything away, lock every cupboard, dump your waste water, unplug your power cord, put car seats back in place, etc. This process takes at least an hour, which is a LONG time when you have tired/cranky kids.
•Check-in at the campsites is usually by 6pm and check-out in the morning is at 10am – not easy when it takes an hour just to set off.
•Internet is either non-existent on the campsites, or VERY expensive. I paid $20 an hour on several occasions only to have a very slow internet connection – frustrating!

- Courtney

17 COMMENTS - Add your own

1. Heather | February 25, 2010 | Reply

I’m taking my two kids to stay in a caravan with my mother and step father for a couple of weeks in May. i think I must be insane!

2. Vanessa | February 25, 2010 | Reply

Oh Courtney….thanks so much for being honest about it!!! it does sound super family-friendly on paper when you talk about going on a camping trip, and I’ve had it as a dream for a long time…but now that you did a reality check, i will -re-consider my list of vacation priorities! Enjoy the comfortable mattresses now. can’t wait to read you again

3. Tina | February 25, 2010 | Reply

We had friends who did this is Europe recently. It is a dream of ours to try. thanks for the tips….

4. Tina | February 25, 2010 | Reply

Courtney – Love getting the updates from you on your trip but looking forward to seeing you back in London! We used to always go fishing with my grandparents in their campervan and have many fond memories from that! I’m sure over time, like you say the cons will fade and it will be a good family memory!

5. melissa | February 25, 2010 | Reply

Wow, I admire you for having the determination to do this with 3 kids. And I really appreciate this list gleaned from your hard-earned experience. I can tell you now I’d never do it!!

6. Esther | February 25, 2010 | Reply

I’m not sure I’m discouraged enough… But maybe only for 2 weeks?
Glad that you’ve made it, and that you’re still married, and that you’re still a mum ;-)
x

7. Courtney | February 26, 2010

Ha, ha! Yes… I think maybe 30 days was just too long. Two weeks would have been better I think.
xx

8. molly Pitts | February 25, 2010 | Reply

loved all the updates and pictures-what a great experience! you guys now need to rent surfwise!!

9. Susann | February 26, 2010 | Reply

this article could have come from me – we made a very similar experience in a 4 weeks-campervan trip through NZ. Don’t forget you bang your head against the camper-ceiling several times a day, your back hurts when you have to carry your kids while not being able to stand straight and 5 days nonstop rain leaves everybody in a bad mood… still: it was also the best time ever – and in a few months only the nice pics will remain ;-)

10. Jill C. | February 26, 2010 | Reply

What a great story! I would have never tried to do this when my daughter was that age – you are brave! But I am looking forward to doing some RV trips with her now that she is a little older – I think its not only a great family experience but an educational one. But I do think 2 weeks would be enough, I love my family but 30 days together…not sure….

11. capucine | March 1, 2010 | Reply

I totally read this with interest. We compare the RV against hotelling it, and for us the RV has come out as the holy grail of travel with kids. There are some strategies needed to make sure it feels like a vacation, here are a couple of ours:

1) Your own bathroom and shower. Pee any time, anywhere, and it’s clean! (It sounds like yours didn’t have a bathroom?!) Don’t get a model without a bathroom!

2) Find a good spot, park, and don’t move for at least three nights periodically or a whole week in the middle of your trip. When visiting a town, park in the morning and spend the whole day afoot. In a nutshell, avoid the constant pulling-up-stakes feeling, to really get a rhythm and feeling of peace started. There is a more modest scale to the things you can see when you treat the RV like a immovable hotel room during the day, but it makes for a nicer rhythm for everyone. We drive strictly for two hours after lunch, or two hours after dinner, or the first hour of the morning – no long driving days apart from the first and last day, ever.

3) Bicycles (with baby seats). Worth renting and putting in the hallway of the RV, even with the hassle of taking them in and out, locks etc.

4) Your own kitchen – food your kids will eat, any time of day!

Agreed, once it’s raining it’s not fun. We look up rainy-day ideas for every stop on our way now. Lesson learned.

It’s good to know if your style is wanting to see a lot, or if your style is to find a single hotel where you can all be happy for two weeks. We want to SEE the country, in our case, and an RV is by far the best way in our opinion.

In an RV you can set up the kids familiar world, food and bed and all, and that is so huge to having it be fun instead of a nightmare. Traveling with kids is one of the permanent changes it’s a shock to accept, in my opinion, but we felt like we’d salvaged our expectations with the RV because everyone can be happy now (as long as it doesn’t rain!).

Just wanted to share my .02!

12. juiie | June 3, 2010 | Reply

This is so funny and so true! I did enjoy the camping car adventure after the first couple of days of adjustment…my daughter loved it and my husband even more, but I think i’m like my comfort too much to do it again for 3 weeks!

13. Kel | August 12, 2012 | Reply

We’re currently in San Francisco thinking about taking an RV to Yosemite but can’t figure out, looking online, how you fit the kids car-seats in. I remembered your trip and wondered how you managed it?

14. Courtney in London | August 13, 2012

Hi Kel,
I think all RVs and campervans are different. Our three carseats fit in the back seats (the seats which convert to booths at the dinner table). We just had to make sure some of the carseats were okay to be rear-facing.
Perhaps you can call the RV company to check with them about car seats? Good luck!

15. Kel | August 18, 2012 | Reply

Thanks Courtney, in the end all the sites were full so we’re saving the RV experience for another time.

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[...] you ever take the kids camping? Apart from our campervan trip up the coast of Australia a few years ago, we haven’t really ever done a camping trip. But I [...]

17. India | July 16, 2013 | Reply

You should come back to Australia when Marlowe is older and do it all again, this time with a nanny though!! It will make its so much easier. I’ll definitely volunteer for that job haha

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