TOURING WITH KIDS

As sea­soned trav­eller sets us straight!

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The next best thing to plan­ning your own big trip is to share the ex­cite­ment of friends plan­ning theirs. And with two girl­friends about to pack up their fam­i­lies and set off on their own amaz­ing adventures, we've en­joyed quite a few ex­tended cof­fee catch-ups and family din­ners in re­cent months. My friends have in­ter­ro­gated me for tips and ad­vice about things to con­sider and what worked for me when head­ing off long-term touring with the kids. So we thought we’d share a few high­lights of what we cov­ered.

LEARNING AS YOU GO

The first and most guilt-rid­den ques­tion my friends threw at me was: “do you think the kids will be okay miss­ing that much school?” My re­sponse? “Ab­so­lutely they will!” We’re not talking about spend­ing months veg­e­tat­ing by the pool in some generic Club Med re­sort. They’ll gain so much in so many ways from the ex­pe­ri­ence of trav­el­ling as a family com­pared to what they’d get in a class­room that I don’t even know where to start. That said, school­ing is com­pul­sory in Australia, and each state has dif­fer­ent re­quire­ments as to the to­tal num­ber of days that a stu­dent may be ab­sent from school. The trick is to com­mu­ni­cate early and of­ten with your school prin­ci­pal and they should be able to guide you as to what is avail­able. Most states of­fer their own ver­sion of dis­tance ed­u­ca­tion, with vary­ing el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria. For ex­am­ple, in WA if you are go­ing to be away for longer than one school se­mes­ter you can ac­cess School of Iso­lated and Dis­tance Ed­u­ca­tion (SIDE). Don’t get sucked into ask­ing the teacher for their an­nual teach­ing plan and as­so­ci­ated re­sources – you’re go­ing on a hol­i­day not try­ing out for a Di­ploma of Ed­u­ca­tion. What worked for us was mak­ing use of the end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties for spon­ta­neous learning along the way. The “three R’s” (read­ing, ’rit­ing and ’rith­metic) can all be eas­ily cov­ered. Read­ing: Get the kids to read signs and brochures at places you go. Ask them com­pre­hen­sion ques­tions about what they’ve read. Read a book to them each night in bed.

OFF THE YOU ARE HEAD­ING “IF IT’S LIKELY BITUMEN AT ALL, GET STAINED EV­ERY­THING WILL THE DIRT, SO LEAVE RED WITH THE LABELS AT HOME” DESIGNER

Writ­ing: Get them to keep a di­ary, and send emails or post­cards home to friends. Arith­metic: How far to the next town? How much fuel will we use? How much money will that fuel cost? How much change will I get from $100 when I pay for it? (That one was a trick ques­tion, when you’re driv­ing with a petrol­fu­elled ’Cruiser). Pur­chase a cou­ple of generic daily work­books and work on a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing per day and you are set. There are plenty of cur­ricu­lum-tar­geted ones to choose from at ed­u­ca­tional book out­lets.

CLOTHES AND KEEPING CLEAN

Then there was the ques­tion of what clothes to take. If you’re go­ing to be gone for sev­eral months, chances are you’ll en­counter a range of weather con­di­tions. You don’t want to miss out on do­ing any­thing, so the motto here is: there’s no such thing as bad weather, only in­ap­pro­pri­ate cloth­ing. Pack for all sea­sons but work on lay­er­ing clothes for warmth as op­posed to tak­ing bulky items. A thin rain­coat works a treat for both keeping dry and block­ing the wind for warmth. Ther­mal un­der­wear packs a lot of warmth for lit­tle space. Dark colours don’t show the dirt as much. The odds are the kids are go­ing to look just as grubby five min­utes af­ter you let them loose as they did at the end of the pre­vi­ous day. Em­brace it. One of the joys of trav­el­ling is that you meet new people every day, so the like­li­hood of some­one notic­ing that the t-shirt your child is wear­ing to­day looks sus­pi­ciously like the same

one they had on yes­ter­day is pretty low. The bot­tom line in cloth­ing hy­giene is clean socks and jocks each day (and no boys, turn­ing your jocks back to front and then in­side out doesn’t mean you can get four wears out of one pair). If you are head­ing off the bitumen at all, it’s likely ev­ery­thing will get stained red with the dirt, so leave the designer labels be­hind and plan on throw­ing away most of the clothes you take when you get home. It’ll save you many stress­ful hours of un­suc­cess­ful stain re­moval at­tempts when you re­join the rat race. If you aren’t plan­ning on spend­ing every night in a car­a­van park, con­serv­ing your wa­ter be­comes an issue and show­er­ing can be­come a bit of a lux­ury. If you are swim­ming, con­sider if you also need to shower or are you are re­ally clean enough. If you feel the need to wash at the end of the day, then a 'sub­ma­rine shower' might be the go – wet, wa­ter off, lather up, then a quick rinse off. Or a 'pommy bath' with a small bowl of wa­ter, a flan­nel and some baby wash might do the trick (baby wash doesn’t have to be rinsed off, so it saves wa­ter). Even more wa­ter-wise is the strate­gic use of baby wipes. Choose your weapon de­pend­ing on the kid’s grot­ti­ness fac­tor on any given day. MEALS This is one area where you re­ally need to change your mind­set be­tween what you throw in the fridge for a week­end away ver­sus a long-haul trip where you might be a week or two be­tween shops, feed­ing the whole family three meals a day. Plan some meals, write down every in­gre­di­ent you’ll need and then do your gro­cery shop­ping based on this list. Know­ing in ad­vance ex­actly what each meal will be, and that you have all the nec­es­sary in­gre­di­ents to hand, takes much of the stress out of meal prepa­ra­tion. And re­mem­ber, there are al­ways two choices on the menu at meal time: take it or leave it! One les­son you don’t want to have to learn from ex­pe­ri­ence is to make sure you have two

TOURING “LONG-TERM BE A IS A CHANCE TO THE FAMILY UNIT WITH­OUT DISTRACTION CON­STANT OTHER OF WORK AND COMMITMENTS”

gas bot­tles. When one runs out in the mid­dle of cooking, it’s a sim­ple change of con­nec­tion and you’re back in busi­ness, with a cou­ple of weeks up your sleeve to get the empty re­filled. Much bet­ter than an empty gas bot­tle, a half cooked meal and a hungry family.

TOYS AND OTHER STUFF

How­ever much we’d like the kids’ eyes to be glued to the pass­ing scenery, en­ter­tain­ment on long stretches of bor­ing bitumen is a must. I con­fess that we had DVD play­ers build into the head­rests of the ’Cruiser and they have been a san­ity saver – there are only so many games of eye-spy you can play. Kids love their “stuff” and it’s only fair to al­low them to take a small se­lec­tion of their favourite things along. For us with two kids, each child had their own lit­tle box that lived in the mid­dle of the back seat next to them, into which they could put what­ever they wanted to bring along. Three kids across the back seat can rel­e­gate this stor­age to some­thing with pock­ets that can hang off the back of the front seats. How­ever, the main thing the kids need to pack is their imag­i­na­tion. With a bit of en­cour­age­ment and prac­tice, Mother Na­ture of­fers up ev­ery­thing they will need for hours of fun. As they em­bark on adventures, it’s a good idea to fit each kid with a back­pack for car­ry­ing their own wa­ter bot­tle and a snack. If they are old enough to wan­der a lit­tle fur­ther afield on their own, two-way ra­dios/walkie-talkies are good for keeping in touch. And for night­time, head-lamps are a great idea – both so they can see where they are go­ing hands-free and for you to spot them in the dark.

WHAT ARE YOU WAIT­ING FOR?

Life on the road en­gen­ders ac­count­abil­ity and self-as­sur­ance in kids and they quickly de­velop great so­cial skills as they con­nect with a wide range of people, young and old, along the way. They will ex­pe­ri­ence things and de­velop im­por­tant life skills that you just can’t repli­cate in a class­room. The “three R’s” sud­denly ex­pand be­yond tra­di­tional ed­u­ca­tion to things like re­duce, re­use, re­cy­cle; or re­source­ful­ness, re­spon­si­bil­ity and re­spect. As well as the ob­vi­ous op­por­tu­nity to see more of what this amaz­ing coun­try of ours has to of­fer, long-term touring is a chance to be a family unit with­out the con­stant distraction of work and other commitments. With a bit of prepa­ra­tion and plan­ning be­fore you leave, it doesn’t have to be hard work. It’s a unique op­por­tu­nity to spend ex­tended, qual­ity time to­gether with your kids and forge foun­da­tions, which will hope­fully sup­port you through the tur­bu­lent teenage years ahead. At least that’s what I’m hop­ing...

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Get­ting dirty is all part of the fun, so re­lax your stan­dards on the road

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It's a wide world out there - show them!

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