Amber shares with us how her family plans their road trips when they are restricted by annual leave and school holidays.

We are part-time travellers. We’ve chosen to keep our kids in mainstream school and we both have jobs. I work from home and do my own hours and Ben’s job gives him 5 weeks annual leave per year. He has been in his profession for quite a few years now so he does have a bit of long service leave, and chooses to take an extra week here and there when we need it. 

As a result, we don’t have the luxury of time for ‘slow travel’. This will come eventually, but our kids are rapidly growing up and if we waited until we did have more time, our incredible adventures would never happen. So, we travel a lot quicker than other families during the school holidays AND have an absolute blast doing it! 

Note, we’re not constantly in the car on our road trips. We do make sure we spend a few nights in the spots we’re really interested in, but it’s also really fun discovering a new campsite each night, and travelling with our caravan makes setup and pack down a breeze with minimal fuss.

We DO need to be organised and we DO need to plan ahead. This is probably the most stressful part of our travels, as most of the time we haven’t visited these places before and we don’t really know what to expect. Thankfully, there is an absolute wealth of knowledge out there on social media now and that really helps! 

We appreciate everyone’s situation is different and the following is what works for our family.

Here is how we make the most of our time while we’re travelling – 

  1. It’s all in the Planning!
  • Write down the things you’re desperate to see and the places you want to visit if there is time. Pull out your map and use little sticky note tabs to mark out your must-do’s and then start planning your route.
  • Don’t get too caught up in doing everything because you simply can’t. Remember, you can always return at a later date with the kids or come back when they’ve flown the coop! 
  • Be organised and book everything you’re really wanting to do ahead of time, so you don’t waste time sorting it out when you get there. If you’re travelling in the school holidays, this is so important if you want to do a specific tour (eg. Whale Sharks at Exmouth) or camp in a specific campground. We wanted to camp at a popular beach campground on the Ningaloo Coast, so were ready to book our campsite as soon as bookings opened 6 months prior to our arrival dates. Book tours as soon as you know your dates especially during peak season. 

Note – You don’t have to book everything! Just those spots you really don’t want to miss. We still do a lot of free camps that we just find on the day through Wiki Camps and Hip Camp.  Caravan Parks and popular campgrounds should definitely be pre-booked. 

2. Drive Ahead of the Kids

With two of our kids now in high school and the eldest in Year 11, we’re not keen on pulling them out of school. On our latest road trip, we travelled to Western Australia from Brisbane. A trip we’ve wanted to do for sooo long, but how would we have the time? 

We’d already covered The Kimberley a few years earlier, but were so keen to visit and camp on the Ningaloo Coast and visit Kalbarri and Karijini National Parks. 

Ben took some long service leave and we left 10 days before the kids. My Mum looked after our kids, put them on a plane after school on the last day of term and we picked them up in Perth! There’s just no way we could have done a trip of this magnitude without this option. Thanks Mum for your help! 

This option also works well for younger kids who have trouble coping on long drives. We know of a few families where Dad has left early with a mate, driven the hard yards and then Mum has flown over with kids (or vice versa).

3. Make the first day a longer drive

If your road trip is not as crazy as our trip above, but you still have a lot of kilometres to cover, consider leaving early in the morning and knocking out as many hours as you can in the first day (please be safe, take regular breaks and don’t push yourself). Our kids used to love being pulled out of their beds in the middle of the night to begin our adventure in the dark!

On a side note, we do have a Shu Roo attached to our bumper to deter the kangaroos/wallabies for when we’re driving at these times. We’ve never had a casualty when we’ve had this mounted on our car (obviously this is not a guarantee for every time).

4. When planning your daily driving – Don’t forget to factor in bathroom breaks, fuel stops and unplanned visits – eg. We saw the coolest sweet shop at Ravensthorpe, so pulled over to stock up on goodies. On another occasion, we pulled off the road to check out a cave we found on Wiki Camps

What would have been a 4 hour drive has now turned into 6 or 7 hours! 

5. Pack an Esky Bag with Lunch and Snacks

On long driving days, we fill up a cooler bag with plenty of fruit, snacks and sometimes sandwiches (if I know we might not have time to stop for a proper lunch break), which I keep at my feet in the car and dish out where necessary. This is great if we do have some unexpected stops along the way and run out of time for proper food breaks. I usually pack these the night before or assign one of the kids to do it in the morning.

We took along a bag like this from The Somewhere Co. It fit perfectly in the footwell of the front passenger seat!

6. Early Starts

  • If you need to get going early and have a whole family to get out the caravan door, I’ve often made up ham and cheese croissants (or a toastie) and stuck them in our caravan oven to warm up while everyone is getting ready. It makes for a quick and easy breakfast with no washing up to worry about. 
  • Make sure everyone gets their clothes out the night before so there’s no stress in the morning trying to find a missing item of clothing or procrastination about what to wear.
  • With two teenage girls in the family, we have a couple of extra mirrors in the van, to help ensure everyone is ready on time!  
  • Assign jobs for older kids (someone can fill up water bottles, another can pack the snack bag, someone else can roll up and put away muk mats etc.

7. If you’re requiring National Park Passes – Book these online before you go. This will save you time on arrival as you’ll be able to drive straight through. 

8. Download Spotify Playlists/Podcasts

Make sure you’ve got your music playlists and podcasts downloaded ahead of time so you’ve got these ready to go, especially if you’re in an area with no internet reception. This will save you time waiting for things to download when you’re passing through country towns with limited reception.

On a side note, our kids have grown up watching Disney Movies so we created the ‘Disney Music Game’. Basically, I downloaded a whole bunch of songs from Disney movies to a Spotify playlist. We play a song, the kids use their name as a buzzer and have to guess the movie and the name of the song. Two points if they know both and one point if they only know the movie. They are 12, 13 and 16 now and still love this game! Click here for some podcast recommendations.

Our thoughts above are based on 8 years of part-time travelling around Australia with our kids. We’ve pretty much done a full lap now! People think we’re crazy driving the kilometres we do, but we wouldn’t change what we’ve done for anything and have no regrets. These trips have ensured we have had so much extra quality family time together and have given our kids a childhood full of wonderful memories.

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As mentioned above, we appreciate that not everyone is in a position to be able to this. We’ll tell you, we started with my parent’s old tent about 20 years ago and have slowly worked our way up from a trailer, to a pop top, to an Expanda and finally, a full-sized caravan. We’ve saved, we’ve bought, we’ve paid off, we’ve sold and repeat! We’ve worked hard to do what we do so we can play hard as well.

Author: Amber – Caravanning with Kids Digital Creation Team. Based in sunny Queensland, Amber and her family LOVE caravanning & camping along with the wonderful experiences & benefits that travelling & connecting brings. You may know Amber through Big & Little Adventures where she showcases her own families’ adventures.

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