Saturday, September 26, 2015

7 reasons to go on a campervan holiday with kids

1. Pop-up café
Having your own mobile kitchen addresses one of the drawbacks of family holidays – the cost and inconvenience of eating out three times a day. A simple breakfast of toast and tea is a relief for the stomach and the wallet. No need to make a reservation at your own mobile pop-up café.

2. Mobile table and chairs
The kids need a break from driving so you pull up at a park where you feel like a cup of tea but there’s no café nearby. What do you do? No problem – turn on the gas and boil the kettle. Too hot or cold to sit outside and watch the kids play? There’s a warm table inside. Can’t find a park bench to eat your takeaway fish and chips? There’s always an inside seat at your own mobile pop-up café.

3. Mobile shower
If you’ve ever showered in a caravan park toilet block you’ll appreciate how good it is to have your own shower. Sure it’s cramped and you need to refill the tank every day, but you can shower without thongs or fear of secondary infections.

4. Mobile toilet
Taking a toilet with you everywhere you go is handy for kids (and older adults!). But be warned – it’s best used only for number 1s, not number 2s, unless you have no sense of smell.

5. Bunk above the cabin
Climbing up the ladder and hanging out in the bunk above the cabin was a kid favourite. But it’s hot and stuffy up there, so get a van with windows above the cab. Avoid renting in summer.

6. King of the road
Sitting high above the traffic using a truck-like steering wheel to veer in and out of lanes makes you feel like the king of the road. Even Sydney drivers will let you merge for fear of being sideswiped.

7. Campfires
Kids love toasting marshmallows over a campfire. Everyone loves sitting around a campfire. Just starting one is pretty cool. Taking your campervan off grid so you can have your own campfire is just about the best thing we did.

7 reasons NOT to hire a campervan with kids

1. Electricity
Surprisingly there is none in the bush, and less than you imagine in a campervan. Seemingly luxurious appointments such as air conditioning, microwave, toaster, kettle and powerpoints only work when a campervan is plugged into the grid at a caravan park, which kind of defeats the purpose of camping. Off grid the only electricity trickles to battery-powered lights, water pump and fridge. When stopped you need to turn on the gas bottle to run your fridge, heat water for showering, and to cook or boil the kettle on the gas stove. Implications: No toast for breakfast. No heating or cooling the van when parked. The gas kettle takes forever to boil, and I need my coffee now!

2. Plumbing
Or the lack thereof.  Yes, I’m talking poo. We all do them, ideally every day. Four people = 4 poos. Poo smells. Campervan windows are generally small. You work out the rest. So ideally avoid using the toilet for poo. Which means you still need to camp near a toilet, in which case you may as well be in a tent (or better still a cabin). Yes, the toilet is handy for wee. But that’s all.

3. Water
Water water everywhere but not enough to drink. Yes, there’s a big water tank underneath for the sink and shower but you can’t drink it. So you lug around big plastic bulk containers of drinking water that quickly run out despite their back-breaking weight. You seem to spend half your time re-filling everyone’s drinking water bottle. And filling the kettle takes forever. Clean reticulated drinking water is a great civilising influence for which I thank WaterNSW and Sydney Water.

4. Trivia
Small daily tasks seem to take forever. Like finding your toothbrush and water bottle and turning on a pump simply to brush your teeth. Or filling a water bottle from an even bigger water container only to pee it moments later into a sump toilet that you have to carry to a dump point to empty. Repeat.

5. Tallness
Campervans are small confined spaces ideal for kids and short adults. Tall adults will spend their whole time hunched over, and inching sideways in semi-circles like a backhoe in a terrace backyard. Short people will have no sympathy for you. And don’t start me on the size of the toilet cubicle.

6. Trees
It’s really easy to back into them. You can memorise the 3.5 metre height so you don’t drive into things but you quickly forget the vehicle is also a whopping 7.7 metres long. So it’s easier than you think to reverse into trees, fences, cars and echidnas.

7. Sickness
Kids get sick on holidays. No-one likes to talk about it, but they do. And sick kids are miserable in a confined space with few distractions. Intermittent access to doctors and medicine is stressful for parents. When kids cough through the night, every night, everyone is frazzled the next morning. Not the campervan’s fault, but worth bearing in mind.

Packing tips for a campervan holiday

  1. Halve your clothes (and double your alcohol).
  2. GPS in vehicle (so you can still navigate off grid with no mobile reception).
  3. Firestarters, kindling, newspaper and long matches (for campfire. Firestarters would have reduced my performance anxiety of starting a fire).
  4. Marshmallows (to toast. We also took long wooden skewers but it turns out there are plenty of sticks in the bush).
  5. Picnic blanket (should you have the bizarre urge to eat outside instead of inside at your camper table).
  6. Coffee plunger and ground coffee (no electricity to heat pods off grid).
  7. Bulk water (to refill water bottles and kettle. Tea is an essential part of camping).
  8. Bacon, eggs, sausages, bread rolls, waffles, pancakes (covers all the food groups - off grid you can use gas stove to make bacon and egg rolls for breakfast one day, heat waffles or pancakes in frypan for breakfast the next day, and cook sausages in a bun for dinner every night. I never want to see bacon or sausages again.) 
  9. Glen 20. Quite frankly the whole experience is highly unsanitary. Spray the van when you take delivery, and every couple of days. 
  10. A big plastic tub for your shoes. Then spray them all with Glen 20 every night (especially after visits to caravan park toilets and the world in general).
  11. Nurofen, Panadol and asthma puffers for the kids (and mild sedatives for the adults).

Tips for planning a campervan holiday

  1. Book direct. An aggregator seems easiest but the actual company who rents you the vehicle may resent such bookings and you seem to have less control over assessing the hire company’s reputation and fleet.
  2. Eyeball the vehicle. Ideally you need to inspect the actual van you are hiring as not all ‘6-berth’ vans are the same re ease of converting tables to beds or the most functional layout of shower/toilet. Don't rely on website descriptions or generic layout diagrams.
  3. Get a demo. Insist on a thorough demonstration of how every part of the campervan works, inside and out (ours was so perfunctory we never found the hidden extra board to make our very narrow bed slightly wider, and could never turn the rear bed back into a stable table).
  4. Maximise your excess. Not your excess of drugs and alcohol but your insurance excess. Take the maximum amount of insurance with the minimum excess (some companies offer nil excess. You’ll appreciate it when you inevitably back into a tree or leave the handbrake off and roll into a lake).
  5. Go hassle-free. Any extra payment to avoid re-filling gas bottles or to get extra camping equipment or GPS is worth it. In hindsight I’d even pay them to empty the toilet one last time.
  6. Adjust your attitude. You either need to be highly organised or totally carefree – nothing in between will cut it. We were highly organised and still mildly unhappy (OK, I was very unhappy and Sherrie was mildly discomforted). So really a campervan is only for the carefree (and a little unhinged). And short people.