Danielle Symes: Back to Basics

Back to Basics

Family holidays are the one thing in life that you can be so excited about but simultaneously feel a deep pit of fear and anxiety lurking inside of you.You have magical thoughts of running on the beach hand-in-hand giggling and collecting shells, followed by the entire family being snuggled up under a rug next to a camp fire toasting marshmallows. You’ll wake up to the sun and to the sound of the birds chirping thenenjoy a coffee in bed while your husband makes everyone pancakes.Even after the 5 hour marathon pack, cramming things into every nook and cranny of the car the optimism still holds strong, it even hangs in there on the 3 hour car ride with Giggle and Hoot’s theme song on repeat and there is still that twinkle of excitement when you arrive at the caravan park and see your home for the next few days. That optimism is then smashed to smithereens pretty much the moment you get out the car and the set-up process begins. One parent going full Mario on a Star Power trying to get everything set-up and the other trying to stop the baby from eating kangaroo poo and the toddler from un-doing the other parents hard work with his ‘helping skills’. For a solid hour it’s mayhem and you wonder why the hell you ventured outside of the house but then it’s finally set up and you get to sit back for a minute (emphasis on the minute) and admire your hard work whilst taking in that much
needed vitamin D.

“We’ve done the resort thing and we’ve concluded that the overseas trips will be reserved for later inlife when we don’t have to spend 3 hours of every daytrapped in a hotel room while the baby sleeps followedby a 6pm dinner that lasts for 35 minutes and costs $40 a head even though one of those heads ate half a croissant”

That said, as a mum of young kids I’d still do this again and again over a long haul flight and a hotel room. We’ve done the resort thing and we’ve concluded that the overseas trips will be reserved for later in life when we don’t have to spend 3 hours of every day trapped in a hotel room while the baby sleeps, followed by a 6pm dinner that lasts for 35 minutes and costs $40 a head even though one of those heads ate half a croissant (granted we did shove as much food as we possibly could into my handbag like squirrels saving for the winter). Camping, or caravanning in our case, gives you the freedom to come and go as you please and you can make as much mess as you want because unlike the hotel cleaning staff the birds love the aftermath of a baby starting on solids.

We renovated our caravan nearly a year ago and we haven’t done as many trips as we would have liked yet, but geez have we learnt a lot. The first trip we did I packed every cheese board imaginable but we forgot the hose that connects to your sewerage. We forgot to pack a heater, actually no it wasn’t forgotten it just didn’t even cross our minds and it was so damn cold at night I had to go out and buy extra blankets and explorer socks the next day. We’ve gone from having the park manager reversing our caravan in, to Brad navigating it on his own (with the help of me screaming ‘LEFT HAND DOWN, whoops, NO THE OTHER HAND!’). We now have our packing down to a fine art and we know what to look for in a caravan park to ensure we are comfortable and our kids are entertained.

So, on that note I thought I’d pass a bit of our knowledge on because lets face it, if Brad and I can survive out in the wild (ok, well the McLaren Vale Caravan Park) anyone can!

10 Pro-tips to preventing a mental breakdown …

1. Pack the day before or if it’s your first trip even earlier because you will never be prepared for how long packing for a camping trip actually takes. Oh how I laugh thinking about us packing for our first trip the morning of assuming we would be there by lunch time. We got there at 9pm.

2. Research the parks and book based on the amenities that suit you. Brad and I always like to look for Caravan Parks that have private ensuites on site. That extra $15 will well and truly pay itself off when you don’t have to hike a kilometre away at 3am with a toddler holding onto his willy.

3. Take note of what activities the park has on for the kids and their playground facilities. Some parks absolutely dominate in this arena offering such things as movie nights and go-cart racing. Others have waterparks that put Wet and Wild to shame and playgrounds that provide hours of entertainment freeing you up to scroll instagram with a wine in hand.

4. Don’t think you have to drive really far away to make it seem like a holiday. The drive for us is one of the worst parts, our youngest hates the car so it usually involves me sitting back there with her blowing raspberries until I have cotton mouth. We have found a couple that are only an hour away, including the McLaren Vale Lakeside Caravan Park and the Port Willunga Tourist Park, which are not only great spots but both are close enough that you can whack on one Disney movie and you’re there.

5. You don’t have to pack the entire contents of your fridge and pantry. By all means be prepared and even pre-make a lasagne or something that is easy to whip out, but unless you are going completely off the grid there will always be a Coles or Woolies nearby.

6. Platters are your friend. They are quick, easy and you have snacks for days. Just go easy on the cheese if, like my husband, it effects your flatulence levels. An 18ft tin cube of fart is not fun for anyone.

7. Prepare for the bedtime routine like you are preparing for your wedding day. Our kids go to bed at about 7pm, usually Harper will stay up later on holidays but Charlie is screaming at me for her bed by 6:30pm and unless we also want to go to bed at 6:30pm we need to make sure we have everything we need out of the caravan and that the inside of the caravan is set up and ready to go for when Brad and I get our stealth ninja on and sneak into the van later that night.

8. Know that sleep is a luxury. You are an entire family sleeping in a very confined space so if one kid cries and wakes up, you all wake up. And that beautiful morning light will come STREAMING into the van at the crack of dawn so the crack of dawn is when you start your day. I suggest packing coffee. Lots of it.

9. Take plenty of photos, even when the moment isn’t perfect. Sometimes these trips can have you rocking back and forth in a corner fantasising about your own bed but somehow you still manage to look back on the photos with fondness. I have a shot of Brad holding Charlie while she is absolutely screaming and Brad’s face is begging for mercy but it’s one that I actually printed off and always laugh at when I look back on it. It’s also a deadly reminder every time we get too carefree and think about doing a spontaneous weekend trip.

10. Appreciate the small things… this sounds super corny but it couldn’t ring more true on a family camping trip. There are so many moments where you wonder if it was all worth the effort but there are so many more moments where you have nothing else to do that day except hang out, drink beer, collect sticks (otherwise know as swords) and make small talk with the other friendly caravan folk.

Photographer — Acacia Rachel 
Kids Clothing — Miann and Co
Caravan Park — McLaren Vale Lakeside Caravan Park 

A good friend of mine is currently traveling around Australia with her husband and two kids living out of their caravan so I have asked her for her top 5 family friendly spots around the country…

Cairns Coconut Resort, QLD

This is the ultimate family destination. The fun
list is endless – kids club, water park, pools,
xbox room, giant jumping pillow, games room,
basketball court, tennis courts, train rides,
playground, free pancake breakfast… and for
the parents – a gym and a restaurant/bar. If you
need some sanity and to escape the kids for a
while, this is the place!

Little Roper Stockcamp, Mataranka NT

For the most authentic bush camping
experience. Who would have thought putting a
dozen hay bales together would provide hours
of entertainment for kids! We barely saw them
from the moment they got up. Add that to
python holding, johnny cakes for breakfast,
freshly baked bread made to order, campfires,
stock feeding and learning about buffalo/cattle
from the one and only Des (yep, he doesn’t
wear shoes whilst tending to the fire/camp
stoves). Don’t even get me started on the
handcrafted amenities

Yeppoon Big4, QLD

Ok, so, there are nightly kid movie nights in an
outdoor cinema and if you have been travelling
for as long as we have, those 1.5 kid free hours
are very welcomed
And for when you need to supervise the kids,
there is a giant fun waterslide. Hours of fun! For
something a little different, the resident emu
will definitely visit your camp. A massive
highlight. He has been known to poke his head
into peoples vans. And the staff and amenities
are exceptional.

Tostaree Cottages, VIC

A home away from home, what a welcoming
place. Greg and Vicki are the perfect hosts. Enter
the hand made barn for happy hour, games,
amazing hospitality, hot showers and toilets. Greg
takes the small (and big) kids for a ride on his ATV
for an adventure tour of the farm. The kids can
also pick apples straight from the tree and feed
Vegemite, the resident pony.

Darwin Free Spirit Resort, NT

Imagine this – happy hour by the resort pool. Kids
are happy swimming/playing. Drinks are flowing.
Parents are socialising. Live entertainment is
happening nightly. What more could you want?
How about a kids club and a jumping pillow. There
is also a brand new shopping centre about 2
minutes away for all your grocery and retail needs.
You can easily stay a week or more here!

Follow their journey @lap_year