Family travel survival guide

By: Catherine Lawson, Photography by: David Bristow


Catherine Lawson imparts her top tips for ‘surviving the drive’ while on the road with relatives or close friends.

Car -towing -Country -X-caravan

For long-term travellers, it can be fun to have a fresh, albeit familiar face on board, to share your lifestyle with them and to show them how the better half lives. But in order to survive the drive, here are my top tips for enjoying any road trip with your relatives or close friends on board.

WHAT GOES WHERE?

Caravans and RVs have lots of clever nooks and crannies to house and hide all kinds of possessions and it’s only natural for visitors to be curious about what is stored, where.

Unlike a land-based home (which has plenty of private areas that your guests wouldn’t ordinarily have access to), mobile homes are designed to store your belongings within easy reach.

People -feeding -ducks -next -to -a -caravan

This means that the vast majority of your treasures are accessible too and you may be horrified to have your guest opening cupboards in search of the sugar, only to unearth more private items.

To avoid this, show your new guest where everything is kept at the outset – the kettle, groceries, pots and pans, towels, fishing gear, etc., – then point out those cupboards or storage areas that contain your personal effects. A simple "you won’t need to go into those two cupboards, they just contain our things" should do the trick. If your guest is on board for more than a week or two, you might like to shift a few things around so that your personal gear is out of sight.

GETTING INTIMATE

You probably wouldn’t be accommodating a guest who you didn’t feel comfortable with. That said, how does your wife feel about sharing her space with your brother? And ladies, how does your husband feel about waking up to find his mother-in-law in her dressing gown, making a morning cuppa in his rig?

Family -look -at -the -ocean

Before you sign up for the relative-in-the-rig experiment, it’s worth considering how you will feel about sleeping, waking and showering in close confines with another person, who will also observe your personal habits, conversations and maybe a marital tiff too.

On our far northern escapade, our campervan had only sleeping space for two, so each night we made my sister comfortable in our hiking tent, with a camp mat, doona and pillows. This meant we were all able to maintain some privacy, and she relished this new ‘camping’ experience.

People -chatting -at -a -campsite

You may not get away with sticking your mother-in-law in a tent, but you might want to coax your hubby into wearing pyjamas and take your morning cuppas outside to give each a turn showering and changing inside. If your guest is not accustomed to caravan life, holiday park stays simplify things and might make them feel more comfortable. Do what you can to respect their privacy too.

ARE WE THERE YET?

People -smiling -while -standing -on -the -road -in -Australian -outback

Plan a rough route that includes the places you would all like to visit, with time to do the activities you each enjoy. Make sure you know what your guest is really hoping to see or do and make allowances for the fact that while you and yours may be avid anglers, your guest might prefer a quiet beach walk, or to spend a few hours at a museum, shopping or enjoying a coffee and a book.

MY SHOUT, OR YOURS?

Woman -cooking -on -fire -at -the -campsite

Regardless of whether you are ‘treating’ your guest to a holiday, or expect them to contribute to daily expenses, make this known upfront so that everyone is comfortable with who pays for what.

One idea if you are sharing expenses is to allocate a wallet or purse that each of you contributes a chunk of cash to, and reserve this for paying for ordinary joint expenses, such as fuel, groceries and caravan park fees. Keep it stored in the glovebox or another neutral spot where each of you can access it. All you need to do is top it up with a designated amount when it runs low.

Alternatively, your guest may be happy to pay for holiday park fees, while you cover fuel, or some similar arrangement.

WEEKLY BUDGETING

Another aspect to weekly budgeting worth considering is how richly you live on the road.

If you do have to stick to a weekly travel budget and your guest is staying longer than a week or so, it’s probably best to be upfront about it. Simply point out that by keeping your food and other bills to a minimum, and enjoying simple camp fare, you can afford other pleasures, such as the occasional meal out together and entry to tourist attractions, festivals and more.

If you are a fan of free camping, make sure your guest anticipates this and is happy to forgo creature comforts. You might find, like my sister did, that they enjoy the ‘adventure’ of an al fresco solar shower and a hearty campfire dinner. If you suspect that the rigours of the good camping life might strain your guest, consider staying in holiday parks or national parks with at least a decent shower for the duration of their stay.

MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME

Campsite -by -the -river

A caravan or motorhome is an intimate space, regardless of size. To make sure that your guest feels at home, don’t forget to allocate them some personal and cupboard space too. Have some of their favourite foods and drinks on board and consider assembling a welcoming gift of camping essentials, such as a small torch, a pair of funny shower thongs, some invaluable insect repellent and a guidebook to the area that you are travelling through. Buy your guest his or her own camping chair, too.

CLEARING THE AIR

Woman -standing -at -the -beach -next -to -red -rock -formations

If the van walls are closing in on you, or you find yourself climbing them, it’s probably time to speak your mind. It’s always much nicer for everyone if the holiday ends before you reach this stage, but if something is really bugging you, your guest probably won’t be fooled by your smiling pretence.

A gentle chat, one-on-one, is the best way to clear the air, and if possible, nip the issue in the bud before it escalates into something major. If your guest is staying long-term, don’t be afraid to suggest ways that they can help out. They may be standing on the sidelines because they don’t know how to work the stove or set up camp.

Once we showed my sister what wood to collect, how to use an axe and then build the campfire, you couldn’t keep her away from the task. All she needed was a little instruction.

HOW THINGS WORK

Family -stopped -to -look -at -nature -next -to -their -car

When your guest arrives, take the time to run through the basics of how everything operates on board, from the stove to the toilet and outline any issues you have about power usage and quick showers.

Don’t take anything for granted; if your guest is a beginner camper you might have to school them on seemingly obvious tasks too. Never assume they will know what has taken you years on the road to learn. I recall patiently demonstrating to my sister how to pitch her tent, inflate the camp mat, use a machete and boil a billy, but there were things we missed too.

After an afternoon spent collecting shells, my sister proudly displayed her treasures at her tent door. The next morning her shells had vanished and it wasn’t until we packed up the tent a little later that we discovered her ‘shells’ cowering in the damp sand with little hermit crabs tucked inside.

Needless to say, we laughed ourselves stupid and gathered them up to release on the beach. My sister still talks about how that two-month trip reset the compass on her life, and thankfully, our relationship survived to fight another day.

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #568. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!