|  First Published: September 2004

Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

Keeping the kids happy

SECTION: Camping




TAKING the kids on a camping holiday is one of the great family traditions in Australia and an event that is eagerly anticipated often months before the departure date.

But getting there with the kids can be a nightmare, particularly if the destination requires more than a few hours’ travel. Then, keeping the kids occupied when you reach your destination, particularly when the weather turns nasty, can be difficult at times.

Maybe some of these ideas will be useful on your next trip.

“Are we there yet?” It’s every parent’s nightmare as they travel down the road on the annual vacation. Those four words can drive you to distraction as the kids’ excitement builds in expectation of a fun-filled holiday.

Keeping the kids from being bored in the car is one of life’s little challenges. So how do you combat it?

To get the kids’ perspective, I put it to my two daughters to write down what grown-ups should do to make the trip go quicker and what we should do to make the holiday fun when we get there. I’ve added a few of my tried and tested theories as well.

First, if it’s a long journey, leave early in the morning – well before sun-up. Then, with luck, the kids will snuggle into their pillows and sleep for the first few hours so you get distraction-free travel for quite some time.

Then there are the numerous games you can play. For example, each person in the car picks an item you might see along the roadside and the first person to spot all the items is the winner. This is best scheduled about 45 minutes prior to a fuel or comfort stop, because the game can have the reverse effect of driving you mad if it goes too long.

It is good in helping keep driver fatigue away, too, because your mind is not wandering into drowsiness. There are numerous versions and you can make up your own games, but that is a starting point.

Then there are the devices that will keep kids occupied for hours, like portable CD players – with headphones, of course. You can hear the kids singing but not the music. The ever-popular Game Boy can soak up a bit of time between ‘are we there yet’s.

Or you could look at the top end of the scale with laptop computers or even the latest portable DVD players that attach to the rear of the front seat. The kids can watch a movie, again with headphones, which can really keep them quiet for some time.


These are all great tools for travelling but you have to put them away when you get to your destination so the kids can get out and get healthy and have fun without electronic aids.

One very important thing is the comfort stop. Kids need a break and so does the driver, so a stop every few hours really breaks up the trip.

You have to stop for only 10 to 15 minutes to get the boredom out and start on the next leg of the journey. Everyone will be better for it.

Once you have reached your camping spot, be it an apartment, motel, cabin or tent, the kids will want to get straight into the action. But you have to set up and get in place all those things for a comfortable stay.

So, within reason, give them a bit of space. This way they can run off their excitement and you can put away the DVD and games and set up camp. Unless they want to help, which is great and gets things done even faster so Mum and Dad can get into the relaxation zone quicker.

What do kids need on holidays? We will look at the coastal scenario of a camping area near the beach.

You may need a box trailer just for this, but there are limitations. Bikes and scooters are great, particularly if you are in an enclosed park where the cars travel slowly and there is plenty of room for the kids to ride in relative safety. They can be gone for hours with the friends they make.

Don’t forget helmets; most parks require the wearing of helmets when riding and it is the law.

Then there are surfboards, boogie boards, masks, snorkels and flippers, blow-up rafts, beach balls, frisbees, cricket gear, tennis balls, buckets and spades for the littlies – and the fishing gear of course. These can all be taken on one trip to the beach or spread out over the holidays, it depends on how energetic you are feeling at the time.

But having all these items and letting the kids go at it flat out, you can be guaranteed that when the sun goes down and the little heads hit the pillows, they will be exhausted.


That’s so particularly after that first day, with the early start and the long trip finished off with fresh air and exercise. They will sleep well and now it’s time for you to get all your fishing gear ready in relative peace.

Kids need a good night’s sleep because a tired kid is a whinging kid. A few whines and grumps at the end of the day after they have run themselves into the ground is OK but starting the day tired and worn out means they won’t get any better and it can spoil a day of fun and games.

Everything will cruise along nicely while the weather is fine but rain can make things uncomfortable.

Some families rush out and do all those sightseeing things and go to places of interest in the first few days but this often leaves you with no options when the weather turns nasty. So keep a few ideas on hold for when they are needed so you won’t have to go to the last resort of breaking out the electronic entertainment again.

The movies are always a good stand-by on a wet day but, if all else fails and it’s not too cold, put on the cossies, get out in the rain and play in the mud – it is good ‘clean’ fun, washes off in the shower and the kids love it.

Camping with the kids is more than just fun, it is educational. They learn only so much in the classroom so when they get out into nature and see the wonders of the beach, bush, rivers and creeks, they are learning every day in an open-air classroom.

They get to meet new people and make new friends so it is great socially as well as educationally. And it is healthy away from the fumes of suburbia and all the while they are exercising. And, if you try to keep up with them, you will feel better, too – and you’ll sleep very well.

You will know you are on the right track if you make the whole journey without a single ‘are we there yet?’.

Fishing and of course catching something is always a great way to keep the kids amused when camping.

Bikes are great when camping and a ride through a rainforest track is always a great adventure.

A blow-up boat or boogie boards are always great fun in the surf and the kids love them.

A walk up a rainforest creek is great fun and kids see first-hand the things they read about at school.

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