Our kids love campervan holidays. There's lots of variety and excitement and new friends to meet along the way. Here are a few things that we've learned that really make a difference when you're touring by campervan with kids.
First, remember the golden rule - "If the kids ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." Touring with kids is not like touring with your mates in your backpacker days - you can't party all night, sleep in, then drive huge distances and expect everyone to be relaxed and cheerful. You've got to plan with the kids in mind.
Don't go too far. Your kids will be much happier if you cover shorter distances and stop more often. If you need to cover long distances, do it in one or two goes, rather than medium distances every day. If the kids are good at sleeping while driving, do the long trips when they're sleeping (remember they have to be in a child restraint if under 8 or in a seatbelt if older).
Involve the kids in the planning. Get older kids involved with planning the trip from the beginning. Get a guide book for them. Older kids will enjoy books with lots of facts about the areas you're visiting. Get them to tell you about what they found out. Tell them at the beginning of the day where you're going and what they should look out for on the way. Ask them for their ideas of what to do and where to stop. Give them their own diary or notebook and get them to write a log each day. Give them a camera or let them use yours (if you trust them) to capture some of the family pics. Do a family travel blog and encourage your kids to contribute. Check out travelblog.org, travelpod, travelblog.com or blogger.com for some ideas.
Pack a few more changes of clothes than you would for yourself and raincoats. ‘Cabin fever' is the worst affliction for a touring family so being able to get the kids outdoors even in poor weather is essential. Raincoats or waterproof jackets are important for everyone's sanity!
Bring layers of clothes rather than a big coat e.g. warm underlayer or thermals (polypropylene for autumn, winter, and spring), fleece jacket (warm and water resistant), warm hat or beanie - All Black ones are best (good to have even in summer for cool nights), and waterproof jacket or raincoat. Pack an extra towel for each of the kids. Most kids love to swim and even in the winter there are hot pools in many places around the country (one of the benefits of being on a fault line).
Head torches are really handy (see bed time below). Bring a few favourite toys and activities - get them to help choose - but not too many as space is limited. Activity books that have lots of variety, especially ones with a NZ theme, are ideal for younger kids. You'll find lots of great ones to choose from at any good bookseller or at the airport terminal. Choose some favourite DVDs and CDs to bring. If they have a favourite blanket or cuddly, bring it.
It's important to give the kids their own personal space in the motorhome. Assign them their own locker for their clothes and special things. When you're on tour, encourage them to get out of the van as often as you can. Have meals outside when weather permits (use the BBQ and outdoor furniture). Split up into groups to do activities from time to time - this gives the kids a break from each other. If you're inside, use the front seats for reading and other activities when you're stopped so that everyone is not confined to the rear lounge.
Let the kids watch a DVD on the long drives if there is a player fitted upfront. Remind them to bring their MP3 player if they have one with their favourite music. If they aren't too prone to motion sickness, give them activities they can do while driving like colouring, puzzles or reading. The older children will enjoy taking turns being the navigator. Give them a map book so they can follow where you're going or let them sit in the front passenger seat from time to time so they can be in charge of directions (if you trust them!)
Make a longer stopover every few days and try not to do lots of driving every day. Regular breaks for snacks are important especially on the long drives. When you stop, do plenty of active things like going for walks, swims (in hot pools during winter!), or mini golf. New Zealand is very child-friendly. There's so much to do that kids will just love. These links may give you some ideas: www.kidsfriendlytravel.com, Kidz Go New Zealand.
Find campsites with other kids and help your kids to meet them. Sometimes, it takes Mum or Dad to break the ice in an unfamiliar place - before you know it, they'll be exchanging email addresses. Stay at commercial campsites with playgrounds from time to time. Some of the bigger campgrounds have better equipped playgrounds than the local town centre.
One of the few challenges of touring by campervan with kids is you don't have separate rooms to put the kids to bed in. Unless you want to go to bed early every night, you need to make a plan for how you'll get them to sleep while you're still awake. In the summer, you can sit outside on the outdoor chairs when you put the kids to bed. That's a peaceful time to unwind. In winter, turn out the lights when you put the kids in their beds up front then use a head torch to read or do something else until they go to sleep. Most kids will stay asleep if you turn the rear lounge lights back on once they have gone to sleep. Then crack open the bottle of wine, watch the sunset, and take in the wonder of the day.