'I went campervanning with 3 kids under 7 and made all the mistakes so you don't have to.'

What no one tells you when you become a parent is that holidays taken within the school holidays basically need to be planned at the moment of conception. During those two (or three if you're unlucky) week blocks, every single well-priced holidaying option seems to disappear quicker than my patience with kids' homework. So when faced with days off, three kids and a tight budget what can you actually do?

Well… turns out I've found quite a compelling proposition. A campervan.

For those who are already well versed with #vanlife, I'm sure you need no further convincing of the freedom that comes with just hitting the road and not quite knowing where the path may lead.

But for those, like myself, who never really thought of camping as a viable holidaying option, prepare to hear me out. Because in the most recent school holidays, I packed up my husband, and three sons (ages seven, five and two), and in a motorhome we left Sydney and did a road trip up NSW's Mid-North Coast.

During the four-day, three-night adventure, we watched dolphins play at Port Macquarie, swam under rainbows at Seal Rocks, star-gazed in sleeping bags, roasted marshmallows on fires and collected shell after shell at Stockton beach.

The Apollo Motorhome sleeps six people and can fit two car seats. Image: Supplied.


Sure, the destinations (NSW's coastline is teeming with hidden gems) played a role in these idyllic moments, but it was the vehicle itself that helped make them happen. 

So here's your complete guide to nailing a family-friendly campervan trip (AKA learn from my mistakes).

Watch: Things Parents Never Say On School Holidays. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

Find the right vehicle.

Our trip was in an Apollo Euro Deluxe model. And here are the stats: It sleeps six adults. It can also fit six when driving. One thing to note, is it can only fit two car seats. This meant we also drove another car with the two-year-old. This actually turned out to be quite useful. It gave me time to listen to a lot of Tortured Poet's Department in peace while he napped.


It comes with two areas for table and seating (which is then converted into really comfy beds), a toilet, shower, microwave, barbecue, stove, fridge, power plugs and a TV (with an in-built DVD player which came in handy one rainy evening especially as we managed to find $2 DVDs at a local thrift shop).

The perfect review for the motorhome came via my five-year-old who said, "Wow it's an apartment with wheels".

Inside the Motorhome. It had three areas to sleep. We could even fit in a cot. Image: Supplied.


And that's not all, when you open the drawers and take a squiz around it also comes with linen, towels, utensils, plates, bowls and cups… 

We didn't use the toilet and shower, instead opting for the campsites amenities but for those wanting to truly go remote, it's nice to have these facilities at hand.

Once in a campground, you need to reserve a powered site but some elements of the van like the lights and fridge can last on battery for a couple of days if you want to really go off-road.

Driving takes a bit of getting used to and you only need a car licence to drive. It feels really high up and really long. Parking in towns can be a little tricky and I was a bit nervous going under low bridges, but it has a very loud reversing sound that helps guide you and alert others for safety. I swapped constantly with my husband, so I suggest having someone to swap with if you don't feel overly confident.

The living room and bathroom. Image: Supplied.


Plan your parks and know the facilities available to you.

Through this I discovered that a lot of the caravan parks are in incredible locations and also have some great facilities for kids. Playgrounds, swimming pools, food trucks, morning yoga sessions or go-karts to hire.

And while these perks are attractive, making sure you are across clean bathrooms with hot water and cooking facilities was key. Especially with kids. Also checking where you can get fresh water and which parks have dumping stations for toilet waste is really important when planning your route, especially as the toilet needs to be changed every two days at a minimum.

Some powered sites will also have size restrictions so the more planning you can do in advance (especially if your vehicle is on the larger end) the less risk there is of turning up and you not having a spot that works.

Scenes from Seal Rocks. Image: Supplied.


In Port Macquarie we stayed at Breakwall Caravan Park, which starts at $45 a night for a powered site, and had everything we needed. Close to the town, on a beach, games for kids, a swimming pool and a food truck. We also spent a night at Reflections at Seal Rocks, which also ticked all the box for facilities. The location is one of the most beautiful spots in Australia, in my humble opinion. But it is a busy spot with lots of campers close together, so not ideal for those looking for a more 'escape from civilisation' vibe.


Be sure to pack some extra food.

Our drive to Seal Rocks coincided with our youngest nap time, so we powered through that couple of hours without stopping or thinking maybe we'd need some food.

We then arrived at Seal Rocks with five rumbling tummies and barely any shops to satisfy them. As a result, we lunched on Doritos and Jatz, and dined on 2 Minute Noodles. The kids, needless to say, were thrilled.

Making sure you have a knowledge of local stops or pack back-up meals in advance is really helpful. Especially as the van has a fridge that can be on the whole time — even when you aren't plugged into a powered site. We were very jealous when we entered the camp kitchen to find a man kneading dough for pizza and another family enjoying gourmet burgers.

The van comes with a first aid kit, but I'd also recommend having some medicines like Children's Panadol or adult painkillers, just in case.

2 Minute Noodle dinners were a hit. Image: Supplied.


It's key to set up an outdoor area.

Our first night as rookie campers was a fast lesson on what not to do. We just presumed our two-year-old would just fall asleep at his regular bedtime in his cot, situated in the middle of the motorhome as we sat around him. 

Umm no. Yes, as I type those words I realise how naïve we were. To get him to sleep we ended up turning off the light, and just sitting still and silent in the dark. We soon realised, that's why it's key to set up the table and chairs (which come with the van) and sit outside. 

After 30 minutes of sheer silence and the realisation that it was only 7.30pm, we grabbed our blankets and sat outside watching the stars. That was one of those moments where I "got it". Looking up at a starry night sky, you can't help but think, "Oh, this is why you camp".

My tip: as soon as you park, set up a table and chairs outside and consider that your living room. The more you can fill that space with things like shade cloths, picnic rugs or inflatable furniture, the better. Before you know it, you'll be enjoying afternoon wines and lively conversations, as you watch the sun go down.

You can never have too many towels.

No matter where you are travelling you never know when you'll a.) be able to wash and b.) when it'll rain. Plus in Australia, it's likely your road trip would include some water holes. So pack extra towels and hand towels. Why? Because a damp towel is never fun and kids have a miraculous ability to put dirt absolutely everywhere. Also, don't forget some dishing liquid and some spray and wipe. The more cleaning products you have on hand the more comfy you'll feel about living in a smaller space.


The details:

Costs for Apollo motorhomes and campervans are dynamic and vary depending on the size, dates and location. For us — when including costs of the van hire as well as campsites, petrol, food, local attractions (Port Macquarie's Wild Nets is a must) and some shopping — we spent about $2,500 all up for the four days. If you are more pre-planned around groceries, you could definitely get this price right down.

Not included in that is the extra for cleaning and for waste removal which made drop off a lot easier as we didn't pack cleaning supplies (see above).

We did a round trip, but Apollo has 10 locations across Australia if you want to travel to a different state and leave the van there. It's also worth noting, the 2WD campers aren't equipped for rough terrain and cannot be driven on unsealed roads. Happy campervanning!

Mamamia travelled a guest of Apollo. All opinions in this article are the author's own.

Featured Image: Supplied.

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