Done properly, travelling with a baby can be a wonderfully rewarding experience for the whole family.
WORDS Claudia Bouma
“You must be crazy!”
That pretty much described most people’s responses to our announcement that we were hitting the road again, only eight weeks after the birth of our fourth child, Joshua. Moreover, I cannot tell you how many people we’ve met during our trips who have voiced regrets over no longer camping once they started having kids. Why? Quite simply, it was placed in the ‘too hard’ basket.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t always keen on the idea. My parents never took me camping as a kid and I enjoy the comforts of home. However, my husband, Chris, is an outdoor enthusiast who soon convinced me to give it a go in the days before kids. A three-week return trip from Melbourne to Darwin in a Toyota Landcruiser ute with an extended safari tent turned out to be the experience of a lifetime – I was hooked.
But the real test came when we started planning a two-year trip around Oz with three kids under four. The youngest, our daughter, Hannah, was 10 weeks old when we hooked up the camper trailer and drove off into the sunset. I’d be lying if I said it was easy, but it was an incredibly rewarding experience, which the older kids talk about to this day.
So it was nothing unusual when we started planning for a six-week camping trip to New South Wales while I was pregnant. Baby Joshua decided to arrive 10 days early, giving us eight weeks before we’d head bush again.
This time around, Chris and I decided we wouldn’t stay more than half an hour’s drive from a decent town, just in case we needed to visit a doctor or hospital. We also agreed to stay in places with a reliable water supply, as we would have enough work looking after four kids without having to drive to get water.
Our itinerary covered six national parks in southern New South Wales: Bournda, Deua, Murramarang, Morton, Budderoo and Ben Boyd. We found ourselves in the unfortunate position of having to book our campsites well in advance as bookings are now compulsory. And travelling with a larger rig (Oztrail Camper 12) meant I had to check with the rangers to make sure sites would be big enough, though it was also an opportunity to talk to them about the park’s facilities, distance to the nearest town, and so on.
Experience has taught me that preparation is the key to any enjoyable holiday, especially with a newborn. I had every intention of breastfeeding, thus eliminating the need for sterilising bottles, but Joshua wasn’t putting on enough weight so he went on the bottle before we left. As I was still feeding him during the night, I purchased extra bottles so I would only need to clean and sterilise bottles once a day, if necessary. Six bottles meant I always had one or two extra bottles at hand without stressing about running out. After nine days on the road, Joshua started sleeping through the night, enabling me to enjoy the trip even more.
A $3 box from the Reject Shop served as a sterilisation container and a good quality thermos is ideal for warming up bottles when you’re on the road. The bonus of bottle feeding is that anyone can feed the baby, which is something our kids really enjoy. Just before we left, I discovered a small tube of travel hand sanitiser at the local camping shop – the perfect way to clean your hands when you don’t have quick access to a tap and soap.
Little Joshua slept in a ‘Phil and Ted’s’ bassinet, which is not only small and portable but it is easier to keep the baby warm. We travelled during the last month of autumn and experienced quite a few chilly nights but we never had to worry about Joshua getting cold. I sometimes used a swaddle bag to ensure he stayed warm and to minimise the possibility of him waking himself up with his arm movements.
Chris managed to find the space in the car to bring a rocker, which we used a lot – Joshua was so comfortable that he would often fall asleep in it. I was grateful for the vinyl floor in the annexe, as it meant I always had a safe and clean environment for him. It also kept out the creepy crawlies, not to mention the possums and mice at night. It takes quite a bit longer to put the floor in but it is so worthwhile when you camp with a little one.
Camping with four kids is quite the challenge, mostly in terms of packing. Our Toyota Prado is an eight-seater but once you load it up with two adults, three kids, a baby, a car fridge and a variety of odd items, it’s pretty full. There was definitely no room for a pram but this challenge was easily overcome by purchasing a ‘Baby Bjorn’ baby carrier. These come in a variety of models but I recommend the one with back support as it enables you to carry your baby for extended periods of time without hurting your back. I picked one up on eBay for $35 instead of paying $200 for a new carrier.
I started using the carrier at home to ensure Joshua would be used to it and sleep in it. During our six-week trip, we went on many bush walks – some short, some long – and I was able to enjoy every single one with Joshua bumping happily along – mostly unaware of the beautiful places we found ourselves in. More often than not, he would go to sleep, as content as a joey in mum’s pouch.
A suitable sun hat is extremely important for a newborn so make sure you find a hat that protects your little one’s face adequately. Special sunscreen is recommended, though we had to be careful as Joshua has childhood eczema. My preference is to dress a newborn in a jumpsuit to minimise sun exposure.
Giving a baby a bath when camping in national parks can be quite a challenge but we made do with a large box and a bag of cotton balls. A friend had given us a small ‘beauty kit’, which includes a baby brush, comb, nail clippers and scissors – perfect for camping.
Six weeks of camping went by too fast and Joshua had just about grown out of his bassinet. He will not remember the trip but the other kids will – they had a ball on their first adventure with their baby brother. Some people we met were inspired by our willingness to go bush camping with our tribe of little people. Was it hard work? Oh yes. Was it worth it? You bet.