The evolution of family travel

Right at this very moment, families are holidaying. They’ve been hiking in the high country at Mt Hotham, cooking damper around a campfire in the Red Centre and swimming with dolphins at Ningaloo Reef.

Not much has changed from when we were kids, right? I mean, we still take the same holidays as we did when we were little. Or do we? Do you ever reminisce about the holidays you took with your family, when you were a child? For me, we rarely left Australia. Our school holidays centred around a little shack, right across the road from Lake Mulwala, New South Wales. It had belonged to my great-grandparents but became the family holiday house, ironically referred to as the ‘Hilton Mulwala’.

Do rein in any sort of grandiose imagery friends, as this was no 5-star holiday. There was limited hot water due to a recalcitrant hot water service. I’ll never forget hearing that loud bang, the cascade of expletives and seeing my dad’s singed eyebrows and eyelashes after a particularly testy relighting of the pilot episode. This place seemed to me an enigma. It oozed a kind of menacing and dusty charm and I absolutely loved it! We all did. We loved the sloping floorboards, uncomfortable bunk beds and the rather lopsided veranda where we could watch the sun dip and strum our guitars to ‘This Ole House’ and ‘Home Amongst the Gumtrees’.

Every summer when school finished for the year it was on! A chaotic cavalcade from the Mornington Peninsula to Mulwala. Packed picnic and thermos for the rest area stops, 5 people squashed into the family Ford Falcon station wagon, packed to the hilt, windows down for air circulation (no air con!) and a constant shower of slobber from our gregarious labrador whose main mission in life seemed to be to feel the wind in his floppy, golden ears.

Canine capers aside, it was almost rite of passage stuff, and for me a test of stealth and endurance because, at any moment, I could receive an elbow in the ribcage for crossing over ‘the line’ – an invisible boundary that separated mine and my big brother’s seat. There was limited entertainment for this 4 hours if-we-were-lucky road trip, apart from games of Eye Spy, holding our breath when we drove past a cemetery and listening to the latest ‘Summer of’ album, on rotation, on my Walkman.

There were also no fancy dinners out, it was a treat to get hot chicken and chips from the local milkbar, iced lemonades to drink in the cool confines of the pub next door’s (how convenient) beer garden and the occasional 20 cent piece to play space invaders.

All sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? These days, digital disruption has certainly changed the way we travel. We by-pass the travel agent and check out destinations and deals online. We read customer reviews of this hotel or that resort or we book an Airbnb. We peruse photos and videos on travel blogs and Instagram. We download the latest location guide apps and book an Uber from our smartphone. We develop a preconceived idea about what the place is going to be like, we organise, we make detailed itineraries.

My son and I recently returned from a trip to the USA. I had neck pillows, noise cancelling headphones, activities for the plane, hand sanitiser, wipes. I checked the seating maps multiple times, the entertainment, the LA airport map, connecting flight info, read articles on how to score an upgrade to business class and even feared a terrorist attack. My desire for control was causing an internal ruckus and I’ve come to the realisation that it doesn’t have to be so complicated! So, from here on in, I will do my best to commit to the Dalai Lama’s philosophy: ‘If you can control it, don’t worry. If you can’t control it, don’t worry.’

Remember that family cooking damper around the campfire in the Red Centre? Soon after, they retreated to their glamping tent. They hit up Netflix, with the free Wi-Fi, cranked up the air-conditioner, posted selfies to a multitude of social media channels, checked the weather forecast online for the next day, and FaceTimed the relative who was looking after the family dog.

The way we ‘holiday’ has certainly evolved, as have our expectations, but what I can never see changing is the desire to travel, and not only that, to travel with our favourite people – our families.

Note: This article was commissioned by BIG4 Holiday Parks – September 2018.

5 experiences for kids that parents will love too!

When I was 6 years old, my parents took my siblings and I to New Zealand. It was my first big trip and I recall feeling very grown up because we were required to write a travel journal.

I remember feeling intimidated by the size of the Qantas ‘jumbo’ jet, excited by the novelty of aeroplane food, and worryingly asthmatic due to the constant haze of cigarette smoke (what were they thinking?). These were my first impressions, felt with so much emotion and pure wonderment.

My New Zealand travel journal, bulging with glued-in postcards and the wonky handwriting of an excitable 6-year-old, detailed travel stories from a snow-capped Mount Cook visit to a fjord boat cruise around the breathtaking Milford Sound. But, in the midst of all these bucket-list worthy adventures, there is one diary entry, one magical memory-making-moment in Queenstown that I wrote about in capital letters: WE PLAYED ELEVATOR TIGGY!

Family holiday in New Zealand 1983
Just a little excited about travel (I’m in the middle).

That defining moment speaks volumes about kids and travel. In all the places that we’ve taken our 9-year-old, both in Australia and overseas, he always surprises me with the things he loves the most. So, keeping that in mind, here are 5 experiences for kids that adults will love too.

Wilsons Promontory National Park

Wilsons Promontory National Park. Well worth the online application, every June, for the summer camping ballot. Surfing, hiking, kayaking, bike riding, wombat spotting, free junior ranger activities, sunrise/sunset beach walks, the activities go on and on. Invest in walkie-talkies so that the kids can take off on their adventures and regale you with tales of their triumphs. Be prepared for constant updates (over and out!) and don’t forget to pack extra batteries. One non-negotiable activity every year is watching a film at the Tidal River Open Air Cinema. Snuggle down in comfy bean bags, don the blankets and have a magical cinematic experience under the Milky Way.

Sailing with kids on Tidal River with Whale Rock in view
Sailing by Whale Rock at Tidal River, Wilsons Prom

Follow the sun on a family road trip

Escape winter and keep thesun company on a family road trip. We’ll never regret doing this last year. Our experience sailing in the Whitsundays was a favourite for all of us. The kids took on the important task of protecting the catamaran from pirates with gusto.

Catamaran capers with the kids
No pirates here

Vivid Sydney

Experience Vivid Sydney, especially the Vivid Taronga Zoo event. Larger than life animal installations are on display in a riot of colours. Take a one-way ride on the cable car and watch the show from above. That was our favourite part, watching Sydney sparkle across the harbour while listening to a cacophony of animal sounds fill the night.

Vivid-at-Taronga-Zoo
Sydney sparkling across the harbour

It’s play time!

A family that plays together stays together. Theme parks such as Movie World and Wet n’ Wild are great fun for everyone. We stayed at the BIG4 Gold Coast Holiday Park which was located close enough to ride our bikes to these amusement meccas. If you want to go further north, I highly recommend the BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort. This place is kid-heaven and boasts an incredible waterpark. Plus, don’t forget about that oh so pleasing tropical Queensland climate.

DSC02430
Barefoot beach adventures are the best!

The Great Barrier Reef

Take a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. My son still raves about his snorkelling experience with Cruise Whitsundays. During the boat ride, out to the reef pontoon, we watched whales breaching and dolphins diving through the wake. A rainbow of colours were on display as we snorkelled with an abundance of marine life. For those who don’t want to get wet, there is an underwater viewing chamber and semi-submersible ride where you learn all about the largest coral reef system in the world.

Snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef
We loved our Great Barrier Reef snorkelling experience

Note: This article was commissioned by BIG4 Holiday Parks August 2018.