Five approaches to happy overlanding with your kids

You travel with your family for the enjoyment of the journey, the exploration, the shared adventure. Happiness, camaraderie, and cooperation is the glue that makes all the planning and prep worth the effort. In that, keeping the young’ins attention tuned to any non-confrontational aspect emerges as a skill set of experience.

We travel with our two boys in a well-seasoned, faithful yet temperamental, Landrover Defender 110 named Angus. A rig of immense character, utility, and positive energy, but little space to waste when it comes to 4 people.DSC_0672

Our boys aren’t teenagers yet. They are of a good age to travel with.  They have proven themselves great on the road, in a plane, around the proverbial corner, and internationally. When they were younger, infant and toddler age, we tended to keep our explorations closer to home.  Now that they are more self-aware and situationally conscious, we have been able to spread wings quite a bit further.

Here are a few of the strategies that we’ve used to keep the wheels on the Landy turning without an excess of friction.

Backseat configuration

The setup of the backseat is one of the easiest and most important contributors to overland bliss. In that, one key element rises above all else, separation of personal space. We’ve experimented with several devices to establish the boundary between the left and right sides of the car and found our best success with a ballistic nylon center-seat divider where we store maps, cameras, water bottles, tissues – all of the items that are of easy access to the entire family. The center seat is a common space.

On the seat back of both sides, we’ve installed pocketed carriers and allowed the boys to put whatever they want in those pockets. That is their space to do with as they please. That said, it usually boils down to books, colored pencils (we do not allow crayons or markers because it’s just a matter of time before I’m cleaning up a mess and getting angry about it), tablets, headphones, toys, etc. Those are accompanied by a rule that anything we find outside of the pockets will head towards the bin. There are several high-quality options available on the market. Knightsbridge Overland and MSA4x4 manufacture some very sturdy products.  We’ve gone through several configurations.  We have tried gear lofts, hanging net-baskets (highly unrecommended), carabiners lines, rigid containers, and soft-sided & secured organizers. In this trial-and-error approach, we’ve chosen some inexpensive options available through Amazon until we think we get it right.

Incidentally, keeping an active (and regularly emptied) trash receptacle in the backseat will minimize vehicle stank, funk, and apex predator attractants.

The rest of the backseat is utilized for our heaviest equipment. Every cubic inch of space is utilized. In an effort to maintain the lowest center of gravity, the floor of the backseat is home to the densest items.  Recover gear, wheel jack, solar generator, water tank, medical supplies, and leveling blocks usually live under seats and feet.

The lads like to be able to access all their most precious travel possessions while at the same time be able to move around a bit for the long days on the road. This amounts to a Tetris challenge to satisfying all needs but after all, it’s just packing.

Time on the road

There is a balance to be achieved between making forward progress, exploring the unknown, enjoyment of the present versus the inevitable ticking time bomb imminent meltdown resulting from too much time in the car. I have read several strategies from full-time overlanders of endless depth of experience and had the privilege of hearing numerous stories of success and failure on this subject. In our travels, we have found that from roll-out to drop-anchor, 4 to 6 hours is a good daily travel allotment. Pushing an extra 2, 3, or more hours to make a planned destination where you’ll stop for a day or more is a judgment call.

East Side Sierra
Sliding down the east side towards a destination unbound. Credit: Anthony Vigliotti

Stacking travel days back-to-back is another consideration. Experts have said four days of travel followed by at least one day of rest is a good travel ratio. I would likely agree. However, in our (comparatively) limited travels we have only been on the road two back-to-back days before arriving at a scheduled destination. We are hoping to change this.

Bread and circus

Well-fed and entertained makes for enjoyable travel experiences. Keeping adequate drinks and snacks at the fingertips is a no-brainer. Not pressing too far that restlessness and hanger take over is another. Plan on a breather every 90 to 120 minutes. It’s good for the driver too.

If its cold out, have some cocoa. If it’s hot, treat your team to ice cream. Prepare a meal when your crew is hungry, forget what time it is.

In the vehicle, if they’re not fighting, we usually let them occupy themselves with whatever they like. Movies on a tablet (as much as we strive to limit device/screen time we usually let this slide in the Landy), books, coloring, listening to music, talking through the nature of things are all in-motion accepted activities.

Flagstaff AquaplexStop at roadside points of interest. Feel welcome to read interpretive signs and monuments. Local museums and attractions will surprise you. Depending on where you are (and weather cooperation) short hikes, climbs, photo ops, even a quick swim in the ocean, lake, or river will revitalize the team. Many towns (in the USA) have community centers with pools. One-time usage fees are less than $10pp. We have taken these opportunities to let the boys swim for a while anhicksond get a hot shower. Laundromats, particularly those with drop-off service, offer a gift of a few hours to break up the day’s travel and explore locally.

Even when settled in at camp, both of my little guys enjoy having something to do.  Tree DwellerSometimes this means they are exploring on bicycles, unstructured nature walks, other times it may mean some archery or fishing. They are eager to poke about without supervision (duh). The key is to keep them more than just occupied, but to keep them engaged.

Mix up the lodging

Whether your sleeping arrangements center around a camper, pop-up, rooftop, or ground tent, over time it gets stale so change it up now and again. This should not imply that a night in a hotel is necessarily the answer, sometimes it is. Some tactics we’ve used in the past are tossing a tarp on the ground and sleeping under the moon and stars next to the campfire. Other times we’ve checked into a hostel, which the boys enjoy very much. We try to link up with friends along the way which always alters the dynamics of slumber.

Roles in camp

The last strategy for traveling with the kids is to give them a role in camp. Its more than regular camp chores like fetch firewood or clean dishes. Bear MeasuresThis is a delegation of real responsibility…. Well, within limits.  For example, Bear loves to be the camp director meaning once we pull in, he’s calling the shots on where to set the Land Rover, where do we set up the kitchen, who is doing what task to get us settled in. He likes to show off his acumen as an outdoorsman.  Quite honestly, after driving for a day I’m usually a bit dodgy and having someone else be the adult for a moment is a relief.

Other responsibilities we hand to the boys include setting up the inside of the RTT for the night or planning dinner and leading the preparation. Having a hand in the breakdown of camp and the readiness to roll-out in an efficient manner is helpful beyond words.

Just to be honest, they still get to fetch firewood and clean dishes. That doesn’t change. Marshmallow smores will forever be the great motivator. Our littlest man follows the helpful lead of Bear who is a great big bro, albeit occasionally too big for his britches. Second to daily duties are setting time aside in camp for homework and reading. Every day, at least 30-60 minutes is set aside, no matter what time of day. We do our best to stick to it.

As we continue to press on farther distances for increasingly extended periods of time, we’ll have to come up with new angles to keep the team dynamic fresh and exciting.

Good luck on your adventures! Happy Trails!

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