Want to have an adventure with kids? Plan the hell out of it

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As a general rule, I’ve always felt quite certain that young children and adventurous holidays were bound to lead to disaster.

I’m sure that’s why a considerable number of people I know do not have children (fair call, each to their own, etc). But I kind of like my offspring, as well as experiencing the world around me.

Why can’t I have both? 

There are some pretty smug parents out there who swear by a family adventure. I was one of them a few years ago, road-tripping with an unusually well-behaved and immobile baby.

But then they start crawling. And licking stuff on the ground. And walking (usually away from you and into danger). And fighting. Before I knew it, I was filled with anxiety and looking forward to getting back to the confines of my home — or a safe, local park nearby.

My husband and I have taken our two boys, now aged 3 and 6, on a couple of caravanning trips. Does that count as adventurous? Well, not the kind I’m thinking of.

A child dressed as a fairy plays on the streets at Woodford Folk Festival

I’m thinking about trips to countries with truly eye-opening experiences. Failing that (and with a very limited budget), I’m thinking about music and arts festivals. Somewhere for them to witness and take part in cultures they aren’t exposed to in everyday life.

And so began my adventure to the Woodford Folk Festival.

This year, I decided to take my boys by myself for three nights in our caravan. Woodford is a rural area west of Brisbane, which is the home of Woodfordia — a delightfully quirky and eclectic mix of music, dance, creative workshops, talkfests, holistic health solutions and more.

It must be said, there’s really nothing I’ve been to that compares to it. It’s much more than a regular summer festival — it’s a lifestyle celebration, a mini world for one week of the year.

Travelling Australia with kids in the Caravan of Crazy

The Willett family — mum Tania, dad Ben and their four kids under 13 — have spent 18 months travelling around Australia, visiting every state and territory.

I’ve been before, but never with both of my boys. And never as the sole parent.

So I’ve put together a list of five things I really wished I knew before embarking on a three-night stay at a summer festival with two young kids.

But before we dive in, I should mention some things. 

Firstly, Woodford is very, very hot. The campgrounds do not have electricity. And my two boys are quite a handful on any normal day — even with their father’s help.

Two young boys with their faces painted enjoy a drink at the Woodford Folk Festival south-east Queensland.

But this festival caters for kids as well, so I did have the upper hand in one way.

Follow my advice and you’re bound to feel challenged anyway. But at least you’ve been warned.

1. Determine what your expectations are — and then lower them considerably

I had the fanciful idea I’d spend a morning doing what they wanted, and an early evening seeing a few local acts I was interested in. How wrong I was.

The thing is, when you set an itinerary of what you’d personally like to experience on your adventure — such as visiting a local attraction, or in my case, watching a Scottish band play around the dinner-time mark — you then burn it and laugh at yourself for thinking you’d get away with doing that.

Seriously, just look at ticking any box on your list as a bonus and you’ll be ok. Enjoy the vibe, however it comes at you.

2. Bring ALL THE FOOD. Then pack extra

Many of us know what it means to get hangry, that point beyond hungry when you’d really consider eating a stranger’s leftover chips. In my kids’ case, hangry comes at any time, but usually after strenuous activity, a sleep or an hour without food.

I packed quite a bit of food, including snacks, but I should have packed at least twice as much. That way, it could be used as bribes, distractions, rewards and a faster route to another nap. Food is your number one key to success.

Three young children sitting in a colourful cart at Woodford Folk Festival, in Queensland.

3. Take something with wheels to cart the kids (and your gear) around in

My boys are pretty massive for their age, but that did not stop me from making the very excellent decision to buy a second-hand jogging/bike trailer designed for two small(er) kids to sit in. It wasn’t a high-end brand, and with a bit of grunt work it went through mud, grassy fields, gravel and over hills.

Success! I had a way to transport tired children and a place to store all my stuff.

The only thing I’d do differently is buy the more expensive, sturdy, spacious, off-road type. Whatever I could afford.

4. They’ll be tired. Stop for naps. Expect bedtime to be painful

Woodford Folk Festival parade

So the jogger/trailer/pram/cart you brought with you is doing your job for nap times.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve figured out an easy and portable way to get your children to sleep. In my case, at least, they craved the comfort of a proper mattress and some quiet time back at the camp ground. 

So after a rough first day, I made sure they got to chill back at our base for a bit during the middle of the day. And given their sleep routine was out of whack, I anticipated the difficulties I’d have at bedtime and spent extra time helping them fall asleep.

5. Give them unprecedented levels of responsibility

This tip’s a bit unusual, I suppose, but I felt that if they were expected to lose control of most of what they understood and were used to back at home, I should give them something special they could take care of, or take responsibility for, while we were away. 

So they both had a torch each for the evenings.

They knew I didn’t have one so the power of light was theirs. It doesn’t sound very exciting, but I can tell you for them it was like graduating to the next level of childhood.

Uptown Brown entertains the crowd in the Pineapple Lounge.

So that’s basically it. 

I’m a firm believer that life shouldn’t stop just because you’ve had a family. 

Surely part of what makes us great role models for our kids — and help them live their own lives well — is to take the opportunity to explore the world around us and have a bit of fun doing the things we love.

I just hope that sense of adventure rubs off on them.