Many people like the idea of hiring a motorhome but are unsure about travelling with young children and babies. Holidaying with kids is a rewarding experience but can be challenging at times! So we’ve put together some helpful information which will help with your vacation planning and ensure that everyone enjoys their time on the road.
This information is specifically aimed at travellers with children under 7 years of age but can be applied to all ages. To start with, every person travelling in a campervan needs their old seat, whether they are 6 months old or 60. Children 7 years and under also need to be in proper child restraints, as per by the strict road safety laws in Australia and New Zealand. Generally, for children aged 0 to 6 months (on average), they need to be in a rear-facing baby capsule or adjustable baby seat. From 6 months up to 4 years (on average), children can be seated in forward-facing baby seats.
In motorhomes in Australia, baby capsules and baby seats need to be fitted with an anchor point as well as a 3-point lap/sash seatbelt (like what you find in a normal car). Booster seats are then required for children between 4 and 7 years (on average). A 3-point lap/sash belt is required when fitting a booster seat. If the campervan only has a lap belt, you will also need to fit a chest harness with the booster seat to prevent the child from moving forwards in the event of a sudden stop or accident. Apart from the safety aspect, you could also be fined by the police if children are not properly restrained.
So what vehicle do you need to hire? The smallest vehicles (2/3 Berth Hitop campervans) are only recommended if your child does not require a booster seat (generally 8 years of age and above). This is because the 2/3 Berth Hitop campervans have all 3 seatbelts in the front driver’s cabin and baby capsules and baby seats cannot be fitted in the front. Many companies also do not permit booster seats to be fitted in the front. It’s always safest to have your child sitting in the rear if possible.
You then move up into the 2 Berth (Shower/Toilet) campervans but these vehicles only have 2 seatbelts in the front driver’s cabin, so they are not suitable. This leads you to the more appropriate 3, 4 or 6 Berth motorhomes, which have proper seating in the main cabin. Your children can sit in the main cabin in safety and enjoy the view from the side and rear windows. All of these motorhomes have walk-through access from the driver’s cabin into the rear, so you can reach your children quickly if need be. Let’s say you have 2 adults and 2 children (aged 7 months and 4 years) travelling. You could hire a 4 Berth (or 6 Berth for the extra room) and the two children would seat in the main cabin, on forward-facing seats. The 7-month old would be in a forward-facing baby seat and the 4-year old would be in a booster seat, with the adults in the driver’s cabin (or one adult seated with the kids, in the case of a 6 Berth which has 4 seatbelts in the rear). While travelling, everyone needs to be in their seatbelt – and not moving around the motorhome like in the movies!
We are often asked if children can watch TV or a DVD while travelling. This is possible if the motorhome comes with a TV/DVD and if it is powered by 12V. If you require main power (240V), you will need to be plugged into a powered camp site. A lot of the other large appliances in motorhomes need 240V power to work and for this, you need to be plugged into power at caravan parks. But more and more motorhome companies are supplying 12/240V TV and DVD players, so just check beforehand so you know what your options are. It also depends on where the TV is located in the motorhomes.
Most TV’s are positioned on a wall near the middle of the motorhome, but it may be behind the seating, which makes it impossible for the kids to watch while driving. Otherwise, to keep the kids entertained while driving, ensure that you bring along a supply of books and games that they can play with while seated. Please note that in most cases, it is best to remove the table in the seating area because it can slide around during travel. So if your kids enjoy drawing, they may need something hard to lean their paper on. Or you could always try the old-fashioned games like “I Spy” if you get desperate!
Where to sleep the kids at night is another common question. Lots of parents travel with portable cots or cribs, but sometimes they are too wide to fit down the aisle of a motorhome. If you are unsure whether a cot or crib would fit, you could read the list of the best cribs on the market on mommyhood101 and check the sizes on there. Some of the newer 6 Berth motorhomes can fit a standard-sized portacot in the aisle at the rear of the motorhome (where the bed would normally be set up). But if this is not an option, one solution is to make up one of the lower rear beds (without bedding) and place the portable cot on top of the bed boards. These beds sit about 40 centimetres off the floor but still take care of setting up the cot. In personal experience, the baby had a harder time than usual when getting down to sleep, the next time we tried this we also incorporated some of the same nursery wall decals as she had in her bedroom at home, this soon eased her a little and it was much easier to get her off to sleep the next night.
All 3, 4 and 6 Berth motorhomes come with a bed over the driver’s cabin, but this is best suited for older children and adults as the drop to the floor is at least 1.5 metres. Some companies install luggage safety nets on the opening of these beds which are used to prevent stored luggage from falling down while travelling. The luggage safety nets are definitely not designed to keep children in so please do not use the overcab bed for young children. If you do not have your own portable cot, then you can hire baby equipment from places like http://www.hireforbaby.com. Finally, it’s best not to drive for long periods when travelling with children. Kids only have a certain amount of patience before they need a break, as most parents already know! Aim to cover around 250 kilometres per day with a couple of stops along the way. The beauty of a motorhome is the ability to travel at your own pace, so ensure that you don’t spend all of your time driving and your kids will thank you for it!