Tag Archives: South America

Overland vehicle options for a travelling family

our mode of travel for 3 months in Morocco, car and tent

So, what is the ideal road trip vehicle for a travelling family?

It is the ultimate question for any family about to embark on a road trip adventure and there isn’t a right or wrong answer.

We have asked it a million times and discussed it endlessly, sometimes with a different result depending on our mood on the day, which country we’re in, or what new overland vehicle we have just spotted on the road that day…The answer to this question will depend largely on who you ask at the time…everyone will tell you, theirs is the perfect travel vehicle (they had it custom built) and is the perfect solution to your family road travel woes. What vehicle you chose will depend on factors such as; your period of travel, budget, location, your family’s needs and size and well ultimately, your personality!

Some initial questions to consider include…..Do you want practical, big, small, convenient, creature comforts, homemade, custom made, affordable, trendy, fuel efficient, off road capable, fast, slow, head room, no room, old, new, etc.

So, say I wanted cool and homely, I would go for a converted old bus (we spotted two yellow ones) and it reminded me of the idealised old hippie travelling days. The inside of one was lovingly converted complete with a cosy woodfire heater, wooden table and bench seats and even a sewing machine for the creative inner you…Buses have personality and big windows with lots of light…but it is a bus… think noisy, slow, old and not particularly fuel efficient.

Converted old 2WD trucks are popular amongst some of the French surfers/hippies travelling along the coast of Morocco – basic, homemade, and obviously not too expensive to buy. I love the idea of having a truck fitted out with anything you could find from your house/freecycle/donations whatever. A truck is made to carry weight… so think claw bath and big futon bed with floor to ceiling bookshelves.. you could make it however you wanted – bolt anything to the floor of it, and off you go…. But you wouldn’t want to get stuck anywhere (you’d be waiting for days to find a bigger/stronger vehicle to tow you out), drive too far (high fuel costs), it would be a pain to manoevere and would add an extra couple of hours to your travel time especially if driving in hilly countryside.

converted 4WD trucks
converted 4WD trucks

We have seen ex german/russian converted military trucks as well as all sorts of other 4WD truck conversions.

The former can come in 4/6/8 WD. This would be the way to go if you wanted the space, head room and better off road capability (e.g. something that  can hold the weight of your “house” even on dirt unpaved roads). But they can look huge and very conspicous. They seem somewhat out of place amongst the local cars, can use up to 5 x the amount of fuel of a normal 4WD, and depending on what you want done, it wouldn’t be cheap to either buy a truck as is, or for the conversion. Some 4WD trucks because of their size can still be impractical off road especially on smaller roads.


Europe and Morocco: motorhome paradise
Europe and Morocco: motorhome paradise

It seems as if every French older person (and a handful of Germans, Italians and Dutch) has a motorhome and travels each year to North Africa to escape the European winter – something in the vicinity of 40,000 when we were there. We saw motor homes of every shape, size, brand and year on the road, from the cheap and affordable to the decadent and fancy. They are custom built, compact, well organised, fuel efficient (newer ones) with a practical space, albeit a bit sterile and same same looking. They can come with all the creature comforts you desire – shower, tv, satellite, aircon, heating, trailers with bikes, motorbikes, dune buggy’s, even a town car on the back.   It doesn’t mean they can carry all of this quite so easily… Question is….do you need to take your whole life with you on your travels and where do you really want to go when there? Motorhomes have a practical and comfortable space, but they are not made for driving on unpaved roads with the weight they are carrying – think flat tyres and maybe broken motorhome..


If you want to blend in with the local vehicles, I can guarentee that almost anywhere in the world a white non descript van (ex passenger/delivery type ones) would be the way to go. Only the foreign number plates would give it away, and maybe the curtains, the silver foil windscreen shield and the world map design on the side.  Apart from that, the more battered looking the better. Many travellers have chosen a van as the way to road trip – its compact, and a simple and yet do-able living space – you can fit a bed in the back, a simple cooker, sink, and some storage. You can park it anywhere and no-one would guess your sleeping in it.

A van as an all in one vehicle even as a 2WD would handle dirt roads better than a motorhome. There are various sizes, brands and even 4WD options.  Although, it’s important to remember that a 4WD is not just about  having 4 wheels that drive!  So a 4WD doesn’t always equal 4WD capable on all roads.  Consider weight, tyre size, clearance and other factors to determine and assess the 4WD suitability for your desires.  To fit a family, a soft pop top or a hard one, can give you the extra bed space, and/or head room. If you don’t like white, paint it, sticker it, stripe it, whatever you like it.

4WD ute camper conversion
4WD camper

4WD car

A 4WD gives you the ability to go almost anywhere. It doesn’t matter whether its a paved road, a muddy road or a corregated one, a road with pot holes, one thats been washed away or even a bush or dirt track. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small road, a windy road or a steep one. You can just drive it – easily…. If you want to go off road to wild camp, or tuck in somewhere a little more discrete, chances are you can probably get there in a 4WD. They are practical, useful, less likely to get stuck, and depending on the model you buy – spare parts can be found anywhere in the world.

The question than is – how and where do you sleep? Possibilities include: rooftop tent, pitch tent, camper, bed in the back, accomodation… As a couple, a 4WD is an ideal way to travel. In 2007, we travelled for 6 months pre kids. We drove our landrover defender canvas roof with a bed in the back from far east Russia to Turkey via Central Asia. We paid for accomodation in cities (although you don’t have to – we met a dutch couple travelling for 8 years who always slept in their landcruiser no matter where). The cost of accomodation and our overall travel/vehicle expenditure was much cheaper than paying for an expensive conversion or a motorhome.

Accomodating a family in a 4WD car is more difficult and has given us much to think about. With our first son, we did a couple of desert camping trips in Australia with the three of us.. again the bed in the back was still okay (just) for us all to sleep comfortably. Our son loved sitting in the front seat, between the two of us during the driving time. It was practical and easy, with very little set up required (we had a fridge, cooker attached and storage space) and we could park anywhere and go to bed.

And then we became four…!! Our 4WD with a bed option was no longer possible….so what now??!!     See blog: Things to consider when choosing your family’s overland vehicle, for a discussion on the important factors to weigh up when deciding on THE “ultimate” vehicle or just the most affordable way to road travel as a family.

Travelling through Morocco in a landrover.  Great for off road
Travelling through Morocco in a landrover. Great for off road



Taking kids sightseeing in a (hot) city – why do it?

Exactly my sentiments, why would you do it?!!

We arrived in Santiago city just over a week ago.  My husband is visiting  car dealers and  private sellers in search of our perfect and cheap  home on wheels (casa rodanates) so we can begin our journey through Chile.   We have given ourselves 2 weeks  to find  a vehicle but that may have been ambitious!  In the meantime however, I’ve been entertaining the kids – a one and a three year old.  Not easy in a foreign city, but  do-able.   We have tried and tested every park we can find within walking distance! However, today I decide to go and visit a museum of which there are plenty.

Most museums are closed on Monday. It’s a Thursday so we are off to a good start.   We begin the 40 min walk.  First stop, a protest.

octobernovemberSantiago2012 228 Not uncommon here, and it is more like walking through a national day celebration.    Chanting, drumming, whistle blowing: think ticket tape parade.  Its day 6 of hospital staff protests  and it’s still going strong.

We continue on, its hot.  Clear blue skies and 30 degree weather, almost everyday.  We should be at the beach, but the closest seaside town is 2 hours away and the magnificent open air pool in the city doesn’t open til 25 November, 3 weeks away.

My 3 year old son is getting tired, so he has a turn in the pram and I carry my one year old in the handy ergo carrier.  I can sense we are getting close –  yes, there it is, the Museo de Pre Columbino, but its shut down for re-construction.  I had even checked first on the internet and it said  some exhibits were still open.

not a good sign....
not a good sign….

I’m worn out, so I go to Plan B – head to the park!!!  On the way, I see a “I love smoothie” sign – perfect.  I love smoothies too.  So we stop.  Passer bys look at me – I have two blonde kids, it’s normale!  Then I notice, the Bhang lassi sign….  oh dear..  I check with the waitress – please no drugs in our smoothies.

We finally arrive at the park – my sons are pleased.  I’m pleased too –  the museum will have to wait for another time…..


octobernovemberSantiago2012 186
fascinated with the water fountains

So, what to do in a city then?   Do as the kids do….. chase pigeons in the park, throw stones in the water fountains, or jump in if you can (kids not you!), run through sprinklers, play hide and seek, stop for a delicious gelati,  head somewhere cool……  Most of all, RELAX….

So why come to Santiago to visit parks and playgrounds??  Well, for older kids walking around a city may be interesting, but for littlies, its hot, tedious,  boring and could be a precursor for potential meltdowns!!

octobernovemberSantiago2012 133

running through park sprinklers on a hot day

Definitely,  sightsee but chose your places well (especially in hot cities) and especially when on foot – the journey can be as interesting (and tiring) as the destination,  try not to squeeze too much in and  do your research as best as you can beforehand.

While your kids are playing in the park, they will soak up the atmosphere of being in a different city. Meeting kids and other families, who will stop and say ‘hola’, notice the street vendors, the yellow fire hydrants, the street dogs who wander and flop in the shade,  the  noise, smells and the  general feel of the city they are in.

During our stay, we have done some sightseeing as a family, peppered amongst the administrative boring jobs – of  going to dealers, government offices, accessing money (an afternoon filler in itself) as well as the everyday stuff (supermarket shopping, park plays, library visits, even attending an English speaking mum’s group).

The city has a good transport system but the metro underground stations are mostly accessed via stairs (some do exist with lift access – good luck finding which ones!).

Otherwise, walk (enjoy the freedom of not having a car), catch a taxi (reasonably cheap) or catch a bus (if you can work out where you need to go).

See recommendation of things to do in Santiago which are free and fun in my next blog

Check out:



English speaking mums group in Santiago on facebook – information/news/meet ups.

kids occupying themselves
kids occupying themselves








Why travel with kids?

being a kid again
being a kid again

Travelling with kids is a lot of things…. it can be challenging, intense at times, tiring, and trying…but its not impossible and nor will it kill you (can’t promise your sanity will remain intact though).   It will broaden your understanding of what is possible and you will look back and be amazed at the places you’ve been to, and the experiences/emotions you’ve shared as a family – nothing like 24/7 living to really get to know one another.  Sometimes our imagined fear is much worse than the reality itself.

If you enjoy or like to travel for an extended period than you can either chose to keep on  travelling and do it with your kids or you can wait til your kids have grown up and left home.  Current statistics put kids  flying the coop at early 20s or later and so your faced with the other potentially disastrous situation with leaving the kids at home to look after the house (parties alert) while you travel….

I remember as a 20 year old, making grand travel plans with my boyfriend at the time, who simply turned around and said – these are your dreams not mine…. which is true for your kids as well – it’s important to remember whose dreams they are.  However,  sharing your loves and interests with your kids is a wonderful thing and giving your kids the opportunity to see you; mess up, get lost, work things out, try a new language, communicate beyond language, make friends, discover new places etc is  all part of life’s learning curve….  We  want to travel as a family so  we can share  these experiences together… BUT we also know that are kids  are on this ride with us… and it may not always suit them.  It ‘s not  a one size fits all approach,  but about  finding how to travel that suits your family at the time.

travelling with kids is...interesting...
travelling with kids is….interesting

I don’t know what the future holds.  What I do know is that my partner and I have both lost our mums at a young age, and that this time, right now, is as good a time as any … At a time when our peers are making  career choices, investing in business, renovating, re-locating to a second or bigger home, we are not… its sometimes a scary feeling that in some ways our “progress” in the ‘real’ world has stopped… we are not making money but we are spending it fast…. However this is our family’s story not anyone else’s…. and so we all chose our own stories to write.


Travelling with kids takes on a different meaning.  I have travelled previously as a single person and as a couple with my husband.  Travelling at that time was about  going somewhere on a whim, changing countries as often as you change underpants – catching planes, overnight trains without a moment’s thought,  walking everywhere, eating poorly/living cheaply, leaving the doldrums of routine and responsibilities behind, getting through your book wish list and writing journals while lazing on a beach, cafe, park, lake/mountain side/whatever (ALL DAY), getting lost and not caring, going to places with exotic sounding illnesses and hoping you didn’t come home with anything other than a funny tummy,     experiencing the culture, and working/volunteering for travel.   Essentially an exercise in real self indulgence and complete  escapism.

london june 13 111Well let me tell you that there is no escaping from your responsibilities as a parent when travelling with kids.  In some ways its a little easier (because there’s two of you, so its shared), but a lot harder in other ways because there is just the two of you the entire time… through sickness, jetlag, moments of insanity.  You thought negotiating with a friend/partner traveller was hard in the past (remember the silly arguments of deciding where to eat, where to go, sleep, etc)  well now you have 2 other little travellers whose needs often take priority and there is little room for negotiating!!

Yes travelling is different, but hey, my kids have adjusted pretty well  to this whole travel thing, so now its our turn to re-adjust our travels from a single person to  a family unit… its not so hard..

Travelling as a single person vs travelling as a family

I’ve had very different experiences of cities/countries I’ve been to as a single person and then re-visited as a family – some have been better experiences, others, well they’ve just been different.

As a single person, I travelled and saw mostly cities in South America.  This time as a family, we have spent more time in the countryside (which is amazing by the way) than the cities.

My experience of London as a 20 something year old, was mainly about work, nightlife and living  frugaly in an 8 person share house.  I spent the last two weeks before flying home doing some last minute half hearted sightseeing. Sure, I enjoyed having a walk  (as a means to getting somewhere) through some of the popular parks but its a completely different experience when your hanging out with kids in some of the most beautiful parks in London.. It becomes a lifestyle and a necessity when apartment living.   I’ve never  been a keen fan of taxodormy, but kids love being able to see wild animals at close range without fear.     So this time around, I’ve loved visiting the museums,  the parks, and have met lots of other international families along the way.    Sure I’ve missed out on lots too – special tours, audio commentary’s, interesting exhibits like the crown jewels at the tower of London.  But I’d like to think, my kids have saved me a lot of time.   As I’ve walked past the enormous queue’s at a lot of these attractions,  I just think… I’m glad its not me….

Travelling with kids can be really fun especially seeing things from a kids perspective..    You get to enjoy being a kid again too.   Next time, you factor in legoland, a trip to disneyland, a puppet/kids show etc, just check whether this ones for the kids or secretly for you too…

st louis marsel to london oct13 150

Kids are more likely to be  “out there” and this will get you all sorts of experiences you couldn’t get even if you paid for it….No matter how interesting you think you are, kids  are just much more fascinating  without having to try too hard… and people are more interested in you as a traveller because you are travelling as a family…


On a ferry crossing in Chile we had two local musicians hand their drum over to my son to join in their impromptu  performance, we’ve had a busker improvise a song for our son just for him, a female quartet came over to serenade us when my son – the only one –  got up to dance to their music…    So you get to enjoy a myriad of unique experiences which will be part of your family’s travel stories and you don’t have to do a thing….your kids will  do it for you…naturally…

impromptu jam session

My  kids are littlies,  yet they are still learning lots during our travels overseas… My son knows what country/city we are in (although he did shout out excitedly that he had the American flag, when he was handed a free British flag..opps!), what oceans we have crossed, what local animals look like (in real life not just from books), what Spanish/French/etc sounds like. My sons might not be able to articulate everything they see and learn but the interaction they have with the country and the people, have been absorbed by them and will make up the  glomerate of experiences that is their world and form their behaviours….  In Chile my eldest son built volcanoes out of sand, in Argentina his favourite word was “vamos”, in London he played all sorts of games/stories that involve animals from the woods, knights/towers, in France he learnt about donkeys and built castles out of rocks and it goes on and on…

an experience no matter what age

I can’t tell you whether its best travelling with little ones or older kids… each will have their own pros and cons….  From our perspective, all ages are great and it doesn’t matter when you go.  Each time it will be a different experience and perspective based on your kids life stage/personality  at the time..   My one year old, can still go to a museum and have a valuable experience, seeing the animals, being able to touch and feel specimens etc…The next time he goes, he will experience it differently again and something new will catch his eye or he will see the same through his 18 month old perception.

If you see travel as stressful, difficult or a nuisance, than odds are, you wont enjoy it with children…   travelling with children wont make adjusting to a new language, culture, finding your way around and dealing with challenges  any easier.

We came to the conclusion that even without trying too hard my kids are getting something wonderful from “just being” wherever it is they are.  Learning about the big wide world can happen by bringing the world to our kids, allowing them to explore while still in the safety and comfort of a parents arms.  To learn that the world is really on their front doorstep,  to really care about the world by seeing all the wonderful things on offer, and to learn that it doesn’t have to be a scary, dangerous or  fearful place, and in fact that there are children like them all over the world that aren’t so different after all..

So our kids have found new friends in  playgrounds to play with even when they don’t speak the same language, experienced the diversity of an international city like London, visited some  of the local or best museums in the world – imagine going to see the dinosaur bones that were dug up in that precise region (Argentina/saurus) and  discovered that Chile doesn’t mean spicy or even cold – its an actual country!

If you really want to  have an adventure, jump in the deep end and go for it.. and don’t forget the kids!

kids can have a great time no mtter where they are
kids can have a great time no mtter where they are







We survived the flight

chile-london apr 13 103After enduring a 15 hour flight from Melbourne to Santiago with two young kids (a 3 and a 1 year old) no one at the end of the flight planted a “we survived the flight” sticker on me…. They give those stickers away for almost anything these days!   Passengers clap the pilot when they land the plane, yet where’s the clap for the families and the “Yeah you made it!” in return?!

Preparing for a trip overseas with kids can be a bit like planning for labour and birth..  You spend a lot of time worrying about the flight (labour) and less time on what will happen once you get there (baby arrives).   The if’s and what’s of the flight seem to preoccupy the mind. Questions such as,  how will it go (I’ve never done this before!), and  what to do if it all goes pear shaped run through the mind.  Its unpredictable, uncertain and  most likely painful….   Like birth, there can be things you can take to make it easier, or you can go au natural….  However, no matter what happens, you can’t go back or stop mid flight…. you just have to see it through!

After about 12 hours or sometimes two days,  it’s all over ….  Your ecstatic…. Suddenly your faced with the realisation that what you’ve been planning  for  months has actually happened and here you are in a new country about to embark on a life changing adventure….. You even consider doing it again once the jetlag and flight become a distant memory.

chile-london apr 13 100OUR FLIGHT

We chose the most direct flight route. Melbourne (Australia) to Santiago, Chile with a stopover in Sydney. We could have saved $1000 per ticket if we had gone via the Middle East but it would’ve meant 39 hours on a plane.

We flew during the day, not that we had much choice.   It worked out well as the kids began the journey fresh and well rested after a night’s sleep.   An early stopover meant that the changeover of planes happened early in the flight rather than interupt a potential sleep moment…

The flight to my surprise, went quite smoothly.  I even got to watch a whole movie and this never happens at home…!   There were some testy moments but this can happen  at home without having the added stress of being in an overcrowded space for a prolonged period.

My 3 year old happily watched ABC for kids epsiodes, we read stories and books together (always worth taking some of your own entertainment and snacks!)  He managed a little nap but no more….  By the time we reached 9pm our time,  we were trying to help him wind down for some more sleep, but then the cabin lights  went on and it was breakfast time…..

Our 1 year old,  was the only one who really managed to rest, napping easily on me. Despite, thinking it would be a struggle to hold him the entire time, it was enjoyable and comfortable ( I sat there and watched a movie!).   He required a bit more effort in the entertaining department when awakebut we let him have regular crawls and  look out the window.  Our fears regarding the  flight was worse than the reality!!

After such a long flight, it was a relief to arrive in Santiago at 9am (midnight our time) and to be processed  quickly and efficiently.  We were ushered to the “preferential” aisle bypassing the horrendous immigration queue. This is common in Santiago – there is often a special aisle for pregnant women, families, elderly, people with a disability.   It was fantastic.  By this time, my eldest son was exhausted as were we….

See next blog – Tips for flights with kids