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Making tracks around Oz (#5) - latest tips from the road
February 15, 2017

Welcome to issue 5 (Feb 2017) of Making Tracks around Oz!

I hope you enjoy this month's articles:

  • Kids: how to make & manage fast friends
  • Staying on target on long travel days
  • Conserving water at comfy camps
  • Recipe: Tuna pasta no-bake

As always, please let me know any feedback you have. I look forward to hearing from you...

Kids: how to make and manage fast friends

There is an art to making friends and being social. When camping, especially on a long trip, it's critical for your kids to be able to make friends fast. Otherwise before you know it, they have lost the opportunity because the new 'friends' have packed up camp or you move on yourselves.

Kids are put on the spot – it’s a make or break situation.

After years of practice, our kids are pretty professional at collecting friends on the go! It also means that we don't usually get involved in the process, we just leave it to them.

It always starts with a bit of surveillance.

Our kids usually suss out the situation from the safety of our camp. How many kids are there? Are they already in a big group? Are there boys or girls and what are their general ages? Do they play nicely or rough? This helps them make a decision about whether to approach.

What usually happens next is that our kids hover around wherever the 'friends' are playing, or make several trips past the 'friends' camp until they have the chance to strike up conversation. Priya will sometimes start a conversation with the parent in an attempt to find out more information.

If they put themselves out there, that's usually enough.

After all, other kids are often just as keen to have some new friends, toys or games. All it takes is a friendly "hi" or "how old are you?" or "where are you from?" to get things going. One trick our kids try when 'luring' new friends is to play something especially exciting or different out in the open. Often the curiosity of the other kids will draw them over and check it out, and the friendship builds from there.

Plus, there's always a back-up plan if it doesn't work out.

Fresh friends can inject a bit of liveliness and fun – not to mention new games or toys for a short time. But the kids have always got you, or each other, as their back-up so they have nothing to lose.

If all else fails, you may have to put yourself out there.

Your child's personality will play a part in how well they can make fast friends. For children who are a little shy or unsure, you can help them by introducing yourself to the parents and inviting the other child to play with your child. This also shows your kids how to do it, so they realise adults also have to go outside their comfort zone sometimes to meet new people.

Fast friends vs fast nuisances?

Our kids fall hard and fast for their new friends. They are consumed by thoughts on how to maximise their time together. It can become a challenge to set boundaries about who hangs out where and when. We have rules like: no one in the camper without permission, our plans stay as our plans, we eat when we eat. Otherwise we find that we are suddenly being dictated by how our life fits in with the friends' plans. No parent wants to be told that they can't go to the beach until the friends go, or they can't eat dinner yet because the friends aren't.

If the friends become too much or are no longer being friendly, these rules also help to extract the kids from an awkward situation where they no longer want to spend time with their friends, or where they need a little time away to reset before playing some more.

Ultimately though, you have to say goodbye.

All that effort (and sometimes drama)…then a day or two later someone has to leave. If you are lucky you might get longer depending on your stay. Our kids still struggle with this bit. As they have gotten older we are happy if they want to swap email, or sometimes they ask us to do the swap.

Only a handful of fast friends will stand the test of time and distance.

We have explained this to the kids and I think they are starting to get it. It makes them even more determined to make fast friends as quick as they can so they enjoy the time they do get. Making fast friends is one of the subtle life lessons our kids have learned in their part-time life on the road. It has paid dividends in their school and extra-curricular activities, and teaches them the benefits of social confidence.

Challenge your kids on your next trip to see how many friends they can make at that camp, or how many facts they can find out about their new friend in 48 hours!

Staying on target on long travel days

On our bolt home last month, we did some of our biggest travel days yet. Here are some of the things that helped the journeys go smoothly.

Have a game plan that everyone understands.

We explain to the kids the night before and the morning of the journey about how the day will run. Then, everyone knows what to expect, and there is less chance of the kids pushing their luck! Our typical game plan goes like this:

  • First stretch: 1.5-2hrs. Do your own thing. You can read, look out the window, chat with us, listen to music. No electronic devices.
  • Quick toilet break / fuel stop / leg stretch.
  • Second stretch until lunch: ~2hrs: Watch a short stretch of TV, e.g. an episode in a series. Or listen to an audio book. Play a game, or do activities in an activity book.
  • Lunch stop: I like to plan for lunch out, so that we can all have a good rest. It's also a bit of treat to go to a pub or bakery. If not, I will pack something that we can make at a playground, like sausages on bread or sandwiches – something that gives the kids a chance to run around while I prepare.
  • After lunch: ~ 1hr rest time. Close your eyes or read quietly. Relax with a full tummy. When everyone has had a rest or sleep, then it's movie time ~2hrs. This gives us a bigger stretch of time between stops.
  • Break stop: toilet, treat, fuel.
  • Home stretch: Finish movie if not already, talk about destination, listen to music, discuss distances, look at the map. Tidy up backseat if it has become a pig sty!
On the food front…

My kids love to eat. I am sure they love to eat even more when they are bored or sat in a car. To avoid the big nag, I pack them each a lunch box to keep them going between stops. They have control about when and how much to eat.

It doesn't include their proper lunch, but other snacks they would usually have throughout the day, e.g. a vegemite sandwich, vege sticks, fruit, nuts, a biscuit or treat, boiled egg, cheese and crackers. Inevitably they eat the treat foods first, but when they are gone, that's it. Definitely stops the nag!

Conserving water at comfy camps

You pull up at that ideal campsite and decide to stay a week or more, then realise there is no drinking water source. While water is the lowest common denominator for everyone on the road, there are some tricks to make your drinking water stretch further than you might have thought.

#1 – Get into the habit of conserving water.

  • Start conserving water from day one. Don’t wait until you run out. You'll be surprised, this alone could extend your water supply by a day or two.
  • Think of ways to reduce your water flow-rate. We hand-pump drinking water, so it takes a lot longer to get water out of our tank. Kumar drilled small holes in the lid of a 2L empty milk bottle (like a small shower head) and we use it as a water-wise way to wash hands.
  • Washing up uses a LOT of water. Save your washing up and do it just once a day (just use more dishwashing detergent). Between dishwashing, leave really dirty dishes under the place your wash your hands, so they rinse throughout the day.
  • Swim instead of shower when you can. Shower only when really necessary, or try a top & tail sponge bath with a bowl of warm water and wash cloth.
#2 – Make the most of the water you can get.
  • Is there a non-drinking water source? You can wash-up safely with bore water, river water or even brackish water. Fill a jug or bucket with non-drinking water and designate it the hand-washing station. You even cook with some non-drinking water sources, and certainly shower – just ask.
  • What's the forecast? If you get even a little rain, buckets under awnings and run-off areas can harvest lots of rainwater. This makes great water for everything other than drinking or cooking. If you get a storm, you'll really score.
  • What about salt water? Use it when you can to help reduce fresh water use. You can wash dirty feet, wipe grotty faces, clean dirt off plastic toys or rinse buckets or other outdoor items.
#3 – Make clever choices to make your water last longer.
  • When washing hands: We've switched to foaming hand-wash, it spreads more easily on your hands without wetting them first, so you save water every time you wash your hands. Also, in between eating times when possible, we try to use hand sanitiser.
  • When cooking: Make meals that need less water, e.g. not pasta. Re-use cooking water when you can, e.g. to blanch veges, wash-up, or to rinse super-dirty dishes before you wash-up.
And, if you really want to hang out for a long time…

Consider throwing the jerry can in the boot to collect water on a day trip, or when you are out on other errands, e.g. emptying bins, getting groceries, or on a poor weather day. Offer to fill water for other campers and hope they do the same!

Recipe: Tuna pasta no-bake

This is my take on the traditional tuna bake, without the bake element. It works just as well and you can throw in whatever veges you have. If you want to save on washing up you can also make it work as a one-pot wonder if you have time.

Note: this recipe always makes way more than we need. It is a great one for the fridge to have as leftovers cold or warm the next day. Or halve the quantities, e.g. if you use half a tin of tuna for lunch sandwiches, then you could use the other half for this as dinner the next day.


  • 1 x canned tuna, drained
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 packet of pasta spirals (or other short pasta)
  • 2 x zucchini, grated, or other green vegetable (e.g. beans, peas)
  • 2 x carrots, grated
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 300-400ml milk
  • 2 tsp mustard
  • 1 cup cheese, grated
  1. Cook the pasta as per packet ingredients, then drain.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the onion. Fry until soft.
  3. Add the flour and mustard to the pan and fry off for a few seconds then reduce heat to low.
  4. Gradually add milk to the mixture to create a thick sauce (the same principles as making a white sauce only with onion added). Keep stirring until all added.
  5. Add cheese to sauce until melted through, and add salt and pepper to taste. Then remove from heat.
  6. Add cooked pasta, grated veges, and tuna to saucepan and stir until combined. If your saucepan is too small, use a big bowl instead. Serve immediately while still warm.
Tip: if you use chopped veges which need a bit of cooking, throw them into your pasta pot in the last minute or so of cooking, then drain and set aside with your pasta.

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