Towing a camper-trailer? I’d rather take on bloodthirsty zombies with a glitter gun. How bad could it be?

WORDS & IMAGES Melinda Uys

A group of our friends were staying for a week at the White Albatross Caravan Park at Nambucca Heads, a mere six-hour drive down the coast from my husband and his extremely competent towing, reversing and setting-up skill set. 

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“Join us!” they implored. “The kids will have a fantastic time!” they declared. “We’ll get a chance to relax together!” they lied. To be fair, it did sound great even if my husband’s work schedule wouldn’t allow him to join us: I was quite able to set up the camper by myself, the kids could play together and I’d catch up with friends while exploring a new part of the coast.

But as I pulled off the front lawn, feeling the car tug against the unaccustomed weight of the camper-trailer, waving my husband good-bye (who was doing what looked suspiciously like an Irish jig) and listening to the kids yell their ‘I love yous’ from the back seat, I began wondering whether a trip ‘solo parentis’ was more brain snap than ‘a-ha’ moment.

I had lots of time to think about this as I towed our Jayco Swan down the M1 past Brisbane and the Gold Coast, sticking to the left-hand lanes and fobbing off requests for food, drink and toilet stops from the back seat. I had the panicky fear that if I strayed from this literal straightforward driving, I might plop myself into my worst nightmare: Reversing. What if I pulled in to a service station and there was no way to turn around? What if I was blocked in by another driver? Apocalyptic scenes involving my car and camper-trailer at right angles to one another, hemmed in by petrol bowsers or bemused fast-food patrons ran on repeat until we reached our halfway destination and overnight stop: Mum and dad’s house. 

Really, I should have completed a towing driving course (like the one in RV Daily issue 8 – see link on the left) before I set off. But I had made do with a quick 30-minute masterclass on my parents’ driveway courtesy of dad, where he went over the basics of reversing a trailer. We had a few reverse test runs and whilst I was apparently “easier to teach than your mother”
I wasn’t filled to the brim with confidence about tomorrow’s reversal of the Jayco Swan onto a relatively small rectangle while being the focus of every other guest’s most revered activity: Watching New Campers Set Up. 

We said goodbye to Nana and Poppy, I gave the kids a few gob stoppers (aka movies and snacks) and set off for the three-hour drive down to Nambucca Heads. Upon arrival, we entered the friendly reception at the White Albatross Caravan Park and immediately asked the $1 million question (with puppy dog eyes): 

“Is there someone who can back my camper onto my site?” “Of course!” was the reply, but the person for the job was nowhere to be found. I phoned a friend, another Reversing Champion, but he was off-site and at least an hour away.
I’d be reversing it in myself. Yikes.

After inching back and forth onto the site, incapable of getting the camper next to the permanent matting completely straight, the kids starting to go mental in the back with the need to escape the car. The swearing gained momentum and volume under my breath. Then a park caretaker strolled over and suggested I just drive through the next site across – negating the need to reverse altogether. Sigh.
Within one minute we were perfectly positioned
on our site (albeit one space over). 

Phew! Are you exhausted? I was completely cooked. How was this easy? When would the kids stop whingeing and start having a ‘fantastic time’? I was officially one day into this ‘holiday’ and it was not proving to be particularly relaxing at all. Swirls of fume and irritation eddied around my head, until suddenly the kids stopped fighting long enough to shout, “There they are!” Walking towards us from the pool area were the promised friends shepherding a gaggle of brightly swimsuited children with towels, flotation devices and the first sense that yes, this could be awesome. 

One adult took my children, plonking them firmly into the wandering crèche that was our combined 20+ children, whilst three others put down their newspapers and magazines long enough to help me with the camper. Half an hour later, our wheeled house completely set up, swimsuit on and fold-out chair positioned, my solo parentis holiday finally began in earnest.

Travelling with other families can help share child management very nicely and the following week was an excellent example of how this works. Appeasing your kids with a trip to the pool? It’s totally acceptable for others to tag along, thus affording the parents back at ‘home’ an hour off. Bored child? Choose one of 20 possible children to play with. Lunch time?
Make sandwiches in bulk (or dad’s solution… buy $30 worth of hot chips) and feed them all at once.
Your youngest needs to go to the toilet? Call out ‘toilet run’ to the other kids and reduce your overall adult trips to the amenities block by at least 75%.
Of course, you have to give a little to get a little, so making sure you’re putting your hand up for a pool, food or toilet run is essential in maintaining a leisurely holidaying relationship with other parents. In this way, I was still looking after my offspring and yet getting the chance to relax as well – safe in the knowledge that someone else was organising dinner for the kids that night,
or that one was with an adult up at the pool while I supervised the other on the lagoon.

Choosing a suitable place to do this kind of solo parentis holiday is also pretty important and the White Albatross was fantastic in that regard.
The facilities were built with children and families in mind, with a pool and jumping pillow and then the natural beauty of river, beaches and headlands directly next to the park. The safe waters of the lagoon at the front of the park kept my kids entertained for hours as they hunted small fish on the side with their nets and snorkelled with bigger ones out further.

I was able to have entire conversations with friends, old and new, as the kids entertained each other. It felt like I’d actually had a break from the mundanity of home routines and explored somewhere new. Yes, it was a little nerve-wracking, but I’ll definitely be putting my hand up for more solo holidays with the kids. Maybe I’ll practice that whole ‘reversing’ thing a bit before I do, too.

 

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