Kids can make wonderful travel companions, but parents need to be prepared. After six months on the road with her son and daughter, Danish overlander Ida Antvorskov shares the wisdom she has picked up along the way.
Overlanding with little ones in the back seat might seem like an impossible task, but the Antvorskov family is proof that it can be done. Following a memorable trip to Africa in 2012, Danish couple Ida and Ulrich vowed to one day return to the continent that stole their hearts. Seven years and two kids later, these adventurous parents are back on African soil for a family-sized expedition that will take them through South Africa, Namibia and Botswana for 14 months. Their goal? To grant Emil (5) and Ellen (3) the learning opportunity of a lifetime.
What are your goals for the trip? Why did you decide to travel as a family?
The simple goal is to have time to see our children grow. The more educational goal is to stimulate their personal judgment, their courage and their faith in themselves. In Denmark, the kids would be in daycare during the day which meant we would miss out on their most fun and fresh hours. We wanted the opportunity to be able to enjoy each other full time with everything that it brings, including a closer bond, lots of fun together, great memories and expanded knowledge of other cultures.
Also read: Can you travel Africa with small children?
How has this experience been different from your previous trip across Africa in 2012?
This is a totally different way of travelling. On our first overlanding trip, we covered about 29,000km in six months, whereas on this trip we are driving 15,000km in the same amount of time. Before, we could do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. Now, we’re moving at a slower pace so that the children can enjoy and absorb the experience.
It’s not always easy. The beginning was especially challenging as we had to give up some of the things we liked to do on our previous trips, such as reading for hours, eating in fancy restaurants, and skipping lunch to drive long distances. With small kids, you never get the chance to sit down and take a breath. Nevertheless, we love travelling in this way too despite the work that comes with it.
We try to follow certain routines so that Emil and Ellen feel safe even though the places around us are changing. They always sleep with their own duvet and teddies and we tuck them in at the same time every day. We have mostly fixed meal times and some foods are even the same as they would be in Denmark.
What welcome do you get from locals? How do people respond to you travelling with young children?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive! Children are truly a great way to open doors with locals. We have already had so many lovely experiences. For instance, a local farmer baked special small breads for Emil and Ellen and took us for a five-hour drive around his farm. At markets, people are sweet towards the children and we don’t get as much hassle as we did when it was just the two of us. We always encourage our children to play with others, so it’s lovely when we meet local children who also want to play.
How did you prepare your children for Africa and the overlanding experience?
In small ways. We would insert positive statements about our travels in everyday conversation before we took off. If, for instance, we were eating fruits back home in Denmark, we would talk about how we were looking forward to Africa where the fruit tastes so much better.
The broader perspective and consequences of the trip were too much for them to understand. We mentioned how long it would be before we would see family and friends again, but time is too abstract for them to grasp at this age.
What is your daily life like?
It is very simple: play, eat, play, drive, play, camp, play, sleep. We actually don’t know how time is flying so fast considering that we’re not doing half as much as we were back home. And we are never bored.
Do the children get involved in setting up camp?
Yes, we try to engage them to help out in our everyday routines. This involves cutting fruits in the morning, helping to set the table, cleaning up afterwards and also helping to set up camp. They might not help with it all but as long as the will is there, we can work on their motivation.
Do you have practical tips for travelling with children?
Keeping kids engaged
We try to keep electronic devices to a minimum, but we do use an iPad on very long drives or if we need a break. However, we have found that they are more likely to fight with each other and get angry and upset after watching the iPad, which often means our break ends up not being worth it.
One of the many good reasons to overland with your children is that you can actually help them stay children for longer. We encourage their imagination by telling them stories, singing songs and helping them to play together. We have a big box of LEGO between their seats, books to draw in, magnets to play with, and we also listen to music and audiobooks.
It mostly depends on what we can get in the shops. When we go to remote places, they have to eat what we can buy. But we always try to stock up with a lot of familiar food. We like to buy fresh fruits and vegetables from the locals and have our children help choose what to get. It is also a good way to meet local people.
At the beginning of our trip, Emil and Ellen were not very good at playing together or by themselves. That meant we didn’t get much adult time. But slowly, given that there wasn’t that much else to do, they started playing really well with each other and using much more of their imagination. Suddenly, a stick became a crocodile and a rock, a hippopotamus. We also take turns to tuck them in at night so that the other one can get some alone time.
What advice do you have for other parents thinking of overlanding with children under the age of 6?
Don’t hesitate to do it! Your time is the greatest gift and investment you can make in your child. It may seem difficult and it’s so easy to think of all the things that can go wrong, but don’t let that frighten you. You never know if something is going to happen – whether you are at home or away – so don’t let your worries stop you.
For safety, we have a satellite telephone, which is necessary if you are planning to go to remote places. We once had to use ours because our car broke down in the middle of nowhere. We keep a small supply of medication, as well as spare parts and tools. To prevent snake and scorpion bites, Emil and Ellen always have to wear shoes when playing in the bush, and we are always with them to make sure it is safe. We wash our hands or use sanitizer before eating, and in general, we use our common sense. We also believe that there are still more good people in the world than bad.
Follow the adventures of the Antvorskorv family on their blog Family Bush Life