Staycation Nation

Looking for a holiday without leaving Australia? We’ve got five ideas for you.

House. Swap. Enjoy.

Sophie and Michael Lin and their children, 15, 13 and 11, have been using Love Home Swap ( for the past five years to swap their Sydney home for three-to-seven-bedroom holiday houses in Byron Bay, Brisbane, the Hunter Valley, Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula.

“On average we save $4,000 on accommodation costs. We’ve been able to swap our cars, which saves us another $500 on car rentals. A few families have been happy to take care of our mini shnauzer which saves us sending him to a kennel,” said Sophie. “We’ve had hosts leave us their train cards or museum memberships.

My children have the space and comfort of a home.

Two houses even had a home cinema!”

“The average family using Love Home Swap saves $5,184 on a 15-day trip,” says Debbie Wosskow, CEO and co-founder of Love Home Swap. The UK-based business has 100,000 homes in 190 countries. Over half of the members are families. A points system allows members to ‘swap’ their home with a visitor from, say, France but stay at a different time in, say, New York.

“Chemistry is key,” said Debbie. “Lots of members swap LinkedIn and Facebook profiles to build up their backstory, and can sometimes exchange 10 to 20 messages. Many do Skype tours of each other’s homes – this helps build trust.”

Island Paradise

Your kids want the excitement of a flight ‘overseas’ but not the drag of a long-haul flight, you want the familiarity of Australia but an exotic culture, and you all want the beach. Solution: Norfolk Island. The island has lots to do outdoors like safe toddler beaches, snorkeling, surfing, reef and rainforest walks, kayaking, fishing, treks and a raft in the middle of the bay that teenagers love playing on, but is also loaded with culture like museums with activities for eight to 12 year olds, a convict sound and light show, a ghost tour, and more.

Lisa Richards of the Norfolk Island Travel Centre moved to the island 15 years ago and is now mum to a seven year old.

“I know I’m biased, but Norfolk really is unique. Our kids live in a place where we don’t lock the house or the car. You spend an average of five minutes in the car getting anywhere, parking is as easy as pulling up and stopping, queues are non-existent. The food is all grown on-island, and nearly every restaurant and café has a children’s menu. The Tourist Bureau has a list of baby sitters. The kids love the cows, chickens and ducks that wander around the island – the cows have right of way! Visiting teenagers are welcome at our youth centre and usually end up socialising with the local kids. When you go to the beach, your kids will end up playing with our kids – everyone watches out for everyone.”

The island has discounts of up to $770 per family of four flying from Brisbane or Sydney between 11 December this year and 16 January 2017,

Ask the Marshalls

The Marshall family from Melbourne hit the road in May to spend four months travelling South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory (check out their Facebook group, Marshalling Australia).

“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do,” says Belinda Marshall. “Timing was a juggle between waiting until the youngest was old enough to remember the trip and the oldest wouldn’t miss crucial schooling.”

Biggest thumbs-up from the kids so far: Bethany, 13, loves all the snorkelling in WA and swimming with the whale sharks, Finn, 11, the awesome fishing at Chinaman’s Creek in SA, Seren, 9, the camel rides on Cable Beach, and Piper, 7, a flight over the Horizontal Falls in Derby. Biggest thumbs-down? Bethany misses her personal private space, Finn misses team sports, Seren doesn’t like schoolwork after days out, and Piper doesn’t like getting stuck in the van when it rains.

And school? “Both primary and secondary schools have been fantastic. They understand just how much natural learning and growing children (and adults) do on an incredible trip like this. Formal schoolwork is kept to a minimum. The kids all have to do a journal each day and some maths,” said Belinda.

What goes wrong? “We had an accident that required emergency dental work, the closest dentist was 400km away, but luckily the doctor at Emergency had a friend in town who happened to be a dentist and he came into the hospital at 8.30pm on a Friday night. The alternative was an eight-hour return trip! There are lots of minor inconveniences, but if you have a mindset to roll with it, the positives win hands down. If you’re thinking about travelling, do it! And if you’re not thinking about it, think about it. WikiCamps app is the best $7 you’ll spend. A lot of caravan parks charge extra per child, but if you call them you can often get kids for free or a discount.”

Back to Nature

Showing children where food comes from was part of the attraction for Colleen Alford’s family when they holidayed recently on the riverfront at Bellingen Farmstay in the beautiful NSW country town of Bellingen.

“We live in suburban Sydney and wanted our children to see what life was like in the country.”

“My two-year-old daughter loved feeding the animals. My five-year-old son loved fishing in the canoe and caught mudcrabs.”

A farmstay is a favourite for families. “In my experience, kids like the ‘yah!’ factor where they can be really noisy and no one says ‘shush’,” says Bellingen Farmstay proprietor, Fiona Hannaford. “We have toys, DVD’s, kayaks, simple things like a sandpit and a swing. Parents say to us, ‘Gosh, the children sleep so well!’ but it’s because the kids are outside. Green is good for kids – and adults.”

Like Band Camp, But for Creatives

Your child is six, you’re 37, your own parents are 68, and you all want to live, learn and create together. Billed as a “summer camp for families”, Camp Creative in Bellingen (see the farmstay above) is a week-long program of workshops, 9-13 January 2017, where old and young rub shoulders to silver-smith, Bollywood dance, weave Indigenous, indigo dye, make bush furniture, and more,

“The first day at Camp Creative was so exciting. I just knew this was something I wanted my family to be a part of” says mother-of-three, 11, 9 and three, and Going To Seed blogger, Katie Little. “There are little kids doing sculpture, hoola hooping and African drumming. There are gorgeous tweens and teenagers learning circus tricks – hanging from silken trapezes, balancing on balls, doing somersaults and spins with trampolines. There are ladies learning to belly dance, whiskery men blowing trumpets, fathers and sons making canoes. There’s the smell of paint and clay, the sound of instruments and singing. It never ceases to amaze me how seemingly ordinary people turn out to be so incredibly talented! There are cooking classes and sustainability workshops, even a chance to really connect with the land by camping with a traditional Gumbaynggirr man.”

“We’d cool off in Never Never Creek and then go for dinner with so much to talk about. I think my kids have always loved the fact that mum and dad were also ‘going to school’ and it brought us all closer together.

Camp Creative replenishes my soul more than anything else.

I arrive exhausted and by the end of the week have remembered what it is to feel creative and alive again!”