Family road trips: A survival guide

I remember going on many long distance family road trips throughout my childhood. Every summer we’d load up the car and spend a day or two travelling up north or down south for a family holiday. Being the youngest of three kids I was always stuck in the middle seat of our Datsun 200B.

I now have four kids of my own and we’re often piling them in the car for long distance trips to my in-laws or along the coast. Here’s some tips and tricks I’ve learnt along the way, which will hopefully make your next journey as much fun as the destination.

Be prepared

  • Wash and clean the car a few days before you go. Check the tyres and fill up with petrol the day before you set off, and make sure the car has had a recent service.
  • Buy window shades. There’s nothing worse than the constant moaning that the sun is in the kids eyes but worst of all is when they are finally sound asleep and the sun creeps into their eyes instantly awakening them, leaving them tired and grumpy.
  • Always have spare towels in the backseat. If you stop at the beach or somewhere wet the kids can wipe their feet dry and get into the car without making a mess. When the kids get bored on long road trips they make great cubby houses and when it gets cold they make good blankets.

Pack the essentials

  • Keep everything you may need within reach; toys, drinks, snacks, books and ear plugs!
  • Don’t forget the car travel essentials: wet wipes, a roll or two of toilet paper, plastic bags for rubbish and most importantly, patience and a sense of humour.
  • For times when things start to get a little noisy, a bag of chewy lollies comes in handy. Mentos and Red Skins can bring a bit of relief as mouths are too busy chewing to be arguing in the back seat.

Get an early start

  • Prepare everything the night before to get an early stress-free start to your road trip.
  • Dress the kids for travel the night before so you just have to carry them into the car asleep.
  • Leave before the sun comes up in the morning, that way you get a couple of hours driving in while the kids are still asleep. You miss the crazy traffic and you get to enjoy the sunrise.

Pack snacks, snacks and more snacks

  • Take a cooler bag filled with lots of snacks for the kids to munch on. This way their mouth is occupied with eating and they won’t get a chance to whinge and complain.
  • Pick things that are small and many – like sultanas, grapes or popcorn. They take more time to eat and will occupy them longer. Hopefully.
  • If you have trouble with fighting kids, take a packet of treats with you. Let the children know that if they are good then they will receive them. If they play up you will eat them. If your children start to fight, eat their treats. It stops arguments very quickly!

Kids and technology

  • Consider investing in an in-car portable DVD player or hook your iPad up to the back of your headrest. The kids can take along their favourite DVD’s (or download them) and it should keep them mesmerised for hours.
  • Technology is great in the car but make sure the kids have headphones, not plugs that fall out leaving you with no alternative than two hours of the Wiggles on repeat.
  • Keep a digital camera handy or let the kids take photos with your smartphone. Kids will photos of anything, they can look at old ones, photograph interesting clouds, any flora or fauna at stops.

In-car entertainment

  • Create your own “I Spy” game – write a list of things to look out for; horse, pink car, motorbike etc, giving each item a certain amount of points. The kids will be amused for hours trying to spot as many items as possible and build up their points tally.
  • Draw your own map that has the major stops and cities, and a nice happy drawing for your final destination. Throw in a few simple drawings of landmarks you’ll see along the way, such as a big bridge you’ll cross or a mountain tunnel.
  • Never let the kids see all the goodies/distractions you have packed for them. That way it’s a surprise when you pull out the next new colouring book, or lap game, or CD, even snacks. Make it all about surprise and adventure.

Dealing with car sickness

  • Absolutely, positively have an empty ice cream bucket, plastic bags and towels in the car!
  • If you have an older child that gets motion sickness on long trips, consider putting them in the front seat as it makes all the difference.
  • Try to stop the kids from using their iPads too much when you’re on the go.

Are we there yet?

  • Make the road trip part of the fun, not just the destination. Do your homework about all the fun things you can stop off and do along the way.
  • If you see something off the beaten track, stop and explore. It turns the journey into an adventure making it so much more fun.
  • Take regular breaks for a snack and run around so everyone is feeling refreshed. There is no need to rush as the destination will always be there. Keeping the family safe is the most important

Do you have any more road trip tips to share?

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