10 Tips for Surviving Road Trips with Kids

Top 10 Tips for Surviving Road Trips with Kids

When Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Life is a journey, not a destination” he probably wasn’t driving from Melbourne to Sydney with three fighting kids in the back of an SUV.

However a road trip with kids doesn’t have to be hours of boredom as you schlep up or down the Pacific or the Hume. At the risk of coming over all Maria von Trapp, a road trip can be invaluable, uninterrupted time for you and your family to talk. You’re a captive audience for each other, after all. And wasn’t spending time together the purpose of the holiday in the first place?

Long journeys are also a perfect environment to impose your own music tastes onto your kids, especially when you’ve had enough of Tay Tay Shaking It Off. Knowing the words to every Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen song is a skill they’ll thank you for in years to come.

Like so many things to do with travelling with kids, spend some time planning and you can turn a long, possibly boring drive, into a fun family adventure.

Here are Travel Without Tears’ top 10 tips for surviving road trips with kids.

Australian landscape

1. Food, glorious food

The great downside of Aussie road trips is that the food you get along the way is spectacularly awful; on the whole greasy fast food designed for truckies with a death wish. Make and take as much as you can yourself.

Load up the esky with fruit, cut into bite sized pieces, and pack whole apples and bananas. Take yoghurts in tubes (less mess, no spoons needed) and consider freezing them the night before you leave so they keep other things cold. If you have time, make sandwiches or sushi rolls. Pack (healthy-ish) snacks like rice or corn cakes and crackers, and peeled hard-boiled eggs, cut in half, sprinkled with salt and pepper.

2. Load up on audio books

People think they’re daggy but downloadable audio books can actually be a huge smack of fun, especially when it’s family fare read by the likes of Stephen Fry, Judi Dench, Ann Hathaway or Kate Winslet. Roald Dahl’s BFG is our family favourite and covers almost half the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne. Or tell them Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) is reading Huck Finn to introduce them to Mark Twain’s classic.

3. Embrace old-fashioned car games

Teach your kids the games you played as a child: I Spy, The Letter Game (finding A to Z via number plates and road signs)  and The Story Game where family members take it in terms to add a new line to a growing story.

Our family is a bit partial to Car Cricket, where each person in the car has an “innings”. If you pass a truck (or whatever vehicle you nominate – you can make your own rules) you get four runs, a car towing a caravan is a six, and if you pass a red car you’re out.

silver van in landscape

4. Stay cool

Freeze a half-filled bottle the night before you leave then top up with cold water before you go – you’ll have refreshing iced water for much of the trip.

5. Activity trays

Some kids are quite comfortable reading or drawing in the car; others get nauseous and vomit. If your kids fall into the former category, place a selection of books in places they can reach them easily, and perhaps take a small tray with Lego, Transformers or colouring books and pencils, which they can rest on their knees. For the nauseous ones, take a bucket.

6. Pack some lollipops

Notwithstanding everything mentioned in tip no. 1 above, remember that kids can’t grizzle and suck at the same time.

7. Take plenty of rubbish bags

You’d be surprised how much garbage you generate even on a short road trip. And trust me,  you really don’t want to find a banana skin under the seat a week later. A spare ice-cream container can be handy (see tip no. 5 above).

8. Keep the iPad as a last resort

Don’t start the journey with kids on screens.  Just don’t. This is a tough one for families used to connectivity at all times, but it’s the wisest piece of advice we can share. Hold the iPads back until the kids really are at their wits ends. And don’t forget the headphones.

Child in the car with tablet PC

9. Clean up your act

You can never have enough tissues or baby wipes. A gel-based hand sanitiser is also a good idea for the toilets you encounter along the way (or the emergency nature wee) where there might not be any running water or soap.

10. If all else fails, resort to bribery

Put a bag of jelly snakes on the dashboard and every time a child is out of line throw a snake out the window. Whether you give them one at the end is up to you.