Want to tour around Hawaiian islands? Maybe you’re visiting Nana on the Gold Coast? Family road trips and scenic day drives are perfect for sightseeing and spending time together.
That’s if there is no fighting, carsickness, hunger or tantrums – from Mum or Dad, let alone the kids!
Here are 13 tips for how to survive a road trip with kids.
1. Plan, plan and plan some more
Kiss away the days of freewheeling down the freeway and casually finding somewhere to put your head for the night. Surviving a road trip with children requires plenty of pre-planning and a good idea of your itinerary before leaving. Ensure your stops include basic amenities. Extra time is always needed – on the road and when you stop.
When it comes to travelling with children, expect the unexpected. A three-hour drive can take five. Or plans can be completely scuppered with an impromptu spew session. So, keep your car packed with plenty of drinking water, wall-to-wall snacks, baby essentials like nappies and wet wipes, and last but not least, a first-aid kit.
Expect to stop regularly for toilet and food breaks.
2. Plenty of pit stops
It’s advised that small babies should only be in a car seat for two hours at a time, and need regular breaks. But even for small children, long journeys can be boring and tiresome – so ensure there are plenty of pit stops and avoid back-to-back long driving days.
Read more: Aussie road trip stops you need to make
3. Print out a map and mark the stops your kids will love
Regular family road-tripper and Co-Founder of F1 Chronicle, Jarrod Partridge, recommends printing out a map for your kids with images of the stops you’re going to make for a visual cue.
Pin the maps to the back of the car seats so your kids can engage in the journey and get excited about the stops you’re going to make.
When you’re planning where to stop, pick places that you know the kids will enjoy. Think playgrounds, grassy areas where you can picnic and kick a ball, or even shopping centres where the kids can have a look at their favourite toy shop or jump on a coin operated ride.
4. Keep the volume down
Keeping your kids entertained throughout your road-trip not only makes for a more serene driving experience, but also reduces driver distractions. New noise cancellation technology in vehicles such as Jaguar’s F-Pace, launching in 2021, also works to minimise unwanted road and tyre sounds from the cabin. Coupled with headphones for the kids’ devices will work to reduce driver fatigue during long-distance trips.
Before you head off on your road trip, check what safety features your car has to ensure peace-of-mind when heading out on the open road.
5. Navigating nap times
On of the best ways to survive a road trip with young kids is travelling when the kids will be more likely to nap. For us, with a baby and toddler, that means leaving really early in the morning and taking a long break around 9am so everyone can stretch their legs. Then we’re back in the car for a lunchtime nap and hopefully arriving at our destination for afternoon playtime.
If you’ve got younger kids, consider buying sunshades or buy a small amount of black cloth and sticky back tape, which will help with day time naps on the road.
6. Snack right on a road trip with kids
Swap sugary snacks for an endless supply of healthy snacks, suitable for their age. Think carrot sticks, fruit and nuts.
Why not get the kids involved in preparing for your road-trip by crafting edible necklaces. These are easy, fun and will not only keep your kids entertained but keep their appetites at bay.
To keep it healthy (we don’t want any sugar-highs in the car), you can use fresh or dried fruits, hard cheese, cherry tomatoes and salami cubes. Simply buy some cooking string, use a skewer to poke holes in your ingredients and thread them on. Pack a few in an iced lunchbox to hand out during the trip and your kids will be entertained for hours on end.
7. Download family-friendly audio-books
Queue a range of family-friendly audiobooks. A road-trip is the perfect setting to get your kids listening to educational or creative stories such as the Harry Potter series – something the entire family can enjoy.
Audiobooks are not only a great way to keep the kids entertained but keep the car a calm environment for your driver. Remember to have a few options ready to go in case the kids lose interest in one or another.
Mum and children’s book author, Lauren Gardiner says that audiobooks provide a source of entertainment in the car that still allows your kids to engage with their surrounds (Hint: this may also help with car sickness).
8. Prepare boredom busting activities
Kids get bored easily on road trips. Before you’ve even left your suburb, there are often echoes of, “are we there yet?” One way to survive a road trip with kids is to have a few new toys to pull out when you little ones are simply over life on the road.
Or prepare some new in-car activities to keep the kids entertained on a long drive. Here are five activities to get you started:
Play: No Go
Before you hit the road select five words that can’t be uttered during the journey. Then try to trick each other into saying them during conversations. The person who notices a slip-up shouts “No Go” and gets a point.
Play: Crazy neighbours
This one is fun for imaginative families stuck in traffic. Each person takes a turn at making up a wild story about a person in a car nearby. You can create them an entire new identity from their name to what they do for a living to, what their hobbies are, and where they’re heading – the more detailed and outrageous, the better.
Play: License plate headlines
Using the letters on license plates as the start of words, see who can come up with the funniest headlines. For example FTR could end up as Family Travel Rocks!
Play: Mix and match stories
This is a great one for every member of the family. Taking it in turns, one person starts with the first sentence or word in a story, and the next adds the second and so on. The story continues until someone says “And they lived happily ever after”.
Do: Journey jottings
Give each child a large piece of drawing paper, something hard to lean on and loads of coloured pencils. Write the name of the day’s starting location in the middle of the page then have the kids draw things they see along the way around the location. They can draw arrows between them if they like. This way they end up with a ‘time map’ of their journey. This is a great way to encourage kids to keep a journal and even works for those who can’t write.
9. Keep your cool
Long stretches in a confined space. Lots of traffic. An error in the hotel booking. And you left your favourite pair of sunnies at the service station.
Roll with it. Staying calm shows kids that cruising the country is worth the trouble.
10. Keep things clean
Everyone will stay calmer in a clutter-free car, so clear out the rubbish at every pit stop and tackle messes ASAP. (Tip: have travel packs of baby wipes and plastic bags stashed in every door.)
Don’t neglect personal hygiene on family road trips, either. Pack dry shampoo, hand cream and lippy or a travel razor so you’re inspired to be in family photos, not just take them.
11. Separate the kids from the cargo
Keeping everyone safe and comfortable are key ingredients for how to survive a road trip with kids. One tip that helps with both is to put heavy luggage that can’t go in the boot on the floor, as far back as possible, against a seat back.
If you’ve got a row of seats that fold down, don’t be tempted to fold one down for more storage next to one of the kids. According to Dr. Alisa Baer of TheCarSeatLady.com “That’s essentially putting that kid in what’s now the trunk with the luggage. Every row with a passenger should be up.”
Why? Because in a 50km/h crash, most things will weigh about 20 to 25 times more because of the G-forces — so even light luggage becomes dangerous.
12. Limit Liquids
Don’t dehydrate the kids (or yourself) on long drives, but don’t ignore the reality that random drinks lead to random bathroom breaks. One cheeky way to quench thirst without gulping the H2O? Snack on grapes, then let everyone in the car drink their fill 45 minutes before the next long break.
13. Say Yes More Often
Take saying “no” off cruise control. This tip for how to survive a road trip with kids might sound a little strange to begin with. But it can be one of the most fun, but also one of the most challenging for parents who love to stick to a schedule. The trick is to say yes more often.
Say yes to stopping to check out roadside weirdness. Say yes to taking a break to wade in a creek. Or say yes to a quick stop to snap an Insta story. Or if you’re really feeling brave, say yes to checking into an unexpected hotel just so you can jump in the pool and all cool off.
Kids may think being trapped in the car is the worst, but a few spontaneous yesses can really take the edge off when taking a road trip with kids.
Read more: The 15 best Aussie BIG things
Janeece Keller is the founder and editor of Family Travel. She mostly travels with her husband and two young kids. She has a large blended family that lives in Australia and Europe. She has visited 52 countries and lived on 3 continents. From camping to luxury resorts Janeece tries to make sure her family has diverse holiday experiences each year. She is an avid hiker and ocean swimmer who loves good food, margaritas and heading off the beaten path.