On the road again – road trips with kids

“Are we there yet?!” It would be fine by me to never hear these words again.

Family road trips can be the best holiday ever or memorably horrendous. The first thing to decide is whether your road trip is about the journey or the destination. We’ve done both with the kids – a three-day meander to Adelaide with lots of stops on the way and a nine-hour, toilet-stop-only haul to Canberra. Both have their pros and cons and either way, one of the main features of your trip will be hours in the car.

Experienced road-trippers tell us the most successful trips are planned – by the kids. Get children involved in the fine details – what they want to do, the clothes and toys they want to pack and the places to stop on the way. Arm older children with a map so that they can see how far you have travelled (this also helps with the “are we there yet?” questions). Also consider a travel journal app to document the journey with stats, photos and notes or go low-tech and create a holiday scrapbook.

A good hour can be spent playing ‘Chartreuse Bingo’ (or a variation on the chartreuse) – spot a chartreuse coloured car and shout ‘Chartreuse Bingo’! There are plenty of other car games beyond the standard ‘I Spy’. Compact book Around the World in 80 Ways is packed with fun activities for little travellers, with chapters devoted to road and train travel. Challenge kids to spot a number plate from each state in Australia – that will keep them going for a while!

You can’t pack too many snacks or activities. Lap tables are good for kids to draw or play card games and so forth, as are ‘organisers’ that can be attached to car seats to keep things in order. I make ‘fun bags’ to be handed out along the way, with some reserved for the return journey. Keep an eye out for colouring books, small toys and games, storybook CDs and so on well before the trip. I include a bag of lollies too – it stops the pestering for sugary snacks.

Stop the car!

Road trips are often defined by rest stops – we’ve all experienced a public toilet that is so filthy it ought to be detonated. Put any misgivings you might have about fast food chains such as McDonalds to one side and know that the facilities at these places are generally clean and well looked after. There is also usually a change table and a nappy disposal to be found.

The usual limit for most kids is about two hours in the car before things start to unravel. Find a playground and have a break – a quick swing or slide is great for recharging the batteries.

One of the most frustrating elements of car trips is bickering. Get an ‘ice cream jar’. Whenever anyone gets cranky or has a tantrum, the offender puts in a preset amount of money. Once full, ice-cream is bought courtesy of the offenders. With kids, this is hard-earned pocket money that is generally not wanted to be shared (even if it is for ice cream). There are variations – start with a bag of lollies and take one away when there’s fighting – the kids get what’s left at the end.

Your destination – camping, hotels or holiday houses

I suspect readers will contribute oodles of tips for camping, hotel and holiday house stays but we’ve put together a few to keep in mind.

When camping, set up a beach tent next to the main tent. During the day it’s a ‘play room’ for the kids that keeps sand and dirt out of the main tent. At night, it’s a storage room for chairs, your stove and other equipment.

Staying in a holiday apartment or holiday house? Plan ahead and avoid wasting precious family time by ordering groceries online. It’s great to arrive at your destination knowing that you don’t have to then hit the supermarket!

Bring an A/V cable and plug your iPhone into the  hotel TV – that way you can bring videos for your kids without clocking up a huge in-house movie bill. Apartments may offer DVD players for hire – check before you leave and bring a few favourite movies for some chill-out time.

Before kids, hotel holidays may have been the norm for you. Nap times and being able to self-cater lead many parents to ditch the hotel and look to holiday houses. It can be a  drag to be stuck in a hotel room with sleeping kids after dinner each night whereas if you are renting a house, you can still have a barbecue, swim in the pool, watch a movie… If you’re uncertain about the layout of the house you’ve rented, take baby monitors for peace of mind. Stayz has oodles of holiday house rentals all over Australia.

For anyone who needs the mug featured at the top of the page, find it at Etsy’s Lenny Mud shop. We’ve also tracked down a vintage-style ‘Road Trip’ poster to inspire your next journey. If you’re after some gear to keep kids happy, check out Babyology’s recent guest post on Etsy about road trips and our  posts about travel toys including the Tray Kit, Mud Puppy magnetic play scenes and lots of other games. Lastly, enjoy the classic road trip clip below!

We’d love to hear your road trip tips!

Katrina Whelen

Katrina studied planning and design, did the hard yards working in a big office building and then traded it all in for a relaxing (!) life at home with four children. She now fills her time with writing, completing a degree in genetics and taxiing her children around Melbourne to their various sporting commitments (not necessarily in that order).

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