Surviving long distance road trips with young children is a daunting feat. Handling the endless requests, bickering and whining is damn right exhausting and tests the patience of anybody. We’ve travelled over 30,000km around Australia with our young ones and have managed not to leave anyone on the roadside, so here’s some tricks we’ve learnt along the way that we hope make your journey easier!
1. Preparation & Pit Stops
Choosing the right time to set off can make a massive difference to your travel sanity. For some families it might be first thing in the morning while everyone is fresh, for others during the day to make the most of coinciding nap times or even at night when your kids are likely to nod off to sleep.
If you are travelling at night or early in the morning though, be aware of wildlife. There is nothing scarier than a massive roo jumping out in front of you when you’re towing over two tonne! We prefer to travel first thing in the morning, so before loading the kids into the car we find it beneficial to get rid of some of their energy. A quick 5-10 minutes on the jumping pillow or game of chasey will do the kids wonders.
Toilet stops are unavoidable with little bladders so we have a compulsory bathroom visit before getting in the car and limit access to drinks whilst travelling. We also ensure that if we make a toilet stop that everybody goes!
It pays to know where to stop too. WikiCamps is a fantastic phone app to locate not only camping spots and points of interest, but also clean toilets. We use the Fuel Finder app to locate our closest (and cheapest) petrol stations, and our sanity saver – the Playground Finder app! Even the most basic park will be a welcome relief and novelty to pent up children. If you can find a park to stop at for a lunch break you’re onto a winner!
The key is to set realistic travel times and always factor in some additional time for the inevitable stops along the way. While we have had some long travel days, as a general rule of thumb we call it quits after three hours or 300km, whichever comes first.
2. Feed them!
If your children are anything like mine, then the sound of their seatbelt clicking in will trigger instant thirst and insatiable hunger. Never fear, this mum comes prepared and with a game plan!
First off – limit the sugar. Giving your kid a sugar rush and then trying to contain them will only end in tears and most likely from Mum & Dad. If you do need a little sweet bribe to get you over the finish line then we have found Chubba Chubs work well! They are inexpensive, take the kids ages to eat (keeping them quiet while doing so) and are relatively mess free. We implemented a ‘fruit first’ rule, which means the kids have to eat a full piece of fruit before they can have anything else. This helps to decipher between genuine hunger and ‘car boredom’ hunger.
Unfortunately food mess is inevitable, but you can minimise it by making smart choices! We learnt the hard way that Cruskits, muffins and sultanas are a freaking nightmare and you will be cleaning up their remains for months. Squeezy yoghurts, cut up fruit or veg, popcorn, pretzels and wraps with spreads are our go-to foods. Packing your own food is also cheaper than buying it along the way and you will no doubt make better nutritional decisions ahead of time.
3. Entertain them
‘Back in my day we just used to stare out the window!’ I begrudgingly inform my kids as they move on to their hundredth car activity…. Sigh, it seems kids these days have higher entertainment needs!
We have learnt that unless you want to be turning around from your seat every ten seconds and cleaning up a disaster zone once you arrive, then it is best to adopt the ‘less is more’ approach. We generally let the kids choose a couple of activities prior to leaving and restrict them to one thing at a time and for a minimum amount of time. For example if they chose colouring, then they must stick with that activity for at least half an hour before they move on to a new one.
Love them or hate them, iPads are fantastic for car rides when used in moderation. We try to restrict the amount of screen time per use and try not to use them for the first hour of any journey. Our children enjoy listening to audiobooks from Spotify or BorrowBox, watching a DVD (via our wireless hard drive), knocking out some school work on Reading Eggs or Mathletics and of course playing games.
Do yourself a favour and invest in some decent headphones. Not only will it spare you from listening to the annoying sounds of children’s movies and apps, but you may actually be able to listen to your own music or indulge in that rare moment of silence. If you have multiple devices being used, headphones will also prevent competing volume levels and disagreements over which movie they want to watch.
Having the kids tied down in one spot with no distractions is actually a great time to get some schoolwork done. I’ll often hop in the back seat between the kids and we’ll bang out some maths, reading and spelling. Writing is challenging due to the bumpy nature of the car ride so we do avoid doing journals or handwriting exercises.
Some inexpensive activities that are a hit in our car are:
Sticker Spotto. I simply printed off a clip art of a large cow and truck (making multiple copies) and bought some cheap dot/star stickers from Kmart. Each time the kids see a cow or truck they put a sticker on.
I also laminated some popular car games such as road trip bingo, noughts and crosses and connect the dots and then bought some non-permanent whiteboard markers. Takes up little space and reduces waste!
Our kiddos will spend almost an entire trip just drawing. We got each of them a cheap clipboard, a container to keep textas in and a ream of paper kept in a plastic tub between them. Our rule is that if we find textas without lids on, they go in the bin and will not be replaced. This encourages them to take some responsibility for their belongings and reduces the clean up time and likelihood of damage.
4. Some final thoughts
- Give your children options so they feel in control. For example: ‘Would you like to stop at this park for a play or keep driving and get to the caravan park so you can go for a swim?’ An empowered child is a more co-operative child!
- Allow kids to be bored. For short drives we remove everything from the car. We encourage them to look out the window and make conversation.
- Baby wipes, lots of baby wipes! There is nothing that can’t be cleaned with a baby wipe. Nappy bags are also perfect car bin bags! Keep the two in your glove box and you’ll be sweet.
- Lastly, expect your car to be filthy, there to be whingeing and that some trips will just be downright disasters! But, I assure you that you’ll arrive at the destination and that the memories you have will be from there, not the car ride.
Happy Travels from Wander to Wonder Oz
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