A road trip is a great way to make family memories. But road tripping with kids can be stressful unless you have a game plan. Here are seven tips to make it great.
“Are we there yet?” asks my six-year-old.
“Ummm, we’ve only been driving for 20 minutes. We still have seven hours to go.”
“Well, I just don’t have the patience for that,” she replies.
Not sure I’m going to either.
I’m an avid road-tripper and we’ve done a few over the years both with and without children. And we take a 2-day road trip nearly every year since the kids were born to visit my mum.
Over that time, we’ve picked up a few travelling strategies along the way that help keep the kids happy without sticking them in front of a device for the whole trip.
Tips for a happy road trip with kids
Road tripping with kids is different from the carefree days of road tripping when we were younger.
Spontaneity gives way to planning.
Powderfinger gives way to Justine Clarke.
Highways give way to back roads with plenty of rest stops.
But none of these makes road trips any less fun!
Here are six tips that work for us when road tripping with kids.
1. Plan to Take Longer
Driving to just one more town, for just one more hour, for just one more exit doesn’t work with kids when they’re tired, cranky an hungry.
(Not to mention it’s not safe if you’re fatigued.)
Instead, stopping mid-afternoon and spending the final hours of the afternoon playing is not only fun, it takes the stress out of travelling with cranky kids.
When we travel to nanna’s house, we always hope to get as far as Tamworth.
We rarely do.
By 4 pm, the kids have had ENOUGH. So we stop for the night and let them burn off steam at the park before dinner.
Trips always take longer when travelling with kids, especially young kids. It’s best to embrace that.
Instead of booking a bed for the night, we stop when we know the kids can’t do any more travelling.
For tips on saving money on overnight accommodation, see: Saving Money on Your Next Road Trip
2. Stop Regularly
Being stuck in the car makes everyone restless, but especially kids, so they need plenty of stops to have a run around before getting back into the car.
Pick a route with plenty of rest stops or parks along the way (check Google maps) and pack lunch and snacks so you can eat and have a run around at the same time.
It’s a good idea to have a bag or backpack with all the things you need for your stop – spare nappies, snacks, toilet paper, wipes etc. That means you don’t have to be riffling around the car looking for supplies.
As a side note, we always pack an overnight bag with what we will need at the hotel so that we don’t have to unpack the car and suitcases.
3. Pack lots of Healthy Snacks and Drinks
Snacks are a great way to keep kids quiet, especially if they are not their everyday snacks.
While kids + sugar + confined space = craziness, a few treats for bribery can work wonders when you need them to sit still for just a little while longer.
Travel snack ideas include:
- cheese sticks
- fruit puree
- squeezy yoghurt
- milk or juice box
- trail mix
- muesli bars
- dried fruit
- apples and grapes (less messy than other fruits)
- vegetable sticks and dip
- seeds and nuts
And of course, plenty of water.
For younger kids, you might want to keep the snacks and dole them out as needed.
For older kids, you can give them their own lunchbox filled with snacks that they can eat at their leisure.
4. Other essential items for the car
Here are some other items that are essential for travelling with kids
- Spare clothes that are easy to grab, including a jumper if it gets cold
- Garbage bag or two (for then inevitable garbage and the potential car sickness)
- Wipes or wet flannels in wet bags.
- Hand sanitizer
- Toilet paper
- An old towel or two (or cut in half) for spills
- Car sickness meds
- First aid kit
- Device charger than can plug into the car.
5. Kids travel activities
I’m a big believer in not using a device for travel.
It’s such a shame to miss out on the scenery while your nose is buried in a screen, and it’s ok to be bored and rely on imagination to get by. In fact, as a kid, I always loved road trips, because it meant hours of uninterrupted daydreaming. Devices rob everyone of the opportunity to daydream.
Let’s be real. I have kids. They can drive me crazy. CRAZY. And I don’t expect them to sit happily watching the paddocks go by for two whole days. And mum and dad need an anti-crazy plan for long-haul trips.
So I plan ahead with travel activities.
My son loves audiobooks, so I download as many free audiobooks as we’re allowed to at one time from the library using their app, and I do this at home on Wifi. Audiobooks can keep my kids happy for hours as long as I have back up chargers. My kids don’t have phones, but the audiobook app on my phone and my husband’s keep both kids happy.
If you do go for a movie to keep the little darlings quiet, download it onto a tablet before you go (on Wifi) and use it as a secret backup if things go code red. (And expect them to ask for it as you drive out of the driveway on the next trip). You can download selected Netflix movies and TV shows for offline viewing.
What about non-digital entertainment?
I also get maps for the kids so they can follow along on the journey. It’s a great learning experience and it can help ward off the “are we there yet?” questions (although this is an awesome idea for little kids). It’s also good for learning maths and calculating how long until the next town given a certain speed.
Other car activities include:
- Small toys for younger kids
- Where’s Wally Travel Book (this book has provided hours and years of fun for us)
- Colouring books and pencils and notepad (for hangman and noughts and crosses)
- Sticker books (although we’re still peeling stickers off the car from when they were toddlers. Just sayin’)
- I-Spy. Before there was iPad there was I-Spy.
- Keeping quiet competitions. This was my husband’s brainchild. Timing the kids to see how long they can stay quiet. Desperate times call for capitalising on sibling rivalry.
- For the organised and ambitious, you can make up activity packs relevant to your road trip.
For more car activity ideas (that can also be used as quiet time activities) check out my Pinterest board here.
6. Treat the Road Trip as Part of the Adventure
It’s tempting to treat a road trip as simply a means to get from A to B and feel that the holiday doesn’t start until you’ve arrived at your destination.
But rather than thinking of the road trip as a chore, it can all be part of the adventure, especially for children.
Take an extra day or an extra few hours.
Stop at tourist attractions, rather than hurtle past them. Take a back road or two.
Plan ahead and get the kids involved. It’s all a learning experience as well as fun. Take photos. Keep a travel journal. Collect souvenirs (I’m thinking tourist pamphlets and postcards for the travel journal here). Make memories on the road.
It’s a lot easier and a lot more fun driving fewer hours each stint, with plenty of fun stops on the way than trying to drive 10 hours straight, with only a few brief rest stops.
We’re actually big fans of road trips. The journey is half the fun. You can experience a lot more of the country if you drive, especially if you don’t stick to the main highways. Travelling with kids certainly has its challenges, but it doesn’t have to be an ordeal to bear, with the promise of the hotel minibar at the end of the day. Travel is a great way for the whole family to learn about new places and have new experiences.
Embrace the travel and you can make family memories that last a lifetime.
What are your tips for road tripping with kids?
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.