Holiday road trip guide

The long winding road - stay safe and stay healthy for the Big Trip.
The long winding road - stay safe and stay healthy for the Big Trip. Photo: iStock

A bit of planning can make your family journey easy and fun from our friends at

School holiday road trip time. Load up the boot, settle the kids into the first class-style reclining seats, switch on the hot-stone-style massage function, turn on the rear entertainment system and then simply relax and enjoy a peaceful journey to your destination.

Well, that's the theory if you own a brand-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class. But if you don't have a spare quarter of a million bucks, then how do you make your next holiday road trip as safe, comfortable and kid-friendly as possible?

We've looked at all the angles and come up with a comprehensive survival guide for the school holiday road trip.

How to keep your kids happy

We all love our kids but, let's be honest, they can test the patience of a saint after a few hours cooped up in the back seat.

So how do you keep them happy on a long journey? Dr Fiona Martin is a child psychologist and mother of three, and has some ideas about how to make the journey happy for kids and parents alike.

Her first piece of advice is to plan your trip with the kids in mind. If you've got kids under five, then driving to Brisbane or Adelaide will be a stretch.

''The hours [in the car] are the most important thing,'' Dr Martin says. ''Try to keep it to two hours if you can.''

Obviously, a two-hour radius may not work for everyone. But Dr Martin has some advice if you want to take a longer road trip.


The trick is to neither over-stimulate the kids with activities nor try to get them to sleep too much.

''I think it's mixing it up,'' she says. ''Variety is the best option.''

She recommends playing games that are about testing your child's observation and listening skills, and games involving colours, numbers, letters, etc. That can be old-fashioned games such as I-spy, punch buggy and 20 questions.

While some kids are able to read books without problem, Dr Martin warns against it if you're unsure, because it can lead to car sickness.

Equally, the modern equivalent of reading a book, playing with an iPad or similar tablet, can also lead to trouble in the back.

''It's best not to have a game where you have to write anything or have to track something because that can make them car sick,'' Dr Martin says.

But she says watching a DVD, if you have an in-car or portable DVD player, is all right because it is more relaxing and doesn't cause sickness. She does stress it is important to watch only a small amount, rather than rely on the DVD to mind the kids.

Having a selection of music for everyone is important, too. Take turns listening to each person's choice to keep everyone happy (because there's only so many Wiggles songs parents can take!).

Dr Martin believes music is good because it can stimulate and calm while it passes the time.

''I think music is really important. I've got a child who's ready to go to school, so we've been listening to education songs.

''That keeps all of my kids occupied singing and doing the actions.''

How to keep the driver happy

While the kids can relax in the back, parents need to do the hard work and drive the car.

Depending on how far you travel, how much traffic you hit and how well the kids behave, it can be a very long, stressful day behind the wheel. But with a little bit of planning you can make the trip much more relaxing for not only the driver, but the rest of the family, too.

The first step is to plan the route - not just the basics, but in detail. Look for some interesting attractions or detours that could make good places to stop, revive and survive.

It's all too easy to pull over into a rest area by the side of the freeway because you'll make good time, but if it doesn't have the facilities to keep you and the kids engaged, you'll get back on the road without a proper break.

Given the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney bypasses every town, and the Pacific Highway between Sydney and Brisbane is gradually bypassing more towns, finding a detour could take an hour on the internet. But it will be worth it when you arrive at your destination safely.

Another obvious but important tip is to visit your state's live traffic website or download the smartphone app just before you leave so you know the latest conditions on the road. There's nothing worse than starting a long drive with a long traffic jam. And it's worse if you find out later you could have avoided it with a little bit of preparation.

Of course, the reality is that during school holidays the traffic on the main highways out of the major cities get busier.

Another option to consider is trying to start or finish your holiday outside of the peak times. It could save you hours in traffic and plenty of aggravation by taking an extra day off and beating the holiday rush.

That's advice backed up by the NSW Traffic Management Centre.

''The best advice is to give yourself and your family plenty of time to get to your destination,'' said a TMC spokesman.

''The busiest times are usually between 10am and 5pm; however, driving at times you would normally be asleep or not taking regular breaks can be dangerous.''

And remember, traffic changes all the time because, unfortunately, accidents happen and they cause delays. But by preparing properly you're reducing the chances of being the driver to cause that accident - and that means keeping your family safe.

How to keep everyone healthy

Of course, the easiest thing to do on a road trip is to swing by a fast-food restaurant for some drive-through burgers. It will stop the kids from nagging and help you keep racking up the kilometres.

But while it's easy, it's not the healthy option, nor is it particularly cheap these days.

Nutritionist Dr Joanna McMillan has some simple advice that will keep you and your family fed, and help keep everyone in a good mood.

''The first thing to do is take food with you. If you think of the long trips we do, there aren't a lot of places to eat along the way, and what is out there is less than nutritious, shall we say.''

Her advice is to pack your own food, and she recommends making sandwiches or wraps and packing plenty of water in a cooler. Load the cooler last so you can access it easily. For snacks, she recommends fresh fruit and nuts, and keeping lollies and chocolate (even at Easter) to a minimum.

Staying hydrated is important to keep everyone happy and healthy while stuck in the car for long periods. Dr McMillan says you should pack a water bottle for each person and carry extra in the cooler.

''Some people may not give their kids too much water because they'll think they have to stop along the way for the toilet. But actually getting them dehydrated in the car is not a great idea, especially if you're travelling in the heat.

''They'll get headachy, grumpy - their behaviour is likely to go downhill,'' she warns.

If that sounds easier said than done, she advises the ancient technique of practising what you preach.

''Kids will do what their parents do. So you can't expect them to make healthier choices if you're tucking into the double burger with bacon and cheese, and no salad, and large fries. ''

Drive's best in-car apps

We asked you, our Facebook friends, to help us select the best smartphone apps that make life easier on the road. Here are some of the best suggestions we received.

Waze, nominated by Adam Leung. Price - free. Available on iPhone and Android

Already popular in the US, this app is on the rise in Australia. It uses crowd-sourced information to let you know the latest traffic conditions and cheapest fuel prices. It can also learn your favourite routes and travel times and offers navigation if you need it.

Shazam, nominated by Brad Mauro. Price - free. Available on iPhone and Android.

An oldie but a goodie. Shazam listens to a sample of a song on the radio and can not only tell you what it is but can direct you to iTunes so you can buy the song.

Speedometer Speed Box, nominated by Lawrence Monro. Price - free. Available on iPhone only.

Given the focus on speed by Australian law enforcement it is important to know exactly how fast you are going. Apps such as Speed Box (there are dozens to choose from on iPhone and Android) use GPS data to give you a more precise speed than your car's speedo.

RouteShoot, nominated by Neil Nutbeam. Price - free. Available on iPhone and Android.

This allows you to record a video of your trip, which the app saves with GPS co-ordinates so that you can share the trip with your friends and family.