Top 10 tips for surviving road trips with kids

Entertaining kids on long road trips can be a challenge ...
Entertaining kids on long road trips can be a challenge ... 

I’m lousy at long distances with children in the car. I break out into hives at the very thought of a confined space filled with four bored children. I often dream of a helicopter/family wagon contraption that can transport the lot of us in a manageable thirty minutes, instead of the four or more hours driving time. Some may call it a light plane.

As soon as we embark on a road trip, one of my children always asks for something to eat. It’s usually when we are exiting the driveway. Fair enough too, because he would’ve only had breakfast thirty minutes before. I can see why he would be starving.

I don’t think we even make five minutes headway before there is a fight about someone looking at someone else the wrong way. Holiday here we come!

If I luck it that the baby falls asleep, inevitably the toddler wakes her up with an enthusiastic rendition of “Dingle Dingle Yittle Star” which he can’t be reprimanded for because he’s cute and he didn’t mean to wake her. Just breathe.

So, here are my top 10 tips for travelling with children:

1. Stay Home.
Look up destinations on Google Earth instead.

2. Travel, Rest, Travel, Rest.
If you must go, set small, bite-sized goals for distance travelled before someone needs a break. Usually a parent. Take the break where there is a toilet away from any venue that has too many desirable items available to purchase. Like alcohol.

3. BYO Food.
Pack food, lots of it. It’s cheaper than buying it at convenience stops, and it entertains small children for decent periods. Lollies that take time to chew and have the ability to fuse the jaw together I find particularly useful.

4. Give in to the Nursery Rhymes.
My husband sees a long car trip as a great opportunity to catch up on podcasts he’s downloaded. I agree. Except when there are four children accompanying us. He hates listening to kids nursery rhymes and stories. I hate listening to whinging and fighting. Nursery rhymes on, volume to the rear. Sorted.

5. Estimate the travel time, then double it.
Pushing on with tired, bored or grumpy children in the car makes for a hellish ride. Better to take your time, get out and admire a really, really tall tree, refresh and resume. Might take you longer but there won’t be patches of hair missing from your head once you arrive.

6. In-Car DVD.
As long as your kids can agree on a movie, can all see properly from where they are sitting, no-one leans over the seat line of anybody else causing hysteria, and nobody speaks the lines of the characters just to annoy their brother, then the DVD is a great sanity saving option.

7. Games, Stickers, Books.
Great entertainment for a while. Then inevitably someone feels seedy from staring down for too long and someone else cops a sticker in the ear and it’s on for young and old. Counting coloured cars works for a while until any one of them becomes too competitive and the game turns grey. It all ends with the game “everyone look out the window and be quiet” while Mum tries to remain calm and delete swear words from her internal dialogue.

8. Pretend to sleep.
One of my personal favourites when things get too much in the confined space. Dozing makes me conveniently unavailable to answer questions, referee fights or meet demands. Then the husband takes on the shushing duties with a pleasant “Mummy’s asleep” and everyone is (figuratively) bound and gagged for at least a short period.

9. Tell me about a time...
Radical thinking here, but I’ve been known to converse with my children and this seems to burn some time. “Tell me what you remember about our last holiday…” and “what was your favourite thing to do at the beach…” are quite engaging. “I can’t remember” and “nothing” could be potential answers, but you need to push through the pain barrier and prod the child until they come up with a happy memory. Don’t beat yourself up if this takes some time.

10. Are we there yet? Phone timer.
We prop our mobile in the phone cradle and put a timer on it. My children have been known to watch the numbers rolling over for a scary amount of time. When any of them ask “how much longer?” we point to the timer. Tough gig for the two-year-old who can't read numbers just yet.

Surviving a long distance car trip with young children is an achievement worth touting. And an in-pool mini bar when you arrive at your destination is an investment worth paying for. Even if you’re camping in the middle of nowhere.

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Pack food, lots of it. It’s cheaper than buying it at convenience stops, and it entertains small children for decent periods.