Six stages of going on long car drives with kids

Long car trip hell: No matter how well you plan some things will always be painful.
Long car trip hell: No matter how well you plan some things will always be painful. Photo: Getty

There's nothing like going on a long car trip.

You get to sing along to your favourite tunes, bask in the feel of wind in your hair and soak up the scenery as it rolls past.

All of that is true. Until you have kids.

Going on a long car trip with kids involves exactly none of that.

The only singing you're likely to do on a long car trip with kids is to the music from Frozen.

The only thing you'll feel in your hair is the tug of sticky fingers, and the only soaking you'll do is of your kids' clothes (after they've spilled who-knows-what on them).

After numerous long trips with our three kids I've discovered there are 6 distinct phases.

Stage 1: Unbridled excitement

The lead up to the car trip is awesome. As a usually disorganised person, I kick into high gear, organising like it's no one's business.

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Healthy snacks? Tick.

Slightly-unhealthy snacks? Tick.

Snacks for when the kids are losing the plot and we just want to buy five minutes of yelling-free time? Tick.

By the time we're about to leave I'm simply bursting with optimism about how much fun this car ride will be.

Stage 2: Getting the kids into the car

After last calls for toilet breaks (and further explanations of how no, our car doesn't have a toilet but yes, there will be places we can stop to use a toilet along the way but no, you shouldn't hold off and wait for them because it's better to just go now) we finally make it out the door.

Getting the kids into the car proves more of a problem.

You see, all the pre-planning means we have everything we could possibly need, except for room for the kids to fit in the car too.

At this stage, my husband and I frantically start moving bags around and have a long discussion about whether or not we need the pram.

By the time the kids are finally strapped in, someone needs a toilet break.

Stage 3: Getting on the road

Getting on the road is exciting. The kids are happy, we're happy and life's good. (Note for the uninitiated: This is the shortest of all the stages)

Stage 4: Being on the road

Being on the road is nowhere near as fun as preparing to go on the road.

For one, playing car games with kids is hard when they're different ages. Take 'I spy' for example.

My six-year-old daughter likes to play by the rules.

'I spy something starting with the letter G,' she says. It turns out to be grass, everyone smiles and we're all happy.

Next it's my four-year-old son's turn.

'I spy something starting with the colour red,' he says proudly.

After trying to identify anything inside or outside the car that's red, he will become increasingly frustrated. When we finally give up, he says in exasperation, 'It was an octopus!'

When we say there are no octopuses (or should that be octopi?) either in or out of the car, he says, 'No, I'm thinking of a red octopus in my head'. Obviously.

When my daughter starts whining that he's not playing fair, and her whining makes the baby cry, we know it's time to bring out some snacks. But since we rearranged the bags to fit the kids in the car, we can't find the snack bag anymore.

Suddenly my kids act as though they've never eaten before in their lives and will simply starve if they don't have something to eat Right Now.

I twist and pivot from my passenger's seat, trying to contort myself into a position where I can sift through the bags and hopefully find the snack bag.

Finally, I succumb and agree with my husband that it's time to pull over so we can find the snack bag.

Stage 5: Pit stops

Pulling over is a mistake, people.

Once the kids realise the car can actually stop anytime we want it to, they have a new mission in life: To make this car trip end.

While they were happy to simply whinge before, once they realise that stopping is an option, they amp their requests up a notch.

"I just need some air," my daughter will say, like an Elizabethan aristocrat. We wind down her window.

"No, air that's not moving so fast," she says.

Stage 6: Getting there

When we finally arrive at our destination, my husband and I emerge from the car battle-hardened.

The kids are sticky and disheveled, the baby has finally fallen asleep (after being awake until the last two minutes), and our backs are creakier than a door in a horror film.

My husband and I want to sleep off the memory of The Long Car Drive, but the kids are now bouncing around, ready to burn off the energy they've accrued from a combination of having been cooped up and eating too much 'bribe' food.

After each long car drive my husband and I tell ourselves that next time, we might be better off going somewhere nearby. The park at the end of our street sounds good.