The parenting journey can be full of twists and turns as you venture into the unknown with no GPS to guide you. One event that can challenge even the bravest of parents is the family road trip (yes, I am sure we all have a tale or two!).
However, as is the case with many things kid-related, a little preparation can make all the difference and could even (possibly) make the journey an enjoyable addition to your holiday, rather than just a means to get there.
1. Setting the foundation
Before hitting the road, it is a good idea to make sure your car is running smoothly and to look into whether your insurance will cover you in the case of any unforeseen emergencies during your trip. For lengthier drives, it can be a good idea to have your car checked by a mechanic before you leave and check your tyre pressure.
Also consider whether you need roadside assistance, and if so, you may like to check whether this is available through your insurer. Knowing your car is in good condition and that you have a plan in case anything should happen can take one worry off your plate.
2. Are we there yet?
If your kids are young and this is your first road trip as a family, you may wish to choose somewhere not too far from home. A ‘practice run’ over a long weekend can be a great way to build up your confidence and learn from your mistakes. If it doesn’t go to plan (let’s be honest – does anything with kids ever go to plan?) you can easily turn around and go back home.
3. The early bird catches the worm
While my kids were young, we used to lift them out of their beds fast asleep and transfer them straight into the car in the early hours of the morning. This way we could knock off a few hours of the trip before they woke up and asked to be fed. Sometimes we could drive for three blissfully peaceful hours before finding somewhere to stop for breakfast.
4. Survival bag
Pack a bag of essentials full of must-haves like tissues, baby wipes, nappies (if your kids aren’t toilet trained) plastic bags for rubbish, first aid and medication, a few toys and activity books, and a change of clothes. I would suggest keeping this treasure trove within easy reach of the adult passenger for quick access at pivotal moments.
5. Feed the beast
Without a doubt, having food and water on hand could save you many times during a road trip – snacks can buy you another 30 minutes of relative contentment from most hungry children. Try to keep them healthy and, preferably, sugar-free (to avoid the hyperactivity), and steer clear of anything that can spill or stain. Individual servings can help avoid arguments over sharing and rationing the food can give the kids something to look forward to…. I consider this gentle bribery.
6. Let them lead the way
Prior to leaving, talk through the route you will be taking with your children, pointing out any interesting landmarks. You can even give them the option of choosing where you should stop. During the trip they’ll hopefully enjoy being a part of the journey and having played a role in the decision making – and yes, a drive through or stop at a bakery can count as a landmark if that adds some excitement.
7. Fun and games
Road trips are great opportunities to have some fun playing in-car games such as I-Spy, 20 questions and car cricket, all of which can help the kids take note of the sights along the trip. However, let’s be honest, you will all need some quiet time at some point during the trip and having a tablet loaded with a few favourite movies can help restore relative peace for an hour or so.
If, like mine, your kids turn green at the sight of a screen in a car, a great alternative is an audio book and in my eyes it sure beats having the Wiggles on repeat for six hours. It’s not too difficult to find a book the whole family can enjoy, regardless of age. You’ll love seeing their imaginations come alive visualising the story they are hearing, and it makes for some lively discussions as a family along the way.
8. And rest…
Try to select places to stop where the kids can burn off some energy. We all become fidgety if made to sit still for too long so taking a walk, going for a swim or visiting a quick tourist attraction along the way can make all the difference to little bodies and minds.
9. Blow off some steam
If road-tripping over multiple days, I always try to ensure that wherever we stop for the night has a swimming pool or playground for the kids to release some energy before settling down to sleep. If this isn’t possible then at least find somewhere close to a park or beach.
Getting out of a car, squeezing into a tiny motel room and then being forced back into a car the next morning is no fun for anyone, without some opportunities for fun in between. It’s also a good idea to have a separate overnight bag so you don’t need to unpack the entire car to find pyjamas and toothbrushes.
One thing I’ve learnt is that although family road trips aren’t for the faint of heart, a little preparation goes a long way towards improving the ride. And when you consider Australia has some of the best road trips in the world, you could even have some family fun along the way.
About the Author, Nina Tovey
Nina is a writer, proud mama of two and the Editor-in-Chief of Canstar, Australia’s biggest financial comparison site. Nina was the senior journalist for wellness magazine Wellspring and has ghostwritten pieces for some of the world’s most popular blogs, newspapers and websites.
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All information is correct as of September 2019