It is a brave parent who can face the prospect of driving for hours – or days – with a gaggle of kids in the back singing ‘Are we there yet?’ on repeat.
But family road trips needn’t be stressful. In fact, with a little preparation and planning, the journey could even end up being better than your destination. Ready to take the wheel? Here are 12 tips for taking a road trip with kids.
Pack like a pro
Arrange outfits in advance
With long days on the road, late nights and early mornings, you want to nail packing so that changing everyone into their PJs at night and into fresh clothes the next day is hassle-free.
Packing cubes offer an easy way to keep clothes in order. Give each family member their own packing cube colour scheme and organise items so that they’re easy to find. For example, put all the tops in one cube, underwear in another, bottoms in the next and so forth. Shoes should also have their own cube to keep the rest of the clothes clean. Alternatively, pack coordinated outfits together, each labelled with a day to be worn and the child’s name.
Pack a potty
If you have kids aged between two and four, pack a small travel potty to make wee stops fast and stress-free. Bring a generous supply of plastic bags and baby wipes for this purpose.
Prepare to play
Kids are usually happy to hit up a hotel pool or splash at a beach or river, no matter the season. Pack a designated splash bag for each child that includes a swimsuit, hat, towel, sunscreen and a wet bag, and have it easily accessible in the car boot. You’ll be ready to jump out for a quick dip at a moment’s notice without unpacking the car, and can hit the road again with the wet things safely contained.
Save on washing clothes by packing items that are worn out and almost ready to be tossed, so there is no problem if clothes get stained or damaged and they can be thrown away or recycled if ruined.
Don’t leave home without...
Service stations and amenities can be few and far between on the open road, so it pays to be prepared for anything that might pop up. Save yourself time and hassle by packing these invaluable items: extra battery/charging packs for tablets and smartphones, which are worth loading up with kid-friendly films; a first aid kit, including travel sickness treatments; baby wipes; hand sanitiser for roadside restrooms; a stash of dog poop bags or nappy sacks for containing gross things like apple cores or dirty wipes; and a plastic bag for garbage.
Remember the basics
A spare tyre is always a good idea. Having the number for roadside emergencies is handy, too. Consider your route – will you be driving through adverse weather conditions, such as snow? If so, pack de-icer and antifreeze, and blankets for the kids. Do your kids need car seats or boosters? If you plan on renting a car for your road trip, confirm that the hire company has the car seat you need available for your use and check the laws of the country you’re travelling in to ensure you are meeting the correct requirements.
Keep everyone well fed
Snack like a champion
It cannot be overstated. Bring snacks, snacks and more snacks. Pack double what you think you’ll need. There is something about a road trip that makes everyone hungry, even when you’ve just eaten breakfast. Kids on a sugar high stuck in a car for hours are a recipe for headaches all round, so pack food that is nutritious and low in sugar. Dry snacks like rice crackers, rice cakes, popcorn, nuts and protein bars are perfect because they can last the entire trip without going off.
Take tools for food prep
Pack some basic food prep tools such as a knife, a peeler, travel cutlery and reusable containers to help you quickly prepare, store and carry food. With this basic set you can also put together picnic lunches, which minimises money and time spent at rest stops, while making it easier to eat well.
Shop before you stop
Cut down on convenience foods by stopping at a grocery store just before reaching your accommodation. Stock up for that evening, breakfast in the morning and the next day on the road. When booking a room or holiday rental, consider a kitchen, kitchenette or microwave and fridge as important additions, to save costs on food and make it easier to feed picky eaters. Even if your room has just a microwave and fridge, you can make simple meals like porridge or mac and cheese.
Stay healthy on the road
It can be hard to get enough fruit and veg on a road trip. Pack individual serves of canned fruit, apples, vegetable sticks, hummus, string cheese and frozen yogurt pouches to a cold bag for fibre and protein. For picnics, try making simple sandwiches with a loaf of wholemeal bread, cheese, avocado and tomatoes from a supermarket.
Keep boredom at bay
Optimise your stops
Map your journey and research where you can stop along the way that will be interesting for you and the children. Search online in advance for playgrounds and parks, beaches, kid-friendly cafes, museums, wildlife parks and other such places that will make each stop an exciting part of your journey rather than just a bathroom break. To give yourselves a head start, consider putting the kids in the car before they even wake up in the morning to get a few hours drive in while they're still asleep.
Keep young minds occupied
Banish boredom with a bit of effort and some family car games. I spy is a perennial favourite, but you could also branch out with travel bingo, 20 questions, the licence plate game (if you’re driving across the USA) and the memory game, ‘I’m going on a picnic’. Kids can play games using paper and pens, too; connect the dots, consequences and tic-tac-toe need zero prep.
Pack an entertainment bag for the car, including travel board games, cards, a few toys and activity books, notebooks and crayons, plus a ball or Frisbee for stops. Avoid items like slime and Play-Doh, which have the potential to ruin a car’s interior.
Lastly, don’t forget the tunes! Road trips are a great time to introduce kids to your favourite music, so load up the devices with songs everyone will enjoy or some family-friendly audiobooks, and stream them through the car entertainment system.
Learn as you go
Road trips are a great opportunity to teach your youngsters about the world. Giving kids activity sheets and maps not only helps them learn about the places you’re visiting, but also engages them in the day-to-day journey. Crafty parents can create a basic map for little ones featuring landmarks to look for along the way, or a custom road trip bingo activity sheet with items to check off.