Australia is a BIG country, best explored by road, but that does mean that visitors will be in for some BIG road trips! We’ve been road tripping with our kids since they were both toddlers, that’s over 10 years of experience hitting the open road, and keeping our sanity intact along the way. For readers considering a BIG road trip with kids, we’ve come up with 10 tips for a stress free experience.
- Entertainment. Books and colouring pictures are great, but let’s face it, whether we like it or not, these days, kids are hooked up to digital entertainment. Embrace it, don’t fight it for a stress free road trip. Our kids both have an iPod and an Android tablet each. They can listen to music, watch movies, read books or play games. Maximise your kids entertainment options by packing the colouring and story books as well as some digital entertainment and you will barely notice the hours pass by on some of the less scenic sections of road, (here’s looking at you Hay Plains NSW Australia!).
- Headphones. Leading straight on from tip number 1, we think this one deserves a mention all of its own. For your own sanity, DO NOT even consider hooking the kids up to digital entertainment without supplying them with decent, comfortable headphones! Did you know that on a 12 hour road trip, Disney’s Frozen could be played back-to-back 7 times? Enough said.
- Snacks. Over 10 years of road tripping with kids has taught us that fruit, (bananas and apples especially) make the best car snacks. They are not messy, and don’t leave us feeling ‘ugh’ when sitting in the car for hours. A close second is a pre-packed sandwich, or some dry biscuits. Avoid dairy foods at all costs (yoghurt in a car eek!) and for the love of God, do not load your kids up on sugar and artificial colours and preservatives. Our 7 year old son is like a ricochet bullet within 10 minutes of throwing back a handful of Skittles. Just don’t go there folks. Oh, and water, lots of water. Keep hydrated, but that will inevitably lead to tip number 4…
- Regular stops. Yes when you road trip with kids, regular stops are part of the package. So that the kids can stretch their legs, go to the toilet and get some fresh air, we stop every couple of hours or so. This is not only good for the kid’s sake, it’s a matter of safety for you as well. Driver fatigue causes deadly road accidents. Expert advice suggests that stopping for a quick break every couple of hours is the safest way to road travel.
- Don’t over pack back seat. It’s tempting for parents to load up the back seat of the family sedan with everything that the kids (or you) might need to keep close at hand when hitting the road. Try to avoid this for a stress free road trip. The back seat is the kid’s space, try not to overcrowd it. Even little people need room to stretch their legs, adjust their sitting position and have a wriggle every now and then. Since you are stopping every couple of hours anyway (see tip number 4) it’s not hard to get things from the boot space when you need them. Comfy kids are happy kids.
- Get going early. We try to hit the road by 5am if we’ve got a long day of driving ahead of us. If you wake the kids and put them in the car in their pyjamas there is a good chance that they will sleep a little bit more anyway, thus reducing their awake time in an enclosed space. We usually try to stop for breakfast at about 9am, which means that by then we are already a third of the way into our 12 hour trip. It always seems so much more manageable that way.
- Avoid motion sickness. Our son suffers motion sickness in the car, this caught us by surprise a couple of years ago on a long road trip, but we did learn a lot about dealing with it on that trip. We discovered that he needs a clear view out of the window, so window shades are best avoided for him even in summer. It’s also important to keep his snacks light and healthy (see tip 3). He doesn’t read in the car, and we encourage him to look up from his screen regularly if he’s playing on the Android tablet. On particularly windy sections of road through mountains we ask him to put away the tablet and look out the window. We’ve even tried natural remedies (ginger biscuits etc) but at the end of the day it’s best to keep a few sick bags handy if you think this could be a problem for your kids. Now that we know our son’s triggers, he’s rarely ill in the car anymore.
- Comfy clothing. Loose fitting, comfy clothes for the kids are best. Keep them cool in summer and warm in winter. If the kids are comfortable they seem much happier to sit for an extended period. Avoid stiff denim, tight shoes (feet swell with inactivity) or itchy fabrics. You’re road tripping. Trust me when I say that after a long day in the car, no matter what you are wearing, you will not arrive at the destination ready to take out Australia’s Most Fashionable Family Award, so dress for comfort not looks.
- Know their (and your) limits. Our longest stretch in the car has been from Adelaide to Dubbo (about 14 hours) but I’ll be honest and say that the last two hours are hard, by then we’ve all had enough of being in the car. Our optimum travel time for a long trip is about 12 hours, especially if we get going early. It’s important to know you and your family’s limits. For stress free road tripping, don’t try to push it too far. Be realistic in your expectations of your kids. Like I said, we’ve been road tripping since ours were toddlers, but first timers may consider 8 hours to be the limit. An extra tip I can offer here is try to make the first day, the longer day in the car. The second day (and third fourth, you get it) is often harder to be enthusiastic about.
- Make sure there is a comfy bed waiting at the other end! Book a hotel room, cabin, or stay with friends, but know where your bed will be. After an extended period in the car, the last thing you want, is to be searching for accommodation at the destination. We once stayed in a cabin where I had to make up beds with our own bedding on arrival. This turned out to be a right pain in the proverbial for an overnight stay on route to our final destination. We had to unpack the sleeping bags, sheets, pillows etc from the well packed boot, for just one night, and then re-pack it all to get going again for another 12 hours on the road the next day. At the end of a long road trip, I just don’t have the patience for making up beds on tight bunk spaces in cabins, so now we book accommodation with a ready-made comfy bed.
Our next big road trip will be the drive from where we are housesitting in southern New South Wales to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast here in Australia. It’s a 18 hour road trip along Australia’s east coast. We plan on taking the scenic route and stopping for two nights along the way, so that we have a bit more time to explore a stretch of Australia we’ve not driven before. After that, we are flying to Ireland to begin road tripping, searching for a place to settle down for about 6 months on Our Global Adventure. Ireland is TINY compared to Australia though, so we don’t think there will be too many 12 hour days on the road 🙂
Despite being sick every hour or so for the previous 6 hours, Oscar was still in high spirits on this road trip in 2012, proving headphones may not always provide the rest of the family with peace, but they make for excellent video opportunities 🙂
Tell us your thoughts. Would you drive 12 or more hours with the kids in the car? We’d love to hear about your family road tripping experience!