I guess most of us sit in either one of two camps when it comes to road trips.
The camp that loves the thought of spending hours in the car, exploring hidden treasures and soaking up the sights.
And the camp who would prefer to do pretty much anything else, as long as it prevented them being locked in a moving vehicle for hours on end with the family.
Me? I like road trips, despite suffering terrible motion sickness when I was a child. I have amazing memories of the many drives we would take when I was younger. My Dad was a fan of the Sunday drive and we would explore the length and breadth of the Hunter Valley most weekends (with the footy on the radio in the background!)
And every school holidays, my Dad would scour the classifieds in the local paper looking to take advantage of last minute holiday cancellations. We ended up driving to destinations such as North Haven, Ballina, Harrington, Dubbo, Bathurst, Forster and Wellington thanks to his eye for a holiday bargain. And we road tripped the whole way. We LOVED it.
Fast forward 30 years and it’s my kids’ turn to enjoy the delights of the road trip. Except they do not share my love of exploration. Instead, they are usually head down in a book or a device so they miss everything about them!
What’s up with that?
So when we embarked on our recent 10 hour drive from Newcastle to the Gold Coast, we put in place some strategies to ensure they were kept happy and occupied the whole way.
Because even I don’t enjoy road tripping with bored, complaining kids in the backseat!
5 top tips for the ultimate road trip with kids
Break up the trip with an overnight stop
We decided to stay overnight at Coffs Harbour, the half-way point on our 10-hour trip north. We could have done the trip in one big day but we wanted to take it easy and minimise the daily driving burden to 5 hours max. This worked well for us as we could leave home mid-morning (no early morning starts for us!) and get to our destination mid-afternoon, with convenience stops along the way. It also limited the time we were confined to the car and allowed us to go exploring when we arrived.
Book your overnight accommodation before you leave so you can secure the amenities you need as a family. This is especially important if you have a larger family as family rooms can be booked out well in advance. And do a little research to identify places of interest to show the kids while you are there – you never know what extra fun you will find on your road trip adventure! I definitely recommend taking it easy and stopping overnight for trips over 8 hours in duration. Your family will definitely thank you for it!
Stop for regular breaks
Drivers should be resting every 2 hours anyway, so this presents the perfect opportunity to get everyone out of the car to stretch, have a pit stop and enjoy some space. Getting out of the confines of the car will lift the mood of everyone, especially squabbling siblings, and can be the perfect circuit breaker to combat boredom and fatigue.
On our way up to Queensland, we stopped roughly every two hours, at Taree, Urunga, Coffs Harbour (overnight), Tynedale, Ballina and then the Gold Coast. On the way back we made even more stops as we decided to do more sightseeing, so we found ourselves at Tweed Heads, Byron Bay and South West Rocks too. We found regular stops helped keep the peace, keep the calm and, more importantly, keep our sanity!
Keep everyone entertained
In the olden days (i.e. my childhood, according to my kids!) I spent most of my time hanging out the back window when we went roadtripping. Partly, because I suffered from horrendous motion sickness, but also because I loved watching the world whizz by and seeing the subtly changing landscapes as we drove past. Sadly I wasn’t able to read books due to my motion sickness, and devices were not around then, so I made do with imaginary games plus family favourites, such as I Spy, when I wasn’t feeling unwell.
Nowadays, kids have access to so many things to keep them entertained – mp3 players, smartphones, tablets, e-readers and handheld game devices, just to name a few. So use them to your advantage. Charge them up, make sure the kids have a pair of headphones (to minimise noise and disruption) and let them be for a couple of hours. Alternatively, take along books, music, games or activities to keep them occupied for a while. And don’t forget your needs too – load up some podcasts, audible books or classic road tripping tunes to keep you entertained as well!
Pack the essentials
If you are heading out on any road trip, make sure you take the essentials with you. You may be able to stop along the way for food and drink but you may also have stretches of driving before you that won’t offer much in the way of amenities. So take along food and drink of your own. No doubt the kids will be thirsty or hungry (or both) along the way and having stuff immediately at hand will make your life so much easier.
Other essentials to take along on a road trip include tissues, wet wipes, sunscreen, a first aid kit, pain relief, device rechargers and plastic bags (for rubbish and for any potential motion sickness incidents). You might also consider packing a bag with spare clothes to avoid having to delve through packed suitcases in an emergency. It can happen.
Nathan picked up a couple of bargain back seat organisers before we set out and they ended up being super useful on our trip. The organisers held water, food, devices, headphones, tissues, rubbish, books and toys. It meant the kids could get to anything they needed in the back seat and reduced the need for the front passenger to keep turning around to look for something or to hand something back to them.
However you choose to store or pack your belongings, make sure you can easily access what you need. There is no point packing food in the boot if you can’t get to it the minute your child decides they are starving. Which will invariably be 5 mins after you last stopped for the toilet. Trust me.
Some of these tips may sound obvious but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve been caught out over the years!