7 tips for surviving a road trip with kids
We’re 30 minutes into a three-hour road trip and I’m already going crazy. Our youngest behind me is feeling a little sick and wants me to hold her hand.
My shoulder is about to pop out of its socket. My eldest is attempting to complete a written assignment for school. She wants my help, except she argues against everything I suggest and then slinks into a pout. Flashbacks to similar horror experiences on our 18 month road trip around Australia makes me feel ill. And I’m willingly choosing to do this again later this year with an epic road trip across the US?
Road trips with kids can be excruciatingly painful or fun. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how prepared you are, they’ll meltdown into horror, but there are some things you can do to prevent this or cushion the impact of the fall.
1. Start with small trips
Don’t ever attempt an eight hour road trip with children who aren’t used to them. We started our road trip around Australia with road trips that lasted no longer than three hours. It took 20 minutes of the first leg before our youngest was trying to climb out of her seat. By the end of the road trip, we could drive for up to 8 hours. Give them time to get used to the experience, how they can cope with it and entertain themselves.
2. Give them the details and assign roles
Always let your children know where you’re going, how long you’ll be in the car for, the different things they can do in the car (ask for their input) and how many breaks you’ll have and where. And of course, talk about the rewards at the end of the journey.
Give them roles to fulfil in the car. Our eldest loves to control the music through Spotify. Our youngest loves to look at the map and tell us where to go. Even though she can’t actually read a map, it’s helping her to develop very important pre-reading skills plus she feels an important part of the journey and she has fun with it.
3. Have plenty of food and water
There’s nothing like being stuck on the middle of an outback road with no food and starving children. Always pack more food than you think you’ll need. Road trips lead to a desire for snacking.
Give each child their own lunchbox with separate containers and fill them up with healthy options plus a couple of treats. Let them control what they eat and when – they’ll love this independence plus it will teach them important life skills. BUT, do have a bag of backup food because odds are to begin with they’ll demolish all the food in the first hour. They’ll learn soon enough to plan better.
4. Help them be comfortable
What helps your child feel comfortable? Or put another way, what can you bring that will entice them to sleep? That’s when road trips reach epic levels. Make room in the car for their favourite pillow or teddy. Savannah is currently hugging her lady bug pillow pet and it’s helping her feel calm and relaxed and her eyes are almost closed.
5. Pack activity bags
Before we leave the house, we encourage our girls to pack themselves a bag full of things they can do in the car. We helped them to begin with, but now they know it’s their responsibility to choose what they want to do in the car, else they suffer the consequences of boredom. This is a habit for them now and often they don’t need reminding. When they complain of boredom in the car, remind them of their choices and what’s in their activity bag. Also tell them, “I don’t understand what boredom. I have so many choices of things to do that I just never feel boredom.” Help them to see boredom is a choice.
Model to your children that you can entertain yourself in a car as well and enjoy the quiet space to do things, even if it’s gazing at the outside world as it zips by. Be sure to let your children know how much you are enjoying it and what you’re noticing or learning as you gaze.
6. Play games
Arm yourself with a wide range of games you can play together in the car. Eye Spy gets old very quickly. As much as you want to pop on your headphones and veg out, road trips can be a fun bonding time with your kids. Kalyra and I loved playing boxes together.
7. Take frequent stops
Stretch your legs, stop at a playground, grab a cup of coffee. A short stop every two hours will do everyone the world of good and help you reset and refresh for the next leg. Always make room for these in your schedule for leaving so you get a better approximation of your driving time.