Tips for keeping kids happy on a road trip
School’s out and the kids are home for almost two months! But what to do with them?
Well, it’s the perfect time to spend some quality time together and a road trip provides the perfect family bonding opportunity.
But a successful family road trip takes a bit of pre-planning; some forethought to prevent boredom, arguments and tantrums, and some tactics to help you dodge that inevitable question
"Are we there yet?"
Putting together your family road trip itinerary doesn’t have to be complicated.
With these tips, everyone will have a great time travelling together, even throughout long hours in the car.
Plan Your Route
Don’t leave home without first planning an intended route. You know your destination, but what lies between home and your end point?
Calculate your hours of driving, choose rest stops and toilet breaks, and find little attractions to visit along the way.
Most of all, book ahead. Take no chances on hotel availability at the end of a long journey, especially at Christmas time, the busiest time of the year for accommodation at holiday destinations.
And once you arrive at your destination, know which attractions are open (especially seasonal ones and those that close over public holidays), and schedule them into your itinerary.
Research council tourism centres online to find out local info on great attractions to visit throughout your journey. When it comes to kids, remember to think like a child and really use your imagination. The more off-beat and quirky the pitstop, the better!
Document your Adventures
We’re all aware that sometimes children are difficult to engage and keep entertained. Put a camera and a trip diary in their hands and that can all change.
In the car and at roadside attractions, let your little people snap a bunch of pics, then have them write about their experiences once you get back in the car.
You could even challenge the kids to drawing a version of their favourite photo on their camera, to go with their diary entry.
Keeping a diary means the kids will be able to look back long after your road trip and remember these great family times together, plus journaling their adventures can keep them occupied in the backseat for hours when you’re back on the bitumen.
A stable table is a great idea for writing their diary entries and doing art/colouring in, whilst the car is moving. They’re fairly inexpensive and available at department stores and discount shops like the Reject Shop and Two Dollar Shops.
Pack the Car Accordingly
You have an itinerary, so make sure you pack items relevant to each stop.
Pack your car with your pitstops in mind, putting the items and luggage you’ll need soonest closer to your boot entry.
For items you know will be needed repeatedly throughout the duration of your trip, pop them on the back seat (if you have space) or the footwell, where you have easy access to them.
Instead of packing individual luggage, you may want to pack the family luggage according to each visit or destination.
It can save time hauling bags into hotel rooms, camping chalets or tents.
Don’t forget to pack first aid kit and put it in a handy spot. Make sure the kids know where it’s located too, just in case an adult is injured and can’t get to the car to grab the kit.
The car games you played when you were a kid are still popular. ‘I Spy’, ‘Spotto’, the ‘License Plate game’ – they provide great entertainment for kids of all ages.
Another thinking game is to get one passenger to think of an animal or sea creature in their head.
Then the other people in the car take it in turns to ask yes/no questions about the animal until they can guess what it is. For every ‘yes’ answer, the same player asks the next question, but if the answer is ‘no’, another player gets to ask the next question.
If you need to set up camping gear or a camper van when you arrive at each overnight destination, come up with games for the kids to play whilst the adults set up.
Grab a stick and draw four circles, one inside the other so it looks like a target.
Grab a stone and get the kids to try to throw it into the centre circle.
Each circle has a points value, with the outside circle being worth the least points, working up to the bullseye which is worth the most. They’ll be using their hand-eye coordination skills as well as practicing addition!
Print off Car Bingo pages and colouring sheets as well.
It doesn’t hurt to have an electronic device on hand, but strictly limit the time it can be used or your kids will spend all their time looking down rather than asking questions and having conversations.
Encourage them to observe what’s happening inside and outside the car along the way.
Bring Snacks (Lots of ‘Em!)
People (not just children) often mistake boredom and thirst for hunger. You’ll hear a LOT of “I’m huuungry” from the kids on a road trip. So make sure you pack snacks – balance healthy and not so healthy - that won’t make too much of a mess in the car – dry cereal, fruit and vege sticks, popcorn, crackers and granola bars are all good options.
If you have space, bring an esky of cool, fresh snacks you can dip into during roadside rest stops.
Try to space out snacks so you’re not overeating in the car. You’re generally not expending energy whilst driving, so your body doesn’t need a lot of food, unless your pitstops are filled with sports or hiking activities.
Check Your Car
Don’t leave home without thoroughly checking over your car. There’s nothing more frustrating than being stuck for days in a two horse town in outback Australia, waiting on a part to come in so the only mechanic in town can get your car back on the road. Trust us, it happens.
Costly mechanical repairs can often be prevented by booking in a car service prior to your departure date.
Have your routine maintenance completed and have a mechanic check for potential issues before any long road trip.
If you need to book an inspection, car service or repairs before heading off, AutoGuru can help.
We’ll hook you up with a trusted, local workshop or mobile mechanic to get your family car road-trip-ready.
Search. Book. Happy Travels!
Jason is a Canadian automotive content writer with a background in the auto service industry, but he’s been hooked on cars and mechanics since childhood.
One of his first cars was an ’80 Mazda RX-7 that’s sorely missed to this day. A ’68 Ford Torino GT, a ’66 Ford Country Squire Woodie station wagon, and a ’96 Suzuki GSX-R 750 have spent time in his fleet of cars, bikes, and trucks over the past two decades.
Jason’s pride and joy is under construction – a turbocharged ’88 Mazda RX-7 convertible. Also on his resume is CASCAR official certification.