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Family Road Trip Essentials 

Road trips with kids are always an adventure. There are exploding nappies and roadside toilet stops, constant hunger, dropped toys, technology malfunctions, teenage sulking and toddler meltdowns. But don’t fear! There are things you can do to help you survive and even enjoy your next road trip. Here are your family road trip essentials.

Plan your road trip together

A road trip planned together as a family is more likely to be a success especially if you’ve got tweens or teens. Find a map of the route you’re planning to visit (even better if it has your home town on the map). Talk about where you’re going to visit, what they’ll see and do, and show them some books so they can find things that also interest them. Lonely Planet Kids books and National Geographic Kids books are where I would start looking.

Slow down your road trip

One thing you’ll quickly learn, if you haven’t already, is that you can’t travel at the same pace you did before kids. It’s a fine balance between seeing as much as you possibly can without tipping everyone over the edge. Once you get used to it, going slower actually has a lot of benefits and often gives you a better understanding of the places and culture, rather than just seeing the major tourist attractions.

Everyone is different as to how long they can travel in a day, but one key thing to remember is to break it up. Stop regularly, and after a big day or two of driving, stop in the one place for a couple of nights. Believe me, long road trips are hard work. They’re absolutely worth it, but I want to make sure you don’t have these romantic notions that driving thousands of kilometres or miles will always be a laugh a minute. It won’t!

Pack light

Packing and unpacking the car on a road trip can be a huge downer after driving all day, so keep your gear to a minimum. Give everyone one small bag that they have to be responsible for packing and unpacking, which should make things easier. Only take the essential road trip must-haves because everything non-essential is just going to be a pain and drive you crazy.

Road trip snacks for kids (and parents)

Food is essential for any road trip with kids. From experience, we’ve learnt you’re better off packing everyone a lunchbox full of food, and make sure the kids can easily access it on their own. When kids of any age are hungry, you won’t find peace until they’ve eaten.

Keep the sugary foods to a minimum. Kids bouncing around the car on a sugar high are not fun. Also, for anyone who gets even a little bit of motion sickness, leave the fatty food for later.

Road Trip Tip: If your kids are likely to eat everything all at once and you’re travelling all day, separate their food into two or more containers. Simply throw them in the back when they’re hungry and keep driving.

Road trip activities for kids

Actvities for road trip with baby

If you’re heading off on a road trip with a baby (or two), then a great way to spend more time driving than on the side of the road is to have an adult sit in the back of the car, if there’s room, at certain times throughout the trip. This can help cure baby boredom, meltdowns, and messes, plus preparing bottles.

Invest in a baby mirror at the foot end of their rearward-facing car seat so you can see each other, plus a few little toys will help.  You can also try gently massaging your baby’s legs and feet can help to calm them when they’re stiff from sitting for so long.
And have some backup songs for if it all turns pear-shaped and you can’t stop just yet. I still remember those days of being stuck on a highway with a screaming child. 

Actvities for road trip with toddlers

  • Toys and books – this works well when you’ve got a spare seat in between kids. The day before a trip, give your kids a plastic tub to fill with toys and books that will sit between them on the spare seat. When they go to bed, go through it and take out anything that is going to drive you crazy. Then add a few essentials like cars, action figures, dolls, and animals.
  • Music with headphones
  • LeapPad or tablet/iPad
  • Try a few classic travel games like I Spy and download our kids’ travel games

Activities and road trip games for kids

  • Books/Kindle/reader on tablet Audible audio books
    DVD player and headphones iPads/tablets
  • Spotify or other music playlists that can be downloaded and played offline
  • Toys – you don’t need many
    Try a few classic travel games like I Spy, or Car spotters (first one to spot a type or colour of car)

Stop sibling fighting on a long road trip

When you put siblings in a confined space for a long time, it is likely there will be a meltdown, mutiny, or scuffle of some kind. Here are some sanity savers:

  • Change of pace: most likely they’re bored and tired, so have an audio book, music, DVD, or similar ready.
  • Separate them with pillows. This can go one of two ways. Either it works or it turns into a pillow fight! When all else fails, pull over and take a break.
  • Allow yourself extra time so that if the wheels fall off in the back and you need to take some extra stops, it’s okay. Better to get there safely and relatively sanely than not at all.

Road trip pit stops

The key to a successful road trip with kids is to take frequent breaks and to make it fun. How often you have to stop will depend on how old your kids are, how big everyone’s bladder is and how everyone is feeling on that particular day.

Open spaces should become your new best friend. Stopping at the highway service centre usually doesn’t cut it to get rid of energy and pent-up frustration. Instead, try to look for a sporting field, park or playground and let them run. Take a quick look at the route you’re going to be travelling and work out some places you may be able to stop. You may find some attractions that are perfect for a quick drop in.

Road trip tip: Pack a ball in the car, so even if there’s nothing else to do when you stop, they can still get rid of some energy.

What to pack for a road trip

Here are some essentials things to bring on a road trip, to keep within arms distance in the car:

  • Food
  • Water – always pack extra in case you get stuck in traffic or breakdown. We usually take or buy a water cooler to keep in the boot for big road trips. It saves you a heap of money, and you shouldn’t run out.
  • Wipes – no matter how old your kids are, plenty of wipes are essential.
  • A few plastic grocery bags – for rubbish, dirty clothes, and cleaning up big messes.
  • A roll of toilet paper – you never know when you’ll have an emergency roadside stop.
  • Travel first aid kit
  • Spare set of clothes – essential for babies and toddlers but a good idea for other young ones.
    If you have a baby, have your nappy bag close by with nappies, portable/disposable changing pad, nappy cream, more wipes, nappy sacks, pre-portioned bottles of formula, an extra blanket, and a few extra toys.

Prep the car

  • Make sure your car registration and insurance are up-to-date.
  • Get your car fully serviced and tyres (including the spare) checked before you head off on a road trip. Check that all your lights and indicators are working.
  • Make sure you have a spare tyre and the gear to change it yourself.
  • Give the spare key to the non-driver in case you lose one.
  • Check that your roadside assistance cover is up to date and will cover you for your trip.
  • Put together a tool kit that will suit the conditions of your trip and how remote you’ll be driving.
  • Give it a clean inside because mess on top of mess is a nightmare.

Last minute road trip tips

Try to fill up with fuel and do any last-minute checks before you head off. Everyone seems to settle in much quicker if you don’t stop ten minutes after you leave home for fuel.
Make sure you have a bin in the car. You don’t have to buy one – you can line a plastic storage container with a flip top lid (one you’d put cereal in) with a plastic bag or even a small cooler bag. Get a good night’s sleep before you head off.

Road trips might be getting you from point A to point B, but there’s no reason you can’t make some memories along the way. Go and get packing. It will all be worth it in the end!

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