How to survive a road trip with young kids (without resorting to screens)
It’s summertime which means lots of us are downing tools and hitting the road with our kids. Remember road trips before kids? Getting in the car and driving until you hit your destination. Or perhaps you might stop midway in a cute, historic town where you peruse an antique shop and get a relaxing coffee. 🤤 It’s fair to say going on a road trip these days is nothing like it used to be!
There is definitely a place for a bit of healthy screen time (particularly when I want to zone out on the couch with a cup of tea…). However, I’m a bit old school – I don’t like to resort to using screens on a road trip. Lots of people do and of course, that’s fine. I’m firmly in the camp of ‘whatever works’! Maybe it’s because I remember fond road trips with my own siblings, or maybe I’m just insane, but our car so far has been a screen-free zone.
I’ve been on quite a few road trips with my young kids and each one gets a bit better than the last. With a bit of preparation, you can still make the journey a passable start to your wonderful holiday. Here are our top tips for surviving your road trip without resorting to screens.
1. Choose the time you travel wisely
When my kids were quite small (infant and toddler age), our favourite time of day to travel was in the morning. We’d get up super early and pack the car before they woke up, then transfer them into the car and off we’d go. Often we managed another hour of sleep before they woke up for the day and sometimes we even managed another nap. We’d often get to our destination around lunchtime and then the kids would have all afternoon to run around like crazy and work off the car journey.
We recently returned from a holiday and tried a new technique – travelling in the evening. On the recommendation of a friend, we left the holiday at 5 pm then stopped for dinner midway along the journey. After dinner, we popped the kids into their PJs, brushed their teeth then strapped them into the car. The kids slept, we didn’t have to battle through holiday traffic and then when we got home we all stumbled into bed and unpacked in the morning. It was such a relaxing end to the holiday!
2. Snacks, snacks and more snacks
I feel like this is just general parenting advice, right? It’s wise to ALWAYS have snacks on hand when you’re out and about with kids. Small little snacks that work their pincer grip tend to be successful for us in the car. We usually try to travel with sultanas, cut up grapes, popcorn and other snacks like that. My current favourites are these rice crackers because they take ages for the kids to eat and they think they’re an awesome treat so are thrilled when I bring them out.
3. Have some age-appropriate road trip car games prepared
Just because your kids are young, it doesn’t mean you can’t play some awesome road tripping games. For example, eye spy might be too hard for under 5s, but you can convert it to be a colour version. ‘Eye spy with my little eye, something that is the colour green’ then everyone takes a turn guessing what they’re thinking of.
20 questions is another great game for littlies – each person chooses a person, place or thing and everyone takes turns asking yes or no questions about it.
For older children, you could start a word story game. You build a story between you, all contributing one word at a time with often hilarious results.
4. Be prepared for bodily fluids
It’s inevitable, unfortunately. When you’re travelling in a car with kids, you’re pretty lucky if you don’t have a vomit/wee/poo explosion. The best thing to do is prepare for all eventualities. An accessible change of clothes for all is a must, plus a few of those square cloth nappies to wipe up any spills and the ever helpful wet wipes of course!
5. For surviving long road trips, think of some new toys
Nothing can distract a kid better than the excitement of something new! If you’ve got a big day ahead of you, prepare a little goody box of some fun, age-appropriate games and toys to keep them going. Perhaps a new colouring book (although keep in mind point 4 if they get motion sickness. I learnt this the hard way…), a new book or some trains or cars. It doesn’t have to cost much either, a trip to Vinnies can unearth some great preloved treasures.
6. Plan your rest stops
Map your journey before you go. Kids will need more rest stops than adults (particularly if they’re toilet trained and have a small bladder!) so you need to make sure you’ve got somewhere appropriate to stop. A few times we haven’t planned well and have had to stop for a bush wee on the side of a freeway. Not fun! Take a look at the map before you go and work out some interesting stops. Bonus points if there is a playground and a nice cafe to buy a coffee.
7. Bring some music and audiobooks
This is our favourite way of killing time in the car. We always have a few CDs on hand to play in the car (It’s the only place where a CD can be quite handy!) We also have speakers inbuilt in one of our car seats so we have loaded some kids music and audiobooks onto an old phone and they can listen that way. However this year, we had the Birde and it was great! No more whining that they didn’t like a particular song or book. They simply played the songs and audiobooks they wanted to listen to and we had our own adult music in the front seat. Winning!