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Road Tripping With Kids

Home > Everywhere > Travel | School Holidays | Fun Things To Do | Fun for Children | Day Trips
by Maureen Durney (subscribe)
After retiring from a very long teaching career, my new career is: travelling, blogging and writing from the beautiful northern end of the NSW coast. You can follow my journey at maureendurney.com/ Life is Good!
Published December 29th 2016
How To Get To Grandma's House Without Meeting The Wolf
The Planning Stage

After three overseas flights this year, I know what "Are we there yet?" feels like, and that was just me asking myself the question. With the holidays upon us, I figured there might be a few anxious parents preparing for a long trip with the kids, wondering how to keep them occupied. While the last long flight is still fresh in my memory, I thought it might be a good time to shed some light on ways of making a long trip a bit more enjoyable ... for everyone. After all, I'm sure Grandma is looking forward to seeing happy, smiling visitors rather than grumpy kids and adults who are stressed out before the visit even gets off the ground.

Just to digress a little, many years ago my husband and I made an eight-hour car trip to visit family. When we left home we agreed to share the driving, but he insisted on being first. Not a problem, I thought at the time, I'll just look at the scenery. After three stops for coffee and one for fuel along the way, he still had the keys and promptly resumed his place in the driver's seat, every time. By the time we arrived (and he was still driving) I was not happy and let him know, in no uncertain terms. I promptly informed him that next time I would be the first driver and he might get to drive if he was very lucky. I can still see the look on my daughter's face as I dragged myself out of the car, still debating the driver issue. There was no doubt it wasn't the greeting she was expecting.

If an adult can be bored on a long trip, so can kids.

The way I handle long flights is simple:

  • read

  • watch movies

  • do the crossword in the flight magazine

  • sleep (if possible - in the sitting position)

  • eat

  • drink (mostly water/sometimes coffee)

  • walk to the bathroom (number of times depends on the above)

  • read some more

  • take photos of interesting scenery (well - mostly clouds)

  • play a game or two on my electronic device


By the time I get through that list we're usually close to landing, and the flight hasn't seemed so bad.

If we adjust the list to make it 'kid-proof and car-accessible', your road-trip might just work, and everyone will arrive with a smile on their face (well, hopefully).

kids_bored_activities_are_we_there_yet_long_car_trips
You know this isn't going to end well.... - Photo by Senado Federal - Cadeirinha, CC BY 2.0, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45162997


Reading Material

Warning! Reading in a moving vehicle isn't always a good option, especially in the back seat of a car. If there is a risk of motion sickness - forget this one. It might be worth trying it out on a short trip first, armed with the necessary tools just in case, like a small bucket, washer and towel. If motion sickness is a problem, consider audible books that can be downloaded from the Internet, or bought on CDs (do they still make CD's?). If your child's favourite book isn't available in an audible format, consider having an older child read books onto a recording device.

Books will need to be suitable for the reading ability of your child, unless you're prepared to continually decode the letters of big words. Books need to be short enough to get through easily, but long enough to hold the child's interest for a reasonable amount of time. Introducing your child to Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' might not be a good idea at this point, but Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney) might do the trick, depending on your child's reading level. Books that you might consider include:

  • any of the Roald Dahl books (kids books - not the adult ones), especially if they have seen the movie 'BFG'

  • Phil Kettle books, including the Toocool series - you could download activities under the teacher section of the website if you want to enhance the experience

  • Dr. Seuss books and activities (who doesn't remember The Cat In The Hat or Green Eggs And Ham?)

  • Captain Underpants series, aimed at 7-10 year olds, but enjoyed by a much wider audience - kids love these books - great for reluctant readers

  • any of the authors your child currently enjoys


road_trip_kids_car_books_reading_activities_bored_sanity
Choose a favourite author for older readers


When travelling with a younger child, picture books will keep them amused for a while, but you'll need to pack a lot of activities to cater for their shorter attention span. A felt storyboard with large felt pieces might be an option, or a magnetic board with large cutouts from a favourite story - just print, cut out, and glue magnets to the back - magnetic tape bought from an office supplier would do the job.

Movies - Don't Forget The Headphones!

Watching a movie is almost guaranteed to keep the juniors engrossed for a reasonable amount of time. Getting lost in a movie on a long flight kills time quicker than any other activity for me. I know some parents are not in favour of adding technology to their car, arguing that kids get more than enough at other times, but it will definitely make the long trip more bearable. If the expense of installing screens into the seats is not an option, consider personal devices, for example, iPad, less expensive tablets, or a personal DVD player.

kids_bored_activities_are_we_there_yet_long_car_trips
Movies will make the trip more enjoyable - Photo by Lklundin - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38519254


Pre-load the device with enough movies for the trip, or add them to an external device if storage is limited. Even a relatively small storage device will hold quite a few movies. If your child has an iPad, there are USB storage devices that attach to it via the charging outlet (given that iDevices don't usually have USB capabilities). The storage devices can be bought at electronic stores in most cities for around $60 - $75, with a lightning plug (for the newer model devices) at one end, and a USB at the other. This makes it easy to plug and play on the iDevice if memory is an issue.

storage_USB_iDevice_portable
Movies can easily be stored for watching on an iDevice


If you are taking an electronic device like an iPad or tablet, make sure the case is sturdy enough to handle falling off the child's lap if they fall asleep. OtterBox is one brand that makes very sturdy, almost kid-proof cases. Load some games on the device and let the kids loose with them for an hour or two - guaranteed to keep them busy. I'm not sure what the latest craze is but I know Angry Birds held the attention of young and old gamers for a few years. Just ask the kids about the latest games - I'm sure they'll give you a long list of potential downloads. Getting lost in games is a good way to pass the time, and headphones will be your best friend, unless everyone in the car likes the sound of lifelike (computerised) sound-effects booming around them.

And don't forget to pack the chargers. Power banks are very affordable; they simply plug into the device so you can charge on the run - some even have 2 USB slots so you could be charging 2 devices at once.

power_bank_charging_iPhone_iPad_iPod_tablet
A Power Bank means you should never run out of charge


Activities

If your child is capable of doing a Word Search or Crossword, then have plenty available. Using a Frixion pen, inexpensive and readily available at most chain stores and office suppliers, will help if mistakes are made - the pen has a built-in eraser. There are websites that allow you to custom-make Word Searches and other activities that can be printed out, put together in a booklet, and provide hours of fun.

friXion_pen_eraser_pen
Using a friXion pen will help with errors


Customise the activities to incorporate things that might be seen along the way like colours of cars, makes of cars, or names of towns. Otherwise, try using:

  • family member names (for younger searchers)

  • favourite toys

  • names of birds or animals

  • things they might see when they arrive, like aquarium, theme park, beach, caves, etc.


Custom made Word Searches


Sleep

A travel pillow might provide a little more comfort and encourage sleep. The vertical position isn't the most comfortable form of repose, but there's something about the constant movement of a car and hum of the engine that can lull even the most active child to sleep. If they sleep in an awkward position (this goes for adults too) there is a risk of muscles in and around the neck being fatigued, which could cause discomfort. The travel pillow provides support for the neck, increasing the chance of sleep and waking more rested. You might want to seek advice before using the travel pillow with very young children as it might tilt the head forward too much.

road_trip_kids_sleep_comfort_bored


Comfort Stops

Bathroom stops need to be planned as much as possible so they can be broken up into reasonable chunks - not that kids are dictated to by scheduled stops. You can guarantee they will set the pace no matter how much you plan, and it won't always coincide with the availability of functional facilities (that's why they plant big trees along the roadside... isn't it?). You might want to carry a few emergency supplies, like toilet paper and wipes for emergency stops. Oh, and plenty of plastic bags - for the 'thoughtful' disposal of the paper and wipes at the next planned stop.

outhouse_toilet_comfort__bathroom_bush_road
Comfort stops need careful planning


Snacks
Avoiding sugary or excessively salty snacks might help to moderate behaviour and thirst. The following items make good travel snacks if packaged in individual sealable bags:

  • popcorn

  • pre-cut fruit, especially apple pieces with a light squeeze of lemon juice to prevent oxidation

  • celery pieces filled with peanut butter (as long as nobody has nut allergies)

  • trail mix of nuts, sultanas, dried banana, coconut, or any combination that your child likes


A cover over the seats before setting off might make cleaning up easier when you arrive - just remove, shake, and wash.

road_trip_snacks_healthy_trail_mix_kids_comfort
Make a trail mix for older kids as long as there are no nut allergies - Photo by Thogru - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34708118


Drinks
Water is best because it's easier to deal with if spilt, and it really is the best way to hydrate a thirsty body. Sugary drinks like cordial and soft drinks (sodas) should be avoided because of the effect they have on energy levels. Trust me, a red soda energy spike, inside a car travelling the long and windy road, won't end well.

long_trip_kids_thirst_water
Don't forget the water bottles - Photo by Kenyon - Own work, Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2185112


Photography

For older, and some younger travellers, using a camera to capture highlights along the way could provide hours of fun. Some software options on mobile devices allow the user to add text to the photo, and with a little practice, your child could be developing a travelogue to share with family and friends. If you don't have the software to do this, help the child develop a way of recording facts about each photo as it is taken. They could note where the photo was taken, the time it was taken and maybe even why it was taken - 'the horse looked as though it was going to jump the fence' (I'm sure your imagination is better than mine at working out the 'why'). Don't worry, if you're travelling with teenagers - just give them a phone and they'll fill it with selfies and be entertained for hours - been there and done that (teenage granddaughters)!

clouds_flight_photography_flying_travel
There isn't much to photograph on a night flight


road_trip_kids_car_books_reading_activities_bored_sanity
But there's a lot to see on a road trip


Summary

The secret is to have a variety of activities, snacks, movies, and water on hand. It seems like a huge task before the trip, but it just might mean the difference between stressful and stress-free travelling. With a bit of planning, you can provide hours of fun for the back-seat travellers, which in turn gives you more freedom to indulge in your favourite music, or even sleep - if you have a co-driver. Over-plan rather than under-plan; it's far better to have too much than not enough. The words you don't want to hear from the back seat (besides 'are we there yet?') are 'I'm bored!'.

If the destination is a very long way away, it might be worth taking extra time to get there. Making a few longer stops to let everyone stretch their legs, or even have a swim if it's hot enough, might make for a safer and happier trip. An overnight stay in a Motel or even Caravan Park might be worth considering.

driver_fatigue_motel_sleep_rest
If you are dog-tired, stop and rest


Oh, and the most important thing to pack is a First Aid Kit. Every car should have one; have you updated yours lately?

first_aid_kit_emergency_bandage_tweezer_snake_bite_bandaid_scissors
Make sure you check your supplies - Photo by quicksandala at morguefile.com


No matter how much we plan, life is full of unpredictable surprises, but hopefully, you won't meet any of them on your trip.

Happy Driving!
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Why? Beating the boredom and arriving with sanity intact
When: Holidays
Where: Anywhere the road takes you
Cost: No budget - to low budget
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