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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)
I think Iíve got this retirement thing figured out: sleep; wake; write; repeat. I love it! You can follow my journey at 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).

You know this isn't going to end well.... - Photo by Senado Federal - Cadeirinha, CC BY 2.0,

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

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.

Movies will make the trip more enjoyable - Photo by Lklundin - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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.

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.

A Power Bank means you should never run out of charge


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.

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


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.


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.

Comfort stops need careful planning

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.

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,

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.

Don't forget the water bottles - Photo by Kenyon - Own work, Public Domain,


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)!

There isn't much to photograph on a night flight

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


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.

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?

Make sure you check your supplies - Photo by quicksandala at

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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