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Top Tips for a Fun Family Road Trip

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Published October 1st 2017
Top Tips for a Fun Family Road Trip

Breathtaking beaches, rugged mountains, spinifex covered dunes, rolling hills and flat plains. There are roads that hug the coastline, traverse through rainforests, stretch over plains, climb mountains and edge along cliffs.There are tracks that take you through the heart of this sunburnt country and follow the first explorers' footsteps over spinifex covered dunes.

Australia has it all and the best way to see it is on a road trip!

Uluru The Rock Heart of Australia
Uluru - The Heart of Australia

I love road trips, big and small, they excite the intrepid traveller within me. They can be hard work with kids, but fun and less stressful with a bit of planning.

A few years ago, we were fortunate enough to complete our Bucket List dream and drive around Australia with our eldest and two dogs in tow. We mainly stayed off the beaten track, camped and had the adventure of a lifetime!

We learnt quickly that building a flexible plan made us feel more relaxed and helped settle our eldest into a travel routine. Here are a few tips and tricks so you can enjoy your road trip and have fun as a family at the same time!

Esperance WA
Pristine white beaches and azure waters at Esperance WA

'Are we there yet?
Recently we were going on a four-day break and I realised that we had forgotten the lessons we learnt! If you have, or know, children you may understand the situation we found ourselves in.

"Are we there yet?" asked Number 2.

"No" I said.

"Why?" asked Number 2

"Because we are on our driveway." I replied, calmly.

"Oh." said Number 2. "I need to go to the toilet."

"Did you just go?" I asked, still calmly, although my inner zen is starting to ripple. I had already faced 2 hours straight of questioning.

"Yes, but I reaaaalllllly need to go." said Number 2.

Fifteen minutes later we are toileted and driving to our destination. My inner zen reestablished.

"Are we there yet?" asked Number 1.

"No" we say in unison.

"WWWWWHHHHHHHHHYYYYYYYY??????" whined Number Two.

"Because we can't teleport." I exclaimed, exasperated.

Silence. The shock of my ludicrous comment and the word being outside my youngest's vocabulary worked!

We drove for 5 minutes. My zen returned.

"Are we there yet?" They both chorused.

And so our trip began.

Until then I didn't realise how lucky we were to have somehow dodged this relentless line of questioning!

Our youngest, is apparently an avid supporter of the "Are we there yet?" campaign and had roped in the eldest to join. They actively participated in the campaign and were better than any political party I have come across.

After 39 more minutes of interrogation, (yes, I counted!), I realised our mistake. In our haste to get on the road we hadn't put their travel backpacks with books, pencils and colouring in books near them, they were in the boot.

Instead of pulling over to get the backpacks (we had already stopped for the toilet again!), we talked about what we'd do when we arrived and played a few games. They settled until the next stop and the "Are we there yet?" questions stopped. Disaster averted, my zen returned.

Dealing with the "Are we there yet?" Campaigners can at first be entertaining and it is a rite of passage for kids and parents, but it becomes frustrating quickly.

It did reinforce that having a plan and a few distractions like travel bags and games not only helps, but makes a stress-free road trip.

Happy kids = happy parents!

Plan for "Where are we.... going, having lunch, going to the toilets...?!"
Identify rest and sightseeing stops, your accommodation or campsites while in transit and at your final destination.

Get the kids involved in the research and planning as it will build the excitement, ownership around the holiday, settle any underlying pre-travel nerves and teach them about the location. Use books, maps or the Internet.

We used these books, others and the internet to research our trip.

Talk about the trip plan with your kids and build in flexibility to prevent tears. Explain that it may change if you learn about new destinations from fellow travellers or decide to stay a night or two at a rest stop!

Rest, sightseeing, parks and toilet stops
Some kids may struggle with the transition away from home, so planning stops around morning tea, lunch etc to build a travel routine will help them feel secure.

We usually stop for a break, stretch and swap drivers every two hours to stay safe on the road and where possible try to plan around meal breaks.

Stopping at parks with playgrounds for breaks is great so the kids can eat, go to the toilet, play, run and burn some energy. Happy kids = happy parents! The Playground Finder is a great tool to help you find playgrounds on the way.

Park playground
Playground and parks are great to stop for lunch, run and play

Alternatively, stop at lookouts to take in breathtaking scenery or absorb history at monuments.

Burke and Wills Camp 119 Monument QLD
History and morning tea stop. Burke and Wills Camp 119 Monument QLD

Toilet stops
Frequent toilet stops are a part of any road trip. Would you believe that there is a handy Toilet Map website so you can find a toilet! What a find, albeit a bizarre one, but when you have to go you have to go!

Keep a roll of toilet paper in the car door and instant gel hand wash, as some toilets do not have toilet paper or water.

We keep a plastic bag to collect soiled nappies and used toilet paper (if going behind a tree!) and throw it out at the end of the day.

Toilet training tips
I was a little worried when we left for our trip as we were in the middle of toilet training! I found the following helped our eldest maintain the routine and build confidence:

  • We put underwear on during normal awake times and a pull up on during sleep times (i.e. after lunch).

  • We put a water-resistant cover on the car seat for any accidents.

  • We kept clean underwear and changes of clothes for accidents nearby.

  • We kept the potty at the bottom of our toddler's feet in the car for easy access when we stopped.

    Map your journey - the ultimate visible answer to "Are we there yet?"
    Hema Map of Australia
    Hema Map of Australia

    On a large map and draw where you are going in one colour and circles rest stops / sightseeing locations etc. This visual representation is great for even the youngest members of the family, as you can point where you started from, where you are now and where you are going. It is our essential tool for answering "Are we there yet?". This saved us hours of frustration!

    At the end of the day, use a separate colour to draw what roads and stops you actually did. Tick the places you liked and cross out those you didn't and score a place out of 10 for future reference.

    Travel maps
    Travel maps

    We liked using Hema maps for the level of detail.

    You or your kids may enjoy writing a journal on your trip. Pack a notebook or journal so they can write down favourite places and store any brochures, tickets, local maps etc in a plastic bag.

    Travel journal
    Travel journal to write down favourite places and interesting facts border="1

    Essentials to pack

    Food hacks
    Pack snacks, lunch and light meals for the trip to feed hungry bellies and save your budget for holiday fun. I use reusable plastic bottles for water and milk and clip lock Sistema plastic containers as they keep food fresh, stack well and minimise waste.

    I pack:

  • Water bottles (2 per person, 1 per pet, plus 2 spare large bottles for emergency) - I freeze 2 - 3 bottles as they melt gradually for cool drinks, double as ice packs to keep the food and other bottles cool and can be used for first aid, if required. I top up at each break.

  • Milk - in bottles (1 - 2 per child) (take formula if required).

  • Snacks - I peel, cut and pack food in individual containers for each break per child before I go.

  • Backup snacks - bag of fruit (apples, mandarins, bananas or pears), a packet of rice cakes, nuts and sultanas. I pack a small amount of fruit if we need to cross a border eg NSW / QLD that requires you to throw out fresh fruit and buy later.

  • Lunch - sandwiches, boiled eggs (peeled), cheese, carrot and cucumber sticks and yoghurt in tubes (spoons not required!).

  • Dinner (just in case we are still driving) - pre-cooked meatballs (I freeze, keep next to frozen bottles and defrost before we eat them), canned tuna, sandwiches or pita bread, carrot, capsicum, celery sticks etc.

    Take plastic bags to collect any rubbish in the car and for motion sickness. It will help minimise the mess in the car and reduce the risk of throwing things out with the rubbish by mistake.

    Entertainment - games, music and audio books
    Games, music and audio-books are a great way to connect as a family, pass kilometres on the road and learn at the same time.

    I spy road trip games
    I spy with my little eye, something beginning with….

    Play or invent games as you go like -

  • I Spy.

  • Count the number of cars, trucks, motorbikes, boats etc. of a particular colour you see on the road.

  • Spot animals - this doubles as a driver safety measure at dusk and dawn!

  • Who can find the landmarks first. Great if you have no idea what it looks like!

  • See if you can get the truck driver to toot his horn (a favourite in our car!)

  • Take it in turns to add a sentence to a story that you make up as you go. This can be hilarious.

  • Find as many things in or outside the car that start with a particular letter.

  • Sing songs that you know or make them up.

    Wallabies road trip
    Phew! Our kids spotted this wallaby in time for us to slow down!

    Make a music playlist
    Choose your favourite songs and make a playlist before you go. You may have to pack the Wiggles... it may save you from Witching Hour toddler tantrums!

    Depending on the age of the car you can wow the kids with CDs. My youngest made me laugh recently when I was asked if CDs were made in the olden days!!!

    CDs and a music playlist are essential

    Audio books
    Audio books a great way to keep the family engaged and prevent motion sickness. There are short or long series available for download.

    There are many to choose that suit various ages. My top 10 would include:
    1. The Cat in the Hat And Other Dr Seuss Favourites by Dr Seuss and read by John Cleese, Billy Crystal, Ted Danson, Kelsey Grammer, Dustin Hoffman, John Lithgow, and others.
    2. The Roald Dahl series - think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda.
    3. Legend of EnderZilla: A Minecraft novel by the Minecraft Maniacs
    4. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
    5. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
    6. The Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis
    7. The Golden Compass by Paul Pullman
    8. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and read by Stephen Fry
    9. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
    10. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

    Some services that offer the 30 day trials, the first audiobook for free or subscription include -

  • allyoucanbooks

  • audiobooks

  • kobo

    Travel kits
    Pack pencils, crayons and colouring in pads to entertain your kids while you are on the road. Suggest they draw what they see – you will be amazed! They can also write letters to friends or family which may help with homesickness.

    Pack a few books for avid readers or picture books for younger members.

    There are a number of travel kits available online that hook onto the back of chairs that have organising pouches and have drop down tables similar to planes that may be useful. Or pack a backpack.

    Mystery bag of toys
    A mystery bag is a great idea if your children are susceptible to motion sickness and colouring in or reading is not an option.

    Half fill two small bags with different shaped and textured toys. Stress balls, feathers, fluffy balls, different shaped blocks, stuffed toys, plastic or squishy animals, cars, empty containers, bath toys, boxes and pipe cleaners are great sensory toys.

    To play the game, ask them to put their hand in the bag, grab an object, feel without looking and work out what they are holding. After they have guessed they can pull the object out and see if they are right. Kids of all ages love this game. Pass the bag around the car and rotate the toys between the bags for a new game to start.

    I would use iPads and DVD players as a last resort – only if things go feral. For us, they are the ultimate back-up plan, stashed away in case we need them.

    To be honest, they are in the car and surprisingly we have never used them! I guess there is too much to see and do.

    Find fun and interesting facts about your destination
    Feral Camels Central Australia
    Did you know that Australia has the largest feral camel population in the world? We didn't!

    Every town in Australia is full of interesting and quirky facts. Do your research before you leave and entertain (or bore!) your kids with weird and wonderful facts about the town. This is really fun. We had a ball with this, how can you not with all the Big things around?

    In southern New South Wales the Big Marino in Goulburn stands tall – talk about it, the history, why it's there, about sheep in general, how many sheep songs you know, sing Baa Baa Black Sheep in silly sheep voices, draw a sheep, spot sheep, read "Where is the green sheep" by Mem Fox, you get the picture the list is endless!

    Are you travelling in Queensland? Find out about the Big Mango, Big Pineapple, SeaWorld, Wet 'n' Wild, Outback Spectacular and Dreamworld.

    Big Bowen Mango
    Big Bowen Mango

    If your four-legged family member is travelling with you make sure they are vaccinated, microchipped, Registered, have adequate flea and tick protection and have a collar with your contact phone number clearly marked on a tag.

    Keep the following within easy reach of your pet:

  • A water bowl for giving water at every stop

  • A large water bottle (refill at each stop)

  • Plastic bags for dog poo / changing kitty litter

  • Dog lead or cat harness

  • Bed or blanket

  • Food

  • Medicines

  • Kitty litter if you are taking your cat

    Stop at dog-friendly parks or accommodation and ensure that there is no deadly 1080 bait in the area. Make sure your dog is on a lead or cat is on a harness at all times outside of the car so they do not become spooked and take off. Our dogs loved to go for a quick walk during breaks. Their wagging tails were a testament to this.

    Pets can become dehydrated easily when travelling. Ensure they drink a lot of water and seek a vet if they show signs of dehydration.

    Familiarise yourself with healthy pet travel tips before you go.

    Dogs and pets on road trip
    Our dogs liked smelling the aircon!

    Are you there yet?
    What are you waiting for? Go on road trip and explore Australia, big or small it doesn't matter!

    And at end of the day sit down, relax with a cold drink or two and watch the sunset. You deserve it - you're on holiday!

    Happy travels!

    Moreton Island QLD Sunset
    Doesn't get much better than this. Sunset drinks at Moreton Island QLD
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