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5 Top Tips for Surviving a Road Trip with Kids

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by Kate Parker Hayes (subscribe)
With a background in legal publishing and technical writing, I enjoy sharing slightly less formal accounts of fun things to see and do.
Published June 19th 2019
Pack your bags and your patience - it's road trip time
With the school holidays looming, it's road trip time for many families. Whether it's a couple of hours driving to the snow, or a few days (or weeks) driving up the coast – the road trip itself is part of the adventure. Often a long, emotionally exhausting, whining-filled part of the adventure.

road trip kids travel tips family holidays
Let's go!

1. Do not give them the time

Never, ever, entertain the "How long until we get there?" conversations with your children. Once you start checking google maps on your mobile and providing exact timeframes, your tech-savvy kids will settle for nothing less. They will ask for updates approximately every 90 seconds, and then dispute your (factual) answers: "But you said 45 minutes HALF AN HOUR AGO! How can it still be 40 minutes!?"

This is no fun for anyone.

Instead, respond as my husband does to every such request, with this statement: "One BIL-LION hours! Ah-ha-ha-ha…." Spoken in the voice of the friendly vampire 'The Count' from Sesame Street. The fact the kids have no idea who The Count from Sesame Street is just adds to their frustration. Hopefully, this will make them give up in disgust, stop asking, and sulk quietly instead.

Full disclosure: this approach may backfire if you, like me, are as desperate to know as the kids. Surreptitiously checking your phone for an ETA and being caught by eagle-eyed back-seaters, makes you the meanest parent ever. Apparently.

kids family travel surfboard car holiday summer
Hang on, almost there...

2. Make space
Get a bigger car. This is clearly much easier if you are renting a vehicle. Rent one with more seats that you have people. We are a family of five, so renting a seven seater is ideal. Once we were meeting up with family, so rented an 11 seater van to drive from Melbourne to Adelaide. This was an amazing road trip. All three kids were strapped into various car-seats and boosters beyond the reach of their siblings, no-one could lean on/bump/kick/look at each other, accidentally or otherwise.

The downside was that no-one could reach each other to pass food around, so I almost put my back out, constantly hurling snacks around the van. Take extra snacks to mitigate this problem. Individually packaged (um, not one large open bag of popcorn). Also, the trip back to Melbourne was less fun, because there were 11 of us to fill every seat in the van. That's a lot of booster seats, toilet stops and whining.

Full disclosure: we enjoyed renting seven-seaters so much that we bought one. Now instead of arguing about who sits in the middle, the kids get to argue about whose turn it is to go into the 3rd row.

road trip family travel van vanlife hertz hertz
Space for everybody

3. Do not give up the front seat
While swapping around spots in the car is acceptable for the kids - even necessary for the sake of fairness – never, ever, give up the front seat for older children. Clearly for safety reasons, younger children will always be in the rear seats. But teens (and even tweens) suddenly rival their parents in the leg length stakes. Do not be fooled into mistaking height for seniority.

Some things become negotiable as your offspring grow up. These things usually involve bedtimes, technology or whether they can quit swimming squad. But some things are sacred. Showers are not negotiable, and neither is the front seat. Don't let those long gangly legs twist you around their little finger.

Full disclosure: this rule may be occasionally bent, for example on a late-night road trip when your 14 year old son is far more lively than you. If he can sustain lucid conversations about computer games and sci-fi movies with your husband who is behind the wheel, then it ok to temporarily give up your front seat. And you can curl up in the back with a blanket for a snooze. Purely for safety reasons, obviously.

4. Embrace the Dad Joke
This is a variation on the "How much longer?" point above, but it's very important to support your partner's bad jokes when confined to a car for hours on end. Laugh even. "Just finding a park" was my husband's preferred joke recently, for an entire one month road trip.

Enormous stretches of empty road and barren desert as far as you could see in every direction? "Just finding a park." A windy gravel road and nothing but forest surrounding us? "Just finding a park." 6 lanes of stressful spaghetti lane highway traffic? "Just finding a park." (Albeit through gritted teeth.)

It will not appease any bored/hungry/squabbling kids, but joking and laughing will give you the briefest moment of feeling extremely virtuous and that you possess incredible parenting skills. Why? Because you didn't lose your temper, you didn't threaten to kick everyone out of the car and tell them they can WALK the next 100km. You calmly enjoyed a joke – who cares if it's not funny? A chorus of groaning is better than a cacophony complaining.

Full disclosure: An extra bonus of this approach is the spark of emotional connection with your other half as you parent together as a team. Because the kids will hate you both (and the joke). Around-the-clock family holidaying usually means that is as close as you will get as a couple. Enjoy it.

road trip kids family travel vanlife unicorns funny humour
Keeping it healthy - the humour at least

5. Bring sick bags
Sick bags, sick bags, sick bags. Even if your kids can gleefully fly upside down on the fastest rollercoaster without so much as an epiglottis quiver, this does not mean they will not vomit at an inconvenient time.

Travel sickness isn't just about motion, it's being stuck in a car (or plane) with recirculated air, breathing other peoples' odour, perhaps glued to a screen, mindlessly eating totally inappropriate snacks. Even if the car was parked by the side of the road for 5 hours, you would feel terrible at the end of it.

A sick bag can also save your handbag from an apple core/half chewed lolly/used band-aid or other gross thing you will inevitably be handed at some point.

Full disclosure: We have had many, many, travel sickness "experiences" with kids. I cannot remember a single time when sick bags were successfully used when travelling. But I live in hope.

Despite all of the above…

Road trips are THE BEST. There is nothing quite like the excitement and anticipation that comes with loading up the car, and setting off together on an adventure. Even if you can't immediately spot it between the squabbling, complaining, squashed snacks, spilt drinks and threats of puking – you are about to make some amazing memories.

Drive safely, friends.
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Why? Because road trips with kids are always an adventure.
Your Comment
Fantastic article Kate. It's great advice and i loved the way you introduced humour into the article.
by Gayle Beveridge (score: 3|7956) 405 days ago
Great article Kate and I loved your topic.
by Amanda I (score: 2|819) 403 days ago
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