9 tips for enjoying a family road trip

January 11 | Guest post by Lexi
By: Derek SwansonCC BY 2.0

We just finished most of the holiday season, so some of you may have survived your latest family road trip barely intact. It's summer in Australia, so plenty of us are gearing up for another trip soon — and if you're getting ready for road tripping with your smalls, I've got some ideas to keep them occupied. I've had my fair share of road tripping with kids — with or without my partner Matt — and it can be tricky. But over the years I've figured out what works and what doesn't, and what's absolutely imperative:

  1. If you can, rent a swanky ride: we once drove a Toyota Prado to Thredbo for for a weekend. What I really, really loved about that car was: the DVD player, the built-in fridge, and the sunroof (so we could watch the snow falling). The novelty of that roof — I loved it. The DVD player was a nice touch to while away the six hour drive — we usually travel more modestly. The fridge was pretty darn awesome to keep our drinks cool — but that's a no-brainer.
  2. Stock up on paper goods: Go directly to Daiso (or your equivalent dollar shop), and jump start your roadtrip with some cheap and cheerful stickers and colouring books. I like to have a new colouring book, or doodling book ready for ready for when the smalls get in the car. They dig it too, and it buys us a little bit of quiet time in the car. Leave the scissors, glitter and glue stick at home. I am speaking from experience.
  3. Bring music: Pack Justine Clarke, or any kids CD that your kids love. Our favourite is Justine, but we're also getting into audio books — and Roald Dahl is a goodie. We also like to bust out a bit of Gaga for a sing-a-long. Sure to induce eye-rolling from your partner.
  4. Keep the car games simple: There are only so many games of eye-spy I can come to, so set up some kind of simple points system for spotting yellow cars. Or green cars. Or whatever it is your kids want to spot. We can get kind of competitive. And this game can go on for hours.
  5. Take a break: Not only is it imperative for the driver, but everyone is rewarded by a quick pit stop. Stretch your legs, stop somewhere with a park, let the smalls run around for a little while and enjoy the trip rather than rushing hither and thither.
  6. Encourage sleep: I pack small blankets and cuddle toys — and tell the kids that the trip will go muuuuch faster if they have a little nap. Silence is so, so sweet.
  7. Charge your batteries: my partner has aNintendo DSi and I encourage him to charge the batteries — and bring some games for our kiddo.
  8. Bring snacks: Well it's not a roadtrip until someone cracks open the snacks. I'm into packing lollies, water, fruit (I cut up some apples), rice crackers, and some nuts. Mix things up — pack a snack pack for each of your kids — and take some spare containers. I like to think it keeps the back of the car a little cleaner. Well. I like to think it.
  9. Talk to each other: We always have good conversations when we're driving long distances and the only distractions are the occasional cow or kangaroo. It's a good time to catch up on what everyone's up to, what everyone's excited about and what everyone wants to do when you reach your destination.

I'm obviously an advocate of the family road trip: if you're going on one this summer — please drive carefully. What are your favorite road trips you've taken as a family?

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  1. When I took a 2 and 3 year old on a 4 hour car trip we made a special behavior reward chart just for the car.
    It had a traffic light on it (green for good behavior, yellow for a warning and red for unacceptable behavior) and the children's faces on clips that could be moved next to each light.
    We all started on the green light and if after 1 hour they were still showing good green light behavior (or yellow) they could choose a treat from the special car treats bag.
    This was just a brown paper bag filled with dollar store junk that the children were VERY excited for!
    We reset the traffic light chart after the rewards had been given out and then the next hour of the journey began!!

    5 agree
  2. "The only distractions are the occasional cow or kangaroo"????
    I must try road-tripping in Australia!

    And these are awesome tips. Renting a swanky ride will make any road trip better.

    13 agree
    • Depends on where you're driving. We've also seen large snakes, many sheep, goats, emu, echidna, brolga, eagles, and several other interesting creatures. No drop bears spotted on our trips yet though, sneaky things.

      14 agree
      • We often see lyrebirds and wombats crossing the road – but also have had no luck spotting any drop bears. Little ninjas they are: don't know they're there until they are on top of you!

  3. I second the audio books. I actually will only listen to young adult books on tape because I don't typically grasp an 'adult' story when hearing it. So I use my long, long drives to visit my SO and family as an excuse to re-'read' my favorite books from childhood.

    Another game you can play with elementary aged kids are licence plate games. We used to tally all the different states there were (my parents printed up a little booklet that just had the outline of each state, so we had to know what utah actually looked like to tag it). We also used to play a game where you'd have to determine the word/common phrase that uses all the letters in the right order.

    For example, the licence plate "5ETN42" would give you things like "rETiNa"

    2 agree
    • Oh I was going to suggest this! I play a similar game, but sentences/phrases. So 5ETN42 would be "Elephants take naps" "Eyes tingle never" It's supposed to be funny

      3 agree
      • I do this with my dad, but we make up imaginary descriptions of the driver, like Egocentric Tattletale Nerd

        10 agree
    • Yes to audiobooks! On roadtrips as a kid, we used to listen to books on tape to keep the 6 of us kids pacified. I think we listened to every dead dog story available (Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows…) because my mom preferred "wholesome" classics over fantasy or adventure books. However, one time I did convince my mom (in the passenger seat) to read The BFG aloud for a change of pace.
      Nowadays, I have no kids of my own, but I still listen to audiobooks during my commute. I am a shameless fan of the Bloody Jack series by LA Meyer, narrated by the FANTASTIC Katherine Kellgren. These are good for teens and adults, but may be pretty scary, violent, and even sexual at times for young children.

  4. My dad introduced the "white horse" game. You got points for spotting white horses on your side of the road. Only white horses and spots do not count. Obviously this is for major cross-country road trips. We did a lot of those.

    Also, rules about singing in the car need to be established. When I was a teenager, I learned the value of ear phones. Not just giving me some pretend privacy from my parents, but also helping with nausea since I couldn't read in the car otherwise and I'm a total book worm. The only thing is that I tended to sing along with my music without thinking. My parents just considered it an impromptu concert but others wouldn't have enjoyed it. And sometimes you want to listen to music without singing along.

    Lap tables and trays are awesome, especially if they have an edge to prevent colouring implements from disappearing. Our old van actually had a table you could pop in that my dad had modified and it was perfect, but there are tons of trays you can use now.

    2 agree
  5. When I was about 10 (way back in the early 80s, before books on tape, or even widespread seatbelt use), my mom took my little brother, 2 of my cousins, a family friend, and me on a long distance road trip (Arizona to eastern Canada). The friend's mom was so fabulous to gift us a box of index cards, each with some sort of activity described on it – a lot of I-spy games, and I can't remember what else. Every time we got bored, mom would tell us to pull out a card. I'm sure that box of cards kept her sane on that trip – great gift for anyone you know going on a long road trip with kids!

    2 agree
  6. My mom scoured the library for radio dramas, comedy CDs, and retro radio recordings from the 40s or 50s – the kind that had ladies singing commercials for the toothpaste sponsor at each commercial break. Some were duds, but we found some good ones that kept us all engaged. :)

    1 agrees
  7. Very timely, as we're going on a a 5 hour road trip next weekend. My problem is more car sickness though, since my 3 year old refuses to take gravol. She's even wised up to us spiking juice with it, so now the only way it's happening is with an excessive amount of force that I'm just not cool with using.
    All this is to say, reply to me if anyone knows of any non medicinal solutions for motion sickness.

    • Sea bands, ginger candies, anything that works for a pregnant lady. I'd start with the Sea bands and call them "special car bracelets" or something. They use acupressure and I lived in throughout my first trimester.

      4 agree
      • Might be fun to decorate the sea bands with fabric paint and plastic gems or something to make them more appealing to wear. I'm not sure if they make them small enough to fit a three year old though.

        Another suggestion (if you haven't done this already) is to have her look out the window, instead of playing with a game or coloring book or something. I know a lot of people (including myself) that tend to get carsick only when reading or doing something similar.

        3 agree
      • Ginger tablets- nature's own does some branded as "travel well" and I am sure that some other brands will have them as well. They are just ginger- but work so much better than eating ginger lollies/pickles/candies/whatever.

        1 agrees
      • Yes to the sea bands, and it doesn't hurt for someone who DOESN'T get motion sick to wear them, either, so other kids and even the parents can wear them too so the sick child doesn't feel especially put-upon.

        Also, candied ginger is pretty spicy, but very sweet and delicious and it's CANDY! :)

  8. We play the "animal game". You get one point per non-human mammal you spot. Fields of mammals count as one. Fences separate fields though allowing for more points. I still randomly call out "cow" when I drive.

    4 agree
  9. My baby is only a year old, so we're not quite at the entertainment and games level of road-tripping just yet, but I thought I would add my rules for getting through a car trip while pregnant:

    1. Cooler full of whatever snacks I could handle, using frozen water bottles as ice.
    2. Plastic bucket lined with plastic bags for occasional puking.
    3. Non-scented baby wipes for cleaning up after occasional puking, and other grimy situations.
    4. Eye mask and neck pillow.
    5. Small vials of essentials oils-I like lavendar and peppermint.
    6. Any other travel essentials (books, ipod, whatever)
    7. Plenty of pee and stretch breaks, and a very patient partner.

    2 agree
  10. Aussie here too – we lived in Central QLD and took a lot of car trips to visit my granparents at the Sunshine Coast. One of my favourite games was The Alphabet Game, where each person has to find all the letters of the Alphabet, in order, from signs or number plates. Each letter only counts once (ie only one person can use it), and you need a witness or to be able to say what word you got your letter from. J is a particular challenge! Q was always easy because we were driving through Queensland, but it might be hard otherwise. Reading signs from the car is how my parents found out I'm shortsighted (I got a lot better at the game once I got glasses!)

    My other favourite is Person, Place, or Thing. It's a bit like 20 questions but we tend to play without a limit. The person whose turn itnis can pick something from one of the categories, real or fictional, and the other people have to ask yes or no questions to figure it out. My brother was a real smartarse with his picks, he'd always choose something like 'the female giraffe on Noah's Ark.'

    4 agree
    • We were stuck in holiday traffic coming home from a tramping trip one easter, and started doing the alphabet game as a whole group going through small towns – I think the furthest we got was Y in one town before running out of settlement…
      Loads of fun, even for 10 exhausted adults :)

      2 agree
      • I used to play the Alphabet game while driving to our cottage when I was younger. Q was actually really easy because we'd eventually pass "The Liquors Control Board of Ontario" and hit Q-U in on sign.

    • Ha, that is how I found out I needed glasses too! I got so angry when everyone else was getting all the letters before I could read them. :)

      My family does both of those games exactly the same way. :)

  11. As a kid who was taken on a lot (and I mean a lot) of road trips. The Klutz book of car games was my best friend. It has drawing pages and white board licence plate bingo and lots of little fiddly things. I grew up military so we moved across country every two or three years. The other thing that as a kid I found frustrating was the lack of variety on kids menus in restaurants. Pack interesting snacks if the road trip is more than a couple days because choosing between KD, grilled cheese, burgers, and spaghetti morning noon and night is terrible

    3 agree
  12. My brother, mother, and I drove from New Mexico to Colorado for a wedding. We did the trip at night, in my old boat of a car (it has seats so comfy they could double as couches). Us kids were in our mid-twenties, so we switched it up and told my mom a bedtime story. Then we attempted to play "I Spy" but it mostly ended up with "I spy something grey." The reply being "I don't know, is it everything?" It ended up with my brother saying "tell me a story about a plane that talks and a brewery run by monks" and "tell me a story about best friends who never knew they were best friends" and me trying to spin good tales. That was my favorite road trip.

    I also wanted to thank you for this! We're planning a trip to California to visit my father-in-law in a few months and have been scheming ways to make it easier on the kidlet (and thus, easier on us).

    1 agrees
  13. I grew up with my parents living 72 miles apart, and car trips that ranged from 2 to 6 hours depending on traffic every other weekend there and back. So, not necessarily LONG car trips usually, but definitely frequent ones.

    The game we played most of the time was a memory based game.. where, it started with "We're going to a picnic… Ana is bringing Apples." Then the next person would say, "We're going to a picnic, Ben is bringing Bananas and Ana is bringing Apples." We'd take turns and try to get through the whole alphabet. It kept us really occupied. On top of that, we eventually started adding more things to remember. So, name, food, activity. It's a lot harder than it sounds!

    I played this game when I used to work overnight for UPS scanning packages with one other person on my team. :)

    2 agree
    • I have played a dozen variations of that while growing up, and now as an adult. As a kid, it was called Grandma's Attic. "I went up to Grandma's Attic, to see what I could find. I found…" Now, my husband and I play on the way back from our trip, based on where and what we visited. "We took a trip to San Diego and we saw…" If we are going somewhere new and exciting we play on the way there AND back. On the way there, we guess what we might see.

      The other game we love is better for older kids and adults, but it's totally worth sharing. We call it The Name Game. We use the names of anyone famous (alive or dead, but real). The first person says George Washington, the next has to the use W at the beginning of the next first name. Winston Churchill. Then Christopher Reeves, etc. It entertains us for HOURS!

    • The variation that Daughter and I play of that game is "The Fellowship went on a quest, and on their quest they took…"
      You can either play it straight(A for Arrows, etc.) or get weird (A for Avocados, or whatever).

  14. We play the Initials Game:

    Choose a movie (usually Star Wars or Lord of the Rings)
    Name your initials – e.g. DS
    People guess what it could be-
    Darth Sidious?
    Clues required…
    No it's not a person….
    More clues required…..
    Death Star?
    More clues…
    Its a place…
    No guesses because you can't think of any….
    You all give up? Ha Ha! Dune Seas! ha ha!!! I win!!
    Your turn…

    Places, characters, species, objects, there is a lot of fodder for this game if you are obsessed enough

    1 agrees
  15. For long road trips, I also like to plan out a couple of 30 minutes stops at road side attractions along the way. AAA Triptiks (you can use it even if you aren't a member) will show you your route and then you can look at attractions along it which is cool.
    This past summer, we visit the Jelly Belly Factory and the Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center. They were nice chances to get out of the car and do something, but neither of them took up too much time.

  16. Some great games here! We took many road trips growing up, including 2 cross-country trips (NY to CA) and several from NY to FL. I had never even flown until college! Snacks, blankets & books were essential and made us all excited for the trip, & of course games were great to pass the time. "A my name is" was always one of our favorites: go through the alphabet and you say what your name, your spouse's name, where you live, and what you sell for a living for each letter. So A my name is Andrea, my husband's name is Arthur, we live in Annapolis, and we sell Artichokes. We liked to get creative and try to come up with the most unusual & funny names, and as we got older we still liked to play. We've added favorite drinks for the adult version.

    Road Trip Bingo is another fun one, everyone fills in blank Bingo boards with a list of items that you are likely to see (a yellow truck, a construction cone, a cow, a silo, etc.) and where the items are placed and in what order you see them determines the winner because everyone has the same items on their boards to make it fair. All you need is paper & pens, and coming up with a list of items together before you fill in your blanks is half the fun if you don't have one already.

  17. We used to play a game called My Father Owns a Store. "My father owns Walmart and in it is something that starts with a P."

    When it got really funny was when littlest brother wanted to play too. He was probably three or four at the time. And he would just wait until someone said an answer he liked and then choose that one. "My father owns a Chuck E Cheese and in it is something that starts with an A!" So we would just guess ridiculous things because he'd just pick one he liked. "Applesauce?" "Aardvarks?" "Yes! It was aardvarks!" Cracked us up every time.

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