The good news is it doesn’t have to!
Whether it is traveling to the beach, theme parks, visiting friends, relatives, national parks or cities, a road trip is often the way that most people get to experience the sites and beauty of their own country.
Road trips appeal to all ages and range from overnight stays to more extensive cross country treks. For many young families, a road trip is a convenient and cost effective vacation option. Parents are able to control the itinerary, departure and breaks, as well as arrival times. These are very important factors when you have a couple of kids in tow!
Passenger expectations, planning and the ability to cater for the unexpected, are all important aspects in making the most of road trips with your partner or family. This valuable time can be spent bonding and learning about each other; although, it will take a lot of understanding (and patience).
If you are planning a family road trip, make sure the journey is just as important as the destination. Having experienced many road trips (and survived!), here are my Top 10 Tips to help make your next adventure enjoyable for everyone.
Just like all relationships, expectations play an important part in making this holiday work. As long as two people have the same expectations, the relationship (or road trip) is a success. However, when the expectations are different, someone will end up unhappy. Be honest and truthful about what you want, as communication is the key for a successful family road trip. My idea of a road trip is about exploring all those little antique shops on country roads and taking photographs of interesting landscapes — not sitting for endless hours in a cramped, overpacked, hot car, with bored children fighting in the backseat! Be prepared to compromise.
Plan your trip before you start setting out. It can be as cheap or expensive as you like and take advantage of the different trip planning websites available.
If your children are a little older, include them in the planning process. The best road trips we did as a family, were when the kids got to choose something special in a particular town or state. Their wishes ranged from a visit to a football stadium, science and military museums, panning for gold, to a ferry ride on Sydney Harbour.
When traveling with very young children, it is advisable to drive when they are due for a nap — this way, everyone will be fresh when you arrive at your next stop.
– Have the car serviced at least two weeks in advance of the trip.
– Make sure you have a roadside assistance plan.
– Check that the GPS is working as well as paper maps with the route marked.
– Have a tool kit for any car breakdowns.
– Include a well stocked medical kit with ginger tablets for upset bellies.
– Be familiar with the territory and the weather conditions, especially if traveling in extreme heat or cold.
– Consider the road safety dangers of driving into the early morning or late afternoon sun.
– Sometimes, cell phones don’t have coverage or get lost or stolen, so make sure you have important numbers written down.
Always pack the car the night before with the majority of the luggage. Only keep out the items you will need in the morning before the trip, such a toiletries and a set of clothes. Everyone should have enough room to be comfortable, so don’t overpack the car.
When traveling in school holidays, accommodation is often hard to find, so book ahead to avoid any stressful situations. Plan two consecutive nights in the same accommodation every couple of nights. This will enable you to do some washing, rest and re-organize the luggage and car.
REGULAR STOPS & EXERCISE
On long road trips, we always try to leave home very early in the morning for two reasons. Firstly, we beat peak hour traffic and secondly, the kids in the back seat will hopefully sleep for the first few hours before a planned stop. Please understand the need for regular 2 hourly breaks when driving. There is no need for speed and if the driver is feeling tired, then stop the car and have a break. It is more important to “arrive alive, than dead on time.”
A “pit stop” should be for at least 30 minutes, where the kids can run around and let off some steam. Regular exercise is a must at the end of a day’s travel, so consider our family favorite – the late afternoon, leisurely walk.
Try to see the road trip and rest areas through your children’s eyes. Not only will you grade towns by the standard of their public bathrooms, but also child friendly parks and rest areas. Playgrounds are a great place for the kids to meet new friends for a play and they also enable parents to talk with locals and other road trippers.
Pack chopped, firm, fresh fruit, raw vegetables, trail mix, savory biscuits and plenty of cool water in child friendly water bottles. A small cool box with a frozen brick will keep snacks and sandwiches fresh and appetising. Forget the candy and sweet drinks!
BORED KIDS – TECHNOLOGY – BOOKS & GAMES
As parents, we are all familiar with the term, “Are we there yet?” Bored children will ask this question about 10 times before the car is backed out of the garage!
Attaching a “stick it note” to the car’s clock with the expected time of arrival works wonders (from personal experience). This way, your children will be able to understand how long it will be before the next break and they will also learn to tell the time.
On The Go Bingo, is a great game older IT savvy kids will love.
– Pack the movies, music, audio books or any electronic gadget your children enjoy playing with (turn the noise down). There are also lots of great game apps now available for iPhones/iPads that will keep the IT savvy kids entertained.
– A big book of games with coloring-in pages (often available at the Dollar Shop) will give some welcome quiet time. Remember to include colored crayons.
– Save up toy shopping catalogs, as kids always love dreaming about their “wish list”.
– Don’t forget the old standbys – “I Spy”, “Counting the Colored Cars” and the “Number or Licence Plate Game”.
Let the kids use their imagination and you will be surprised by their creativity. My children made up a wonderful road trip game, where they would take turns to tell a story about the adventures of their animals at home. One particular little bird hosted a party and invited all the neighbors pets — with disastrous consequences!
Also remember to pack zip-lock baggies to keep precious collections of post cards, pamphlets or small mementos safe.
DON’T FORGET THE CAMERA
Take plenty of photos. Your children will be reminded for years to come of the times they had on the family road trip. Make sure you get all the photos printed when you get home, so that you can relive the fun moments!
CATER FOR THE UNEXPECTED
Remember to “slow down”, as there definitely will be times when you will hit some “speed bumps” — car sickness, toilet stops and grumpy kids all go hand in hand with the family road trip.
Pack the sick bags, wet-wipes, a change of clothes and any medication in a small bag, which you have at your feet for easy access. Keep the air conditioning turned up and include a small blanket and neck pillow for naps for each child. Remember, road side truck stops often provide restrooms with showers for a major clean up.
Take a detour if you see something which might interest the kids. Remember, a road trip should be about the journey and not just the destination!
Best wishes for your family this holiday season.