The Ultimate Family Road Trip Survival Guide

“Are we there yet?”

“Not quite, we just left our driveway 10 minutes ago”.

We were barely down the road at the start of our road trip around Australia and two year old Savannah was trying to wrestle herself free of her seat belt and screaming at the top of her lungs.

But we solved that meltdown and 30,000+ kilometres later via coastal, mountainous and Outback red dusty roads, we’re still going strong (most of the time).

As a travelling family we can’t rate family road trips high enough. They’re practical, cost effective and the perfect way to grow as a family and create life-long memories.

Instead of flying from point A to point B and missing everything in between, the journey becomes just as memorable as the destination.

Family road trip tips
On the road to Cape Leveque – Western Australia

But a road trip not done right could possibly break the family bonds, rather than strengthen them. And we don’t want one bad experience preventing you from taking future trips.

I had to laugh at the road signs we kept seeing as we drove through North Queensland. Seems they have a sense of humour up there and understand what us parents go through on family road trips.

Family road trip tips

Although planning a family road trip can be a daunting task, there are strategies you can put in place so that you’ll have the best trip possible.

So pull a trick from my tips below and go create those precious moments!

Check out our tips for road tripping with kids in our video – subscribe to our channel too!

1. Plan it together

Sit down with all your family members and talk about your road trip. The best way to get your kids interested and excited is to involve them in the process. You can even call it a project. Kids love projects.

Some discussion points:

  • How many days will your trip be?
  • What types of places will you visit: beaches, mountains, big cities, small towns?
  • Do you want relaxation or adventure?
  • When will the trip start?

Grab some tourist brochures or magazines and flick threw the colourful pages. Everyone gets to choose a destination and activity they’d like to see and do. Go through the list as a family, discuss pros and cons of each destination and vote.

Then jump on your computer, or sit at the kitchen table with a big paper map and plot out your basic route with a highlighter, leaving room for flexibility.

It’s important you choose a destination and activities that suit the interests of all family members. If your kids are bored or dislike a place it’s not the recipe for a happy holiday.

Want help with planning a travel experience the whole family will love? Click the image for immediate and free access to the toolkit.

2. Pack light

One of the worst things about travel is having to pack. Even worse is the chore of unpacking, especially if you are suffering from post-holiday blues.

Try not to stress too much. Remember, you can almost certainly buy anything on the road. As they say, halve your clothes and double your budget.

Smart Clothing Choices:

  • Slip on / off shoes
  • Comfortable, loose-fitting clothes
  • Neutral colours that can be worn in multiple combinations
  • Spare change of clothes handy for the car especially for kiddies
  • swim wear
  • Rain gear

Incidentals:

  • Paper towels
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Garbage bags
  • Vomit bag
  • Spare toilet paper

Top 5 packing tips:

1. Know the weather of the destination you are visiting, which helps reduce over-packing. If possible plan your travel through one season or climate.

2. Know the activities you will be doing so you can pack appropriately. Don’t make the mistake we did and turn up to climb Australia’s highest peak in street fashion.

3. Know the types of accommodation you will be staying at. If you’re camping, you’ll need to pack a lot more equipment. If you are staying in hotels you won’t need to take things like towels, hair dryers or linen.

4. Pack your bags and then reduce by a third. Then do it again. You will always pack more than you need. Cull cull cull!

5. Don’t forget the baby wipes. Seriously, how did we ever exist before baby wipes? Keep a box handy for all those spills and messy hands and faces in the car.

We do our best to reduce clutter in our boot. In our car we have room for a few suitcases and our portable Waeco fridge/freezer plus other soft items. And on the factory fitted roof racks we have our Yakima Skybox that carries all our camping equipment.

Family road trip tips
Our Ford Territory

Read more: How to pack a suitcase efficiently

3. Food and drink

A hungry kid is a grumpy kid, much like me actually!

You may not be driving around Australia like us, but you will need plenty of water on hand. Driving and road tripping is thirsty work. You never know where the next shop will be. Bring one water bottle per person.

Have plenty of healthy snacks on hand, but throw in the odd packet of chips just to spice it up a bit. I would skip all forms of sugar. Yes. Picture your child full of sugar in the backseat of your car for six hours. Not pretty.

My kids, and me, love these chocolate nut protein balls Caz whips up before each trip. They go down great with a mug of coffee, mmm!

Chocolate Nut Protein Balls

Handy tips:

  • Have separate containers for cold food, dry food
  • Non-gooey, non-sticky snacks
  • Spare containers / zip lock bags for leftover food

Have a lunch box for each child filled with healthy snacks and sandwiches. My kids enjoy these nude lunchboxes. I no longer hear whines of “I’m hungry” every five minutes. The girls love opening the different compartments to see what they have.

12 healthy road trip snacks:

  1. Nuts – Keep the crunch without the high fat and sugar. Got nuts with peanuts, pistachios, walnuts, almonds, or seeds, such as pumpkin or sunflower. They are full of good oils and proteins and delicious too.
  2. Popcorn – Easy to prepare and fun to eat. Skip the butter and salt. Have a bag ready for each person and if you have an iPad or DVD player handy then turn on the movies and have even more road trip fun.
  3. Fruit – Choose car-friendly fruits, cut and peeled before you leave. Good choices are strawberries, blueberries, bananas, apple, mandarins, cubed watermelon, rock melon, and grapes.
  4. Hummus, veggies and rice crackers – Cut up some carrots, celery, broccoli sticks and take along a dip of hummus. Prepare individual servings of the hummus in a plastic container for each child.
  5. Trail mix – Try making your own with granola, raw nuts and seeds, and dried fruits for a basic trail mix. Give it a touch of sweetness with dark chocolate chips, or if you want something with both crunch and spice, try adding wasabi peas or spiced dried beans.
  6. Yoghurt – Throw some yoghurt in your cooler. Savannah loves yoghurt so we won’t travel without it. It can be messy so have your baby wipes handy.
  7. Sandwiches – You can’t go wrong with pre-made vegemite, cheese or peanut butter sandwiches. Avoid any toppings that will make the bread go soggy as it sits in your road trip snacks bag waiting to be eaten.
  8. Healthy chocolate brownies – It’s okay to live a little dangerously and add some sugar into the car. Your best idea is to look for a healthy low-fat option.

4. Pre-Departure Tips

Preparing Your Home

Before heading out the door, there are a few things to take care of so you can relax on your trip and leave any worries at home:

  • Schedule payment of your bills.
  • Stop your mail or have a trusted source collect it for you.
  • Clean out your fridge and cupboard of anything that may go off.
  • Leave a set of keys with someone trusted. You just never know what might happen and who might need to access your house to help you.
  • Let your bank know that you will be away and for how long. This may help prevent them from shutting down your credit card if they see charges coming through from different places.

5. Entertainment

Along with hunger and tiredness, boredom is what will send your kids a little nutty.

Keeping your kids entertained and distracted from the endless long road ahead will make for a happy car environment.

DVD Player

One of the BEST things that made our road trip with kids easier was the portable DVD player that dropped down from the roof.

Our kids don’t watch much TV and we don’t let them watch endless movies on the road, but in moderation this is our sanity saver!

On long road trips, our girls get to watch their favourite movies with their wireless headsets on and we can listen to music, podcasts or just chat without interruptions. Win-win.

We plan on buying them some more educational programs and documentaries for Christmas.

Family road trip tips

Audiobooks

There’s one problem with long drives, I can get tired of my music playlists and lets face it radio sucks – repetitive songs, constant ads, negative news bulletins and annoying DJ’s trying way too hard to be cool.

We were recently introduced to Audible, an online membership site for audiobooks. It’s hard to replace a book, but Audible is proving a worthy substitute and slotting in nicely with our long drives. And they have a great list of children’s books for all ages.

Another one is Tales2Go, a streaming service of more than 4,000 audio books to mobile devices.

Other children’s entertainment

  • Favourite toy
  • Favourite teddy for sleeping
  • Games
  • Colouring books / pencils / markers
  • Reading books
  • iPods / tablets

Other parental entertainment

  • Music – we suggest a Spotify account. Instead of buying a few albums each week via iTunes, for $12 per month I can have access to whatever music I want. And I can download them so I can listen offline. Great for us on the road.
  • DVD player/iPad/iPod/laptop
  • Headphones
  • Spare batteries
  • Camera
  • Chargers for all electronics

6. Technology

Satellite Navigation System

Do you have one? I don’t know what we did before we had ours! Probably get lost in downtown Melbourne and end up on a one-way street nearly having a head-on with a tram. Lol, that’s another story.

We’re constantly using the nav system in our Ford to get us around Australia and it has served us well, 99% of the time. It updates in real-time alerting us of traffic conditions on our route plus the trip length, duration, arrival time, nearest petrol stations, all that handy stuff.

It even tells me what time sunrise and sunset is for our destination, great for travel photographers like me.

Family road trip tips

Smartphone apps

Help make your life a little easier and FUN on the road with some apps:

  • Weather everywhere planner – check the weather as you go.
  • Road Trip – great app for tracking vehicle expenses and maintenance.
  • Shazam – Listening to the radio and want to know the name of a song or artist? Shazam identifies the music playing around you so you can download it to your Spotify account.
  • Animoto – Instead of physical scrapbooks Animoto turns your phones photo album into fun videos with music and effects. A fun way your teens can share travel memories with their friends.

7. Stop early, stop often!

Stick four people in a confined space for too long and what happens, we all go a little stir crazy. The key to keeping everyone sane and excited is to take frequent rest stops, especially if you have young kiddies like us.

You know how long your trip is, and you know your kids behaviour best, so work in stops along the way before they have complete meltdowns.

Take breaks at places where the kids, and you, can have some fun and stretch your legs:

  • Playgrounds
  • Beaches
  • Short walks
  • public parks
  • Picnic spots
Family road trip tips!
We love a picnic lunch break by the beach

You also need to leave yourself more time for the trip than you think so you don’t feel rushed and can schedule in time for sights along the way. A good rule of thumb is to split drive time and doing stuff 50/50.

We usually wouldn’t drive for any more than six hours a day. Get out and stretch the legs, grab some lunch, and freshen up every two hours.

The odd coffee goes a long way to keeping me alert too. We just loved this mobile coffee van as we were driving through Broome:

Family Road Trip tips
Family Road Trip tips

Remember this slogan…Stop – Revive – Survive.

And if you have a little extra time, maybe try geocaching to discover hidden treasures.

Have an adventurous family? Check out these cool car camping ideas

8. Spend more time in fewer places

Don’t try to go everywhere and do everything. That’s a sure recipe for burnout and budget blowout!

My number one family travel tip is always SLOW DOWN and spend more time in fewer places. Road tripping with kids can be exhausting – constant packing, unpacking and resettling every couple of days is a nightmare.

Plus when you spend more time in fewer places you can save on petrol and snatch more accommodation bargains, like stay five nights get one free.

Have a list of your absolute must-see places. Check them off the list and then give yourself lots of down time. The less you feel you have to see, the more enjoyable and stress-free for EVERYONE.

Family road trip tips
Exploring Cape Range National Park – Western Australia

9. Hitting the road

Now that most of the planning is out of the way, all that is left for you to do is pack the car and drive away.

Put your hands in the air and give a celebratory cheer. The hard yards are over and you can relax and enjoy your road trip.

Last minute tips:

  • Get a good night’s sleep the evening before departure.
  • Fill the car up with gas and your purse with cash. You don’t want to get caught in the middle of nowhere with neither.
  • All electronics are charged and spare batteries packed.
  • Share the driving with someone.
  • If it is wet or low light put your headlights on.
  • If you are driving in rural areas be very careful of wildlife at dawn and dusk.

Don’t Forget

  • Good conversation
  • Patience
  • Laughter
  • Adventurous spirit

What are your tips for surviving a family road trip?

16 thoughts on “The Ultimate Family Road Trip Survival Guide”

  1. Could I ask what size Waeco fridge/freezer you’re using? Do you wish you had bigger or smaller? And is it a fridge and freezer at the same time?

    1. Hi Cath,

      We have the 50 litre. It’s big enough to serve it’s purpose and small enough to fit in our car and carry in and out by myself fully loaded. It’s either a fridge or freezer, not both at the same time. You simply adjust the temperature to whatever you want.

  2. What a great post–definitely chock full of helpful tips. Pinning this so that I can reference it in a few months–we take lots of small road trips now with our son, but we have a big one planned and by then will have added another little one to the family!

  3. ure, we all love our gadgets, but don’t forget about classic travel games, like I Spy and the License Plate Game. Kids still love these, and they’re a great way to enjoy some screen-free time and connect as a family while hunting for letters, objects and license plates along the interstate. Mad Libs and BrainQuest cards are great to have in the car too since they teach kids about parts of speech and fun, educational facts.

    Regard’s
    http://oxter.in

  4. Having spent 5 years in a caravan travelling around Australia with my Mum and Dad and little sister, from the age of ten to 14, I can vouch that this is a fantastic guide, a really great resource, for families doing long road trips.

    We did our epic journey from 1977-81 in a Nissan Patrol without air-conditioning and no DVD player or iPhones or any tech gadgets. There was no internet and for a long time we didn’t even have a TV in the van. But to be honest, we didn’t miss it. There was just always so much to see and do every day and in the evenings we’d sit around together eating dinner – mostly barbecues – chatting about what we’d seen that day. Or we’d be so pleasantly exhausted we’d just go to bed and read.

    Mum and Dad were fantastic at keeping us amused and engaged in the car – we played good old-fashioned games like Eye-Spy and wildlife spotting (hard in Australia, so definitely kept us focused and alert), and we sang along to songs on the cassette player (remember those?): Willy Nelson’s version of On The Road became our anthem, as I imagine it has for many people.

    We ate sandwiches and thermos flasks of tea that we loved to eat at picnic tables by the side of the road. And there was always a lot of spontaneity with my father. I’ll never forget after one debilitating drive in the blistering heat through the centre of Australia, stopping to climb a high ladder of some poor farmer’s wrought iron water tank to go for a swim! It was bliss. Dad had grown up on a farm so assured us it was drinking water for the cattle and not people!

    I have to ask: how on earth did the AWD cope on the road to Cape Leveque??? That is an AWD, right? Why did you choose an AWD? I’ve always advised people doing the trips you’re doing to don’t even think about anything but a 4WD. There are so many routes and tracks that just can’t be done without an 4WD.

    1. Sorry for the essay again! I’m reliving our epic Australian journeys through your posts. Life is very different in Cambodia! 🙂

  5. Add to your checklist these basic-but-necessary items:
    – first aid kit
    – extra batteries
    – camera and film
    – flashlights
    – tissues, paper towels and wipes
    – waterless hand sanitizers
    – pillows and blankets
    – plastic bags for wet clothes or trash.

    – Regards
    http://pmisi.net/

  6. Nice posts Thanks to sharing to world
    The Traveling is the best part of the life, So Carry on all required products, gadget and more! Enjoy with your family

  7. So much helpful information here! I’ve been perusing your site for the better part of the afternoon, but I can’t help it – I appreciate how informative and thorough your articles are! We’re planning a (at least) year-long road trip through the USA with our toddler in 2018, and we are super pumped! I’ve sent this article for my husband to read and will be referring back to it as we plan and prepare!

  8. Pinning this so that I can reference it in a few months–we take lots of small road trips now with our son, but we have a big one planned and by then will have added another little one to the family!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.