“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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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!
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hommus, veggies and rice crackers – Cut up some carrots, celery, broccoli sticks and take along a dip of hommus. Prepare individual servings of the hummus in a plastic container for each child.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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
- 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
- Spare batteries
- Chargers for all electronics
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.
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:
- Short walks
- public parks
- Picnic spots
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:
Remember this slogan…Stop – Revive – Survive.
And if you have a little extra time, maybe try geocaching to discover hidden treasures.
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.
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.