Eight mums (and one dad) share their fail-proof tips for travelling with children, be they babies or primary-schoolers.
- Must bring healthy snacks and water: you can't go wrong with food on the go.
- Toy or book to keep them occupied for a little.
- Talk to them.
- Count trucks.
Rachel L A
Growing up, my family used to take an 8–10-hour car trip each year. I loved to read so between that, snacking, chatting with my older brother and making a makeshift bed on the floor of the car (which would be a big no-no nowadays), I managed to survive the long hauls.
When our kids were young, we used to do long road trips or four-wheel drive trips with several other families. Each car had a two-way radio installed so we all used to talk to each other, including the kids who loved it. Over time, this evolved into telling jokes. Eventually, we would come prepared with joke books on hand. I was talking about this with my girls the other day and they have many loved memories from these trips.
- Take activities (pencils, colouring books, books to read, stickers, puzzles). I put together an activity pack for each of my kids.
- Take music and stories (audio books) to listen to through your listening device.
- Work out how many stops you might need and how regular, then plan them out before you leave. If you can, try to plan toilet stops. We strategically give water, then plan to stop 40 minutes later. It actually helps lessen the stops on a long drive.
- That saying, be generous with your stops so the kids can stretch their legs and stay happier from some activity!
- As the kids get older, we are able to travel for longer stretches with less stops but a trip is a bit boring if you just travel from A to B, so explore a bit.
- We usually save a movie on the iPad for towards the end of the trip, just to get us all over the line when the kids are at their most “Are we there yet?” stage.
Don’t do it, but if you have to, then pack some fun things for the kids to do: favourite songs and DVDs, and if travelling by car, have a very big pillow between them as this stops the fighting in the back seat.
I couldn’t really remember anything Mum or Dad did for us as kids, so I asked Mum:
- Do not give kids any medication to make them sleepy. In some children, it may have the opposite effect. Kids will drop naturally when they are tired and sleep better.
- If driving with younger children, make frequent stops in parks and playgrounds. This may mean re-planning the trip.
I can actually remember making frequent road trip stops for playgrounds and parks and bathroom breaks—a lot of them. At the time I thought it was just part of the trip, but I guess they did it to keep us happy! I also remember flying being a breeze—we were always entertained, warm and fed.
I remember one thing my parents used to do to reclaim sanity on long road trips was to play the Silent Game with my two younger sisters and I: whoever could stay quiet the longest would get a prize (usually an ice-cream). Once, we were driving from Sydney to Brisbane and stayed quiet for nearly half the trip while I stuck pieces of gum to my sister’s face and tried not to laugh. It is one of my weirdest and most hilarious memories from when I was a kid.
Another thing that kept us super-entertained as kids was a game where you write a short story, but leave blanks for nouns, verbs and adjectives and fill in the blanks with funny words. That always left us in stitches!
For long road trips, the trick is to start at about 3 am. Have the car packed and ready the night before and carry the (hopefully still sleeping) children into their carseats in their pyjamas, pillows and blankets. Then drive until a breakfast or fuel stop at 7 am or so—that’s four hours uninterrupted travelling time that the kids (and the wife!) didn’t notice because they were fast asleep for most of it. After that you just have to accept that you will be stopping every couple of hours to visit the toilet, change a nappy, clean up vomit or whatever—regular stops are better for driver fatigue anyway and if you combine them with interesting locations the journey will be more memorable for some good reasons too!
Then there’s I Spy, audio books or (the final admission of defeat) the guaranteed dazing effect of flickering electronic screens. Get power cables that you can plug into the cigarette lighter sockets or you’ll be sorry during the difficult, cabin-fevered final two hours of the trip!
- Write (and save) a list of basic must-brings.
- Have spare clothes for you and baby within easy reach. Don’t forget their pyjamas as well if the trip involves them travelling after their bedtime. That means the back seat of the car or in your carry-on bag on the plane.
- Bring some small and light toys. Hide them a month before you’re travelling so they’re a novelty when you pull them out on the trip.
- Don’t leave home without the children’s Panadol and Fess Little Noses. If you do they will invariably get a fever and a runny nose on the trip.