Some people think that travelling with kids is hard. Well it can be, but that shouldn’t stop you. That time with the kids is precious and can be very rewarding. The benefits far outweigh the occasional hiccup IMO. Travel helps them learn in so many different ways and teaches them social skills from making friends quickly in a caravan park, to asking shop keepers for information. Both L and I have come from families that did a lot of camping and road tripping with kids in tow. We’ve been exposed to it for many years and developed these tips based on our experiences. I’m not saying that they’ll all work, but they’re what work for us, and hopefully these tips might inspire you…
Start them early:
You don’t have to go to the extremes of my ancestors: Being carried around central Africa inside a meat safe to avoid insect bites (my grandmother) and spending two weeks travelling the Zambezi as a toddler in a canoe (My father), But our kids have been doing a regular 3 hour road trip since they were all 8 weeks old. It gives you a chance to see what works, and what doesn’t and learn about your kids. And it gets them used to being in the car, and learning how to entertain themselves, and more importantly how to be bored.
Plan to stop and stop often:
All too often I see people pushing on ‘to get there’. I know I’ve done it too! We learnt a long time ago that it’s a recipe for disaster, and really the best bit of a journey is the actual journey. Pushing on just ends up with everyone all stressed and upset, when really, stopping for 30 minutes to let everyone out usually doesn’t harm anyone. The kids can get some energy out, you get a break, and you might see something cool.
Australian towns are actually pretty well set up, and you can usually find a playground, or free BBQ’s in most places. So if you need a break, take it. Buy a coffee or a cake, support the local economy and keep your sanity.
On our Fraser trip we found that pretty much every town on the Buckett’s way had a local rest area and playground on it.
We also plan around our kids habits. When they were young and still having days sleeps, we would often leave straight after breakfast and drive for an hour, then stop for morning tea and let the kids out. Then drive and hopefully they would fall asleep. When they’d wake up we’d stop again. Usually we could 3 x 1-1.5 drives in day. So we’d only make 300-500km on some days. Though, using this approach we’ve done Gold Coast to Sydney (906km) in a day with an 7, 5 and 8 month old. Though 5 of those hours were after they’d fallen asleep at 6pm…
Now that they’re older we probably only stop for 30 mins in the morning or an hour in the middle of the day, and aim to be at camp by 3pm and can get 2-3 hours travel in before stopping. Which is probably as far as you’d want to go without switching drivers anyway but still about 600km travelled.
Plan the journey, not the destination:
As Ernest Hemingway once said: “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end”.
Yes the freeway is easy but usually its very boring for you and your passengers… So get our your map, yes, a map, and have a look at what is around on your route. SatNav’s are great but they just get you from A to B in the shortest possible time. They don’t tell you what is around the area. This is where sitting down with a coffee, a map, and your better half and Google really helps. We followed Thunderbolt’s way on our Fraser Trip and spent time searching for Capt. Thunderbolts hideouts. Of course if you need to get somewhere quick, the Freeway is awesome, unless its blocked.
iPad or not to iPad?
Ohh – the loaded question… Gone are the good old days when my parents would shove us in the back of the ute or panel van and take off, leaving us to our own devices. We’d just sit in the back and play. Yes… Once upon a time four of us travelled 2,100km from Lusaka to Durban in South Africa over 4 days in the back of my parents ute. Can’t do that any more. So what do we do now? We are definitely in the no devices camp, but I get that it may work for some. Here’s why we choose not to, and what we do instead:
Let them be bored – I think that learning how to being bored is a good skill to develop for kids. Instant gratification is so easy that we are forgetting how to do it. I often see the kids now just staring out the windows taking in the scenery, and its amazing what they notice. Our two eldest have now learnt how to deal with being bored which has been a godsend when things go wrong or traffic causes issues.
Books – We are very lucky – all our kids love books, and I’d prefer them reading and interacting with books than passively consuming films. On our recent Cundle Flat trip, J had read one of his books by the time we’d reached Gloucester so we had to stop at the local 2nd hand book store to get some more. It gave us a chance to have break and supported the local charity who ran the store. It’s also very cute to hear them reading to each other from some book of facts or other.
Activities – We do take age appropriate activity books for them to use, and when they were younger had some soft car trays over their car seats so they could play with toys, colour etc. But we also play games. i-Spy has certainly become easier now that two of them can spell… We used to play with colours before that. I Spy something blue…
Music – We love the music blaring as we drive, so CD’s or local radio is a must. We do have iPhones, so recently I have purchased a Seagate 500Mb wireless hard drive which we’ve loaded about 60GB of music and some movies. Yes, movies. (I’m not that evil – and they’re useful when you’re stuck in the tent on rainy days… ). These devices are great, they create a local wifi hot spot that you connect your device to and you can stream the content. Our one allows 3 devices to stream different content at once, so if you are using iDevices for you kids, there’s no fighting when the older ones want to watch Transformer, and the youngest wants to watch Peppa Pig. I’ll do a separate review post later.
Games – yes all the usual ones –iSpy, Making pictures from clouds, Uno, Car Cricket (The batsman looks at the registration plate of the passing car. They take the first number as the score. Keep adding consecutive numbers to your score, but any number over 6 is considered ‘Caught Out’, and a new ‘batsman’ is in).
We used to be the keepers of all thing foods, but what do kids do when they’re bored? They ask you for food…every…5…minutes… and it was driving us nuts. So to combat this we now give them a bag with all their snacks for the day and it is up to them when they eat them BUT – that’s it for the day. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. It gives them some control over the trip, and it reduces the stress levels for them and us, as we are not constantly saying “No!”so they’re not fighting withus and getting sulky.
McDonalds has a place.
Yes I’d love to buy local wherever possible to, but you know what? They’re at most major motorways stops, the toilets are usually clean, the coffee isn’t too bad and they have a playground and the kids love it. For us McD’s is a treat as a family so it kills two birds with one stone. It gives them a break and they feel special and sometimes that’s a good thing to maintain family unity… which leads me to my last tip:
All rules are made to be broken 🙂
Ultimately you have to do what works for you, and some times it takes a bit of trial and error to get there.
So what are you tips for travelling with kids? How do you maintain your sanity on those long trips?