Practical tips to make a driving holiday with children more fun
Flying is faster but driving can be fun
Flying versus Driving
Last year I decided we should drive from Melbourne to Queensland to visit the theme parks and escape the cold during our September school holidays. For those not familiar with Australian geography this was about two thousand kilometers of driving. We had about 12 days to get there and back and have some time on the Gold Coast.
I did look at flying but I think our son (then aged 6 and a half) has watched Madagascar too many times as he was adamant he would not get in a plane. Many discussions were had about the long drive versus flying and he assured me, provided we made the drive fun, he would not complain.
Cost wise it also seemed cheaper to drive then pay for three airfares and hire a car.
And so we shelved the flying idea and planned the drive.
Crash Landing Scene Madagascar 2
Preparing for the drive
Bearing in mind it was school holidays we took the route less driven, just like Frost talks about the road less traveled. This way we hoped we would minimize the stress of finding accommodation every night. We did not necessarily want to pre-book accommodation in case we did not get that far on any one day.
To make sure our young man got the most out of the trip we bought a portable DVD player, with our car not having an inbuilt one. I made sure he had all his favorite DVD's next to him so he could watch what he wanted. A set of headphones meant he could get the maximum sound value.
Then we worked out what snacks to keep on the back seat for him as well as favorite books and other little toys and coloring in books with pens.
The trick was arranging it all so he was able to reach these things with minimum fuss.
For the adults there was less preparation, other than to pack the car and make sure a water bottle was nearby to re hydrate during the drive.
But we managed and off we set. Did I mention we were taking the dog as well? We couldn't leave the standard poodle home now could we?
Places to stop
One of the important things on long drives is not to get too stuck on driving without stopping. Plenty of stops make for happier passengers. Let's face it being cooped up in a car for hours on end is not exactly fun for anyone.
We tried to make a stop every two hours or so.
Some research gave me ideas of towns that had great playgrounds, interesting things to look at and do (like a miniature train ride) as well as great places to eat.
We are very lucky to have some excellent playgrounds, particularly in country towns. With our young man also having a scooter, bike and skateboard on board, there are skate parks to explore as well as bike trails.
Activity on stops gets the muscles working, the blood flowing and puts everyone in a better frame of mind.
Our stops tended to be about fifteen to twenty minutes, with a longer one for lunch.
Finding unusual and different picnic stops was also something we all joined in and made the trip more interesting.
Shepparton Adventure Playground is one of our favorite stops
If you are a horse or dog trainer, the idea of rewarding good behavior will not be foreign to you. I am a firm believer of the reward system for all creatures, including us humans.
One of the rewards was the type of accommodation we looked for at the end of the day. A place with an indoor pool was a great incentive to ensure minimal complaining. Nothing beats playing around in water at the end of the day as well as starting with one.
Adults might need a slightly different reward system, depending on the personality type.
A nice dinner, a bottle of wine or a sweat treat all make great rewards for great passengers.
If you are the driver you can pretty much determine your own reward.
Other rewards for the younger passengers could be stickers (see how many stickers one can accumulate over the drive), a gold coin or some type of sweat treat, again depending on age and personality type.
Food as reward - yum
It pays to plan your trip, but you should be prepared to be flexible.
You may need to stop a little more often for passengers to go to the toilet. Insisting that stopping is not an option as you only stopped twenty minutes ago does nothing to make the trip a happy one. Whining passengers add stress to the drive.
Remember smaller passengers have smaller bladders.
There may be other reason to make sure you should be flexible such as:
- You see a fantastic playground in a town. You have only been driving an hour and are not due for a stop yet. Don't worry. Pull over and let everyone have a play for ten or fifteen minutes. Then get back in the car. Your next stop now might not be for another two hours. You may find that as you drive through the town you were going to stop in that its playground was terrible anyway and it was a good thing you stopped earlier.
- Your younger passengers are asleep. If that happens, take advantage and drive for as long as you can and they stay asleep. There will be times when this happens and you can take advantage of it.
Being flexible will mean you will all enjoy the drive more.
By the time you get to your destination you will already be relaxed as you made the driving part of the holiday.
Don't forget to share your experience with others. There are plenty of web sites where on can add playgrounds worth exploring and offer other tips to people traveling with kids and dogs.
Great Parks offer a place to run around
Record the trip
Another great thing to do is to get the kids to record their day in a travel diary. It does not have to be very long and can be in picture format as well.
We would at the end of the day write down the towns we stopped at, what we liked about them and which had been the best playgrounds.
It is a great thing to take to school for show and share and to go back over to relive the trip for a long time to come. A way to make the travel journal more interesting is to visit tourist information centers along the way to get brochures on the different towns and areas and cut out photos and bits of information that is interesting.