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How to Prepare for a Road Trip with Small Children

Updated on April 6, 2010
Don't forget to pack the kids!
Don't forget to pack the kids!

Travelling with Small Children: Be Prepared!

'Are we there yet?' 'I need a wee!' 'I feel sick!' 'I need a very quick wee!' Does any of this sound familiar?

Small children add complications and detours to even the best planned trip. But bathroom breaks, hunger, excitability, travel sickness and boredom can all be planned for to some extent, making your family road trip more fun for everyone.

The three main factors you need to plan for are safety, comfort and interest.  Once you've got those basics down, a road trip can be fantastic for all of your family to connect with the great wide world that starts outside the door.

National Parks Road Trip: Here's Why You Should Go!

1) Safety: Getting There in One Piece

Obviously, safety is the top priority, and something you would be paying attention to with regular car maintenance and safety checks. Before a long trip, it's a good idea to check the tire air pressure, check for leaks and top up all the fluids, such as oil, coolant, transmission fluid, power steering fluid and windshield washer fluid. Travel with a spare tire and jack, and know how to use it, and travel with spares of anything your car is likely to run out of.

Before a long trip with kids, it's also worth checking that your car seats are still the appropriate size for your child's size and weight, and that safety features inside the car, such as seatbelts and window and door locks and handles are working.

Invest in good auto or campervan insurance and roadside assistance policies, especially if you are going somewhere remote, where you might need to be towed a long way if your car breaks down. A small price difference to get the better roadside assistance options can save you a lot on towing fees, so before you go, check up on what your policies provide in an emergency, and make sure you have your policy and their contact details handy.

Finally, if you are renting a car or campervan, take the time for a short test drive in a quiet area to familiarise yourself with any issues and features it has, so you don't get on the freeway and find out your kids can open the doors from the inside.

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A Road Trip with Kids - Packing the Campervan
A Road Trip with Kids - Packing the Campervan

2) Comfort: Getting There Without Starving, Throwing Up or Melting

Try to make your car or motorhome as comfortable as possible. Avoid car sickness by cleaning the inside before you go, and getting rid of smells as much as possible. Many new cars and RVs do have a plastic type of smell that can really aggravate travel sickness, so if you can't get rid of this, at least ensure that the windows work, so you can get fresh air in if necessary. If you know your child often gets travel sick, keep some water, wet wipes, a towel and a bowl within their reach.

Check that the heating and air conditioning work, and put a small blanket within reach of each child, in case it gets cold or you do much driving at night.

If you're going somewhere sunny, consider buying sunglasses for everyone and sunshades for the windows.

Pack some snacks, and put them where you can reach them, along with tissues and handy wipes. Snacks that also involve doing something (such as Baby Bels and string cheese) can keep them interested longer too, but avoid anything that will be too messy, leaky, or give them a sugar rush. Try apples, sandwiches in small bread rolls, and granola bars. Also put a water bottle within each child's reach, but not too much at once, or you will have constant bathroom breaks!

Football in national parks - better than TV :)
Football in national parks - better than TV :)

3) Planning for Fun: Are We There Yet?

Look at the map or guide books before you set out each day. Break down your trip into smaller sections than you would without kids, and find some fun and interesting places to stop and see along the way. Take the scenic routes if they are really scenic and not too twisty, but bear in mind that children are often annoyingly unimpressed by the scenery you have brought them to see!

Take the kids to the library before you go and find some audiobooks that will interest them. Short stories are a good idea, plus a long adventure story that can be broken in chapters and spread out over several days. Soothing music comes in very handy at times, while a compilation of catchy songs can keep the children entertained too.

Put aside a box of small toys for the car, perhaps with some new toys especially for your trip. Bendy and stretchy toys are great for car journeys, as well as books, mini etch-a-sketches, coloring and puzzle books. If your children are old enough to read, card games like Top Trumps can keep them occupied for a long time, but avoid too much reading if your child gets car sick.

Practise some of the games you can play with them without any props. Observational games like I Spy, guessing games like Twenty Questions, and word games like Just a Minute can all work well, depending on the ages of your children.

Best of all, take a ball or Frisbee so your kids can run off some of that energy when you stop somewhere suitable.

Finally, bear in mind that your plans may need to change, and you might not make it as far each day as you would like to. If you can break it down into short, fun sections, with alternative overnight stops and bathroom breaks with something nice to see or something fun to do, your family's road trip will be more fun for everyone.


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