Long car rides can be educational and entertaining for some, but let’s face it, the prospect of travelling with children can be daunting. Children bore easily and it can be difficult to keep them entertained the whole time. There are many ways to keep calm on the road with a car full of kids.
Depending on the age of your child, not all these suggestions will work. For example, a movie won’t hold the attention of a toddler the way it would a five- or six-year-old. Younger children may be easier, as a nap is far more likely to occur. Older children might put on their headphones and ignore you for the whole trip, which is a challenge in itself. Hopefully you can find some tips here to make that long car trip bearable for all ages.
GET A GOOD START
A good night’s sleep is definitely important for the driver, but it’s also essential for junior passengers. Tired kids are cranky kids and there’s nothing worse in a long car ride than grumpy children. Make sure the whole family is well rested the night before the big trip.
It’s essential that you check your car seats and ensure that everything is safe and legal before the big trip. Check that straps are firm on the children and that no little arm can slip out of the seatbelt restraint. Having a child loose in the car while in a 100km zone would be a nightmare.
Before a long trip, it’s also a good time to check the car generally. Ensure your spare tyre is ready to go and that the others are at the right pressure. If you’re taking the Big Lap, it is worth having the car serviced before you leave.
SPOTTO FUN AND GAMES
Many moons ago, my parents used to go to the RACV for ‘spotto’ games for a long trip. Those days are long gone, but the idea still holds. Children love looking out the window and watching the city landscape gradually change to rural. There’s nothing wrong with reinventing the spotto game by making your own lists. Put some wildcards in there and really make it a challenge!
Other car games, while old-fashioned, remain popular for a reason. While not a long-term time filler, games like ‘I spy’ are great to crack out when the boredom first hits. ‘I spy’ only lasts so long, so consider other games, like going through the alphabet and thinking of themed answers (e.g., fruits beginning with a, b and so on). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with screens on a long trip, but there’s also nothing wrong with good old-fashioned family fun.
It goes without saying that electronics play a huge part in keeping kids entertained. Kids can play games on their devices or even watch a movie. Beware though, while screens work for a time, they’re not a permanent solution.
Depending on their age, kids often get bored after an hour or so, so it’s good to break up screen time with other entertainment. It’s a great idea to take headphones for each child if they are watching different devices — they are a definite argument saver!
This suggestion is great for the driver as well as the junior passengers. Regular breaks allow the kids to stretch their legs, go to the toilet and break up the boredom of a long car ride. If the children are babies or toddlers, this also works well for regular changes and feeds.
If you’re wanting to stick to a budget, plan out your break stops so that you can use free parks and picnic tables. This will give the kids a chance to play and ensure that you aren’t tempted to stop in at a roadhouse for lunch or snacks.
If you have more than two children, consider changing the seating arrangements after each break to save on the arguments over who gets the middle seat. Let’s face it, the window seats are the winners!
Caravanning is excellent fun, but it’s also educational. As you drive, take the time to explain the things around you. Draw your children’s attention to sights on the road or passing by. This is also a great opportunity to discuss the holiday location and talk about its sights, history and so on.
CREATE A COUNTDOWN
Kids love countdowns, and it’s a great way to represent the trip visually so little ones can gain a sense of time. Put up some numbers on the back of your car seat to represent each hour of the trip. Then, when each hour is over, the children can pull the number down. For each hour of the trip, have a new activity planned. For example, at hour two, pull out some new colouring books. Hour three may be electronics hour, while hour four might be car games. With any luck, hour five will be a nap!
TRAVELLING WITH TOYS
This one is tricky because we all know how precious space is when packing for a holiday, particularly for a long trip. While toys may seem like a burden at the time of packing, remember they will help keep the kids entertained beyond just the car ride. During inclement weather at the camp site, the toys will come in handy. Comfort toys are particularly important to pack, especially if they encourage the little ones to take a nap along the way.
TIME FOR A CHAT
Another great way to pass the time is with a good old-fashioned chat. Talk about anything, past holidays, your destination, family — whatever you feel like. If you find you need cues, The Art of Children’s Conversation is a great series of cards containing conversation cues appropriate for children.
Music can be enjoyed by all ages. Sure, ‘Baby Shark’ and other related tunes might be annoying, but they’re likely to keep the small ones entertained for some time. Older kids might prefer to listen to their own music with headphones. Either way, music soothes the savage beast!
PACK CAR SNACKS
Kids love snacking and it seems to almost count as an ‘activity’ for them. To keep things light in the car and break up the car ride, consider taking some healthy snacks for along the way. If it’s a particularly long trip, some treats might come in handy too. Snacking regularly will prevent unplanned splurges at roadhouses and rest stops, which will help the camping budget.
BOOKS AND BUSY WORK
Young children love sticker books. What better way to keep them entertained than by providing sticker books? Depending on where you are travelling, you can keep the sticker books to a theme. For example, if your holiday destination is likely to have kangaroos and emus, an Australian animal sticker book would be a great way to introduce them to the theme. Colouring books are another great idea for long trips. Another good tip is to take a tray or cookie sheet for each child in the car. This will give them a steady surface to work on. Story books are also a great way to keep children of reading age entertained. Beware though, some children find that reading in the car causes travel sickness. If your little one is prone to carsickness, consider taking some audio books that are appropriate for their age.
The best-case scenario, especially for young children, is that they may fall asleep on the way. Snoozes are a blessing to drivers and adult passengers! Enjoy the peace and continue to make your way safely to your destination. Don’t be tempted to travel above the speed limit in order to make it to your destination faster simply because you now have some peace in the car.
When packing for a trip, most people overpack, especially when you have little people insisting they bring every toy they own. However tempting it may be, ensure that you leave the backseat for humans only and perhaps some of their toys. Packing extras into the backseat can make it difficult for passengers to get comfortable and will definitely not be conducive to napping.
Above all, just be patient. Children bore easily and find long times sitting challenging. The choruses of ‘are we there yet’ and ‘I’m bored’ are frustrating but the destination will be well worth the trip. This is how memories are made! One day, when they’re all grown up, you’ll wish you had the chance to take just one more trip with them.
So that’s it — our list of ideas to help keep children entertained on long trips. Of course, kids will always be kids so you may have to create some new ways to stop the chorus of "Are we there yets?", but overall, have fun and stay safe.