It’s not like the movies: A family drives through beautiful scenery, music playing and everybody singing along together; everyone needs the bathroom at the exact same time; and, when it’s time for lunch, they chance upon a perfectly charming restaurant.
Nope. The reality is usually quite different.
Family road trips can be long and boring. And when the kids start asking “Are we there yet?” and you’re not even out of your neighborhood, your patience will be tested. Trust me, I know.
The easy answer is, of course, to give them a screen for six hours, but they’ll probably still get bored, or the battery will run flat, or the game they want to play needs wi-fi, and your trip will end in tears. Old school is the way to go with road trips and with a little planning, your journey can be a fun and interesting part of your vacation.
Make a list of car games that the family likes to play, for example: I Spy (“I spy with my little eye, something beginning with ‘s’….”), 20 Questions (“I’m thinking of something, you’ve got 20 ‘yes or no’ questions to guess what it is”) or Guess the Tune (“Can you guess the name of the song I’m humming?”).
A quick internet search will give you loads of ideas for games, just stay away from games like Punch Buggy (“If I see a red pick-up truck first, I get to punch you in the arm.”) Yes, it is an actual game, but it won’t stay that way for long.
There are also great portable versions of games like chess or backgammon that you can take along, while magnetic games or children’s card games work well too.
You can also use game time for educational purposes: who can add up the numbers on a number plate; how many miles to the next town; or look for general knowledge or logic questions along the way for your kids to answer.
Don’t pack light, pack everything you think you might need and then some more. Snacks, lots of snacks, water (much better than juice), pillows, blankets, favorite toy, first aid kit, spare clothes, and your games. If your kids like to color or draw, pack a pencil sharpener and then pack a rubbish bag to put the shavings in.
When planning a family road trip to the desert country of Namibia in Southern Africa, we were advised to pack at least two spare tires. We did, but we forgot to check the second spare (supplied by a tire dealer, but we still should have checked).
Flat tire number one, no problem. Flat tire number two, on a dirt road with nothing but sand in the distance, was a little more of a problem as our second spare didn’t actually fit our car. We spent a couple of hot, boring hours on the side of the road before a car came past and lent us a tire to get to the next town.
Car trouble can completely derail your road trip, so before you leave check your spare and tire changing equipment and have your car checked by a service station if you’re going a long way.
Plan the route
Know where you are going and plan how you are going to get there. Do as much research as you can about your route.
It’s fun to explore and take it as it comes when you are sans kids, but with little ones aboard, it’s best to know where the rest stops are, where you can get lunch, and if there is anything interesting along the way that you can stop at to break up the journey.
If you’re planning stops, plan them into your timing. Most importantly, explain the route to your kids before you leave. They are much less likely to get irritable if they know what to expect. Tell them how long they’ll be in the car, what you’ve planned for entertainment, what they can look out for along the way and where you’ll stop. Ask them for their input and get them on board. It makes a difference.
Some extra family road trip tips
- Don’t take unfamiliar short cuts as they’re rarely shortcuts.
- Decide who is in charge of the music. We are four in our family with four different tastes in music. We rotate who is in control of the music. Work it out before you go so there is no arguing in the confined space of your car. We even have an agreement on how many times one song can be played!
- Don’t drive tired, rather plan a stopover if you’re going far.
- If your kids are young, try leaving early hours of the morning. We regularly used to do a 14-hour drive from our home town to where our extended family lived. We’d pack the night before and pick them up out of bed and leave around 3am, then they’d be asleep the first few hours of the trip.
- If you are traveling far, a movie on a tablet is a great way for everyone to have a bit of quiet time.
And hopefully this one goes without saying… do a head count before you leave each stop!
Guest post by Samantha van Dijk