Once you’ve got a couple of kids that are older than two years old, travelling by air anywhere can be really expensive.

Even with the flash sales that pop up from time to time, with two primary school boys it’s hard to get anywhere [and back] in Australia for less than $800. That’s without adding the cost of accommodation, local car hire and eating.

Every few years we can afford a BIG holiday which includes all those things, but most times our holiday budget is pretty non-existent tight.

Introducing the Family Road Trip

Don’t turn away! This sounds like a terrifying proposition for the unseasoned. Perhaps you’re remembering your own childhood experiences and are traumatised. Which would make sense. Our family roadtrips were very basic. Nothing to do in the car. Nothing to look at along the way. Just us, the open road, a sick bag and no seatbelts. How on earth we’re still alive to tell the tale is a mystery to us all.

These days the family road trip is something we look forward to and plan to do at least a couple of times a year, because it’s so affordable. It’s also a great experience for young children to really get a sense of how big this world [and our country] is. Travelling for hours, which in kid time feels like weeks, and watching the road and landscape pass by can help bring some perspective into how vast our land is which can be hard to fathom when you travel anywhere by air. We’ve also worked out the best way to make it a success.

Plan, plan, plan

We know the route we’re going to take days before we leave and have a reasonably good idea of where we’re going to stop along the way. I usually let my kids stay up REALLY LATE the night before which results in a nap somewhere along the way. Sometimes even at the same time!

We make sure the car has been recently serviced and at the very least, check that all the motor levels are right, the tyre pressure is correct, all our lights are working properly and the brakes are in good order. We also let our parents know when we’re leaving, the approximate route we’re taking and when we’re expecting to arrive… and check in with them along the way.

If you are hiring a car for your trip, make sure you are well acquainted with it before you hit the open road.

Don’t forget, if you can, to share the driving to avoid any driver fatigue.

Leave yourself PLENTY of time

This may surprise you but… kids get bored. I know, you’re shocked. Getting bored on a road trip can result in severe whingeing and back seat fighting. Back seat fighting can result in front seat yelling and the good ole reach behind slap on the legs. None of this is good for your car zen. We have found that regular pit stops helps to ease the pain. Country town ovals, playgrounds, bakeries and even just a public toilet stop is often all that’s needed to reset the mood in the car. Stretching the legs and some fresh air does wonders for everyone. We usually pack a footy or soccer ball and will give the boys ten minutes to run off some energy if we feel the tensions building. This all means that we add a couple of extra hours [depending on the expected length of the trip] to our estimated arrival time.

Pack Strategically

The best part of driving to your holiday destination is all the room you have to pack what you need. Luggage can be piled on top of each other in the boot and there aren’t any weight restrictions. It’s an over-packer’s dream. But make sure that you have what you need for the trip IN the actual car. Don’t get caught on the side of the road unpacking your perfectly, tetris packed boot looking for a jacket ‘cause it’s suddenly dropped 10 degrees once you’ve crossed the border. We pack a box in the middle of the back seat [which doubles as a much-needed divider between the two boys] and in it we pack car snacks, drinks, tissues, wipes, ipods and headphones. The boys dress in layers and take their pillows which makes the whole trip much more comfortable.

We also have a couple of plastic bags for bins, a car charger for our phones, a roll of toilet paper for ‘those’ emergencies, camera, handtowel and antibac wipes.

Extend your drive-time

As well as having bored kids, I have the added bonus of having a husband that likes to travel as efficiently as possible. This manifests itself in the following ways: trying to push through a full bladder, watching the clock and lots of [safe] overtaking. He then HATES IT when we have had to pull in to a town along the way and he sees the cars he had previously overtaken zoom past us. Again, not good for car zen. So wherever possible, it is helpful for everyone to have some activities solely for the car to reduce the number of stops along the way.

Some great options are:

  • Magnetic travel boardgames – checkers, backgammon, chess, etc
  • Card games
  • Reading books
  • Colouring books
  • Activity books – word search, crosswords, Sudoku, mazes
  • DVDs – If you don’t have a player in your car, you can pick up a portable DVD player so cheaply and most of them come with two screens which makes life really easy.
  • Handheld electronic games – ipads, smartphones, DS etc

Now, unfortunately my kids suffer terrible motion-sickness so we don’t DO ANY OF THAT in our car. I know, it’s amazing. What we do is listen to music, sing songs, play I Spy, read the signs, calculate the distance and TALK. A lot. We also bring along audio books on an ipod which the boys listen to on their headphones. BRILLIANT. They’re quiet AND it gives mum and dad in the front seat some private time too.

Bribery

Any seasoned parent will sing the praises of well placed bribery. For us, it’s the promised trip to the golden arches. We only eat McDonalds when we are on a roadtrip so that, in itself, is exciting for our kids and we time our trip around arriving in a town that has maccas at lunch time. If the kids are being bratty in the lead up, then we don’t go there and they get a pasty instead. Funnily enough the kids are never bratty in the lead up. We also use play time – eg if they want to stop at the next playground or footy oval then they have to NOT COMPLAIN for X amount of time.

Sit back and enjoy

With the right preparation a family road trip is a lot of fun. We all really look forward to those trips now and, touch wood, haven’t had a bad one yet. Sit back and enjoy the time together, confined in a tiny space, for hours on end… nah just kidding – it really isn’t as bad as it sounds!

 

 

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