Top 10 tips for roadtrips with kids

The holidays are upon us and that means 3 weeks of entertaining kids which strikes fear into the heart of many a parent. One of the best alternatives to finding things to do at home for 21 days with no school is to head off on a family holiday and with the economy being what it is this doesn’t always mean flying overseas for some summer sunshine!

Fortunately we live in South Africa – the world in one country if you recall?? This means that there are an abundance of fabulous holiday destinations on our doorstep just waiting to be discovered. However sometimes these amazing places are located a few 1000 km’s away… fortunately we South Africans are partial to a good road trip and love to hit the highway.

South Africa
Europcar recently asked me to think of some tips for parents travelling with kids in the car so with that in mind I put together a list of Top 10 tips for roadtrips with kids.

1. Before you do anything cover the back seat with something – plastic sheeting or towels work well. Then add in the car seats and ensure they are fitted correctly (you might want to cover them too!!??) You WILL thank me later. I have been caught short in the past when we were not even over Sir Lowry’s and had to deal with vomit. The next 700km’s to Port Elizabeth were lovely….

2. My next piece of advice is to pack the car the night before and then aim to leave as early as possible. Ensure everyone gets to bed early the night before you leave (especially the driver). Don’t think by leaving early the kids will transition seemlessly from their bed to the car seat and carry on sleeping – they won’t! Well mine won’t. The hope is that they will and you’ll get some good road hours in before sunrise but don’t bank on it. You might have to start the silly song singing at 4am but at least you will have more time in your trip to stop frequently and you will (hopefully) arrive at your destination during daylight hours. The first rule of road trip driving with kids should read: Thou shalt never stop the car whilst the child is sleeping – just keep on going as stopping is a surefire way to make someone wake up and they will usually not be in a good mood….

3. Pack more snacks and drinks that you think you will need, and then some more. Our snack pack is usually descimated at Du Toits Kloof Tunnel so now I stash back up supplies all over the car (mostly to hide them from my husband who is the worst culprit) Even better if you can make a pre-packed box for each member of your travelling party to avoid squabbles about who has had more biltong etc. The best bets for snacks are relatively healthy ones such as dried fruit, biltong, crackers, homemade biscuits, trail-mix, cheese wedges, rice cakes, pretzels, sandwiches, apple slices, bananas, granola bars, raisins, oatees and puffed corn snacks. Avoid most fruit and yoghurt as both are too messy (plus you need a spoon for yoghurt) Juice boxes are also a nightmare – one squeeze and they spill all over the car seat – take spill-proof cups or plastic juice bottles instead or stick to drinking only water in the car… Aim for items with limited sugar and additives – being stuck in a space 2m x 2m is not pleasant when surrounded by hyperactive children, and husbands.

4. Plan your pitstops – but be prepared to stop unexpectedly often!! For children and the driver it is essential to stop every 2 hours. 4 at the most. Little kids who are used to running the equivalent of a marathon every day will need to stretch their legs and let off some steam. When you do stop, encourage everyone to get out and run around or better yet, find the petrol stations with jumping castles or kids play areas. If there is only a piece of lawn do a few races up and down – and that means you too mom! Well-exercised, fed and rested children equipped with toys are less likely to fight with each other in the car. Get the blood circulating, stock up on some snacks, take a trip to the loo, even visit an interesting place in that town and make the stops part of your journey…

5. With that being said another essential skill for road trips is: teach your kids how to squat. Children have no concept of “going to the toilet before you leave” – even if you remind them 10 times they will still need to go URGENTLY about half an hour from the last stop and 2 hours to the next. A roll of toilet paper in the cubby hole is essential and let’s just say that wet wipes are your new best friend even if you no longer have a baby in nappies!

6. Take a collection of entertainment with you, including a few new toys that you can use as a reward for good behavious! Bring out something different every 30 mins. I pack 2 bags – 1 for each child and pop these in the middle of their car seats or the seat pocket in front of them. Include cd’s with children’s music, books they can page without tearing, and books with cd’s are even better! I shove in the best loved soft toy or doll, some dinky cars, a few travel games that can be played without seeing a board by adults and kids (and that don’t start fights) such as Dino Trumps from ELC at Woolworths, an etch-a-sketch board is great, as is a colouring-in book or activity book with stickers and crayons (but these can get lost in the depths of the car…) We also invested in a portable dvd player when going on a long road trip in the past and that has saved us on many occasions. I am yet to get my hands on an i-Pad but I expect it is equally invaluable for entertaining the kids. For your sanity take some of your own music too and pop that in every so often. For all you know your kids might like it too. The most requested song in our car is always “Don’t knock it” by Kings of Leon!

7. Don’t disturb the kids unless absolutely necessary. Don’t feel like you have to be there inflight entertainment. But when the cries of “I’m Bored” begin encourage them to come up with some games. If they aren’t starting their own remind them of some old fashioned in-car games you used to play as a child such as the family favourite i-spy or the A to Z game. (Start with naming an animal that starts with an “A” and have your kids take turns listing others for the rest of the letters of the alphabet. Establish a rule that you’ll skip over “Q” and “X”!) Make a “scavenger hunt” of the trip and list a few things they should watch for such as birds of prey, old tires on the side of the road, weird sculptures or landmarks and a vintage car. Family trivia is a great way to share family history with each generation – make the questions harder as the kids get older. When you get asked “Are we there yet?,” hand over the map and ask them to figure out how much longer you’ll be on the road. A valuable life skill to learn! They might also learn a few new tricks like the one below!!

Road Trip
8. Take a well-stocked first aid and medicine box. I just invested a few rands in a lovely clear plastic box from a well-known factory shop to store all my medical supplies for home and I’m super pleased with myself as this will make all future holidays much easier – all I have to do is remember to pack the box and I’ll have every medicine I have need of with me! No more phoning the GP for a script and finding out the fax no of the pharmacy and waiting and forking out lots of cash for medicine I already have a full bottle of at home! Another helpful tip is to keep sunscreen up front with you in a reusable Ziploc bag so you can access it quickly when making a pitstop. In fact Ziploc bags are really great for packing anything that might spill and they make it easy to pull out anything you need quickly from inside a bag or behind your chair. The Brownie motto was “Be Prepared” so Brown Owl would be pleased.

9. Eliminate conflict situations. If you’re traveling with another adult and you have only one baby or toddler on board, it will help if you sit in the back to stop them from getting lonely, and then fussy. You can keep them company, offer snacks, read a story or do an activity such as a sticker book. Pack your children’s own pillows – primarily to create a barrier between squabbling siblings in the back seat but also for a soft, familiar place to rest their head. If you have a bigger car it might be a good option to put them in separate rows!

South Africa
10. Enjoy the ride. South African scenery is breathtakingly beautiful and a road trip is the best way to see all it has to offer. Choose to drive the scenic, slightly longer route if you have a choice. You’ll be amazed at what you discover along the way if you see the journey as part of your holiday and take things a bit slower. Stop at pretty places, chat to the locals, enjoy your picnic lunch at a roadside table, sample some homemade goodies at a farm stall and support the local economy – be it citrus in Citrusdal, wine in Robertson or biltong in the Karoo.

And one last tip “for the road”

When at any point you wonder to yourself (or possibly while screaming out loud) whether you have made a terrible mistake remind yourself it will all be worth it. When you’re packing 5 bags plus food, medicine, entertainment etc it can seem like it’s not…. It probably won’t be relaxing (you have kids – relaxing is only for teenagers and retirees remember!) You will have special memories that are priceless. Time together as a family having fun is worth more to your kids than anything else! If you arrive at your destination safely, with all your children intact and you are still on speaking terms with your partner, you’ve done well. Embrace the crazy and have a fantastic holiday!

For more fantastic travel tips and ideas follow the Europcar Facebook Page. They have some cool travel apps too and feature lots of info on places to see during your travels around South Africa.

images and text: Kathryn Rossiter

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Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for over 9 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

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