As a child I went on road trips with my Dad almost every school holiday. Squeezing into his Datsun 120Y, our trips included camping, skiing or heading to Melbourne for Christmas. In those days there were no DVDs or iPads, in fact I’m not even sure the car cassette player worked. I remember spending hours reading my Dad jokes from a joke book, singing songs or playing “I spy”. Now I’m a mother of three small children creating fun memories of our family trips. Keen to make your own fun memories? Here are some tips for happy family trips:

Use sleep times

Time your trip around nap time if your children still have day sleeps – it’ll make for much easier driving. I know many families who swear by a 4am departure, the theory (which I’ve yet to test) being that adults get a decent amount of sleep by 4am, kids will fall asleep again once in the car and you may get three hours of driving under your belt before a breakfast stop.

Break the trip

Drivers need a rest every two hours, so whether it’s a “leg stretch” or a driver swap, this is a good time to make changes for the kids too. When you’re taking a break, find a park, beach, playground etc and let the kids burn off energy for 15-30 minutes. We travel with very young children and often pre-plan stops in towns we think will offer something interesting. If just changing drivers, consider swapping kid activities – switch from a movie to games or an audio book.

Technology

My children are finally old enough to be entertained by the car DVD. Strapped to the front head rests, it’s my new best friend on long trips. iPads are another popular item for families and can be mounted on the head rests too.

Books

Some kids can read in the car and some can’t due to motion sickness. As a child I always had my nose buried in a book in the car. If you’re lucky enough to have kids who can read in the car, this is a great way to pass the time. Audio books are an alternative especially for children who are too young to read independently.

Sing-a-long

I confess to knowing every Playschool song by heart. A family sing-a-long (with or without a CD) is a fun way to spend time – it even entertains my 15 month old. It works for all ages if you know what songs they love to sing.

Games

Different games work for various ages. Our family favourites include:

• I spy – we have two versions. Our five year old plays the traditional “I spy with my little eye something that begins with …” but if our three year old plays we say “I spy with my little eye something the colour of …”. They never seem to tire of this game!

• Coloured cars – everyone picks a colour and has to spot passing cars of that colour. Simple fun but it entertains them for ages!

• Shopping game – my five year old loves this game. The idea is to create a shopping list that each person adds to while remembering correctly everything that has been said before. It goes like this … Person 1 “I went to the shops and I bought some milk”. Person 2 “I went to the shops and I bought some milk and some bread”. Person 3 “I went to the shops and I bought some milk, some bread and some chocolate”. You keep going until there is a winner. Strangely addictive!

Food is your Friend

I apply the same rules as a long haul flight.
Good car foods are: Vegemite sandwiches, apples, dried fruit, muesli bars or biscuits as they don’t make much mess. Be aware of choking hazards if travelling with children under three. I remember the first time we offered our eldest a Chupa Chup on a long trip, she was three, and we had 30 minutes of total quiet – absolute bliss!

Are we there yet?

Children have no concept of time so it means nothing to say “we have three hours to go”. A friend recently shared a travel tip with me that helps with this. She tells her children the trip is as long as a giant and they have to travel from the tip of his toes to the top of his head. When the kids ask “Are we there yet?” she answers something like “we are only up to his knees, still a long way to go”. I think this is a great visual tool which I will test out on our Melbourne to Sydney road trip this Christmas.

Like all travel, some days go well and others are just hard work but the destination is usually worth it. Happy travels!