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6 tricks for an awesome road trip with kids

Listening to the same song over and over again.

Stopping by the side of the road for an urgent pee just five minutes after you last stopped by the side of the road for an urgent pee.

Spending the entire trip twisting around to face the backseat to perform an off-the-cuff puppet show or to sing every single nursery rhyme song you know … twice!

These are just some of the joys of long-distance car travel with kids!

Even the best car journey with kids is a lot more effort than a car journey without kids. And what works for some families, won’t always work for yours. The trick is to get some good advice, give it a try and if it doesn’t work, try something new!

With that in mind, here are some tips from Bub Hub forum members to hopefully help the drive go smoothly.

6 tricks for an awesome road trip with kids

Pick the best time to drive

So, what is the best time to drive? That’s a good question and the jury is out on that one, because it depends on how long you plan to drive for and how old your children are.

Some children will sleep for half the drive if you leave early, but others will think it’s time to party at 4am. Some families swear by driving at night, others say it’s a recipe for disaster the next day when the kids are full of energy and the parents need to catch up on sleep.

Here’s some tips from our forum members.

“We have friends/family travel about 7-9 hours to visit. They usually leave about 4am so their young ones are asleep for half of it!”

“Try not to be travelling at twilight, mine always decide they’ve had enough then, no matter how long or short the trip has been by that point.”

“I’ve been told to start travelling when they are due for bedtime ie 7.30pm or very early in morning ie 4am so then they are sleep for lots of it.”

“We leave early (about 4am). This gives us time to get a lot of km done before brekkie and younger kids are still sleepy. Aim to stop driving by 3pm. This gives plenty of time to explore, walk, play and get kids tired. Otherwise you will need to sleep and kids will want to party.”

Best advice we got was NOT to travel at night. Because the kids sleep all the way while you are awake and then the next day when you want to rest the kids are wide awake and full of energy!”

“I find it best to leave an hour or two before naptime, that way when the novelty of the new toys, things to look at, etc starts to wear off, they’re sleepy. Mine always sleep much earlier than their normal nap time on a drive. Although if it’s an all-day drive, we leave immediately upon them waking, and sometimes, we will wake them at 5am to get an early start.”

“We found it easier to start really early in the morning at 7am. Then if we were done driving for the day by 4pm the kids had plenty of time to play before dinner and bed!”

Stop for breaks

Stopping for a break is an important part of any road trip—for the driver as well as the kids! Everyone needs some fresh air and to stretch their legs.

“We stop for a big play and lunch.”

“Have a good brekkie stop. Truck stops are much better value than Maccas and the meals are so big that kids are full until lunchtime. Stop for morning tea and lunch at playgrounds or parks. This is much easier if you have packed food for both breaks.”

“Definitely frequent stops! We always stop somewhere for lunch where my daughter can run around and use up some energy.”

Tips for travelling with a baby

Luckily small babies are often lulled to sleep by the car’s movement. You might have a easy trip—but be prepared to pull over anywhere for a feed!

“My daughter is 9 months and needs very little. I bring her favourite toy, and a spare for if she gets bored. But pretty much, give her one of my son’s toys and she thinks she’s found the greatest thing in the world!”

“Our first road trip with our daughter was when she was 9 months old. I hid toys in the front so when she became restless I had something ‘new’ for her to play with and we drove as much as we could during nap times.”

“My son is 8 months and we’re taking a road trip next week—it’s about a 4-5hr drive. We’ll be taking: four made-up bottles; multiple toys to entertain him; little snacks that he can eat ie: teething biscuits that keep him entertained for a while and his favourite bedtime teddy and blanket”

Tips for travelling with young children

Travelling with toddlers and older children can be tricky as they’re less likely to sleep and far more likely to protest that they’re bored!

“For the toddlers and older get a few cheap toys or old toys they haven’t seen before, wrap them like presents and you have very effective tools for those ‘OMG moments’ that you can just hand over while driving. Make sure they are within reach of you.”

“What works for us is prepping our son (2.5yrs). Like, the day before, we start saying, ‘tomorrow we are going on a big long drive to see Grandad Mike!’ Helps that we have done it a few times, so he knows what to expect.”

“I drove from 50kms south-east of Melbourne to Wagga Wagga with my two sons who were 8 months and 2 years at the time. They watched their favourite shows, listened to Wiggles songs, and played with a Magna Doodle. I also packed lots of snacks and drinks, and made sure we made a lot of stops.”

“If you have children aged 2-4 years old pack a potty! Ours were a bit modest to go behind a tree and, let’s face it, on highways that’s not always an option. It meant that when they needed to go NOW they could and not get upset.”

“The best thing to pack are snacks (preferably ones that won’t make a mess) and entertainment (preferably those that won’t disturb the driver).”

“I pack a clear, plastic container of toys that goes between my kids’ chairs. I make sure they are toys from the bottom of the toybox, preferably new ones or long forgotten ones. A couple of books, and I also have some kids shows on my phone (as well as some awesome kids apps) for when he is really getting stir crazy.”

The best snacks to pack for a drive

The key is to find snacks that aren’t too full of sugar, don’t make much mess and, ideally, take a little while to eat! Also make sure that snacks are age-appropriate and aren’t choking hazards (so cut up grapes etc) because you won’t necessarily be able to watch your children closely while eating in the car (if you’re driving or facing forward).

  • sandwiches
  • grapes (cut in half)
  • grain chips/popcorn/puffed corn
  • muesli bars
  • hard fruit
  • rice crackers
  • sultanas

The best toys to pack for a drive

If you’re looking for ideal toys to pack for a road trip with children, you’ll be wanting something that will keep the occupied for a while. Even a humble stuffed animal can open up a world of imaginary play. Look for things that don’t have a lot of small parts that can get lost—that why magnetic games are so good. And leave anything that makes an annoying noise at home, otherwise you’ll go slowly mad listening to it on repeat for seven hours.

  • Magnadoodle
  • Favourite soft toy/s
  • colouring-in books, pencils, paper
  • iPads/tablets
  • toy cars
  • magnetic board games
  • LEGO Duplo

Thanks to all the Bub Hub forum members who helped compile this guide: tormy, hakuna matata, sweetpeamummy, mummykitty, Chelleylane, mudpiecake, TinyStar, EliG, Leisam, 2darlingboys, mylittlefamily and our Facebook followers!

More useful links:

Read our tips on Flying with Babies and Young Children

Chat to parents on our forum about travelling with babies and young children

About Bub Hub

Our Bub Hub team is in the thick of the sleep deprivation, tantrums and unconditional love that comes with parenting. Plus, with the support of Mater, we have unvetted access to the minds of Australia’s leading ...

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1 Comment so far -
  • Blossom says:

    Good advice about Truckstops. I personally know some truck drivers. If there is trucks parked there you can be sure the food is good and reasonably priced. If the food standard drops word soon gets around and gradually the truckies find other suitable places.

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