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Tips for Calm and Connected Car Trips

Photograph of a sign post in Goondiwindi showing distances to different places

Taking a road trip this Christmas/summer holiday period?

Whether it’s to join family for Christmas dinner, to visit the beach or to do something more adventurous, most of us will be on the road at some point over the next month and clocking up a few kms.

With a backseat lined with youngsters, car trips can be a special form of torture. In the car, children can fidget, fight, whinge, scream and shout, need to stop at the most inopportune times and ask the “are we there yet?” question on repeat! Our kids generally do these things when the traffic is terrible or we’re about to do a tricky manoeuvre in an unfamiliar place – ie just when we really need to concentrate!

But while little travellers are always going to have their moments, it is possible for family car trips for the most part to be a calm experience for everyone involved. And not only that, taking a road trip with your tribe can be a great time to connect as a family.

My top tips for having calm and connected car trips with your family are set out below.

They’ve been road tested by our family of five on a road trip of just a few kms length… six thousand kms in fact! See the image at the top of this post – taken in Goondiwindi, a mere 1315 kms from Melbourne!

But before we begin, a bit more about the “connected” bit…

On our six thousand km epic adventure to Noosa and back last year, not only were the days of travel to get us from point A to point B, they were also a time for reconnecting with each other. We talked, listened to music, played car games, listened to audio books and sometimes just sat in silence and looked out the window (mostly silence only ensued when the kids were asleep!)

Not one video was played or YouTube clip was streamed while we drove. And, while we’re not against our kids enjoying some TV or other visual media at other times, we were keen to make the most of our time on the road as a shared family experience. To me, videos in the car are not a together activity because they are at best limited to backseat travellers and at worst limited to only some of them and they also tend to make our kids zone out of the world around them. Children can miss out on the scenery, the conversation and other goings on in the car (our Noosa trip involved some travel through the middle of New South Wales, through country that was so different to home).

Of course, we all do what we have to at various times with our kids.  Maybe use of a video device to placate your bunch, particularly when the driving is hard, might just do the trick for you. But for other parts of the journey, consider using the time to connect as a family.

In my view, audio books are in a different league to videos (and as such they are a feature of my tips below). Audio books can be enjoyed together as a family if played through the car. They also allow everyone to continue to engage with their surrounds.

Top Tips for Calm and Connected Car Trips with your Kids

  1. Pack a water bottle for each family member – it helps to keep everyone comfortable and hydrated.
  2. Have snacks ready – is a child ever as hungry as when they are in the car?  If you’re on an adventure like we were last year, having food with us was essential because we couldn’t rely on food being available where we needed to stop.
  3. Chat about what you can see and what experiences you have had and you have coming up. As a family, we’re practicing gratefulness at the dinner table. I’d like to keep this up over the Christmas and holiday period and I think our time in the car will be perfect for this. Ask on a daily basis: (1) what each member of the family is grateful for (yes, Mum and Dad too); (2) who they are grateful for; and, (3) what they are looking forward to on holidays/on the next day, etc.
  4. Top up your music playlist. Maybe think about the lyrics of your fav titles before adding them to your road trip playlist though – we made the mistake of adding Dido’s “Don’t Leave Home” song to our list last year. It played so much that our kids could recite some of the words. Not so good – it’s a song about drug addiction!
  5. Download a selection of audiobooks. While there are paid subscription services, you may be able to access some fantastic titles for free using your library membership. Our boys are right into the Zac Power collection of books by H.I. Larry and even Damien and I appreciate their suspenseful plots. There are classics too like some Enid Blyton books on my library’s list.
  6. Take breaks at sensible intervals.  Don’t push through if everyone’s comfortable without having another stop close that you can pull into. We got caught with this a couple of times and it resulted in frazzled children (and frazzled adults)!
  7. Have some fun car games up your sleeve for when the scenery gets a bit same-same, the kids get a bit restless or you need a change of pace. I like spoken games for car trips to manage the risk of car sickness. I also prefer games that don’t require resources – because they can get lost under seats!

Games for Calm and Connected Car Trips

The short slide show below includes some ideas for car games suitable for pre-school and primary school children. There are some classics that I am sure you have heard of, and maybe a few new ones too. Adapt as necessary to your children’s interests and capabilities. Of course our Miss Gubby is too young (18 months) to get involved in a lot of the games that suit our boys. That said, however, she loves to join in the laughter and fun!

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2 thoughts on “Tips for Calm and Connected Car Trips

  1. Great tips Lauren. We do an 11hr round trip a few times a year and it sounds pretty similar to your trip. We never use screens in the car. For us if we used a screen on a long trip, the kids would want it just popping to the shops. The only exception is flying. One game we really enjoy is a scavenger hunt. A printed list on a clipboard with a pen attached by string (so it doesn’t go under the seat). Tick off the items as you spot them.
    Keep doing what you’re doing Lauren.
    Sarah xxx

    1. Oh the clipboard with pen attached idea is great – saves a child feeling distressed when they drop it (and mum or dad having to reach behind the seat to try to find it)! I agree, flying is in a different category. You’re not only catering for your own children when you fly, but the whole cabin and crew around you! And in my experience some people can be pretty quick to react when there’s a kid who’s a bit too noisy.
      Happy travels this Christmas and holiday period Sarah. Lauren xx

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