Whether you’re a full time van life family, or just love dusting off the RV for a weekend away – there is nothing quite like hitting the road with your family.
A road trip has the opportunity to open up a whole world of amazing experiences that can be shared together! That’s the main reason we decided to move into a van and live the road trippin’ life. We wanted to see more, and share more, together.
However, It can also be a whole different experience, one more akin to opening up a portal straight to hell.. A special kind of hell where children scream, patience disappears, and you wonder why the hell you are doing what you’re doing. To say that long trips with kids can be hard is an understatement, but as with all challenges, there are definitely ways to overcome and make it out the other side, not just alive, but better for it.
After living and travelling on the road with our 2 year old, we had many days where we had to cover long distances. It was in this cauldron of fire that we refined these 10 super parenting tips. Each of these tips will help you survive the next long stint on the road with your kids.
1. Early bird gets the peaceful child. Leave early!
Kids love love love to get up early. It’s nuts, and it doesn’t matter how tired they were the night before, or how late they stayed up, kids will still get up super early. And not only do they wake up early, but it’s like they’ve been hit with an adrenalin dart. It’s go go go from the minute go. So you’ve got to embrace this and use it to your advantage.
Don’t waste the morning packing, preparing or planning snacks and food. Have it done the night before. You want to have to do the bare minimum before turning the ignition in the morning and getting the wheels rolling.
If you can get going early enough, the kids will be in a much better mood, and you can exit whatever place you are in before the morning traffic becomes too much of a hassle.
On our longest days of travelling in the van, we LOVED the feeling of knocking off a substantial part of the journey before lunch time. It just made the experience a whole lot less stressful to get a major chunk of the road trip done early. And, actually, if you get away early enough, when it is still early dawn, the road trip can actually feel really special. Like you’re the only people in the world. Very cool.
2. Embrace the break. It’s a good thing.
Road tripping with kids is a whole different ball game. It’s a whole different beast. No more can you just put the pedal to the metal and drive, only stopping to quickly swap drivers and maybe take a slash (aussie for piss…which is aussie for urinate). No, those days are long gone. Now breaks are going to happen often, and sometimes they will take a loooong time. So, for everyone involved, it’s best to go in expecting and planning for the worst when it comes to breaks, and then hopefully being pleasantly surprised.
Remember – kids experience the road trip differently to us. They don’t know there is a destination, they don’t understand that we need to get there by a certain time. Instead they live more in the moment, and your stress of a deadline can really ruin the whole trip for them, and consequently, for you.
Kids will get more restless than you, will need to stop for the toilet more than you, and will need to stretch their legs more than you. Also, their bladders aren’t very big, yet they still drink like fish, so this alone can mean more stops.
So, lean into the breaks, embrace them, make them fun – and remember the golden rule. No matter the break… Everyone goes to the toilet.
3. Become a snackmaster
Bring snacks… lots of snacks. You can’t have too many, seriously, cater for your trip… and then double it. You’d be surprised how fast a snack could change our 2 year old’s opinion about how much fun they were having!
We also found that there was a secret formula to the perfect snack. It had to do with the overall yumminess of the snack combined with the duration of time it takes to eat it. You want the snack to take a long time to eat, but not too long that the kids get bored. It’s a real sweet spot (excuse the pun).
Try to make sure your snacks are as healthy as possible, especially if you are driving long distances every day or every few days. You’d be surprised how easy bad habits are formed when on the road, and you don’t want to become comfortable shovelling junk food down your kids throats.
4. The aim of the game is to entertain
The busy kid is the quiet one. I think confucius said that.
Make sure you have a plan for how to entertain your children on your trip. You know your kids best, so make sure you plan for the individual child. Some kids like reading books in the car, while other kids can’t even look at them in a car without getting car sick – that reminds me… pack motion sickness bags!).
For our boy, we had a series of go-to toys and a heap of find-it books, the kind where you have to find different objects and characters in fun settings.
One of our son’s favourite toys was a pretend steering wheel. He would hold onto it and pretend to drive the van. It was gold!
5. Our view on electronics.
We don’t like to allow too much screen time for our kids. When we were travelling full time our son was 2 years old, so we kept screen time to a bare minimum. Occasionally though we would allow it, but it was worst case scenario stuff.
As our children grow older, we will keep evolving our stance on what is an acceptable time in front of a screen.
One more thing on this which we feel is important. This is to make sure you do not use screentime as a way to stop temper tantrums. This is a slippery slope, and will only make life harder for yourself later on. If your kid is tantruming, it is best to control that tantrum and then allow screentime. Do not link the two. This is harder said than done, especially when they are lighting up like the 4th of July in the van and you are quickly losing your mind. But seriously, if you reward a tantrum with screentime, you’re in for a lot more problems.
6. Bring out the classics.
I know we’re living in a brave new world of electronics, but when it comes to road trips with kids, sometimes it’s worth remembering what you played when you were a kid. Before the internet, ipads and nintendo switches. I’m talking about the classics.
Games like ‘I Spy’ can be brilliant for stimulating kids, and for getting everyone involved – which really makes it all the more enjoyable.
Here are a few classic road trip games to pull out of the hat if needed.
- The Alphabet game. Ages 4 and up – players simply attempt to find words starting with every letter of the alphabet, going in order from the letter A to Z. Anything you can see, both inside and outside the vehicle is fair game. This could be the cd player, windscreen wipers, or the billboard on the side of the road. It can be played cooperatively, or you can pit everyone against each other. Either way it’s a blast to play.
Another version of the Alphabet Game is to state words that start with the letters of the alphabet, but are all from the same category. For instance you could go around the van or car taking turns to name animals. Each person names a letter, until someone cannot, and they drop out. The last person in wins. Once you get to Z you go back to A and keep going, being sure not to repeat a name. I’ll start… A for Aardvark.
- 20 questions. Ages 6 and up. One person in the vehicle picks an object in their head, and then the rest of the car can ask up to 20 questions to find out what the object is.
- Licence Plate Party. Ages 5 and up. Simply read out the initials on the licence plate of the vehicle in front of you and then make up a sentence using the letters as the beginning of each word of the sentence.
7. Repeat after me. Don’t forget the toilet paper!
Just like the famous words of Scar in The Lion King… be prepared! You will definitely have the opportunity to teach your children the life skill known as the bush wee, and it’s somewhat more smelly sibling… the bush bog. And toilet paper is a must. Actually, we found wet wipes were the best. They’re a bit softer on kids’ bums. Make sure you pack nappy bin bags to properly dispose of the paper or wipes though – they aren’t biodegradable so pack them with you and take to a public bin when you next stop.
8. Treat nap time with the respect it deserves.
Nap time is a gift from the parenting gods, and it would be complete blasphemy not to utilise it appropriately. So, if you know your child naps at a certain time every day, then be sure to be on the road during this time! This way, they will complete their nap in the car, while you put down some serious miles.
One way to make sure this is a complete success is to plan for success. This means, stopping just prior to when you know they are due to nap. At this stop get them to go to the toilet and top them up with lunch or a snack. With their bellies full and their bladder empty they’ll drift off to nap-land that much easier.
If you find your kid doesn’t like napping in the car, then lean into that as well, and park somewhere with a little bit of a view so you can read a book or work on your laptop while they nap. Or nap with them! We (read: Larissa) enjoyed many, many midday naps alongside our son. Was she tired and in need of more sleep? No. Did she lean into the opportunity to catch a quick kip because midday naps are a totally undervalued way to pass the time as an adult? Hell yeah!
9. Let your kids be the boss and plan a stop.
Let your kids be the boss of the car, and decide why you will be stopping for the next stop. They could determine it is a snack stop, or a stop to try and find spiders, or a soccer game stop. This will then give them something to look forward to, and give them a sense of control. They will likely behave better due to this.
10. Don’t eat full meals in the car.
Back before kids, you wouldn’t think twice about going through the drive-thru lane and eating your burger one handed while keeping the odometer ticking over. Those days are in the rear view mirror now, and you need to give meal time the respect it deserves. It’s a great time to have a longer stop, go to a restaurant, or even find a nice spot for a picnic. You’ll feel more refreshed for the next stint of driving, and you’ll have made good memories too.
We absolutely LOVED doing this in the van.
We would pull over the van at a truckstop or picnic area, slide open the back door and start cooking up lunch then and there.
We’d have a leisurely time with some good music, brew a tea or make a coffee, and then after our bellies were full, we’d hit the road again. We loved it because it felt like we were doing something that no-one else could do, just pull over the vehicle and start cooking our own healthy lunch. Some of those meals on the roadside are the most memorable of our whole time in the van.
There you have it, our top 10 tips for surviving the longer road trips with kids. We hope it helps you out on your next adventure!