By Jeremy Rochow
Published: Tuesday, January 5, 2021
When I was a child, my brother, sister and I would cram in the back seat of our parents’ red Nissan Pintara and drive for hours across the country.
While it was exciting to go on a family holiday, after a while, the bickering would begin.
Mum would then turn around with a stern look on her face that said don’t make us pull the car over and tell us to quieten down so Dad could focus on the road.
Now, the role’s reversed and I’m sitting in the driver’s seat. Recently my wife, 6-month-old daughter Heidi and I made the 3-hour drive from Adelaide to Renmark – our first road trip as a family.
We planned ahead and took plenty of breaks along the way, but there were still some challenging moments.
Between Waikerie and Blanchetown, Heidi started getting restless in her child restraint and began crying. For the next 45 minutes, we sung If you’re happy and you know it to fight off the waterworks, before stopping at the Barossa for a break.
Many parents have experienced similar situations while driving with their children. While some hiccups along the way are inevitable, there are a few things you can do to make the journey more enjoyable.
1. Plan ahead
The secret to a successful road trip with children is planning. Make sure you take plenty of breaks and don’t try to go too far in one stretch. Babies shouldn’t sit in their child seat for longer than 2 hours, while older kids can sit for longer.
When driving from Adelaide to Renmark child-free, I allow about 3 hours. But with Heidi in the car, we gave ourselves about 4 and-a-half hours to drive the 260km. As a rule, you should always allow extra time to get to your destination when you’re driving with kids. You don’t want to put pressure on yourself.
2. Double check your child seats
Nobody wants to be checking their child restraint is installed properly while pulled over on the side of the highway with cars whizzing by at 110km/h.
To avoid dangerous situations like this, check your child’s car seat fits them properly and is installed correctly. If you’re concerned, RAA members can contact the RAA Safety Centre for advice.
3. Choose your rest stops carefully
Speaking of taking plenty of breaks, you need to choose your rest stops carefully because they’re not all equal.
After all, you don’t want to stop at a dusty truck stop where there’s nowhere for the children to play.
Even if it’s a 5 or 10-minute detour off the highway, try to stop where there’s a park or playground so the kids can stretch their legs and burn off some energy.
4. Be flexible
While having a well-planned itinerary is great, don’t be afraid to be flexible and get off the beaten track from time to time.
Whether you’re thinking of visiting one of Australia’s big monuments or a wacky museum, don’t be afraid to do something different. Sometimes it’s the hidden roadside gems that create family memories.
A few spontaneous stops along the way can really take the edge off a long road trip.
5. BYO snacks
While it’s good to treat yourself and visit one of South Australia’s many great bakeries, you don’t want to frequent them too often.
Instead, pack healthy snacks, sandwiches, and drinks. Go easy on the sugar and anything that can spill. Try to avoid roadhouses and the temptation to stock up on sweet treats.
6. Don’t rely on electronics
Screens offer short-term entertainment but just like any other amusement, children can quickly tire of them.
Alongside your electronics, pack some travel games, colouring-in books and other toys that can safely be used in the back of a car.
If you’re travelling with multiple kids, don’t even think about asking them to share. Let each child have his or her own bag of things to play with. This will reduce the chance of arguments.
7. Avoid driving at night
Driving at night while the kids sleep might sound like a good way to get some peace and quiet, but you’ll just end up tired the next day while they’re full of beans.
Driving in the dark, when you’re supposed to be asleep, can increase your risk of fatigue. You’re also more likely to encounter wildlife, so it’s best you sleep at night and drive during the day.