I believe it doesn’t matter how well-travelled some families are, how many countries they have visited or how many planes they have boarded together. Some of our best family holidays include those early mornings when we load our sleeping kids in the car before sunrise to go on a good old road trip.
We get dressed and jump in the car while it is still dark out. Even though we packed the car last night, it’s still…always…a race against time. If it gets light before we’re out of town, we’ve lost the race. Since getting lots of practise, we win now more often than we lose.
The girls have gone back to sleep. Carl and I listen to the radio playing softly in the background. We are both smiling, each with our own wrapped-up anticipation of the wonder that lie ahead, waiting for us to come and explore its glory.
I also have very fond memories of the road trips we used to enjoy as children. My parents were always very good at the organisation and the planning of these trips, and since I’ve had my own bit of practise, I realise this is the secret: Always have a good plan, pack right, and make sure the kids are well entertained.
So here are a few survival tips to ensure your driving holiday creates only fond memories for you and your children. The list was compiled based on my own experience, the experience of our friends, some advice from my parents and a few pointers from the experts.
1. Midnight Rider. If you can, travel at night, as the kids would normally sleep this time anyway. The person who will be doing most of the driving can sleep during the afternoon before you leave and those who will be able to sleep in the car later can take care of the last bit of packing.
2. The Urge to Go. Let everyone go to the bathroom before you get in the car and again at each stop. If your little one is in the beginning stages of potty-training, it may relieve some stress if you rather let her travel in a nappy.
3. Get Out the Map. Look for places of interest along the way. Stopping regularly will allow you to see some of the country you are driving through and will break up the trip a bit, which will make it more comfortable and more fun. Look out for rest stops with a playground or large grassy area for running around. Some fast food restaurants at the petrol stations along our roads have playrooms for kids. Get everybody involved in the navigation and tracking of your progress on the trip. Point out landmarks and road signs and various things along the trip that can make it more exciting for the children.
4. Fun, Fun, Fun. Take toys, books, crayons, stickers and games. Print out some simple games or pages to colour in for the trip or simply use the kiddies section towards the back of this magazine for some activities. Take one or two new (or seldom-seen) toys or books for the drive. Don’t haul it out too soon. Wait until you need the magic before you pull the rabbit out of the hat. Take toys that don’t take up a lot of space, such as small books, colour-in sets and hand held toys. To avoid a war of Mine! Mine!, make sure each child has their own toys. You can even wrap the toys as it will provide additional excitement and extra time to unwrap. Play car games, for example where the object is to find things as you are driving. Toys to avoid include anything that makes noise, play-doh or anything sticky, balls and other round objects and toys made up of little bitty objects, like board games. Avoid books completely if reading in the car makes your child car sick. It’s great for the kids to have their own CD or cassette player to listen to music they like. An activity tray attached to the back of the front seat is handy on the road too.
5. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. Convenience is key. Make sure everything you’ll need while driving is within arms reach. It would be useless to pack something for the journey if you can’t get to it. If you have an overnight stay somewhere, pack everything you will all need for the night in one bag. Especially if you arrive late; you won’t feel like unpacking the whole car in the dark, trust me.
6. Let My Baby Ride. Keep a nappy, small pack of wipes, bum cream, plastic change mat, nappy disposing bag and a small toy in a separate pouch. This will make emergency nappy changing stops a lot easier to handle. A plastic change mat is important to have if you have to change your baby in a public bathroom. Always pack more nappies than you think you’ll need. Wet wipes and tissues are also good for cleaning up spills and other mess. Fragrant nappy disposing bags can be used for children who get carsick as well as for disposing of anything else smelly. They tie up to keep the contents in and the odour neutraliser does help. Take a flask with boiled water. I prefer this for my baby to bottled water purchased from a store. Measure out your formula beforehand, to make mixing on the road easier.
7. Travellin’ Light. If you have one, use a lightweight collapsible cooler. Unlike solid coolers, they don’t take up much space when they are empty.
8. Hungry Heart. Always take more than you think you’ll eat and drink. If your family is anything like my husband’s family (they are three sons), the provision will be over and done with before the first rest stop. Pack finger foods such as cheese, biscuits, biltong, sweets (healthier options include fat-free jelly babies and wine gums) and/or dried fruit. Also, let’s not kid ourselves, we all love a bit of chocolate and it’s amazing what a little piece of chocolate can do to change a three-year old’s ghastly “I’ve been in this seat for five hours, get me out of here!” mood.
9. Accidents Will Happen. Pack things like small juice cartons with straws, to avoid some unnecessary spills. Alternatively take a sippy cup or the “Rubbermaid” cups with straws.
10. I Heard It Through The Grapevine. Pack fruits that don’t need to be peeled with utensils, like apples, bananas and strawberries.
11. Cool Me Down. It is always a good idea to pack some bottled water. Freeze it the day before you leave, so it can slowly melt throughout the day, and always remain ice cold. Make sure everyone drinks plenty of fluids, especially if it’s hot. If you are a nursing mom, nurse regularly so your baby won’t get dehydrated.
12. Garbage! Remember to take small plastic bags to keep all the rubbish in and a plastic food container for unfinished meals.
13. You Can Sleep While I Drive. If possible two adults should alternate driving shifts so both can get some sleep. A tired driver can put you and your family at risk.
14. Take It Easy. Whatever you or the kids do in the car, don’t distract the driver and risk an accident.
15. Stick Shifts and Safety Belts. Make sure your vehicle is safe for driving long distances and with kids inside. Consider safety features such as air bags, anti-lock brakes and high crash protection ratings. Make sure your car has a safety belt for each child in the car and check that they can accommodate your children if they have outgrown car seats. Remember that children are always safest in the backseat of a car.
16. Stayin’ Alive. Buckle up. Make sure everyone does. This can prevent serious injury and will help you avoid traffic fines. In any seat the belt(s) should always cross over your child’s shoulder(s) and never just over the stomach.
17. Never Ever. Never hold your child on your lap while the vehicle is in motion.
18. Lock the Doors. In addition, child-proof locks, where fitted, should be engaged to prevent kids from being able to unlock the doors from the inside of the car.
19. Enjoy the journey. Don’t let yourself or your kids become worn out. If you are feeling exhausted and hot, it calls for a rest. Don’t press on just because you want to get there as soon as possible. Enjoy the journey there too; it’s what makes for a happy family trip. So pace yourself, relax and build fond memories for you and your kids that will last a lifetime.