Driving long distances with kids in the car can be a nerve-splintering experience. It can also be dangerous as accidents can happen when you’re distracted by the screams and cries of children fighting in the back seat.
Definitely not a bonding experience. But don’t despair, there are ways of keeping kids amused.
Rest stops every two hours are very important for children as well as drivers. These help to break a long journey into various stages. You should plan these driving breaks before you set off so you stop at places where there is room for the kids to run off some energy.
To make these more fun, take along a Frisbee or a soccer ball. The kids will let off steam and get some exercise which will make it easier to keep them quiet. Also, kids will be happier as they know there will be another rest stop in two hours and they’ll wait for this rather than the destination.
With older children who can read, it’s a good idea to give them a map clearly marked with rest stops. If you have the time you can also indicate various landmarks on the map. This way, they’ll be able to watch for them, and know the break is getting closer without having to ask you all the time.
Let them know that there are no toilet breaks on expressways and the reason you can’t stop. Make sure you have sick bags handy for motion sickness emergencies.
Don’t feed them up on sweets – it might help to keep them quiet for a few minutes but sugar can turn them into noisy jumping beans and you’ll wish you’d given them sultanas instead.
Fresh fruit is great as snack food but depending on which state you’re driving through, watch for fruit fly warnings – if you are found with fruit, tomatoes or avocados in the car, the fine is $200 or more in some cases.
If you intend to drive at night, take their favourite pillow and cuddly toy. They’ll feel more at home with the familiar smell and feel.
Relying on the old favourite car game ‘I spy with my little eye’ could bore children silly and often they’ll just refuse to play. Especially when there is an age difference, with older children’s 'I spy' choices, being far too hard for the littlies to solve causing backseat frustration and tears.
To successfully occupy them for the journey, the aim is to vary the games and activities. But if they are happy and quiet with what they are doing, don’t disturb them except for the rest breaks.
Popular car games include card games such as Fish (for the kids, not the driver), car bingo and magnetic board games.
For older children, reading out loud is great learning fun so don’t forget to bring along a new action-packed children’s book. Each passenger gets two pages to read and then passes it to the next person.
Other old favourites are colouring-in and puzzle books. Don’t forget to take the crayons and colouring pencils.
You can give older children a daily travel allowance to cover the cost of snacks, treats, toys and souvenirs. This will help teach them budgeting skills and soon you’ll have them thinking hard about their choices.
Hand-held computer games are my all-time favourite child pacifier. My son loves going on long journeys as he can pig out on playing without having to worry about me telling him to do his chores or to go outside and play.
In-car DVD experience
The ultimate kid pacifier is a portable car DVD players such as the Zanon, which has video inputs for video cameras and games machines such as X-Box, and its own bag and mounting straps for in-car viewing, start from $495.
For a larger screen that make it easier for back seat passengers to share viewing, Pioneer sells a complete system with 6.5-inch drop-down screens that are mounted inside the roof, but you won’t get much change from $4,000 for one of these.
Strathfield Car Radios (SCR) is an excellent port of call in your search for an in car DVD system. SCR has an XMS70DVD roof-mounted system with 7-inch screen, parental monitoring controls and MP3 playback for $999.
But if your budget is a bit like mine and the cost of your holiday was as far as it would stretch, these back seat entertainment systems are dream machines, and it’s back to Snap and Fish card games.
No matter what keeps your little passengers amused for a long time, it’s important to remember to take the two-hour physical activity breaks and to keep to a fairly strict sleep routine.