Behaviour & Emotions

Tips for long trips


Car time can be the ultimate family time – especially when you’re heading away on holiday together. It can also be a bit intimidating for parents packing up the car and facing a long journey with children. Here are ten ways to dial up the fun and dial down the stress when travelling with the family.

1. The journey is as important as the destination

Travelling anywhere has the potential to be an enriching experience – even in a car! Yes, flying would get you to your destination much faster, but the slower pace of a road trip has its advantages. You can stop in interesting places, you can have picnics in fun playgrounds, you can look out the window and count how many horses you see… The trick to making the most of road trips is to have fun along the way. Allow plenty of time so you can enjoy going with the flow and keep ETAs just that – an estimate.

2. Get talking

Car trips are the ideal time to connect with your kids, and provide the perfect space to have some deep and meaningful conversations. Often all it takes to get a good conversation going is to have some quality questions up your sleeve. To give you a headstart, Parenting Place has created Chatter Box – a series of fantastic conversation starters. There are questions for the whole family, for teens and for couples.

3. Listen up and look out

Audio books can be helpful for entertainment. A long road trip might even get you through a whole chapter book and there are plenty out there that both adults and kids will enjoy. Some families also find podcasts they all like to listen to. Screens are obviously tempting, but our kids – and even us adults – are losing the ability to look out the window, to day dream, to use imaginations… The beauty of road-trip games like Eye Spy, Spotto and Car Cricket – they get everyone looking out the window. Looking down at screens can also cause carsickness for many travellers, which is less than fun.

4. Pitstops

Stop for regular breaks to stretch legs and get fresh air. Give kids a map and tell them where the stops will be so they can follow the journey.

5. The right toys

Some toys are great for car trips, and others are not. If they make noise or have a capacity to be used as weapon, think again. Pack a bag of little toys that you can hand out throughout the journey – surprise your kids with something ‘new’ or different to play with when they get bored. Things to doodle with, like Etch-A-Sketchs or small dry-erase boards, are also handy. Pipe cleaners are great, play dough is not. Pack a ball or frisbee for games during breaks.

6. A good supply of snacks

This should probably have been tip #1, because food is king on a road trip. Pack some non-crumbly, non-sticky food, preferably in individually-wrapped serves or in lunchboxes. Or else give them really messy food and then shout yourself one of those car-valet cleans when you get home – budget it as part of your holiday costs. Individual water bottles are good for keeping the number of toilet stops high.

7. Pack the essentials

Regardless of the age of your children, baby wipes are invaluable. So are rubbish bags and plastic ice cream containers (because sometimes you just can’t stop in time). Motion sickness is awful – eyes-on-the-road and fresh air help, but sometimes an over-the-counter remedy is just the thing for a happy trip.

8. Google it

Google facts about the towns and areas you’re travelling through, to add some interest as you discover new places together. Extra for experts – get the kids to collate their learnings into a quiz to share with people at your destination.

9. And to keep the teens on board…

Involve your teenagers in the planning of the trip, and invite them to contribute to the itinerary. Lure them with food! Give them the task of researching places to eat along the way – they can assess reviews, find their favourite cuisine and calculate mileage between ‘fuel’ stops. If there are other places of interest to them along the way, make an effort to stop – it might be a speciality shop they’ve heard of, the scene of a famous (infamous!?) event or a location from Lord of the Rings.

10. Give teenagers a job

Navigation, photography, social media documentation… all can be achieved using the devices your teens will have no doubt packed in their backpack or pockets. Reality is, it will be tricky to keep teenagers off their screens on a long road trip, and while we recommend scheduling in some screen-free time for conversation, road-trip games (you’re never too old to spot horses) or simply gazing out the window, you could also empower your teens to put their devices to good use and further engage them in the journey. Swap around who gets to ride shotgun – and the person in the front seat is responsible for navigation. Teens can also document the trip with photography and video. There’s no better way to see the holiday through your young person’s eyes than by following the journey on their Instagram or Snapchat stories!

We wish you many happy, safe kilometres of holiday driving with your kids. These really are the good old days.

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.

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