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Family Road Trip Survival Guide

Any parent knows the rollercoaster ride of hitting the road with tiny tots in tow! Even before you leave town a minor incident like someone touching another's foot can escalate into a major conflict in the backseat. Let's face it, enduring a ‘roadie’ with little people can put even the most zen-like patience to the ultimate test.

We've compiled a bunch of top-notch tips to turn family road trips into epic memorable adventures.

Choose your driving hours wisely

Carefully consider when to do most of your driving. It’s a good idea to pack the night before, get your little ones up super-early and pop them in the car straight in their pj’s. You may find they’ll fall back to sleep or at least take their time to wake up. Another alternative is to leave your departure time until bedtime. Bath, feed and get your babies ready for bed, and then pop them in the car. With a little good management (and good luck), they’ll sleep most of the way.

Who’s sitting where?

You may have seen the funny photos of cardboard partitions that parents have crafted to keep their children separated in the backseat. Don’t laugh too loudly, it may actually be a genius solution to avoid backseat bickering!  You may not be able to stop all the squabbling but you can do what you can to minimize a major conflict erupting over a packet of potato chips. If you have room, place a small chilly bin or cooler bag in the middle, or a container with compartments for drink bottles, snacks, toys and headphones. If you have an older child who can safely sit in the front seat, consider putting an adult in the middle seat at the back. 

Strategic Pit Stops

While planning your road trip do a little research and schedule in some entertaining, interactive stops to break up the journey. Find some playgrounds, swimming spots or pools, nature walks, great places for wildlife spotting (yes, I’m sure you can spot some seals somewhere) and fun roadside attractions. Small-town New Zealand is packed full of iconic ‘big things’. Check out the giant gumboot in Taihape, Ohakune has the big carrot, Paeroa the big L & P bottle, spot the gigantic stone fruit in Cromwell and the big bulls in Bulls!

Nutritious Munchies

Load up on wholesome goodies for the kiddos during road trips to keep them cruising along happily without any car-sickness woes or wild energy bursts! It goes without saying, but try and avoid the sugar. The last thing you need is energy highs while your little ones are strapped in their seats. Pack water in leak-proof cups and make up mini sandwiches, cubes of cheese, sliced kiwifruit and mandarins, yoghurt pouches, mini muffins and frittata. You’ll want snacks that won’t make a mess in your car, and always remember safety first…if your kiddos are still little, it’s best to avoid eating while the car is in motion, as there’s a risk of choking.

Road Trip Games

 “I-Spy with my little eye” … it’s a classic game most of us remember playing on car trips. How about throwing in some extra fun with these cool games.

Car Cricket - Each person in the car takes turns being the ‘batter’, and makes ‘runs’ by counting the cars they pass going in the opposite direction. When the flow is interrupted by anything other than a car (eg, truck, bus, motorbike, campervan), the batter is out and the next player steps up to the wicket. You can add in 4’s and 6’s - 4 runs if the car is towing a trailer, and 6 runs if it’s towing a caravan. It works best by having a time limit or a total to reach. An impartial umpire who keeps the score is also a good idea!

Car Colour Bingo -  prep for this game before you go, by drawing up a blank bingo sheet. Pop car colours you're likely to pass in the boxes where the numbers would go. The first person to find all the car colours in a line shouts BINGO to win.

Scavenger Hunt – Children love scavenger hunts! There's nothing quite as exciting as being the first to spot something. Here’s a printable to get you started or make your own based on the area in which you’re driving.

Alphabet Signs Game - Before your trip print out the entire alphabet on a sheet for each person. Starting with ‘A’, your kiddos have to look out for signs which include the specific letter they’re looking for, and write it beside that letter. 

Tunes & Tales

Children love to hear stories. If you’re not someone who gets carsick while reading, then you can read to your little ones, but it’s far easier to download some audio books before you go. Visit Audible or your local library for audio books or download Suzy & Friends from Radio New Zealand.

After you’ve finished listening to stories, take turns picking a song to play. Whether you're into Coldplay or The Wiggles, Spotify has every music taste covered. 

Digital Distractions

Once you’ve done all you can to keep your littlie’s entertained and there’s nothing left but the digital devices, then break em’ out. To get you through the last difficult hour of driving or when everything else has failed, then it just might be time for a movie (one you’ve already downloaded onto a device) or a game or two to keep the peace.

Packing Tips

Packing for holidays with little people can be a logistical nightmare. There’s an outfit for everyone for each day, shoes, sunhats, favorite toys and blankies, nappies and drink bottles, swimmers and sunshades. The list goes on, and on.  

A good way to avoid taking everything including the kitchen sink is to start with a list and keep adding to it, and then be ruthless with crossing off everything that’s either non-essential or can be purchased along the way or when you get there.

If you plan to do some regular travelling with your children, then make some careful purchases of the basic essentials you’ll need. A good quality travel cot that’s easy to put up and take down is a solid investment. Sometimes it can be more convenient to purchase an inexpensive umbrella stroller at your destination (and then donate before you leave) than it is to take your big, expensive stroller with you.

If you’re flying with your kiddos, lugging a big bulky car booster seat through airports can be a hassle. A travel booster seat is a good way of keeping your children safe but also saving on space.  Speaking of safety, if you’ve got a little one who loves to run off in any direction, then consider investing in a toddler safety harness. They’re particularly useful when travelling through airports, walking through large busy cities or where there’s lots of traffic.

Packing cubes (or cells) are an excellent way for organising clothes and essentials. If your kiddos are sharing bags, opt for packing cubes in different colours for each child. Another useful purchase is a wet bag for storing dirty clothes or wet swimmers.

Don't stress about every little detail when packing for a road trip with your family. If you happen to forget something, you can likely buy or borrow it at your destination, or simply improvise. Embrace the spontaneity, make the most of every moment, and create memories that'll last a lifetime.

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