Road trips make for amazing family experiences and memories. In my family we’re known for just jumping in the car and driving for a spontaneous day out, as well as planned long road trips interstate or through the countryside.
A road trip isn’t the time to rush. Making plenty of stops is vital for safety and also, as parents around the country know, spending a little time keeping the kids happy will pay off during the long driving stretches.
Here’s how to make a rest stop work for the whole family:
Anyone on a road trip with children will attest to how difficult it is to drive past a country town’s local playground without dozens of requests to stop for a play.
Try timing meals and scheduled rests with towns likely to have playgrounds, and perhaps incorporate a picnic lunch with a play stop. If there aren’t any parks around (or if that isn’t your kids’ thing) grab a football, cricket bat or a kite, or even just have a family race on a local oval. Even a half an hour play means the kids will thank you – and you’ll be pleased you took the time to keep them happy.
It’s pretty tiring being in the same seat for an entire road trip, so if you have a long way to go you’ll need to give the navigator and music selector a break. I mean, the driver. The driver!
Seriously, the exhaustion of focusing on the road can creep up on drivers so you need to set a time limit on yourself rather than wait to feel the need to change gears from the pilot to the passenger. NRMA recommends stopping at least every two hours to avoid fatigue setting in.
If you don’t have anyone to share the driving with you’ll need to counteract the fatigue even more proactively. Some drivers are happy to take a quick power nap at rest stops, while others won’t have this option (when travelling with kids). In that case, sleep stops will mark the end of the day and a place to stay, and it’s time to get a good night’s sleep before heading off the next day.
My husband prides himself on knowing the towns with the best bakeries, his specialty being great coffee, a good pie and a donut. Whether that suits your tastebuds or you’d prefer a fresh salad roll or a great café meal, stopping for food regularly is one of the best things you can do to rejuvenate the driver and keep the passengers satisfied.
Keep snacks in the car for in between meal stops – there isn’t a recipe for a miserable road trip truer than a backseat full of hungry kids – and make sure you let the family know when stops are planned so they can gear up their tastebuds for that perfect country bakery.
One tip, however: avoid rich foods and big milk drinks if you still have lots of driving ahead. No more details needed, just trust me on that one.
When my daughter was eight months old, we embarked on a road trip from Melbourne to Alice Springs. She was crawling around at the time – not a developmental stage conducive to being placed on the red dirt of the outback – and so we took to taking ‘dance stops’.
The dancing stop involves pulling to the side of the road, getting everyone out of the car and leaving the doors open. Then the music is cranked up and you dance with the kids; the young ones are spun around in your arms, and any older kids shake their thing alongside you. An amazing way to boost the fun mood of a road trip and get rid of any excess energy, and it also means you don’t have to push on to the next town before stopping for a break, which NRMA lists as one of the biggest potential dangers of country driving.
Choose some things you want to stop and see along the way, and combine this with some spontaneous stops to see the sights.
This will not only get you out of the car – perhaps for a short walk, an exciting new sight, or even just a few snaps on the camera – but also keep you excited about the reason you’re out on the road. That is, to see new things and enjoy the experience. It’s easy to get caught up in getting the kilometres behind you, but don’t forget to stop and refresh the whole family with some views of our amazing countryside.