road trip activities
Tips & Bits

Essential Tips For Road Trips With Kids

Longer car journeys with the kids evoke mixed feelings in me. Is it endure or enjoy? Truthfully, it usually includes both. In our house, we relish in the initial buzz of excitement as we set off down the road on a new family adventure, a bit giddy and wide-eyed and bushy-tailed but at some point, boredom creeps in as do the excruciating “are we there yet” questions from all 3 kids, separately on repeat! “No! We aren’t there yet x 100!” Bored energy builds and gets channelled into increasingly rowdy behaviour, covert pestering of peaceful siblings and basically escalating into a car jamboree of note. How can one minimise these antics? Well, the insanity can be reduced with my arsenal of essential survival tips for road trips with kids.

Road Trip Snacks

road trip lunchboxesRoad trip snacks are my kids’ favourite part of sitting for periods in the car. I pack each child their own snack box. My typical pop in items are dried fruit, fresh crudités, cheese, biltong and a small bag of savoury biscuits. I pack a few limited sweets. They can decide what they enjoy and when. It becomes a game discussing and comparing who has eaten which bits and who has succumbed to the lure of the sweets. For longer trips of up to 7 hours (I haven’t driven further yet with my 3) I’ll replenish the box halfway.

Road trip snacksAs a general rule I don’t dish out loads of sweets but sometimes one needs to engage in transactional parenting ie. buying increments of peace. With this in mind, I never do road trips without lollipops. These get dished out further into the journey when that jamboree gets too much and I can’t take the noise anymore. The lollipops are given in exchange for no talking. For beverages, I love small bottles of water or the Woolworths mini juices which are in reusable and fairly leak proof plastic bottles.

Layered Clothing

It’s best to dress the kids in layered clothing. There can be largely varying temperatures between sitting inside a climate controlled car versus getting out for a break on a winter holiday where it may be freezing outside.

First Aid Kit and Medicines

Keep a first aid kit in the car and medicines (anti-nausea, headache etc.) that may be needed. You never know when you’ll need something and it’s guaranteed to be at an inopportune time or place. This way you won’t need to go rummaging through a trailer or suitcases on the side of a highway. Keep sanitiser wipes, spray and gel nearby for grubby little paws after roadside meals or to clean dirty petrol station toilet seats. Also keep a travel pack size of tissues handy in case toilet paper is nowhere to be seen.

The other unmentionable is dealing with throwing up in the car (shudders). I’ve had to deal with this. Keep a plastic bag or two in the car that can easily be disposed of.

Road Trip Games

For the car journey, my 3 are allowed 1 stuffed animal each to sit with. Our line-up includes a formerly white Harrod’s rabbit, a leopard (who’s actually a cheetah but pointing this out results in mass defiance) and a very “squashed with love” ‘Rilla (gorilla). This excludes the quota of stowaway critters my daughter illegally smuggles into the vehicle. The kids pack a mini backpack of bits they’ve chosen for entertainment which includes a book or two, notepad, pencil crayons, stickers and mini activity books. Those magnetic (mess-free) drawing boards are excellent if you have young ones. My daughter is into her knitting these days which makes a low key car activity.

We’ve avoided electronic entertainment in our car so far but if it’s part of your repertoire then headphones are a must so not everyone has to listen to the noise. We rotate adult tunes upfront with a couple of children’s playlists until my ears bleed from the repetition of their music! If you don’t want the kids glued to a screen with games, then audiobooks are ideal. A Google search for free kids audiobooks gives options.

Failing all else there’s good old fashioned eye spy, animal spotting game (baboons, cows, ostriches etc.), rock paper scissors or counting of car types or colours.

Road Trip

Roadside Stops

You definitely need roadside stops for petrol, toilet breaks, leg stretching and of course coffee. We stop roughly every 2 hours.

A few of the trips we take involve similar routes and we’ve got 2 favourite stops which are usually our first breaks after leaving home. If we’re heading out the Karoo way, a stop at Rooiberg Winery is a favourite. You’ll see Rooiberg before you enter Robertson on the R60. You cannot miss their famous Red Chair! Reasons to love Rooiberg include their choice of fantastic indoor or outdoor dining area. The grassy outdoor space has a kids play area where they can run free while mom and dad sip on a hot cappuccino. You can order casual staples like milkshakes and toasted sandwiches or a something more substantial. Don’t miss out on visiting the wine shop where there is a huge array of options at reasonable prices. Stock up for your holiday on the outbound stretch or stop off to purchase for home consumption on your way back.

Our other favourite stop when we’re heading in a Garden Route direction is Rolandale on the N2 just past Swellendam heading outbound from Cape Town. Reasons we love Rolandale are that it’s directly off the highway and easy to park if you’re driving with a trailer. The shop offers interesting foodie bits to buy and the restaurant offers a casual menu with indoor and outdoor seating. There’s a fabulous kids play area where they can burn off cooped up energy before being restrained behind seatbelts again! The sweeping landscape views from the outdoor area make for a lovely peaceful break.

Relax, You’ve Arrived!

So you’ve made it to your destination and everybody struggles to clamber out the car as fast as possible. The backseat bleating quickly changes to squeals of excitement. We mostly stay in cottages rather than hotels and when this is the case, I bite the bullet and unpack most things straight away to feel settled. If we’re doing self-catering and arrive later in the day, I bring along an easy dinner that needs little besides heating or throwing together because why waste time with meal prep when you can kick back for sundowners, sipping on a well deserved G&T whilst the kids explore their new home?

What are your road trip essentials when travelling with the kids? Let me know in the comments!

If you enjoyed this post and need some destination inspiration then have a peruse over my recommended Garden Route Must Do’s or Gourikwa You won’t be disappointed.

One Stop Wanderlust showcases family travel and family-friendly outings in South Africa. Grab a coffee and stay on the blog to find more exciting wanderlust worthy ideas and tips.

road trip with kids essentials


    • Julie

      Thanks! It sounds just a tad nicer than bribery (the real truth) I reckon. When you do things you swore you wouldn’t do before you had your own actual real breathing kids to manage!

    • Julie

      Thanks Kristi. Good to know I’m on track. I think the jokes would be a winner to do with my troop next trip. My daughter is currently enjoying that (slightly painful) “knock knock” phase!

  • Nathalie Seguin

    When my kids were younger, we used to play the alphabet road trip game: Find each letter of the alphabet on road signs or license plates. We also played 20 questions: one person choses a person, animal or object (you can pick a theme to make it a little easier). The others ask “yes/no” questions to ry and find out what it is. My middle son was very good at this! Finally, “popcorn reading” is always fun. That’s when each person takes turn reading one page of a book. Obviously that only works if the kids don’t get car sick! We read the first 3 books in the Harry Potter series on road trips! Those were the good old days! Now my kids are teenagers and young adults and we don’t go on too many road trip together anymore! 🙁

    • Julie

      I love the 20 questions idea as that works quite well across age groups. An animal theme would be popular with my troop. Will give that a bash next outing! Wow, like you say they grow up all too quickly.

  • Stacey

    I do shorter road trips with my 3 under 5 alone, and a travel car potty is the best decision ever lol. That way I don’t have to unload them all and take them into a random store when one of their small bladders needs relief!

    • Julie

      That’s a great idea for little ones when there’s one adult trying to lead the pack! The work effort unloading everyone and then trying to manage all 3 squashed in a grubby cubicle is not easy or fun.

  • Julie

    Hey Tamara. I hear you re allowing food…before kids I swore mine would never be allowed to eat in the car (I’m a neat freak) but my will for pockets of peace has won and they’re pretty good with not messing and I keep wipes at hand. My kids are 9 and the twins are 6 so don’t have phones yet but I’m thinking to rotate turns on the tablet next trip…use it as an incentive tool!

  • Tamara Foret

    We have 5 kids here. When we do long road trips which is fairly often, we encourage them to bring their phones! This cuts down on the fighting in the car. Also, love the snack options. Will have to think that one over, we don’t allow eating in the car usually.

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