Before we had kids, my husband and I enjoyed going on road trips and we did a few decent-sized ones in Australia. Good company, good conversation, good music, good scenery… what more could you ask for? Then along came our kids and our appetite for long road trips immediately ceased! So our recent 6-week jaunt around Central Europe was a fairly new experience for the four of us. Although we are by no means ‘road tripping with kids experts’, we did pick-up a few tips and tricks along the way to make the experience more enjoyable and less stressful. Here are some lessons learned that I can share from our recent trip:
I have written in the past about the dilemma of travelling with our own car seats versus hiring new ones at our destination. As our kids are still at an age where they need booster seats, we have, in the last 3 years, unequivocally opted to take our own seats with us when we travel. We have carry bags for them so they are well protected and (fingers crossed) they have not been lost or damaged.
The benefit of taking our own seats is that we know the seat’s history and level of safety. Plus, the kids are comfortable and familiar with them, which is important on long road trips. As our car seats end up in the car for the entire trip anyway, they don’t take up extra luggage space. We generally hire cars from the airport so we don’t need to worry about the extra room for transporting the seats to our destination. In any event if taking a taxi or getting picked up by someone from the airport, we can still use the seats and ensure the kids are safe before we get to our rental. Win win!
Planning & Timing
Planning our trip and timing around our kids’ schedules made our road trips more enjoyable. Here are some of the things that we did:
- We always left early in the morning after a big breakfast. This meant we could get a bit of distance behind us before the next stop. Plus our kids were well rested and generally in good spirits.
- We planned our drive so that we knew where we were going, how long it was going to take to get there, and interesting places to see along the way.
- We limited our trips to 4 – 5 hours per day.
- We always had at least an hour break for lunch or an activity along the way. This way the travel itself was memorable and we weren’t stuck in the car for long periods of time.
- When looking for lunch stops, we kept our eyes open for places that had outdoor play areas so the kids could properly stretch their legs and run around. Many of the roadside stops in Austria, Slovenia and Slovakia catered to kids, one even had a little petting farm attached to its playground.
- If our destination was 10 hours away, we broke the journey up with a 1 – 2 day stay at an interesting place en route.
- We used GPS and Google Maps which were invaluable navigation tools and gave both the driver and the navigator the ability to blame technology in the event of a missed exit.
Snacks & More Snacks
It’s an undeniable fact that kids are hungry all the time. Before setting out each day we packed a big cooler bag full of readily accessible snacks such as apples, bananas, carrots, cucumber sticks, cheese sticks, pretzel sticks and bagels. I also think it’s nice to have the odd treat hidden away as a surprise. For storing snacks we found food storage bags and mini food-storage pots to be very useful on our travels. I really like the nesting food snack boxes that you can buy from Paperchase. We always take a set on every big road trip we go on: they’re very easy to pack if they are not being used and are great little containers for when they are. Plus their designs are cute!
Entertaining Kids in the Car
“Are we there yet?” This is an inevitable question when you have kids in the car. The trick is to try and occupy them for as long as possible to delay this repetitive phrase from first being uttered. Here are some in-car entertainment ideas that we used:
- Good music: I think an iPod full of your favourite music is a given on any car trip.
- Car games: games that the whole family can play, such as ‘I Spy’ or ‘20 Questions’ are easy favourites.
- Family stories: as we don’t live in our home country, and our kids are ‘Third Culture Kids’, I find car trips a great time to recount old family stories and give them a bit of a connection with their family history and country.
- Local knowledge: having knowledge of the area we were driving through would allow us to point things out and talk about where we were and the history of the area.
- The mini iPad: for long road trips our mini iPads were handy and we would put on a new movie or a new game before a long car trip. Both of my kids have headphones, which are useful if you want to reduce crossover noise.
- When the inevitable ‘Are we there yet?’ surfaced, we showed our kids a road map so that they could get involved and see where we were headed and how much further we had to travel before we arrived.
Some Essentials for Inside the Car
I think the number one rule is that everything should be easily accessible and not locked away deep in a suitcase in the boot of the car. Some items that we kept to hand:
- spare change of clothes.
- wet wipes/ sanitiser wipes.
- kitchen roll (great for when mum empties a bottle of 1.5L water into the foot-well of the car).
- toilet roll.
- spare towel. I recently fell in love with these Turkish bath towels from Cotton & Olive. They’re such great travel towels as they fold down to nothing.
- garbage bags.
- we didn’t have this on our recent trip but in the past we have travelled with a portable potty (it’s very useful if a child has just been toilet trained).
Some Things to Consider When Road Tripping in Europe
- Make sure the car you rent is able to cross borders. For example we were not permitted to take the car we originally hired across certain borders.
- Pay close attention to the liquor laws. Many countries around the world have a zero tolerance approach to drink driving which means not even a sip of beer with the lunch stop.
- Not all countries in Europe are in the Shengen Zone, so crossing borders can involve long waits which add to your overall travel time. We experienced this when we travelled from Hungary to Slovenia via Croatia.
- Make sure that you have a valid license for the country you are driving in, as well as the correct toll stickers. The latter can be purchased from most petrol stations.
Do you have any cool tips for road tripping with kids? I would love to hear about them. Thank you for reading!