How to keep your children happy in the car

Brothers In Car SeatsTwo years ago my family and I travelled around Australia. It took 11 months and 34,000 kilometres. We weren’t in the car the whole time, but I’ll tell you something for free – being in a car with kids for more than say, 10 minutes, can be really hard work, writes Melinda Uys, of The United States of Mama.

Here are some innovative ways to make a road trip lovely, not long and rage inducing:

Prepare your children

  • Before you leave, get out a road map and show the route you will be taking to your destination. For older children, ask them to work out how many kilometres this is, and thus how long it might take.
  • Get your kids interested in the drive by allowing them to choose a pit stop. They can research what parks or food outlets are there and if you are a super nice parent, let them choose which one to go to.
  • Have a small backpack for each child and allow them to pack it with toys and activities they would like to do in the back seat. Monitor this closely: finding the pet budgie has come along for the ride one hour in whilst you’re hurtling down a packed highway is not for the faint hearted! On that note, tiny toys (like lego) are the worst idea ever (think having to find an integral and small piece of the spaceship which has been lost in the backseat somewhere). Bigger toys like dolls or trucks, colouring-in or sticker books or even just books they like to read are good.


  • The best way to road trip is to do so when your children are happiest or sleeping. This concept works REALLY well with babies but not so much with teenagers (mostly because they are unhappy for about three years).
  • Tire your kids out so that sitting in the car for hours on end is quite an appealing idea. If you have a pool- make them swim all morning. If not, take them to the park or get them to help with housework. Whatever you do, don’t let them sit in front of the TV while you finish the packing or tidying the house.
  • You will need to stop at least every 2 hours to exercise your children. Take a ball and play a quick game of soccer or have a race around a park. If you’ve travelling via the coast and the weather permits, stop off for a quick swim at the beach or at a local pool (again, something one of your children can research for suitability). Just tire those energy machines out!
  • I hate fast food outlets but I LOVE their playgrounds. McDonald’s usually have reasonable coffee at their McCafe, so have one while the kids run up and down the slide 20 times.


  • You must be prepared with activities for your children BEFORE you get in the car. Eyespy is great, but there’s only so many rounds you can do before you want to punch yourself in the eye. Print out a map of your route and get the kids to tick off important landmarks as you go. Have audiobooks loaded on your device and a selection of movies ready to go (after you’ve exhausted all your other strategies).
  • Audiobooks are a great way of passing the time as a family without staring at a screen. Try The Chronicles of Narnia, anything by Roald Dahl or even recommendations from the school librarian.


  • Glorious hunger-abating, mood-improving, stops-kids-talking food. Truly, it’s glorious on a road trip but again, you must be prepared unless you want to pay ridiculous amounts for food you don’t really want at service stations. Have ‘driving’ snacks ready (these should be ‘dry’ and easy to vacuum out of the back seat) and be prepared to hand these back constantly. The reason kids are always hungry on a road trip is that they are bored. You can either embrace this and have lots of healthy small portioned snacks ready to go, or try and make them hold out for a big ticket item at lunch. Either way you’re going to be hearing “What’s to eat?” a lot.

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