I just finished planning a 3-week campervan adventure for a family in New Zealand. Got me dreaming about our previous car adventures. And following our latest road trip experience in South Africa, I thought I would share a list of tips and considerations for next time you get on the road with small humans.
The main thing to remember: take your time.
Plan the journey day by day and break down every stop: no I am not killing the joy and freedom of a road trip, it just makes life easier.
Know where you will stop for lunch/picnics and food shops - no one wants a hangry crew on the road.
Alternate long driving days and short ones. Sometimes you need to cover some land to get to the next interesting destination so make sure the days after are quick drives, to avoid cabin fever.
Have days without any driving
Download the apps. Depending on the country, some application will indicate campsite, playgrounds, free car parks, bathrooms with changing facilities, and more. Make your trip easier and more enjoyable, so load your phone (Waze, Hotel Tonight, Spotify, Campermate...)
Don't worry about the crazy roaming costs: download offline maps of your trip.
Keep track and share the journey with a dedicated app like Polarsteps.
Time your drives. If we have a long driving day, I would always prefer to start super early. Everyone is more patient and we can cover a lot of ground to get somewhere nice by mid-morning for a long break (run, playground, visit, lovely lunch). Then if your kids still take naps, plan to head out after lunch for a quiet car. This was our perfect schedule for a 4 hour drive day.
Throw a bonus / 'just in case day' in the schedule (if someone is sick, if you just want to stay longer somewhere or if the car has a problem🙈). If you don't use it, you just won a relaxed day.
Car and gear:
Don't under-estimate how much space you need. No matter how organised you are, after a few days, the kids will end up with random stuff by their legs and around them. A 2-week trip with 4 people, 2 large bags, a pushchair, 2 car seats and food, in a Twingo is not going to be comfortable.
Choose a car that will suit the trip. Sounds obvious, but check if you will need a 4wheel drive, what are the road conditions? Will you need to do any off-roading? Will you visit lots of cities? Take a vehicle that is 'parkable'. etc...
Should you take car seats? There is a lot of debate about this. Car seats are impossible to carry around, heavy and cumbersome. Car rental companies charge an outrageous amount of money per day and you cannot guarantee the standards. Ultimately, it's a question of budget.
The usual: fill the glove box full of snacks (that don't suffer from heat, mushy banana anyone?)
Never run out of water: have a large water container (5L) in the boot of the car to refill your small reusable bottles.
Have a small bag with all essentials to avoid having to empty the boot searching for a nappy. I would always have a bag with the following: nappies, wipes, a sarong (can be used as a blanket, a blind, a towel to clean up, a new outfit...), biscuits, packs of raisins, water bottle, suncream, hats, jumpers, guide book, phone cable, and importantly, a surprise treat to pull out of the bag when kids have had enough (almost always the last 10 minutes before arrival).
Keep your car neat and don't be tempted to leave anything in there - food, nappies, damp swimmers. Just like you unpack every place you check-in, unpack the car fully every time you reach your destination, forgotten nappies can really spoil your journey!
As much as you will love your vehicle when you start the trip, you will hate it by the end.
Plan your playlists and make sure you put a few kid-friendly songs in there. We like to download a playlist from the country/culture where we are. It adds to the mood.
Give an old camera (or phone) to your kids to take pictures of what they see. You will most likely have 56 pictures of their feet, but that will entertain them for a while.
Make some stops about more than just logistics (toilet break, food, petrol). Is there maybe a small museum, a playground or a beach everyone can go and run around for a little while?
I found that it is always best to plan fewer kilometres. To be honest, until kids can read on the road (that is if they don't get sick), road trips are pretty boring and it's all about the destination for them.