Kids. Rarely do they sit in the back seat and keep themselves quietly occupied while you drive hundreds of kilometres to the next destination, the van in tow.
The question is, how do you keep them calm? Or, at the very least, how can you keep the moans, groans and fights to a minimum?
I have three kids and none of them are particularly good passengers. Any drive longer than an hour elicits no end of complaints. And yet, I’ve managed to drive them to some of the most areas of Australia over the years. To this day, I don’t have the perfect solution for parents of young children who would rather be at home watching TV than travelling those long distances in a car.
But here is what I have learned, and if you have some tips of your own, I’d be grateful to receive them!
DISTRACTED BY DEVICES
I have three kids and in terms of keeping each one of them mollified, I have tried it all. Expensive personal DVD players with their own headsets. Their own iPads, each loaded with games and shows tailored to their liking. Mini in-car board games. Colouring books when they were younger.
It seems that each ‘solution’ works for a while but, before long, one child realises that they’ve been in the car for quite a while and that mum and dad had better hear about it.
In my experience, this is the best time to pull over for a break. I learned a long time ago that telling the kids to hold out for the next town – which could be an hour away – was not a solution. A five-minute stop in a rest area or other suitable place to allow the kids to burn off some energy is, in my experience, preferable than ‘holding out’ for a township.
Those five minutes in a rest area could buy you an hour of peace and quiet in the car once you’re back on the road.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made when travelling with my kids was to allow them to form bad habits. Most notably, each time we stopped for fuel on a four-week trip to the Northern Territory they came to expect an ice cream from the roadhouse. I don’t know how we got into this routine but, once it was established, it became easier to let it continue.
Of course, there was nothing easy about the resulting afternoon sugar crash.
So always encourage healthy habits when touring with kids. I can’t stress this enough. Those ice creams should have been rewards for particularly good behaviour. Instead, they became toothaches for the kids and headaches for me and my wife.
WHY SHOULD THEY CARE?
Kids are rarely as fascinated by natural landscapes or our amazing geological formations as adults. I’ll never forget when, during a family trip, Uluru finally came into view. Excitedly, I told my oldest son to look. To his credit, he feigned excitement and tried to get into the spirit of the moment.
Over the years, I’ve learned that my kids appreciate our destinations more if they have an understanding of its significance beforehand. I usually tell them about the history of the place, or its cultural relevance, and wherever possible include some spooky stories.
If the kids grasp why something is special, rather than just being told it is special, it’s much easier to gain their interest and cooperation, which in turn might lead to a few blessed hours of quiet in the car.
When the kids are being uncooperative and I find frustration creeping in, I try to remind myself: they’re just kids. Being confined in a car for hours on end does not come naturally to anyone, least of all children. There is no easy, one-size-fits-all approach to travelling with kids. But patience, and understanding that kids have different needs, is a good start. An hour to an adult might be mere flash in time. To a child, bored and restrained in the back seat, it might feel like an eternity.
Form good habits, provided entertainment as needed, provide plenty of breaks, and tell them stories about your destination. So far, these four things have worked for me.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Max Taylor has been caravanning since he was a kid and was the editor of some of Australia’s most well-known RV publications for almost 10 years.