There was a time when keeping kids happy, refreshed and entertained during a road trip meant giving them a pack of chips and encouraging them to play ‘I Spy’ or to sing along to the radio. And if they got too unruly all you had to do was warn “shush, police” whenever you spotted a cop car.
But kids have their limits and even as car interiors improve and infotainment systems became more advanced they can still become bored and irritable leading to inevitable rear-seat conflict.
While parents are concerned about how much screen-time their kids are exposed to, there’s no denying smartphones and tablets make long journeys more bearable. Unlike in-car DVD players, personal devices allow each child to be in control of their own entertainment meaning no fights over whether or not to watch Cars or Frozen.
Keep them charged
The last thing you need is for the batteries of those hand-held devices to run out. A charging cable is an absolute necessity but a single charger can be the source of many a backseat fight once battery levels are in the red. Use an adapter with multiple USB or power sockets that can branch out to power more than one device at a time.
Let the kids know that internet coverage isn’t guaranteed and ensure their devices have apps installed that don’t need online access, such as games, learning tools as well as music, videos and books. There are plenty of great apps for all ages including Sago Mini Road Trip (age 3+), Drawing Pad (4+), This is my car – Mechanics for kids (6+), Minecraft Pocket Edition (8+) and Monument Valley (12+).
And to encourage kids to look out the window every once in a while, perhaps make up a photo treasure hunt where they need to take pictures featuring a list of items you’re likely to see on the trip, such as cows, trains, water towers etc.
Avoid noise pollution
For the sake of everyone’s sanity make sure each passenger has their own headphones or ear buds.
Have a stash of toys and books for younger children near you and hand them out over time. Once they get bored with one give them another to keep them occupied a little longer. Avoid toys or games with small pieces as you’ll be stopping every few kilometres to find them between seats. Make sure you have spare batteries for any toys that require them, though avoid toys that generate sound.
Put pop-top water bottles in all the cupholders. Avoid sugary drinks as they could make the kids hyperactive, followed by thirst later on.
Apart from satisfying children’s inevitable hunger, food is a great way to keep them occupied and soak up some time. Distribute the food gradually rather than giving it to them all at once. Select healthy snacks that are easy to consume on the move.
If you give them food that requires a plate or bowl, invest a snack bowl with different compartments or a Gyrobowl that stays level - even if flipped over - to avoid a mess. Whatever you do though, don’t tell them it’s spill proof as they’ll see that as a challenge.
One way for them to eat and play in an orderly fashion is to install a portable tray table that attaches to the front seats below the headrest. They’re also good for supporting heavier devices such as tablets and laptops, which will keep them at eye-level and improve their posture when they’re watching videos or playing games.
Have rubbish bags handy so they dispose of wrappers and boxes straight away. Try lining the door bins with a plastic shopping bag or get a little bin that attaches to the door, map pockets or back of the centre console. Have some wipes and hand sanitiser stowed away too.
Bring pillows and blankets to encourage kids to sleep should they start feeling bored or tired. Give each child their own blanket, as one across the back seat will probably result in a noisy tug-o-war.
Kids can get car sick so bring some sick bags which you can get at chemists – plastic bags with a cup-like opening are good for avoiding spillage.
If you’re worried about if they’re feeling sick, don’t simply ask how they feel as they’ll either be fine or close to death. Instead, ask how they feel from one to 10, with one being great and 10 about to be sick. Monitor them from there.
Here are more tips to prevent car sickness.