Road trips are the ultimate way to explore Australia. Whether taking the family on the long-awaited Big Lap or escaping the hustle and bustle of the city for a fun weekend away, we all spend many hours on the road.
You’d think we’d be experts by now in entertaining the little ones, but a survey by travel website www.wotif.com revealed that the second most annoying travel companions are – you guessed it − children. People who can’t read maps ranked first.
In this day and age there’s no reason why kids should get bored in the back seats, even on day-long family trips. So let me take you through the many options, starting with the more traditional and budget-friendly ways of keeping kids happy.
Young kids love to play the old-fashioned game ‘I Spy’ – even adults can get hooked. Or what about ‘Lingo’, which requires you to explain the meaning of letters on car licence plates? DOR becomes ‘Dinosaur On Road’ and TNP is a way of saying ‘Toilet Now Please’.
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If you’d like to be more creative, print out a bingo list of items for kids to discover. Things like: fire truck, scooter, boat, man walking a dog, etc. The first child to tick off all the items on the list receives a reward. You could even turn this into a photography challenge of your children have their own smartphones or cameras.
Alternatively, get a large plastic tub and fill it with pencils, paper, stickers and colouring books to make an activity centre. This requires a fair bit of preparation, but is sure to keep the younger ones happy for a while.
Include snack packs as well so you don’t have to make unplanned stops at fast food joints. As well as fighting hunger food is a good boredom buster so be sure to hand it out gradually and not all at the start of the trip.
Audio books and sing-along CDs can also make the journey more enjoyable.
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Compact magnetic travel games are another way to prevent nagging kids. Scrabble, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, Chess, Backgammon and many other popular games can be purchased at a reasonable price and don’t take up much space.
Use those devices to good effect
If you don’t have the time to prepare, or you prefer peace and quiet during the trip, then technology is the way to go.
Love them or hate them, smartphones are a great way for kids to entertain themselves as long as they have battery life. Many newer cars have USB ports or 12v sockets to plug a charger in at the rear. If there is one socket to go around look at getting an adaptor that allows two or three devices to charge at once to avoid fights.
It's also handy have music, games or videos downloaded on the phones or tablets in case you're driving somewhere where there isn't a decent signal for streaming.
DVD players are also a good idea. Portable versions that slip over the back of the driver’s seat have become quite affordable and are easy to use, and can be used with headphones so the driver isn’t disturbed.
It pays to shop around for a good player though. Check the battery life to ensure the battery lasts at least the same time as an average movie. Also, consider buying an in-car charger so you don’t have to deal with changing the batteries while you’re on the road.
Ensure the DVD player can be watched and charged simultaneously, as this isn’t always the case. Some players come with more than one screen, which can be separated from the body of the player so kids can have their own monitor. Alternatively, a screen can be mounted on the ceiling, but there’s the considerable $1000 price tag.
If you want to engage with the kids, but they insist on playing with their devices, try using multiplayer game and activity apps such as Words with Friends, Trivia Crack or Smule karaoke that provides a contemporary twist on classic family games like I Spy and the Licence Plate Game complete with digital scoreboards.
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With such a range of options available there’s no reason for kids to voice the dreaded ‘Are we there yet?’ Road trips should be something families look forward to. Who knows, it might even change the result of the next travel survey, though I reckon people who can’t read maps will always remain the most annoying travel buddies - thank goodness for GPS.