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’.
If you’d like to be more creative, print out a 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.
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. Audio books and sing-along CDs can also make the journey more enjoyable. Or, give older kids a map so they can plot the journey and keep track of landmarks and cities.
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.
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. Technology comes in many shapes and forms and can vary in price.
At the cheaper end of the scale are mobile phones games and hand-held educational computer games including Hangman, Yahtzee and Rummikub.
The Nintendo 3DS is the next step up and features the ability for multiple Nintendos to interact without having to connect to a wireless network. A PlayStation Portable (PSP) is a similar mobile entertainment device, sold by Sony. The list of games is endless and can be purchased online.
Older kids might be more interested in an iPod Touch; an all-purpose touchscreen pocket computer. This device functions as a music and video player, digital camera, hand-held game device and personal digital assistant. It is also known as the ‘iPhone without the phone.’
Once the kids lose interest in games – and they probably will – movies are next on the list and are an easy way to pass 90-odd minutes. Portable DVD players that slip over the back of the driver’s seat have become quite affordable and are easy to use. It is recommended to invest in good-quality headphones so the driver isn’t disturbed.
Portable DVD players are extremely popular, so it pays to shop around. 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.
A number of car manufacturers have recognised the need to offer in-car entertainment. The luxury $73,000 Holden Caprice features LCD screens fitted into the backrests, while Jaguar and Land Rover now include screens and DVD players as standard features.
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.