Tips for long trips

Why, after nearly 50 years, can I still remember what the upholstery of my father’s 1953 Chevy smelt like? In fact, I can even recall what the seats tasted like. (A very bitter American vinyl flavour). I suppose those memories linger because we Kiwis spend a large part of our childhood in cars. I bet I’m not the only one who can remember the gritty squeak of winding down a window, or what it felt like to peel your legs off the vinyl after a long hot trip. Do you remember dozing on a car journey at night and then resenting the thump-bump as you turned into your own driveway? Did you then pretend to be asleep so that you would be carried into the house?

Car time can be the ultimate family time – especially when you’re heading away on holiday together. Here are eight ways to dial up the fun and dial down the stress when travelling with the family.

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1. Make the trip part of the holiday

My Y chromosome resents delays and diversions when I drive – most men just want to get there – but on family holidays my Y chromosome has to take a back seat. Your kids will enjoy the trip so much more if you stop frequently for picnics, playgrounds, and rambles. Plan the stops, and then you won’t begrudge them.

2. Audio books are fantastic

You can download some over the net,, or get them on CD from libraries and bookstores. The Narnia and Harry Potter series are popular. If you pick one the whole family likes, the miles will just fly by.


3. Get talking

Car trips are the ideal time to connect with your kids, and provide the perfect space to have some deep and meaningful conversations. Often all it takes to get a good conversation going is to have some quality questions up your sleeve. To give you a headstart, The Parenting Place has created Chatter Box – a series of fantastic conversation starters. There are questions for the whole family, for teens and for couples.

4. Quizzes

When our children were older, quizzes were the staple in-car entertainment. Sometimes we’d play, Who Wants To Be A 10-Dollanaire doubling the prize money from tiny amounts up to a massive 10 dollars. Incidentally, I very rarely ever had to pay out – they always kept going until they lost. I Spy, Guess the Tune, and 20 Questions kept us all occupied happily too. Car Bingo is great too – download your own copy from

5. The right toys

Some toys are great for car trips, and others are not. If they make noise or have a capacity to be used as weapon, think again. Things to doodle with like an Etch-A-Sketch or small dry-erase board are good. Pipe cleaners are great, play dough is not. Pack a ball or frisbee for games during breaks.


6. Screens

I see portable DVD players for less than $50 on TradeMe. I never used them with our kids, but they sound like a great idea. Or a laptop, except the batteries are notorious for never lasting as long as you hoped. Tablets are better. You can get double-adaptor plugs so that multiple headphones can be plugged into the same unit.

7. Snacks

Pack some non-crumbly, non-sticky food, preferably in individually-wrapped serves or in plastic containers. Or else give them really messy food and then shout yourself one of those car-valet cleans when you get home – budget it as part of your holiday costs. Individual drink bottles are good for keeping the number of toilet stops high.

8. Baby wipes

Regardless of the age of your children, baby wipes are invaluable. So are rubbish bags and plastic ice cream containers (because sometimes you just can’t stop in time). Motion sickness is awful – eyes-on-the-road and fresh air help, but sometimes an over-the-counter remedy is just the thing for a happy trip.

I wish you many happy, safe kilometres of holiday driving with your kids. These really are the good old days.


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About Author

John Cowan

Writer, speaker and broadcaster, John Cowan shares his insight and opinions about the latest in parenting and family news in New Zealand. Hear John speak on radio stations every week throughout the country and regularly on national TV.  Follow @JohnCowanNZ on Twitter

1 Comment

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    Geat tips except for laptop or portable dvd. Electronics like that, and tablets, etc, become deadly when bouncing around a crashing car. Such thing should be jammed safely under seats when travelling not on laps or parcel shelf.