Have you ever travelled with small children? I am sure you have your share of travel horror stories. My family (husband, toddler and a 6 month old) recently took a two hour domestic flight that left us scarred. My very energetic toddler would not sit down even for take off or landing. My husband had to physically restrain him, which earned us disapproving stares from fellow passengers. At the end of that flight, my partner and I were not eager to get on another flight. So, when we decided to head to Byron bay, which is about an eight hour drive north of Sydney, we decided to turn it into an adventurous road trip and I am happy to say it was a success. How did we do it?
Plan for rest and break periods:
Ten hours is a long drive for anyone. For that reason, we decided to break up the trip and do it over 2 days. We picked a halfway point, a city we had never been to, where we would spend the night and have breakfast the following morning. While this allowed us to have a break, it is also a great way to discover new towns you would not otherwise visit.
Do most of the drive while the kids are sleeping.
This does not have to be for the whole trip, but for the majority of it. This is something we learned when we travelled with our son across Tasmania and New Zealand. Our trip to Byron bay started on a Friday evening. After picking our boy up from day care, we drove through the city to a park where he got to play and we had a picnic. This allowed him to burn off some energy and we managed to skip the evening rush hour traffic. After the picnic, we changed him into comfortable sleeping clothes, put him back in the car seat where we let him have a few toys to play on his own. Within an hour, he was fast asleep. The infant was easy, nurse, change and back in the car as well and she was out within minutes. That left me and my husband, our favourite playlist and the open road. Five hours later, we were pulling up to our accommodation for the night. Luckily, both kids transferred to bed easily and our heads hit the pillow before the latch on the door clicked. The next morning, we woke up , had breakfast, explored the town for about an hour or so, then went back to the car for the rest of the Journey. Travelling at night when kids are asleep is convenient because you can cover long distances without having to stop.
Activities and Toys:
Since the second part of the Journey was during the day, it was entertainment and snacks to the rescue. Though I am still learning, this is what worked. I placed a bag of toys that my son had selected within reach and I let him be. I find that if I don’t initiate any interaction during this time, he can entertain himself for longer periods. I also placed a few snacks in the bag. Glad to say, this kept him quiet for over two hours! The infant was happy to gnaw and coo at a toy before falling asleep again. ‘Are we there yet mummy?’, it was time for a short break. We picked some lunch to go, and we went and sat at a park. My son got to run up and down the park, his sister did some tummy time, got changed and nursed and the driver and co-driver got to stretch their legs. After about an hour, we were off again. ‘Almost there son’.
Something to watch:
Sitting in a car for a long time is hard for an adult, let alone a super energetic toddler. For the good behaviour and patience, we allowed my son to watch something during the last leg of our Journey. Who did we call upon? Moana of Motunui. For a bit over an hour, Moana and her island family entertained our son, and since this is a rare treat, he gave it full attention. When the credits rolled, we had about an hour left to our journey.
This I saved for last. Experience has taught me that engaging in conversation too soon can backfire. It can be a green light for a lot of complains and whining. I allow as much time as possible for daydreaming. When there was only about an hour left, I engaged him in a game where we had to spot different coloured vehicles. By the time we spotted about the hundredth red car, we were pulling into our final destination ready for check in!
By sheer luck, the infant was very content and low maintenance during this trip. I am aware that this will change and the next road trip may not go so smoothly. For now, I consider this a win! Next road trip is in December. Stay tuned.