The longest stretch of continuous travelled we managed was over 8 weeks. That is 8 weeks away from a place to call home and having a different bed every 3rd night. I can’t say that I enjoyed that part of the road trip all that much. The kids in particular really battled, as they missed all their toys and pets back home. Of course, no one can travel with ALL their favourite items so we quickly learned what worked and what didn’t while we road tripped around South Africa.
Aside from their favourite cuddly toy, we kitted out the car with a box of Lego, some colouring in books & pencils and as many story books as we could fit in. And it worked…for a little while. Inevitably, after 2 weeks on the road, the kids were bored and frustrated with what they had so, we tried a few things.
In order for a roadtrip toy to be effective, it needs to be entertaining for a minimum of 2 days, preferably without making annoying sounds that will drive the rest of the road trip occupants off their heads. Surprisingly, the “you-get-what-you-pay-for” proviso made very little difference here. It was often the cheapest toys (carefully selected) that had the most impact. We had great success with a dig for gems/fossil toys from The Crazy Store. It made an absolute mess (thanks to the Plaster of Paris type material the treasures were buried in) of the back seat but it kept the kids quiet for days for just a little over R30 per toy.
What didn’t work? Happy Meal toys from McDonalds. After a particularly intense stretch of stop-go traffic stops in the Eastern Cape, we stopped for a loo break in Queenstown and felt obligated to buy something in exchange for the use of their facilities. Combined with the annoying noise and the limited play options available for that hunk of plastic, it was definitely not a worthwhile investment. I can actually do a whole other post on which restaurants offer the best toys with their kiddies meals. But that is a post for another day.
5 Family Travel Road Trip Essentials
1. Music – load up an mp3 player, memory stick or take at least 100 CDs featuring artists that at least 50% of the car enjoys at some point. Come to terms with the fact that you might have to listen to The Wheels on the Bus for at least some of the time on your road trip. Audio books are also AMAZING.
2. Lego – fill a slim, tall box (with a tight fitting lid) with Lego and equip each child with a tray or large Lego plate. And turn the music up when the sound of the kids scratching in the box drives you a little crazy
3. Snacks – a hungry child is a whiny child. Fill a number of small tubs with easy finger foods, veggie sticks and dry cereal. If you have time, string cereal like Fruit Loops or Oaties onto a ribbon. These necklaces will often keep the kids entertained for ages. Older kids can string their own damn necklaces #justsaying. Same applies to water (freeze more than you think you need the night before) in size appropriate bottles
4. Activity or colouring in books – with necessary pencils, felt tipped pens and stickers. Word searches and crossword puzzles (with whatever you need to promise as a reward) will make you feel like they are at least learning something
5. Imagination – come to terms with the fact that you will be called upon to make up games, sing alongs and invite silliness and laughter for the sake of world peace. Count cars, play I Spy and, my favourite, the quiet game* until you feel a little hysterical. Remember, you will reach your destination eventually where you can let the kids run around to their hearts content while you sit back and relax with a glass of your favourite tipple. You’ve got this!
Bonus: let me explain the quiet game. Use this sparingly because the effectiveness disappears quite quickly (especially with older kids). I only implemented this when the bickering was making me a little twitchy. Equipped with a large-ish prize for the winner, (and a smaller prize for the loser – world peace, remember?) start the game with enough drama to make them listen. The winner of the game is the person who stays quiet the longest. Sound too simple? Give it a try and let me know if it works for you. Honestly, when you road trip with kids, you are open to trying anything. Even if it only works 1 time out of 10. A little competitiveness never harmed anyone and it isn’t a bad trait for your kids to pick up.