We should all know by now that bringing a kid into the world doesn’t mark the end of your adventure days. Far from it in fact — we’d argue that it gets better as you relive everything for the very first time all over again.
There are however a few logistical considerations for those embarking on a lengthy road trip with young kids or a toddler. Having recently returned from a 5 week, 4000km road trip through New Zealand’s South Island, I’ve got a few nuggets to share.
Parenthood is short folks, so make the most of every micro-second. To get you on your way, here are a few tips to create adventure memories as a family that you’ll be chuckling about for years to come:
1. Convert Your Vehicle Into A Mobile Amusement Park
Toddlers’ attention spans rival that of gnats, so it’s important to arm them with a bagful of multi-purpose toys that fuel creative thinking. Leatherman’s aren’t sensible, and unless you’ve birthed a maths genius then neither will a sudoku puzzle book. Colouring pad, toy cars, storybooks… they all cut the mustard.
You’ll have to be a clown too, so ensure you’re well-versed in an arsenal of nursery rhymes and counting games. Belting out a Wiggles number at the top of your lungs is surprisingly fun! Pimp your ride too; it was Christmas time for us so we brought our car to life with tinsel and some insta-fabulous fairy lights.
2. Make Adventure Your Kid’s ‘Normal’
The trip was a sensory overload for our 2 year old; he was thrust into a buzzing world of new experiences where every single day was an enlightening cocktail of weird and wonderful encounters with people, places and parrots. His brain is essentially hard wiring itself at this critical stage in life to register all this adventure as his ‘normal’.
As a result, his language, his communication, his social skills… the leap in development when comparing the start and end of the trip has been quite remarkable (he sadly didn’t quite master driving or speaking Mandarin, but one step at a time).
3. Campers and Car Camping = Ultimate Flexibility
Get your mitts on a campervan or a larger vehicle fit for car camping and impromptu hobo’ing. The reason? You’ll feel flexier than a Belarusian gymnast as you’re able to sleep pretty much wherever you want. From tent to towel, Traveller’s Autobarn are a brilliant option and have car and van rentals for all budgets. For the hardcore among you, you could even try car camping with hiking gear.
4. Get Up, Stand Up (Stand Up In Your Tent)
Whether it’s a rallying anthem for international human rights or road trip tent advice, Bob Marley’s lyrics are still pertinent to this day. You’re going to spend a fair bit of time in your tent so you need something that’s easy to erect with space to play (without being stacked on top of one another like a pack of pilchards). Car camping obviously allows for extra kilograms too, so the Oz Tent RX-5 is pretty much as good as it gets.
5. Let Your Kids Run Wild
Playing in nature is unstructured, meaningful and down-right dirty. That’s exactly how it should be. Camp as much as possible and let your kids invent ways to interact with the outdoors, design their own games, ‘chat’ to the locals you meet and the animals you find. Feed their curiosity and fire their imagination.
6. Depth Over Distance
Be realistic with the amount of time spent in the car each day, and plan your trip accordingly. On a road trip with kids, the car can quickly become a pressure cooker if you leave it too long, no matter how good your self-created in-car entertainment system is. We spent no more than 3 hours in there on driving days. Muchos stops is the way to roll.
7. Don’t Overplan (Go With The Flow)
I’m a big advocate of not overplanning the details on longer adventures, preferring to chat to locals and travellers once I get there to get the on-ground downlow. On a road trip with a child it’s even more important. You never really know how it’s all going to play out, so allowing for as much flexibility in your itinerary as possible is essential to your happiness and stress levels. The beauty of camping, of course, is that you generally don’t need to book far in advance so can make it up as you go.
# 8 Improve Your Snack Game
We had a stash of fruit and veggies cut up by the gear stick that we would intermittently launch towards our son in the back. Grapes, nuts, raisins, strawberries, cherry tomatoes are major choking hazards so you’ll want to avoid direct mouth shots. Carrots, nuts, muesli bars, apples, oranges, bananas chips and sliced mango worked a dream for us.
# 9 Netflix May Save Your Sanity
Unless you have the natural noise cancelling ability of a Tibetan monk, it’s ok to succumb to Netflix every once in a while. Sometimes kids lose the proverbial and no matter how many pit-stops you make, when you gotta drive you’ve gotta drive. Make sure you’ve downloaded plenty to your mobile (and slip a few in there for yourself too).
10. Pack A Child Carrying Backpack
Bursting out of the wagon for impromptu hikes is par for the course on long road trips (and it’s unavoidable in New Zealand). We did everything from 30 minute to 3-day hikes. It’s best to time their kip time around these hikes so you’ll want something super comfortable for you both — cushioning, shade and storage. I’d highly recommend the Osprey Poco because it ticks all these boxes.
11. I. C. E. C. R. E. A. M.
Mention of the words ‘ice’ and ‘cream’ in the same sentence results in aggressive excitement seizures, so I’d advise communicating with your partner using letters rather than the full words.
12. Use A Rubber Bucket As A Bathtub
Bathing your child in a river or lake is absolutely fine, although it looks like you’re baptising them. Use biodegradable soap and buy a big rubber bucket as your travel-tub (which also doubles up as a useful storage vessel in your motor).
13. Darken The Window
Seeing as mobility in car seats is rather limited, letting your kid get face blasted with sun-beams is a bit cruel! Use a window shade, tint film or a filthy towel you find in the back of the car, held up by the car window.
14. Getting Your Kid Involved In Everything
Like Johnny 5 in the 80s classic ‘Short Circuit’, kid’s learning capabilities are something to behold. Whilst it can sometimes be frustrating (especially when sandflies have co-ordinated a full-scale massacre of your ankles) let them help you bash in the tent pegs, check the oil, blow up the mattress and fry the steak. Outdoor adventure is a natural learning environment so immersing them in every step of the journey is essential.
15. Pack A Hammock
With an ability to be slung up in 2 minutes anywhere you can find a couple of uprights (trees, signposts or otherwise) these glorious swingers provide the perfect respite for weary parents or fractious kiddiwinkles. Hell, why not all swing together with a 180kg load bearing Double Nest Eno Hammock?
16. Bring A Stuff Sack For Your Nappies
The repugnant whiff of a 3 day old nappy shouldn’t be dwelled upon, so if you’re planning on doing any overnight hiking I urge you to bring a stuff sack. Line it with a perfumed plastic bag. You’ll thank me later.
17. Mix Up Your Accommodation
Unless you’re on a tighter than tight budget, don’t forget to treat yourself every now and again to comfy pillows and a hot shower. Cabin, AirBnB, motel, whatever. These rewards are much sweeter when they’re infrequent and well-deserved, particularly after your gang has been festering on the road for a week or so.
18. Food Shopping = Playground Shredding
Our boy has more energy than a coked-up banker on payday. Most towns in the world have some form of park or kiddies playground near a supermarket. See where I’m going here? When we needed daily shopping supplies the missus dropped us off at the park, where we’d shred swingsets and slides whilst she stocked up the mobile pantry. Rinse and repeat.
19. Outdoor Apps
Don’t forget to download the necessary apps that enhance your trip. Campermate and Rankers were super useful, and just in case, make sure you also have the Emergency+ app on your phone too. Here’s a few more of our favourites to check out.
20. Get A Mattress With The Mostest
Using a bad mattress when you’re camping is like listening to an ear-gasmic piece of music on a shitty tin speaker; you’ve nearly nailed it but won’t appreciate the experience as much as you could. After much research, I stumbled across the Exped Megamat Duo 10. It definitely won’t be the cheapest or smallest item in your boot, but if floating to sleep on a sea of marshmallows is your thing, it’s worth every cent.
21. Ensure You Have Time For Yourselves Too
Kids gravitationally pull an unfathomable level of love and attention from their creators. This leaves very narrow, sporadic windows of opportunity for the two of you to enjoy the trip like ‘the good ol’ days’. Whether it’s scheming your future together over a bottle of shiraz, or frolicking in a lake under a full moon, when these opportunities present themselves, grab them by the balls and enjoy every second.
22. The Mud Suit
It may look like you’re grooming a crystal meth chemist, but this boiler suit is the perfect overall for your little one to behave like a feral without the need for constant clothes washing.
Don’t forget, road trips are a good time to juice up your brain. I’m naturally a fan of anything inspirational and outdoor based, so here’s a bunch to drizzle into your ears.
24. Essential Clothing
Common sense will prevail when it comes to clothing, depending of course on the environments you’re travelling through and the space in your backpack! If there was one piece of clothing that I’d say is worth getting though is a solid pair of merino thermals. I’d often wear these all day for days on end, yet my dance moves were far funkier than the smell they emitted. Le Bent produce outstanding base layers and I couldn’t recommend them more highly.
25. Know Your Limits And Be Flexible
Everyone’s appetite for adventure is wildly different and let’s face it, some kids are a darn sight easier to handle than others (but all are universally unpredictable). You don’t want to push yourselves so hard that you’re a carload of stressed, miserable grumps. It’s going to be the road trip of a lifetime, so be flexible, take it slow and enjoy the ride!
Did I miss anything? Feel free to comment below.