Make sure you have some real (not electronic) maps which cover the areas of your intended journey. With your help, children can follow and mark the route on the maps, and learn all sorts of things about navigation, topography, and geography. Our kids love maps and we pour over them together to look at where we are going and where we have been.
Each of our children (even the twins) has a special, new hardcover blank book and a new set of pencils/textas with which to document their trip.
These journals are stored in a waterproof map bag, which has velco at the top and a long handle which loops nicely over the back of car seats, and is also perfect for storing their own pair of scissors, a gluestick, pencils, and the various bit of paper/pamphlets/postcards/dried flowers/feathers and mementos collected along the way yet to be stuck in.
For our older kids, who will miss quite a bit of school, the journal keeping was ‘homework’. For the younger children, the journals are a place for drawings, doodles, and mementos from the trip. Journalling occupied many hours of travelling on the road.
I collect interesting-looking activity books for some months prior to the road trip: sticker books, magic-ink books, stencil books magnetic activity scenes, and colouring books.
Crafty items that travel well include: larger beads for threading onto lengths of leather, pipe cleaners for twisting into all sorts of creations, and this beautiful set of beeswax modelling pieces for keeping little fingers busy (and developing fine motor skills).
When the distances are very long, children are tired, or general pandemonium sets in, audio books are a wonderful diversion. As the children tune in to the stories, it gives them an opportunity to calm down, look out the window and relax. Some of our very favourite audio books for kids are:
The Magic Faraway Tree series, read by Kate Winslet- who must have been born to do this adaptation – just wonderful.
Peter and the Wolf
Roald Dahl reads Five Favourite Stories, and
Australian Classic Children’s Collection including Blinky Bill, The Magic Pudding, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and (kids favourite) The Muddleheaded Wombat.
Bag of tricks
Prior to a roadtrip I collect and stash away a few small new toys for each of the children, which are to be distributed on the road when the moment is right (or as a last resort if things get desperate!). This could include a new matchbox car, or a ‘flat’ doll who had a wardrobe of velcro-able clothes, a magnetic travel game or anything really.
We don’t buy take-away food on the road, but have with us a well-stocked bag (a good quality insulated food bag) which is located within easy reach and is separate from the other food we carry further back. The snack bag contains ingredients and tools for handing out snacks and makeshift meals (wraps, corn crackers etc) as required. We use collapsible bowls and plates from Sea to Summit which have a rigid base which functions as a chopping board, with collapsible sides which are great for stopping everything from sliding off as you drive. We avoid packaged food and ‘kid-marketed’ food (Disney yoghurts/chips/cheese sticks etc). Instead, we carry re-usable pouches such as these which can be stocked and restocked with nuts, dried fruit, veggie sticks, homemade granola and other baked goods etc. For a bit of fun, in preparation for our upcoming road trip, I also bought some small paper party boxes which can also be used to hand out snacks in the same way.
I try and do quite a bit of baking before we leave, including my nana’s spicy honey biscuits (made with wholewheat flour and local honey), my mum’s fruit cake recipe, and a wonderfully dense chocolate yoghurt bundt cake from Heidi Swanson that keeps well and is perfect with coffee from a thermos for a pick-me-up on the longest driving stretches (the kids like it too!).
What do you take on the road that keeps kids happy on the long stretches?