With restrictions around lockdown 2.0 easing up, leisure travel is back with a vengeance. And aren’t we almost ready or amidst driving off to holiday destinations with about a 4 to 6 hour driving distance from where we live.
Interestingly, for many the prospect of long vehicle bound trips with children is downright scary. Being stuck with cranky kids in a moving car is a nightmare. Most rate this as a vital reason for not venturing out on the road. Being an avid family road–tripper since 2011, a common refrain I get to hear is “you guys are lucky that your kids travel well. So you can go off on these 10 – 15 day jaunts in your car. My child gets bored too easily. It’s very difficult to manage her/him.” Or something along those lines.
So let’s look at what we’ve got right, and whatnot, over the years that we’ve been doing these road trips with our kids. Our first long road trip was when our daughter was 10 months and son 24 months. The most recent was in April 2019 when they were 8 and 9 years old, respectively. So, we’ve had the experience of dealing with kids across a pretty wide range of ages. Hopefully, this helps you plan your trip better!

Keep them occupied:
Perhaps the worst thing we can do is hand over a screen to children to keep them occupied. On the one hand, we’re all pretty well–versed with the havoc excessive screen time causes. Then there is the fact that our children anyway spend hours staring at a screen thanks to online school. Add to this, it could cause nausea in a moving car. Thankfully, there are several engaging tools, which are absolutely safe to use in a moving car, that can help keep children occupied while you get to their destination.

Magic Slates:
For younger children, Magic Slates are great tools to have. They can keep kids engaged for hours on end, either drawing, doodling or playing self – invented games. You could also ask them to draw an interesting sight you’ve encountered on the drive. If your children are older, say upwards of 7 years, simply replace the magic slates with 18”x18” whiteboards and markers. They’re as effective while being non – messy. What’s more, they make kids feel all grown–up and important too!

Building Blocks:
You’d be surprised how much space the backseat of a car, any car, has. Enough for a child to play with her lego blocks! Here, is the trick! Challenge them to do something new and different with the same blocks. Given the limited baggage you can carry, it isn’t prudent to pack more than one set of building blocks. Overall it’s an exercise that keeps them gainfully employed and intellectually challenged for a couple of hours easily.

Family Games:
Play games. Any game that works for you as a family. There are quite a few which don’t require you to either take your hands off the wheel or eyes off the road. For instance, ‘name, place, animal, thing’ or an I spy with my little eye in a moving car is a great way to educate kids about life on the road’ also both these games are a great fun way for kids to learn the names of new places and animals! The best part is, bringing up a new place or thing leads to a conversation on what it is. This fosters learning while having fun, as the tyres eat kilometres away! And since you have all the time on hand, you can discuss stuff threadbare. That’s something most of us would find difficult to do otherwise, what with the demands of our daily work lives.

While there are several things one can do to keep children constructively occupied while on the road, I find this is the best time to have conversations with them. You’re stuck with each other for a fairly long period of time. The idea is to turn the disadvantage of being cooped in a vehicle to your biggest strength. Here, you get time to chat with your children, and more importantly, they get quality time with you!

In our case, a typical day on the road involves 9 to 11 hours of driving (sometimes up to 14). This gives plenty of opportunities to discuss anything under the sun. I’ve learnt more about my children chatting with them on our road trips, which is like 2 weeks in a whole year than I would in a year!

A holiday mood means you’re all relaxed. You have nowhere to go and nothing else to do. The countryside passes outside the window as you listen to your favourite music, with the people you love. Everything just comes together beautifully. It brings out conversations, thoughts, opinions, dreams and aspirations that no other setting can. And it throws up some surprises too. I bet you’ll be zapped with the things your kids know. Or are curious about! I sure was.

Stop Frequently:
As a rule, try and drive without stopping for 2 hours at a stretch. After that, it’s pretty much open season and a 5-minute stop could happen anytime over the next hour. This could be when you come across a picturesque enough place, a roadside eatery, fuel or a bio break. In fact, planning a stop is a great fun activity for all the occupants in the car to participate in.

Usually, when we are up for a stop, everyone starts scouting the roads for an appropriate location. This could be a roadside dhaba or a cliff with a beautiful view. Or it could simply be an awesome looking tree or field of sunflowers that you stumble upon! The idea with these stops, besides emptying bladders, is to stretch your legs for a bit, before getting on again. You’ll be surprised as to how these little 5 to 10-minute sojourns really perk everyone up, putting them in good spirits for the way ahead.

Take it in your stride:
This is not to say that it’ll all be a bed of roses. It won’t. Despite everything, kids will still get cranky at times. Why children, at times even adults get irritable over long road journeys! But that’s life, and it won’t all be hunky-dory.
Road trips teach us to be patient as adults. And that didn’t happen overnight. When you realise you are in the middle of nowhere, and the only respite you will get is when you reach your scheduled halt for the day, which is 4 hours away, that teaches you patience like nothing can!
These tips could help make those bad days or moments fewer and further away from each other if not disappear. What’s more, it’ll help stuff a lot of great moments in between. These would turn into memories with passing time and that’s what makes them totally worth it! Also, most importantly, innovate. You know your kids best, so do what works for you and your family.

– By Abhishek Talwar, Author & Travel Enthusiast.