Road Trip with Kids: A Survival Guide – What to Plan & Pack

Words: Julie Velosa

School holidays are here and, inevitably, with that comes travelling away somewhere. Anyone with kids knows that that is easier said than done. A road trip with kids can be a wonderful way to spend a vacation, but it can also become tedious and testing for everyone when youngsters are tired and irritable. In order to make your holiday road trip with kids a seamless and happy adventure for all, try planning your vacay with these tips and tricks, all of which come from moms in the know.


Most of the planning will be done before you leave, and how and what you pack and have at hand will make all the difference.

Probably the two most important things of all are snacks and entertainment. Without these two things, a road trip can become a hazardous experience for everyone, but there are a few other things to consider…


It goes without saying that snacks are critical, and we’re all for healthy ones where possible. Back in the day, homemade egg mayo or ham and cheese sandwiches and a wet face cloth to clean up afterwards were road trip staples. Fortunately, though, we’ve come a fair way since then, with lots of healthy, pre-packed snacks available for kids and the miracle of disposable wipes. Loads of sugar will make little beings over-energised, and in a confined space, that’s not ideal. Also, sugar means stickiness and no one needs that where it can be avoided.

To make it interesting, pack each kid a mini cooler bag, each with a couple of different things. We’ve found that pretzels, cereal, crackers, dried fruit and nuts are always winners.

When it comes to drinks, juice boxes with straws seem like an easy go-to, but can be a hazard – one squeeze and you can have a fountain of sticky apple juice everywhere. We prefer their own water or juice bottles with a sports-style lid that can be opened and sealed back closed. These can also be refilled as you go.


road trip with kids

It’s easy to default to watching an iPad or a DVD player, and while this could give you at least 90 minutes to 2 hours of straight peace, the likelihood is that they will eventually get bored with watching a screen.

Be sure to pack in some of their favourite toys and books for company as well. If you are travelling with more than one child, it is usually safer to make sure that they each have one of the same thing to avoid drama.

Most kids these days are up to speed with popular music, so a good selection of tunes and a family sing-along can be a great way to pass time for everyone.


Getting to your destination with a car that looks like a dump site inside will probably add a level of undue stress, so organisation (as far as is realistic) is always good. Packing each child a backpack or small storage box of his or her own things, with the promise of a reward at the end for keeping their own belongings in check can help.

Keeping a packet or a box for trash in an easily accessible place (hung over a headrest) can also help with keeping things tidy. Clearing this out at each pit stop will also help keep things in check.


road trip with kids

Again, this might seem obvious, but remember that the attention span of kids versus adults are different. Even though you are itching to push through to your destination, letting kids run around a bit and stretch their legs keeps everyone sane.

A lot of rest stops and petrol stations on South African roads have been equipped with play areas for kids for this reason. This is not only for them though, they are also for the sanity of the person driving. Whining and crying little ones can stress a driver out and on a long trip; concentration on the road is key.

Stop, take a break, let the kids play and burn off some energy. Also, toilet breaks… enough said. No one wants to be deep into the Karoo and hear “Mommy, I neeeed the toileeet”.


If you have time before you go, prepare your own version of a road trip lucky packet with pre-printed activities, or give your kids each a blank book that can become a travel journal. Kids who are old enough to colour, write and count can be encouraged to learn something along the way about the places they are visiting. Writing down the names of the places they have been to, how far they were from your starting point, what they noticed, etc. One way to make this easier is to pack in a small tray (a new baking tray works well), which can be used on their laps as a surface for colouring or writing.


Make sure kids are travelling in comfy, stretchy clothes with shoes that are easy to put on. Taking shoes off when you get back in the car and storing in the door of the car also help when you come to a stop. Having to haul everything out to find them will only cause tension.

Keep a spare set of clothes for each kid in a bag that is separate to your suitcases, and keep it in an easily accessible place. You never know when you may need to change due to an unavoidable spill or mess.

Also, a pillow each and a small blanket each will make having a snooze more pleasant.


  • Pack healthy, tasty snacks which can be doled out at regular intervals.
  • Use a juice bottle with a sports-style lid that can be refilled to avoid sticky messes and unnecessary and expensive roadside purchases.
  • Pack smart entertainment that is not just digital. Toys, books and a travel journal are all good ideas. Use a small tray to provide a surface to work on.
  • Comfy kids are happy kids. Make sure their clothing is comfy and that they have a pillow and a blanket each for naptime – those will be the golden hours.
  • Take regular breaks and see the trip as part of the holiday, not just a means to an end.

Planning a road trip? Check out these padkos ideas and recipes.

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