Top tips for travelling with kids

How to keep little ones occupied (and keep yourself sane) on an Irish road trip this summer.
Liam Shard

Published on July 2, 2021

Going for a drive with the family could be something you're looking forward to, or something that fills you with dread. Either way, do a little preparation before you leave and a road trip can go relatively smoothly. We say relatively, because it's never going to be as relaxing as if you're travelling solo or as a couple, let's face it.

If you're planning a road trip, or driving across country for a holiday, getting the kids involved in the planning can help the whole family feel engaged in the trip. It's a good idea to let the kids choose some of their toys and games, while packing a bag for emergencies in the back seats will help the journey go that little bit smoother. Here are some useful tips that will help you plan ahead.

Pack mania

If you're going on a road trip, let your kids pack a bag to have with them in the car. Let them take a couple of their favourite toys to play with, some cuddly ones and maybe some pens or pencils and some paper to doodle on (Lego probably isn't a good idea, because the bricks come apart and can easily fall down the cracks in the seats). Older kids can take electronic devices, whether they're handheld games, smartphones or tablets to help keep them occupied.

Emergency kit

It's a good idea to pack a bag with useful cleaning products. Chiefly, we're talking wet wipes. These are a godsend and can clean anything from crumbs to pen marks to snot to sick. Some dry tissues are always handy, too, while a change bag for a toddler could be a useful item to have in the cabin, rather than being tucked away in the boot.

Toilet time!

Unless your kids are still in nappies, the comfort break will be the main reason you'll stop on any drive. It should be a religious act that every car journey starts with a trip to the loo before you leave, just to ensure that you can travel a decent distance before the inevitable happens. And it will happen, so be prepared to stop with the shortest notice, too - if you can plan a route that you know has plenty of rest areas on the way, then great. We wouldn't recommend scheduled stops, though, because a random "I need a wee!" will put that planning in the bin.

If you want to be seriously prepared, then how about packing a handheld urinal in the car? Essentially a pot to pee in, they come with a removable cup-shaped end for female use, or it's just a jug for males. It makes comfort stops a lot easier, and means you're not peeing into bushes at the side of the road...

Snack central

Having some food in the car will help ease tensions, that's for sure. Go for things that are low in sugar or salt, preferably fresh fruit or kid-friendly crackers and savoury snacks. And make sure everyone has a water bottle. Yes, it might mean the pit stop comes a bit sooner (see above), but keeping hydrated can keep tempers in check, too.

Action plan

Why not try some traditional car games? You could play I-Spy, or see how many cars of one colour you can see in a minute. Set challenges for the first person to see a sheep, a tractor, combine harvester, a raven, or whatever you can think of. There's also the shopping game, where you build up a list of items from A-Z one by one for each person to remember. Or how about number plate bingo? Select a starting year, and spot a plate for each registration year (or every six months from 2013), the first to get a full house wins. Finding games like this can make a long drive pass by a lot quicker.

Screen time

If you've got a smartphone or tablet, then download some kid-friendly viewing for back-seat passengers. Always check in on your kids to make sure they're not feeling car sick, and if they are, tun the screen off, open a window slightly and get them to look out for a time.

Look forward

If your car has navigation, programming a route (even if you don't need one) could help kids in the back know how long the journey is going to take and where they're going. Having a screen with a little line to follow and a chequered flag at the end of it, as well as a time to destination, can help bored passengers see how long they've got before they can get out and run around.

Music maestro

Pack CDs or MP3 players to keep occupants entertained. You might get fed up with Baby Shark or Let It Go on endless repeat, but the kids will love it. It might even be an idea to pack an MP3 player with headphones, so your passengers can listen to whatever they want without sending you insane...

Pit stops

As already mentioned, it's probably not worth engineering planned stops into a journey, because you'll inevitably end up stopping sooner. However, don't let that stop you from making the journey to your destination an adventure in itself. Plan ahead, and if there's a fun place to stop on your journey, why not make a day of it?

Embrace the mess

Some car owners can be precious about keeping their car clean, but that's something you'll have to forget about if you've got kids in the car. If you're going away on holiday, it's probably best to let the rubbish and filth accumulate, because you're never going to keep your car pristine - you can deal with it once you're home and give yourself some me-time while you're getting things back in order.

Take charge

If you do pack electronic devices, then do make sure they're fully charged. A flat device can leave a kid at a loss as to what to do in the back, and that won't be fun for anyone on board. If you do have a flat device, pack a suitable 12V adapter so it can be plugged into the car. Better still, bring along a fully charged compact power pack - it'll keep a device topped up without the risk of keeping a device plugged into the car, which could flatten the 12v battery, depending on how the car's electrics are configured.

Have fun!

A road trip with kids should be a fun thing. If it's stressing you out, it'll affect your driving, and that has the potential to spoil any trip. If you feel like it's all getting too much, take a break yourself. A stop and a breather will help you re-focus, calm down and help your passengers break up the journey, too.