[Q&A] Making the Most of Family Road Trips


Leonardo Rocker

[Q&A] Making the Most of Family Road Trips

Going on a car trip with the whole family on the holidays? A long journey might make the kids feel bored, thus having tantrums while being restrained in their car seat. This alone would make the ride in total chaos. With that said, this 11th episode of the Impressive, Q& style, might be of help as Doctor Kimberley O’Brien answers the question of one of our listeners by giving tips on how to make the family dynamics normalised during the whole trip.

Listen as we provide answers for:

  • How often should we stop?
  • For how long should we stop?
  • And, where should we stop?

Enjoy the Episode

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About Impressive

Impressive is a weekly podcast that sheds a new light on the world of parenting. Join host, Dr Kimberley O’Brien PhD, as she delves into real-life parenting issues with CEOs, global ex-pats, entrepreneurs, celebrities, travellers and other hand-picked parents.


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Dr Kimberley O'Brien (00:08)

Hello, I'm Dr. Kimberley O'Brien, a child psychologist, entrepreneur, and mum, with a passion for problem solving and family adventures. Join me each week for practical tips and on-air consultations with the smartest, kindest parents, and their incredible kids. Find answers faster, do things differently, and take your family further. This is Impressive.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (00:35)

This is episode 11 of Impressive, and this week, we're talking about car trips, because in Australia, it's the school holidays and a lot of families are going away and taking their kids on pretty long car journeys. So I thought it'd be helpful to talk about how to make those journeys as good as they can be for the young people in your car, for the sanity of the parents, and to make sure the family dynamic stays as positive as possible over those long car journeys. So without further ado, let's get started for episode 11 of Impressive.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (01:10)

So step one when it comes to planning a long car trip is to think about it as a teaching and a learning opportunity for the young people in the car. So a question that came through from one of our listeners via the support quirkykid.com.au email was this. How many hours of driving per day is reasonable for an active six-year-old boy? We've committed to a family gathering eight hours drive away, and we'd like to make the journey in one day if possible.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (01:42)

So it sounds to me like these parents are thinking about pushing through for an eight-hour journey. And when you think about it, kids age six need about, well, minimum two to three hours of active play per day. So is it possible that they will be able to stop or have breaks for two to three hours across an eight-hour journey? Probably not, unless they're planning to get there really late at night. And I feel for the driver in this case, I think they'd be best to break it into two days. So do four hours drive on one day and four hours the next. But I think for a six-year-old boy, six hours drive would be the absolute max, when it comes to expecting them to keep themselves entertained in the car and to stay restrained in a car seat.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (02:36)

Now, if you are thinking of pushing through and you really need to get from A to B, because your days on holidays are limited, so you just need to do it as a one off, how can you make it as positive as possible? Well, thinking about what the kids will want to do on those breaks is really important. Here's Moe to give his perspective on having a break on a long car trip.

Moe (03:02)

What if your parents want you to eat a meal when you really, really want to run around?

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (03:08)

Good point, Moe. Often, parents will take the opportunity to have a meal when they stop during a long car trip, but the kids are probably more interested in running around, especially if they've been snacking throughout that journey. So make sure you start with a possibility of some active play before you ask the kids to go and sit down in a restaurant. So, yeah, going to a park, doing some tag or tip, running around, getting out as much energy as possible before you encourage them to sit down again. Climbing trees, swinging from monkey bars, using as many muscles as they can possibly use within that short space of time is essential. So when you are choosing a place to stop on a long car trip, think about what your children can interact with. If there's a park close by with a flying fox or, yeah, anything that really is as interactive as possible, choose that location, as opposed to just an open field, because they also need to be stimulated.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (04:07)

And a petrol station or a gas station is really not a great alternative. Buying junk food as a reward for sitting still in the car for long periods of time, also not a great idea when it comes to kids then having a sugar rush and needing even more of an outlet for their physical energy. So thinking about where you stop is key, and what you asked your kids to do during that stop is also of vital importance, because you don't want your young people to feel resentment about your choice of location where you've stopped or what you insist on them doing during that stop, because that frustration will then flow over into the car trip and the hours ahead.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (04:50)

So you've had a really great break and everyone's feeling fresh and fed and you're back in the car. So what can you do to entertain your children for a long car trip? Well, step one, try to avoid screens because often, arguments in cars are really just around screens, asking kids to turn off the screen or kids nagging parents for more screen time. And if you can possibly avoid taking screens on holidays in the first place, I would highly recommend a digital detox, because car journeys and travel are really great educational opportunities for families

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (05:27)

You can ask kids to write in a journal or draw some pictures or listen to an audio book about the area where you're going, or maybe some early explorers that have been there. Making it educational will really stimulate the whole family. You could also use music in the car to encourage kids to look out the window while listening to music or reading books, of course. But if you can avoid screens, please do so, because a family holiday is a rare opportunity for most families. So doing it different without screens is really a great way to help to encourage family communication and a little bit more connection between family members.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (06:12)

Another tip is to really consider the snacks that you're having in the car. So if possible, go for low sugar options like nuts, things that will sustain the kids but will not give them huge rushes of energy. And another idea is to take plenty of them and quite a lot of variety, because when kids are bored, giving them a snack is definitely something that will increase their spirits or distract them, if there's some sibling rivalry. And switching seats is another great way to just change it up. If there is some struggling between siblings, then changing the order and the position of where they're seated, if you can, in your car, is also recommended just for a change of scene. And last but not least, another tip when it comes to car trips is just around the frequency of the breaks. So I would recommend definitely having a break every two hours if possible for, say, 15 to 20 minutes minimum, so that you can keep those kids as active as possible.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (07:10)

And if you do need to stop more often, then just do it, because you may have a schedule you're trying to keep to, and I understand that, but I think it's really important to think about the family holiday from the child's point of view. And it's not about having a cranky driver or a frustrated co-pilot, it's more about trying to make it as fun for the family as possible. So taking an extra 15, 20-minute break for the greater good of the family is recommended, because in the scheme of things, you want to arrive at your destination feeling fresh and as relaxed as possible to get your holiday started. So without further ado, I'm going to wrap up this episode and wish you a really safe car trip if you're going somewhere this holiday season. And if you're not, then enjoy the comforts of your home. Happy New Year from the team at Impressive. I'm your host, Dr. Kimberley O'Brien, and this was Impressive.

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