As we head into the holiday season, with many families planning their annual holiday, Sally Fraser-Mackenzie (OT, passionate road-tripper and mother of two busy boys) gives us some do’s and don’ts to prepare as we set out eagerly for our various destinations, so that we don’t arrive battered and bruised but ready for some real R&R.


General Principles of Travelling with small children:

  1. Plan petrol and loo stops carefully – fill up with petrol before the trip. Synchronize sleep time away from stops for food, loo, road work areas (road blocks and stop-and-go’s).
  2. Leave early – all family members are generally better in the morning, rather than the afternoon.
  3. Try and drive away from the sun – west in the morning and east in the afternoon.
  4. Stop for a long healthy, hearty breakfast. Preferably somewhere where there is a large area to run, trampolines, or a touch farm.
  5. Alternate which side of the car the child sits on if possible, so that the seat belt doesn’t keep pressing on the same side of their body for such a long time.
  6. Peg the seat belt higher up so it doesn’t squash their shoulder and irritate them.
  7. Line the car seat with a soft blanket, sheepskin, or pillow (those kids car seats can be really hard).
  8. Use some form of sun visors if necessary, even if just a towelling nappy in the window.
  9. Always have 2 or 3 towelling nappies available in the car. (Sun visors, plate to catch crumbs for Dad’s sandwiches, vomit cloth, soaking up toilet accident, wiping up yogurt, tug of war, cleaning the windscreen, wiping anxiety sweat from your brow!)
  10. At road blocks, if possible, get out, move, visit your neighbours… make friends…
  11. Monitor the children carefully. Change activity BEFORE they get irritated and “go over the edge”. Keep them regulated and settled. Do not, DO NOT let them get beyond themselves and unable to calm. (I speak from the bad kind of experience…)
  12. Approach the trip as an adventure, and something positive and exciting. Don’t let the kids get wind that you are terrified! (It does get better with age!)

What NOT to do:

  • Activities with small parts (potential for: choking hazards; lost forever; jam up the air-vent/seat belt)
  • Sticky juices (stick to water).
  • Yogurt (gets everywhere)
  • Sugary snacks (if your child responds badly to sugar).
  • Sugary snacks (if you do regular long trips).

GOOD Activities to do:

  • Having boxes or bags of various activities to pull out at different stages.
  • Box of fiddles: bubblewrap, scooby wire, pipecleaners, elastic bands, Prestik.
  • ZipLoc Bag (sealed with tape) or something stronger filled with rice and small objects (beads, plastic bugs, paperclips, matches, etc), then child must find the objects. Some children will tend to make holes and push small bits through and make wonderful mess.
  • Balloons on sticks. Balloons off sticks. Balloons on a string.
  • Squashy squeezy stress balls – Commercially available or you can stuff balloons with play dough, rice, seeds, maizena, flour, sand, cotton wool. Can put another balloon around the first for extra strength.
  • Shop at Crazy Stores (Or Mr Price Home) before trip for bits and bobs – bringing out a novel toy may save the day. Keep a few surprises.
  • Buy them a new small toy animal, vehicle, man to play make believe with, make a story with.
  • Books – touchy feely ones are always good.
  • Music – sing-a-long songs, action songs, bring out a few musical instruments – shakers, castinets. (Don’t have music on the whole time. Put it on in bursts, have it loud, enjoy it, then turn it off).
  • Wrapping up all these kinds of things you would give them anyway (snack, toy, book), then when they have to find e.g. a windmill, then they can open one thing.
  • Sticker books
  • Snacks – popcorn, chewing gum, carrots, pickles, cucumber, dried mango, savoury biscuits, rice cakes, fruit rolls, liquorice, wine gums, jelly babies (try and keep sugary snacks as last resort).
  • Thread an Otee/Cherrio necklace, then eat one by one.
  • Magnetic drawing boards
  • Blow activities: noiseless whistles, mouth organs
  • Suck activities: long straw with a Yogisip
  • Weighted blankets to help calm them, or help them sleep longer
  • Attach a polystyrene bag on their laps as a work station so they have something to put their sticker book on.
  • Simple games – “I spy” with colours

For the older ones:

  • DVD’s (works particularly well for children who don’t have TV at home, like mine – as it is such a treat! – we did a 900km trip through the Karoo (7 movies) and they didn’t even ask when are we going to get there!)
  • Ipods (especially if your kids are different ages, and have different needs)
  • Audio books
  • Verbal Games – I spy, find the next red car, etc.
  • Magnetic board games – noughts and crosses
  • Activity pads with wipe off markers
  • Etch a Sketch
  • Library books they haven’t seen before
  • Where’s Wally, or puzzle books
  • Sing-a-long Music (Queen played very loudly is a firm favourite in our car, and James Taylor!)

To Prevent car sickness and vomitting

  1. Don’t let them scream so much they vomit. Stop the car. Get out, have a break, anywhere. It is worth it! (I know)
  2. Ginger helps – Ginger teas, ginger biscuits, candied ginger.
  3. Ice blocks held in the palm of the hand or rubbed on soles of the feet.
  4. Suck an ice block (don’t choke on it).
  5. Heavy pressure to the head – Joint compressions through the neck.
  6. Let the child sit on a booster seat in front to watch the road. Or in the middle at the back.
  7. Choose your activities so child is not looking down.
  8. Play lots of “I spy” and talking about the environment, and listen to music.
  9. Sea bands – available from pharmacies.

And lastly – if these don’t work – maybe consider a staycation 🙂

With thanks to Jenni Saunders, Kate Bailey, Michelle Luyt, Ray-Anne Cook and Janet Michaelides – some creative and inspirational mothers and therapists!