Wednesday Wonderings – 16 Ways for Happy Kids on Long Drives

Our kids definitely aren’t perfect…but we don’t have too much trouble with them in the car. The noise levels sometimes approach unbearable, but they generally don’t scream and fight. Why?

1. The Fear Of Car Crashes

Well, possibly because we’ve put the fear of car crashes into them … seriously, when are those car safety advertisements going to realize that screaming kids are much more dangerous than alcohol, speed and mobile phones? Who can concentrate on the road with kids screaming in the back seat?

Any who, back to the scheduled program, I’m pretty sure it’s got more to do with keeping kids happy in the car. Do our kids like being in the car? Nope. There are always better things to do than be stuck in the car. Do they hate being in a car? No, they tolerate it alright. Something that’s got more to do with audiobooks than anything else.

2. DVDs

DVDs? Well, I’m not a big fan of DVD players in cars. Seriously, kids these days get more than enough of a TV screen without bringing it into the car as well. Our GPS can play movies, but that’s reserved for, well, what we’d call emergencies. (Last time we used it was when we had to go to a laundromat and do 9 loads of washing … I didn’t want to deal with four kids running around a laundromat, so they watched a documentary on the Solar System instead. Four happy kids, and a mum who got to bludge and read junk magazines for half an hour was a much better scenario).

Worse still, as the GPS that we can use for DVDs is in the front seat, it is really distracting to the driver. It’s just not a good option for us at all.

3. Audiobooks.

Audiobooks! We love audiobooks. We bought a subscription to Audible but have realised that with the 30% member’s discount any audiobook under $10 is cheaper to buy out-right than using our membership credits. Otherwise, we put in on our membership. If you sign up for a trial membership, you actually get a free audiobook, and don’t have to pay anything if you cancel your membership within 14 days.

We got their Gold Membership 2 times over, which means we have literally hundreds of amazing audiobooks to listen to

1 FREE Audiobook Credit RISK-FREE from

These are affiliate links. I get small amount if you sign up for a trial, even if you do not end up purchasing a membership. It costs you no extra. If you are going to try it, we would really appreciate it if you use these links.

4. Books

The kindle e-reader is great for in the car, as long as the kids don’t get car sick. Susan and Peter read most of the time in the car, and won’t even go on a five minute car trip most of the time without their kindle. This really does keep them quiet for ages.

5. Craft

We got the kids one of those little lap-tables and a bag to hang over the back of the chair. They can keep their pencils and other arty-farty stuff in the chair bags, and they’ve got a nice solid surface to draw on. Susan has tried to write stories on these, but even she’s given up. Why? She takes a lot of pride in her hand writing and finds that it’s just too messy in the car.

6. Apps

OK, I know I don’t really like electronic entertainment in the car. But apps? Well, it is great to entertain ten-year-old Peter playing maths apps, Speed Geography and Speed Anatomy. Lucy, who’s six, thinks that it’s pretty good to be allowed to play Montessori Intro to Letters, Graham Base’s Animalia or one of Dr Seuss’s books.

7. Writing

Peter and Susan have both started their own blogs over the last few months. Using the WordPress app, they can actually do a post while we’re in the car. There is a lot of pausing to ask how to spell various words, so it’s not a peaceful entertainment.

(Peter’s is Adventurous Childhood, and Susan’s is Life and Views)

8. School Work

I tend to reserve time in the car for doing school work. I’ve made video quizzes on maths and phonics for the kids. Time in the car seems like such dead time, that we almost always do these videos.

This is one I made for Lucy for learning how to read:

9. Having Breaks

So do our kids get bored with sitting in the car? Yes. Peter and Susan don’t ask, “Are we there yet?” but it is amazing at how frequently they are ‘busting’ to go to the toilet if we travel too long. These frequent toilet stops can be cured by a ten minute stop at a rest area or playground for a run and a stretch. We often find that if we stop every two hours for ten minutes and a run around that this can stop the frequent toilet stop issue completely.

Lucy likes to ask “How long is it now?” and she never seems to be content with hearing that it is 207km or “not much further”. She wants to know how much time remains until she can get out of the car and get on her bike or start playing in the dirt.

10. How much longer?

Telling her “Two hours, dear”, or “Thirty minutes, dear” will cause her to grumble for a few seconds, but then she relaxes because she processes this as “a really long time” or “a long time” or “nearly there”. She can’t read the clock or do the maths to realize that the answer isn’t always accurate, she just needs that reassurance that she has been answered. It seems to stop the questioning.

11. Singing

Six year old Lucy has audiobooks and nursery rhymes on her ipod, and will often ask me to put the nursery rhymes on if nothing else is playing. Edmund and Lucy are always happiest when the nursery rhymes are on, and enjoy it even more if Susan and I sing along, too. Susan is always happy to demonstrate the actions of any that she knows.

Jarrad and Peter will always plug in their own ipods when the nursery rhymes are switched on to listen to their own audiobook. They hate it when Lucy wants me to sing, too.

12. Sleep

Most drives will lull two-year-old Edmund to sleep for a few hours, and often Lucy will snooze, too. It’s not always family quality time in the car, but it is rarely stressful.

13. Look Out The Window

On most occasions we choose to do trips of a few hours or less. The day before we had done a seven hour drive along the Great Ocean Road. The constantly changing landscape made more spectacular by drizzling rain or the smoky haze from a burn-off was enough for Mum. The kids chatted for a while to a “Grey Nomad” when we got to Warnambool. The kids usually love travelling, but on this particular day they were feeling negative about time spent in the car.

“What are the best and worst thing about travelling?” He asked the kids.

“The best is getting to see so many different places. The worst is being in the car!” They replied.

“What do you do when you are in the car?” He asked.

“I just read when we’re driving,” “I listen to an audiobook,” “I listen to nursery rhymes,” “I draw,” “I sew,” “I knit,” “I’m bored,” “I want to eat,” came the varying answers from the kids, all talking at once.

He repeated this story to the kids (for those of you who are not Australian, a swagman or swaggy is a man who wanders the countryside carrying all his possessions in a small cloth supported on a stick over his shoulder);

“When I was about five years old, an old swaggy visited our farm. I sat down next to him and talked to him for a while. He told me that the Australian landscape changes every 10 kilometers. He had spent twenty years walking around Australia to make sure that he saw the country properly. He didn’t want to miss anything.” He paused here to make sure the kids were listening. “You need to look out the windows and pay attention to where you are when you are driving or you’ll miss a lot of Australia.”

14. Finding out about where we are

The Hema GPS shows landmarks, so when we are passing things we can know what they are. All of a sudden, a boring pile of rocks is a ruined chimney, shed or some other interesting object. These little bits of information can make an otherwise boring drive come alive.

We came across a different idea to this when we were walking through the museum at Woomera. There were a few CDs to play from Alice Springs to Erldunda to Ayer’s Rock though you have your own private tour guide in the car. Of course, we bought these to listen to as we drove from Erldunda along the Lasseter Highway.

The lady on the ‘podtour’ told us the myth of Lasseter’s gold, after whom the road was named, about the early explorers, and the cattle stations. We listened about the birds, reptiles, and mammals of the area. We stopped off at a rest area where we could see Mt Connor, and crossed the road to see the salt lake of Lake Amadeus that we only knew was there because of the podtour. By the time we arrived at the Yulara township we had heard about the Aboriginal myths and scientific explanations for the creation of Uluru and Kata Tjuta. What a way to make an otherwise long drive interesting! And educational for parents and kids alike!

Since that first podtour, we downloaded so many podtours. The challenge for Mum is to keep mental notes on the regions that have a podtour so we don’t miss any. These keep Jarrad, Peter, Susan and I entertained and engaged.

These are the Aussie podtours that I’ve found so far:


Floriade Festival



Sydney – heart of the city

Sydney – The Rocks

New England



Litchfield National Park

Darwin to Katherine

West MacDonnell Range

Red Centre Way.

Alice Springs to Uluru

West MacDonnell Ranges (yes, a second one)


Nullabor Plain

Adelaide (Brompton Podtour – Digging up the Dirt)


Great Ocean Road

High Country

Port Phillip Heads

Port Nepean and Port Nepean

Fort Peace and Eagle Nest

Williams Ricketts Sanctuary

Melbourne – Eat, drink, Melbourne

Melbourne – Death, dirt, disease

Melbourne – Showbiz, Sezy Spectacles, and sideshows

Castlemaine – Goldrush to Mt Alexander

Castlemaine – Town Centre


Bendigo – Eureka Reef

Melbourne (On The Waterfront, St Kilda, A Walk in the Park, Arcades and Laneways, Cosmopolitan Melbourne, Marvellous Melbourne

Podtour – A l’ecoute de Melbourne (French)


Karajini National Park

Swan Valley

Perth’s beaches

Perth’s Cottesloe beach

Perth – Hydes Park

Ningaloo Reef

Kimberleys Part 1 and Part 2

Valley of the Giants (south west WA)

Nullabor Plain

Editted to add:

15. Playing Games

My mum emailed me this one, and since it’s a good one I am adding it in here:

Once you have taught the kids games you can leave them to it.

Car cricket

This game is best played on a two lane highway. It is suitable for all ages but younger children may need help adding up.

Each person in the car takes a turn batting. To score, you add up the value of the vehicles passing in the opposite direction. Scores are:

Cars = 1 run

Cars with a trailer = 2 runs

Bus or truck = 4 runs (a boundary)

Semi-trailer = 6 runs

The batter continues to score until a red car passes, in which case they are out. The next batter takes the crease. The game can be played until a player reaches 100. The rules are very flexible and it’s lots of fun especially when everyone gets involved looking ahead for red cars. It’s a bit of a bummer when there are two red cars in a row and it’s your turn to bat….

If you want to use a different scoring, you could try: car 1 run, ute 2, motorbike 3, campervan 4, bus 5 and truck OUT!)

16. Using A Map

Use a map to follow where you are, or where you are coming up to next. A modern variation would be to get the kids to program it on the GPS. It’s a good way to stop older kids asking how much longer, and to learn more about the areas where they are passing through.

The kids are generally pretty good, though not perfect, in the car. On the few occasions that they aren’t, it’s generally that the littler two are getting too noisy. Reminding them that they need to keep the volume down in the car usually works when everything else has failed.




Travelling Australia in a campervan since 2009 with our four children aged 4, 7, 10, and 11. We are a family living on the road. Stopping to work in rural and remote towns as we need more money, we love this lifestyle. The four kids are homeschooled as we work our way slowly around Australia.

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About Amy and Jarrad

Travelling Australia in a campervan since 2009 with our four children aged 4, 7, 10, and 11. We are a family living on the road.
Stopping to work in rural and remote towns as we need more money, we love this lifestyle. The four kids are homeschooled as we work our way slowly around Australia.


  1. I love this! 9 and 10 really hit home. #9 reminds me of what we call “Frolic Attacks” – where the kids just really really need to run around for a bit. For #10 our standard answer always seems to be “about an hour” unless it’s less than that. Because as you say, they process it as “not soon” and get back to what they were doing.

    • admin
      Twitter: livinontheroad

      Yeah, it ends up making it a lot easier having those breaks. We always exagerate how long it will be, but as you say, they really just want to process “not soon” rather than needing to know how long.

  2. I prefer to listen to audio books too. Don’t forget games like I spy, Car Cricket, find a list of items outside ( can do picture list-cow, windmill,etc)
    Make a rough map before you go and child can mark off as go past landmarks or towns.

  3. I guess we should feel lucky because our kids love being in the car! When we’re on short trips we take the DVD player out of the car and listen to kids music. Sometimes when I’m without the kids I’ll have been in the car for 20 minutes before I realize I am rockin’ out to nursery rhymes! The DVD player has definitely made longer trips possible. Also, the apps on our our iPhones have been a saving grace. The newest edition to our car repertoire: “I spy…”

    • admin
      Twitter: livinontheroad

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one who’s been guilty of that! Susan, who’s 9, walks around singing nursery rhymes to the little ones, too.

  4. I commend you on your courage and ambitiousness in traveling with your kids on such long car rides! You’re a great example of not using your kids as an excuse for anchor, but rather a reason to explore the world.

  5. Emma King says:

    Sometimes when I’m without the kids I’ll have been in the car for 20 minutes before I realize I am rockin’ out to nursery rhymes!

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