9 ways to keep kids happy on long drives

“Are we there yet?” “How much longer?” “How much further is it?” These are all the sorts of questions that can make a long drive with kids, well, a nightmare. So how do we deal with this?

We don’t have or want a DVD player in the car, the only technology that the kids have are an e-reader and an ipod that is strictly for audio-books. We dream that while the whole family is together it should be happy family time …


1. 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 swaggie 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.”


2. Finding out about where we are

The 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.


3. Audiobooks

We all love audio books.  There have been times where we have finally arrived at the camp ground and no one has moved from their seats as we all want to finish listening to the chapter.  I choose the books we listen to, but somtimes put it to a vote to decide between several books.

We download them from the free websites Librivox and Lit2Go most of the time, of sometimes buy them.  There have been several times that I’ve insisted on playing a book just because it is a classic, or as part of the kids’ homeschooling.  For that reason, we have listened to books such as Greek Myths, Peter Pan, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Beowulf (abridged), Treasure Island, A Christmas Carol, and Tale of Troy.  Just for fun, we have listened to Pollyanna, A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, the complete Chronicles of Narnia, Five Children and It, the entire series of Wizard of Oz, Anne of Green Gables, Pinocchio and more.

We’ve all enjoyed almost every book we’ve heard except for the full book of Pinocchio, which we was just weird.  The final book in the Narnia series dragged, but we all wanted to hear the ending.  These books keep Peter , Susan, and Lucy entertained and peaceful for hours in the car.


4. Craft

All the kids enjoy doing craft in the car.  A simple tray on the legs and they can reach for a colouring-in book, activity book, or a notebook with blank pages.  We have the pockets that hang over the back of the chair that these are kept in, along with the coloured pencils.

Half the time it ends badly — for me.  All the pencils drop on the floor.  Or one of the girls decides that Edmund’s face is more fun to draw on than paper.

Susan and Lucy will often sew a long-stitch or cross-stitch, or make pom-poms in the car.  These crafty activities can keep them entertained for long stretches.


5. Homeschooling

We make Peter and Susan do maths in the car.  An example is “ If the car is going at 100km, and that sign has said that the town is in 40km, how long is it going to take us to get there?”

We also get the kids to practice estimating how long a distance is.  Peter, Susan, and Lucy all like getting the driver to say “Start … now!” and then they have to say “when” they estimate that a kilometre has passed.  They get competitive about it, and giggle when they are way off.  Each child is told the distance that they claimed was 1km once everyone has said “when”.

I’ll give times tables, addition or subtraction quizzes in the car, but these are only five or ten minutes at a time throughout the journey.


6. 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.


7. Make Up An Answer To “How Much Longer?”

At five years old, Lucy is not so easily pacified.  She likes to ask “How long is it now?” and she never seems to be content with hearing that it is 116km 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.

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.


8. Singing

Lucy has audio-books 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.


9. 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.


Maybe one day the kids will like the always-changing scenery as much as the swaggy, but for now I’m happy with them being peaceful.  


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. We plan to take off next year with a six year old. Just stumbled on your blog from Australian Traveller. You’ve given me lots of ideas already. Happy travels.

    • admin
      Twitter: livinontheroad

      Hi Teresa, the hardest part is leaving. We thought that so many things might be an issue that never were. All the best in your preparations, Amy.

  2. Michelle says:

    I am very excited to find your blog and the link the the FOTR carnival! I want to do a three month trip in about 18 months, our kids will be about 4 and 9

    • admin
      Twitter: livinontheroad

      The blog carnival is fun. Where are you thinking about going on your trip?


      • michelle says:

        Everywhere LOL Though I’d rather take it slow and explore well, we are in Melboune and I’ve never been to SA or WA so if I had to pick I want to head west. Nice excuse for a trip another time right, if we only do half

  3. Kylie Veale says:

    Thanks so much for posting these! We leaving on our trip around Australia next year and podtours are exactly what I was after!

    • admin
      Twitter: livinontheroad

      No problems at all. I need the list for myself, too, or I keep forgetting where I found them when we get to the region.

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