I love big driving days.... Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment but I just really enjoy spending the whole day behind the wheel. Maybe I should have been a truck driver! But just because I’m having a great time staring out the windscreen doesn’t mean everyone else in the car is having the same experience.
So having spent many long driving days on our Big Lap with the kids on board we soon worked out a few strategies to make sure we all had a good day. It would be easy to look at big driving days as just a necessary part of doing The Big Lap but you can flip that around and make them some of the best days of your trip. But it won’t happen organically - you’ll need to put in a little bit of ground work first.
"Big driving days are inevitable on your Big Lap around Australia but with a bit of prep and planning they can be a great day for the whole team!"
Planning & Preparation
The key to a successful big day in the car is a bit of planning & preparation in advance.
Start preparing for a big driving day the night before by making sure you have as much gear packed and ready to go as possible so you can be up and on the road as early as you can in the morning.
Have a planned departure time that is realistic but build in a buffer as well. We definitely didn’t always get away at the time we planned to but I generally had about an hour up my sleeve so we could still keep the day on track.
If you have a bad start to the day and leave too much later than planned, you’ll end up wanting to make up time through the day and be tempted to cut out some of your planned stops.
Pack Snack Boxes
Pack snack boxes for the kids that they can graze on during the day.
If the kids get hungry they’ll be nagging you to stop at every roadhouse you come across so giving them a snack box each with some healthy snacks will definitely help.
This is something you can easily prepare the night before while you’re making dinner and have ready to go in the morning.
Kids Activity Bags
Get the kids car bags organized with their activites for the day – reading, colouring in, iPads, etc. It’s easy for the back seat to get pretty chaotic with ‘stuff everywhere’ so by giving the kids an activity bag or ‘car bag’ each that they can contain all of their car stuff in will help to keep things organised.
After a few months on the road our kids were able to manage their own bags so we’d just get them to check and pack their bags the night before so they were ready to go.
Think about the weather and the clothes you might need so you’re not having to unpack anything during the day to get jackets out. Also, make sure your kids’ iPads etc. are charged or they have their charging cables to charge in the car.
Plan your stops to break up the drive
Have a plan for lunch and other food breaks – whether you pack lunch the night before or have everything on hand to make lunch on the road.
Is there a beach or other swimming spot you can stop at for lunch? Make sure you have bathers and towels handy.
Get the map out and make a rough itinerary for the day with plenty of stops built in to stretch the legs, check out the scenery, have lunch, toilet stops etc.
Have a big stainless steel thermos which you can fill with boiling water in the morning so you can make tea and coffee at your breaks without needing to drag the kitchen out (unless you have a really easy to access kitchen in your van or trailer!).
As the driver I know the temptation is to just keep pushing through and get to camp as quickly as possible but the kids definitely appreciate the chance to get out and stretch their legs and break up the drive every hour or two, even if it’s just a 10 or 15 minute stop.
Car games are always a good way to keep things interesting.
‘I Spy’ is a classic of course and we played a lot of ’20 questions’ where we would say ‘I’m thinking of someone we all know . . .’ then everyone else had 20 questions to guess who it was with only yes/no answers to their questions. After 16 months on the road we were struggling to think of anyone we all knew that hadn’t been guessed before!
Have a Plan B
Aim to arrive at your destination in plenty of time to get camp setup in daylight so you can kick back and relax with a cold drink and unwind for the day. Now having said that, despite all the planning and being organized if you’re anything like us you’ll still end up arriving in the dark more often than you’d like to admit.
There are always things that slow you down during the day and some of them are out of your control, like when we got stuck behind a group with a broken trailer on the drive back from Steep Point. We stopped for a couple of hours to help them get it sorted, not that we had any other option as the track was blocked anyway. Sometimes there’s just so much to see and do along the way that you don’t want to hurry. So I’d recommend having a couple of ‘plan B’ stops along the way in case the day gets away from you and you need to stop short and camp for the night.
I’d also suggest minimising the distance you need to cover on the day.
If you’re trying to cover 800 km it’s going to be a long day.
Realistically 400 to 500 km is a good goal that will give you a balance between covering some ground and still having time to enjoy the journey.
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