BIG4 Koala Shores, Port Stephens, New South Wales © Destination NSW
How to plan a family road trip in Australia
A definitive guide to anything and everything you need to know about planning a road trip with your family in Australia.
By Amy Fraser & Lee Atkinson
Australia is a great place to take a road trip with kids, whatever their age. Australians love hitting the road, and doing it with kids here is easy and affordable. Read on to discover our top tips for planning a family road trip.
Plan your route
Get the kids involved with planning your trip and let them pick a couple of things they’d like to see and do along the way; Explore Australia: the Kids Edition has lots of good ideas. Younger kids can follow a map during the journey and decorate it with drawings or stickers of what they see as they go: Journeyjottings.com has some great pictorial maps of Australia that are perfect for this. Create a treasure list of things to see or find during the day. Older children might prefer to find inspiration from our epic holiday quiz.
When it comes to road tripping with kids in Australia, your best bet is to plan ahead and avoid travelling too far in one day; try to stop at least every two hours in towns or cities along the way. You’ll find pleasant parks and playgrounds in many regional towns where younger kids can burn off some energy (and take a toilet break). If you’re driving along the coast, cool off at a local swimming or ocean pool, or if you’ve got older kids in tow, swing by the beach to hit the surf.
Try to keep your itinerary flexible to allow for any change of plans. You might decide to stay somewhere a little longer or discover a new must-do experience along the way. Schedule in one or two spare days to give you some leeway. The open road is a place of freedom, so enjoy it.
Australia is bursting with a fantastic range of family resorts and hotels to choose from, including budget-friendly and the high-end lavish stays. Campervans and holiday parks are also prolific – there’s one or more in almost every town – and are not just for those travelling in a campervan. They also have good-value cabins with kitchens and separate bedrooms, and there’s usually a coin-operated laundry, too. An added bonus is that many parks also have resort-style facilities like swimming pools, playgrounds and games rooms, making them perfect for families to either relax and recoup, be active – or both.
Road terrain, space, and sleeping arrangements are things to consider before selecting your road trip vehicle. First thing’s first, you’ll need to check whether a 4WD is necessary for your trip. If you’re looking to rent a family campervan, there are plenty of vehicle options to choose from that accommodate families of all sizes.
Australia is a playground for families with exciting activities in every direction. Whether you’re exploring Sydney and surrounds, venturing into the outback or going on a coastal adventure, there are plenty of memorable experiences to enjoy along the way. Be sure to book in advance to avoid any disappointment.
Know before you go
Before setting off on your trip, make sure you research the weather at your destinations of choice. The weather around Australia can significantly change depending on the season, and you’ll want to plan your experiences (and clothing) accordingly. If you plan to travel during school holidays, make sure to book everything well in advance, including caravan parks.
To make the most out of your driving time, we recommend setting off on your long drives outside of peak times to avoid traffic and prevent fatigue. If you’re travelling with young kids or toddlers, try to coordinate longer stretches of driving with nap times.
There are a few safety requirements to be aware of during your family trip. Firstly, all children under the age of seven must be in an approved car seat or restraint – although this is determined by size, not age; adult seat belts are designed for a minimum height of 145 centimetres (57 inches). Most car hire companies will have baby seats/boosters/capsules for hire, but make sure you ask for one when you book, rather than when you pick up your vehicle. Children under the age of four must travel in the back seat.
Keep in mind that the driving age for teenagers varies from state to state – in Victoria the minimum unsupervised driving age is 18, it’s 16 years and six months in the Northern Territory, and 17 years in all other states. All drivers will need an International Driving Permit (IDP) unless your driver’s license is in English – check the fine print of your car hire agreement as many insist that all drivers be over 21.
Another of our top tips for planning a family trip is to visit AVICs (Accredited Visitor Information Centres) along the way. At these friendly centres you’ll be greeted by welcoming staff members who can offer top notch planning tips, from booking the best tours and experiences to offering discounts and revealing local hidden gems.
Keep the kids entertained
The driving doesn’t have to be boring; make it fun by preparing fun and games for the journey. Classic family games like ‘I spy’ are fun for all ages and encourage kids to soak in the scenery, while musical minds will love a road trip playlist or an audio book to listen to. Get your little ones extra excited about your trip by downloading our road trip bingo cards that kids can colour in as they spot animals, road signs and landmarks along the way. Another fun way to pass the time is to collect postcards at each town you drive through. Buy a book of stamps before you hit the road and the kids can post them to friends and family at home on the spot.
What’s a road trip without quintessential Aussie snacks? If you’re travelling with young kids add Tiny Teddies, Twisties and Bubble O’ Bills to your shopping list or, for older children, try Red Rock Deli chips, Golden Gaytimes and any of the Connoisseur Australian native collection.