The art of the family road trip

Who doesn't love a good road trip? Kids, that's who. Car advertisements are all about catching rays with the top down - not catching vomit with a hastily emptied shopping bag. Road trip movies celebrate the freedom and tunes, not the backseat fights and interminable loo stops; Thelma and Louise would never have made it to their dramatic Grand Canyon leap if they had to turn back for a soft toy left in a service station fridge.

But family road trips can also be a carload of fun, if you follow a few simple road rules.

Throw your schedule out the window. Most of the tension in a family car ride comes from the driver needing to "make good time". The temptation is to get this family prison cell on wheels going as soon as you can but kids are much happier with more frequent, interesting stops. That's why they made Goulburn's Big Merino or Holbrook's decidedly land-based submarine. On a Sydney to Melbourne drive, we break up the trip with a night at the Jugiong Motor Inn, a motel-cum-farmstay with an in-house pub and a morning feeding of the poddy calves. A stop here keeps everyone happy.

Try to avoid screens. It can be tempting for everyone to zone out but enough time on the road and you find you end up talking about unexpected things, learning more about each other or simply spotting something interesting out the window. Books are allowed but keep an eye on the terrain, even the hardiest junior car reader can get carsick on a windy enough road.

Music is the oil of any good road trip, even with children in tow. In the early days my soundtrack was used to drown out toddlers, now with a tween and a teen it has become a game. We each take a turn putting a word into Apple Music and play the first track that comes up.

There are dangers however, when an innocent word like "Unicorn" can lead you to the track by Tai & Le Shuuk with the rousing line "And then his dick fell off…" which of course has made this track a regular on any road trip with the accompanying fits of giggles.

You need a good supply of BYO snacks to keep you away from service station food aisles, and well-planned meal stops that avoid the fast-food factories loitering at highway off ramps. Take that extra a few minutes and head to the Paragon Café in Goulburn, the Rollonin Café in Bowning or the newly revamped Fowles Wines just off the highway in Avenel.

When I was a kid we drove between Sydney and Melbourne a lot, and it is a weird family tradition to hand down to my kids, but some of my strongest memories are of baking for hours in the back of a Ford Capri.

So remember when you find yourself dangling a bare-bummed toddler over a farm gate on an emergency loo stop, that is not just a number two he's making, it's a memory.

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