A road trip from Cape Town to Joburg – with small kids!

“We drove to Jo’burg!” boasts my four-year old who survived a total of four days in the car as we journeyed from Cape Town to Johannesburg and back again in a period of 10 days. She shared the backseat with her two-year-old brother.

Wait, she is not done: “And we’re never doing that again!”

Indeed, it is true. Whilst we rocked the 1400kms through the desert and made it the best road trip it could possibly have been under the circumstances, it is unlikely that we will ever do such a thing again. (At least until our kids are far bigger!)

Our game plan involved packing the evening before and falling asleep with the kids, around 7.30pm, to wake at 1am and transfer our sleeping kids into the car. We made it to Beaufort Wes by 6 am, no breakfast spots were open and so we had to settle on KFC burgers at a truck stop. None of us had slept much since 1am (car seat and seat belt laws are rather prohibitive to good sleep) and the 800km of desert that lay before us seemed endless.

Yes, we had packed mountains of snacks, two tablets had been loaded with DVDs, Granny had given the kids each an activity book and we had brought tray tables for them to use for colouring-in… but I still wasn’t convinced that would get us very far.

We climbed back in the car at 7am, but by 8am the kids required a stop. Now. On the side of the highway! The Karoo does not offer many Engine One Stops. We dressed, brushed our teeth and threw stones… for an hour.

Back in the car at 9am, they made it to 10am only to need another stop. We could see a pattern emerging. It would take us 2 hours to drive 100km. At this rate, we would get to Jo’burg next week Thursday!

We reduced our goal from Jo’burg to Kimberley and at 11am we were safe and sound at our destination, completely exhausted. We delighted in the Big Hole and had a tram ride before checking-in at our BnB, aptly named ‘Casa Mia’ or ‘My Home’ in Italian. Our hostess was a doting granny with an ice-cold pool. We lapped up the hospitality, had an early dinner at Spur and crashed into a king-size, extra length bed.

The next day, we left at a far more-godly hour, 7am, after an English breakfast and arrived in Jo’burg by 2pm, in time for the family birthday lunch we were to attend. Of course, both kids fell asleep only in the last 5km of the journey so we got to enjoy 7 hours of quality driving time with them.
We spotted 38 windmills and a few cows. I spent most of the time in the back seat wedged between the two car seats, picking up the many items that were dropped by the kids such as crayons, biltong, blankets and shoes. Thankfully we had made it.

“Did you survive the drive?” exclaimed my sister as she eyed our activity-packed vehicle and two sleeping kids.

Yes. Yes we had made it.

Here are our top tips for mastering a road trip with small kids:

  • Safety first. Before you hit the road, make sure your child’s car seat is properly installed
  • Try to make sure the entire family gets a good sleep before you start your travels. Tired drivers aren’t as focussed and tired kids are cranky!
  • Make sure you load up more than four movie choices
  • Pack your charging cables
  • Recline the back seats as much as possible
  • Put up sun shields
  • Pack more water, wetwipes and plastic bags then you think you could possibly need
  • Make sure one parent has earphones so they can go to a happy musical place when they need to escape
  • Build in extra time. If you can, book into an B&B if you need to. Check if they have a Sealy, so you’ll get a good night’s sleep! 😉

We’ve got road trips covered! Your kids are precious cargo, so if you’re the driver, read our important tips on how to stay awake on long road trips. If you’re a passenger and you want to catch some shut-eye, click here for some tips.