Sandakan Road Trip: Top Tips for Traveling with Kids


By May Salitah

Forget flights.

The best way to see the wonders of Sabah is by a good old-fashioned road trip. Growing up, my siblings and I would always look forward to our monthly adventures. Honestly, being stuck in one car for hours and hours on is the family vacation. Whether it is a short weekend trip to our kampung in Tambunan, or to Semporna for some diving and snorkelling at Sipadan island; and even crossing international borders to Brunei for some fun at Jerudong Park; every trip was definitely a perfect family getaway.

Now that we’re all grown up, it is our turn to bring our kids on the adventures we had!

The travel itch.

Last year, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic had a big impact on travelling and local businesses in Sabah. With strict Covid-19 SOP implemented throughout Sabah and with more businesses reopening, we figured out it was about time that we head out for a food adventure. We did not have a hard time selecting where to head to. As cliché as it sounds, Sandakan definitely has something for everybody – great food, cool places to visit, and I stress again, the food.

Needless to say, it was a destination we could all easily agree on. With a distance of roughly 331.7 kilometres from Kota Kinabalu, it was the first long-distance road trip we embarked on with our kids. Based on our experiences as children to teenagers, single young adults to young parents, the outcome of road trips can be quite unpredictable. So before you start your engines, here are some tips for a fun family road trip with your kids.


! Disclaimer: Regardless of where you are, it is important to continue practicing social distancing and SOP to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. 

1. Planning

When travelling with a family (or families), I cannot stress on how important planning is. Regardless of the distance, it is important to list down a few places to stop for toilet breaks, meal time, or a place to stretch it out.

Our journey started early in the morning. We had breakfast at Kantin Bakut, Tuaran, then stopped for some cakes and coffee at Puteri Nabalu, Kundasang. Personally, the most challenging part about the road trip were the toilet breaks. After a quick lunch at KFC Telupid, it was quite hard to find a decent public toilet along the way.

We ended up stopping by a few mamak shops to buy a drink as an excuse to use their toilets (because most shops would only allow paying customers to use their loos). The biggest challenge of all was diaper-changing the little ones. There were no nappy stations to be found so everything had to be done in the backseat of the car. 

That being said, mapping out your journey in advance (with the help of Google Maps and asking those with experience) can come in handy. 


2. Packing

I’ll be honest. I am not a light packer. My husband had a backpack for himself, I had a suitcase to myself, and my daughter had a whole suitcase to herself. I would have a million “what if?” scenarios in my head while packing. I had to make sure she had enough clothes (for all seasons – including thick jackets just in case we had to stay the night at Kundasang), diapers, bath tub, emergency kit, and a rice cooker (just in case she wants rice or porridge for supper – this has never happened before but what if?). 

You’re probably wondering why I packed a bathtub. Well, how else do you give a one-year-old a bath?


There is no rule of thumb when it comes to packing. Pack according to your own parental intuition! It’s better to be over-prepared than finding yourself in panic mode because you brought one bottle of mozzy repellent instead of two. 


TIP: What’s in my emergency kit?

3. Safety

Safety always comes first. Check the tyres, oil, and all necessities at least two days before traveling so that you can always go back to the shop if something doesn’t feel right. It is important to remember to travel confidently. You won’t be able to have peace of mind if you have no confidence in your vehicle. 

During the journey, buckle up – driver and passengers. It would probably be a good idea to familiarise your toddlers or kids in their car seats or booster seats. My daughter hates being strapped in her seat for too long so the entire journey was a bit stressful for both of us. There were times when I would feel like giving in to her cries and take her out of her seat but there were a few stretches of uneven road surfaces.



There were no proper R&R stops either, so this can also be a challenge for breastfeeding mothers. I figured out that the best way to calm my daughter was to breastfeed her while we were both still strapped in our seatbelts. How? Let’s just say, flexibility and yoga helped a lot.

4. Entertainment

If you’re not driving, be prepared to be in charge of entertainment for your kids and the driver. I made sure that I packed all my daughter’s favourite stuffed animals, toys, and books to keep her busy when she was awake. The long journey proved to be a great time to bond with her by telling her stories, making her laugh, and pointing out random things on the road for her to look at. 


We also downloaded plenty of songs, playlists, and albums on Spotify to keep the adults sane especially in stretches where there was little or no telco line coverage. It’s important to download the right songs for the driver to sing-along to in order to avoid fatigue.


I have to say that you have to be a really good multi-tasker when it comes to being a backseat passenger on a family road trip. Kid crying? Here’s a snack. Driver request for different song genre? Switch to Spotify DJ. Driver hungry? Here’s an adult snack. Bladder emergency? Check Google Maps for the nearest toilet. 

5. Covid-19 RMCO and SOP

The must haves – one box of face masks, a few bottles of hand sanitisers, a lot of baby wipes, MySejahtera and Sabah Trace app. ✓

For a seamless journey, ensure that you have spares in the car, your handbag, your travel bag, etc. We were impressed that SOP was practised in all the places we stopped at.


With an entourage of seven persons, we even had to split into two or three separate tables in order to adhere to the restaurant rules. Some restaurants allowed us to sit at one big table because we came from one household, whereas other restaurants did not bat an eyelid and told us that it was their SOP. In other words, “you can follow our rules or leave”. For the love of food and with due respect to the restaurant’s procedures, we followed through. One restaurant owner even reminded my niece and I to keep our distance when he saw us sitting too close to each other while watching TikTok videos. 😂


Strict SOP measures are also applied at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Car tyres are disinfected at the entrance and all guests (including little kids) must wear a mask to enter the centre. It can get quite humid at the area to watch the Orangutan at their feeding platforms which might make your face sweat. You can still readjust your mask to wipe off the sweat, but if you leave it off for too long, the rangers will come by to remind you to wear your mask.



Travelling with young children is quite a challenge on its own, and every parent must remember that despite the detailed planning process, nothing is set in stone. We also ended up staying an extra night because the drivers needed an extra day of rest. Rather than getting stressed out, we went with the flow and enjoyed another extra night exploring Sandakan town (thank God we had extra clothes!) 


Food + Adventure + Social distancing + Proper SOP implementation = Perfect Sandakan getaway


We commend your efforts Sandakanites! Well done. 


Thank you, Sandakan. Next destination: Tawau!

Bonus tip for a more relaxed journey: Bring the grandparents. 

Disclaimer: All views and opinions are based on the experience and personally expressed by the writer and do not represent the opinions of any entity or external parties.