Are we nearly there yet? Car journeys with children

Car on the open roadThere are definite advantages to packing everything you need in your car, not having to be bothered about airline luggage allowances or liquids in hand luggage and setting off straight from home. But if the thought of being in the car with your children for an extended period fills you more with dread than delight, have a look at some of our tips for easing stress on car journeys:

1) Plan, plan and plan again

Sounds obvious but you need to know exactly where you’re going. SatNav is a wonderful thing and has probably gone a long way to improving marital relations on car journeys but it’s not infallible, so make sure you at least have a map and print out a route before you go. Work out how long the journey should take in ideal conditions; then work out how long it’ll take adding in a couple of traffic jams and toilet stops every 2 hours (particularly important if you need to be somewhere at a specific time eg to catch a ferry). And be aware of where the motorway services are located (this website has reviews on motorway services across the UK ). In France there are motorway services approximately every 15km and most have picnic and children’s play areas.

2) Consider travelling at night or very early morning.

You have to weigh up your own personal pros and cons here – if you travel at night you will likely have a much quieter journey as the children sleep. But on arrival will you be able to last through to the following night without any sleep? A very early start is quite a good compromise – children should go back to sleep for a few hours (for at least part of the journey, fingers crossed!) and you’re not quite so tired when you get there.

3) Let your children pack a little bag for themselves.

Granted, they will probably end up bringing a bag full of random little bits of plastic but you then sneak it away and add in all the things you know they like and that most importantly, keep them entertained for a little while. Keeping a few new toys, comics or books up  your sleeve is always a good idea and encourage longer periods of quiet with the promise of a “surprise” to come in return for good behaviour.

Car on the road4) Pack plenty of drinks and snacks and keep them in the car with you, not in the boot.

You’re guaranteed that the child that is rarely thirsty will absolutely have to have a drink 5 minutes into your journey. And remember, our overall aim here is to reduce stress so maybe err a bit more than usual on the side of the snacks that your children really like (if you’re going with pre-packed snacks go for the ones that are individually wrapped – toddlers love unwrapping for themselves, but it takes them ages so keeps them occupied!). And best to avoid anything too crumbly or messy.

5) Make full use of technology

Between portable DVD players, handheld consoles, iPhones and iPads there are numerous ways for children to be entertained on the move. And whilst we’re not suggesting that you just plug them in at the beginning of the day and then don’t communicate again until you arrive (tempting though it may be!) it is quite a good time to be a little more relaxed about the usual screen time rules. Lovely as it would be to have a taxi style glass screen between the front and back passengers, consider purchasing a set of children’s headphones so at least the noise disturbance levels for the grown ups is kept to a minimum. Investing in a car charger may also be a good idea!

6) Pack a bag of essentials for those little emergencies (again, keep it beside you and not in the boot).

To start you off it might include the following –  babywipes (whatever the age of the children), plasters, a roll of kitchen paper and a couple of empty plastic bags.

Car with view to sea7) Travel sickness – not nice, but if your child is susceptible then check which medication your local pharmacist/GP recommends.

You can also buy elasticated wristbands with acupressure points to ease symptoms of motion sickness – increase the placebo effect by making a big deal of putting the “magic” wristbands on at the beginning of the journey. Try and stay to the main roads or motorways if you can – country roads are very scenic but can be very windy and and not great for car sickness sufferers. One of the main things though is keeping the child looking out of the window and not down at a book or screen. This is when having a selection of car games to call on can come in very handy.

Once you reach new shores and surroundings you may be pleasantly surprised as to how much your children start to take in and participate in the adventure of it all. And the wonderful thing about a car journey is that it really does seem like an adventure and you’ll be creating memories for your children that will last a lifetime.

If you’ve got any of your own top tips about travelling with children we’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.

If you fancy a self-drive holiday with children but don’t want a long drive on the continent, Canvas Holidays have a large selection of camping holidays in North Brittany, perfect to get you started.

Categories: Camping - a guide, Travel

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  1. Some good ideas and reminds me of our travels from Scotland to France. When our girls were younger I used to wrap up surprise gifts and hide them in a special pocket on the back of the seats – this kept them amused for most of the UK part of the journey( this was before the invention of in car DVDs ) that and endless story tapes seemed to do the trick!

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