Car journeys with children
There are definite advantages to packing everything you need in your car. To start with, you don’t have to worry about airline luggage allowances or how much liquid you have in your hand luggage.
But does the thought of being stuck in the car with the kids for hours – and endless cries of “Are we nearly there yet?” – fill you with dread? Fear not. We’ve put together some tips on easing the stress of long car journeys.
#1 It’s all in the planning
It might sound obvious, but make sure you know exactly where you are going. SatNav is a wonderful thing and has no doubt gone a long way to improving marital relations on car journeys but it’s not infallible. Make sure you also have a map and print out of the route before you go.
Work out how long the journey should take in ideal conditions; then work out how long it will actually take (I’d factor in a couple of traffic jams and toilet stops every 2 hours). This is important if you need to be somewhere at a specific time, e.g. to catch a ferry.
Make sure you know where you are going to stop. In France you’ll find motorway services every 15 km or so. Most of these have good picnic and children’s play areas.
#2 When to set off?
Personally, I’m a big fan of the early start. We sneak the kids out of bed and into the car and they usually drop back off for a couple of hours until we stop for breakfast. There are of course advantages to travelling at night too – roads tend to be quieter and generally the kids sleep, so there’s less moaning!
I think for this one, you have to weigh up your own personal pros and cons!
#3 Let them pack
Tempting as it may seem, it’s probably best not to leave all the packing to the small people. However, it is a good idea to let your children pack a little bag for the car themselves.
Yes, they will end up bringing a bag full of random bits of plastic, but you then sneak it away and add in the things you know they like (and will keep them entertained). Keeping a few new toys or books hidden away is a good idea. You can also use bribery, and encourage longer periods of quiet with the promise of a ‘surprise’ to come in return for good behaviour.
#4 The power of the snack
Pack plenty of drinks and snacks and keep them in the car with you, not in the boot. You’re guaranteed the child who is rarely thirsty will demand a drink 5 minutes into your journey.
Remember the aim here is to reduce stress, so 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, pick ones which are individually wrapped. Toddlers love unwrapping for themselves, but it takes them ages so keeps them occupied! It’s also best to avoid anything too crumbly or messy.
#5 Make full use of technology!
Between portable DVD players, handheld consoles, smart phones and tablets, there are numerous ways to entertain children on the move.
Tempting as it may be, I’m not suggesting you just plug them in at the beginning of the day and then don’t communicate again until you arrive, but it is a good time to be more relaxed about screen time rules.
And 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 Never underestimate the power of a baby wipe!
Pack a bag of essentials for little emergencies – and keep it beside you, not in the boot! Things to consider – baby wipes (whatever the age of the children), plasters, a roll of kitchen paper and a couple of empty plastic bags.
#7 Help with travel sickness
It’s not pleasant, but if your child suffers check which medication your local pharmacist/GP recommends. You could try the elasticated wristbands with acupressure points which ease symptoms of motion sickness. Making a big deal of putting the ‘magic’ wristbands on at the beginning of the journey can also help increase the placebo effect!
Try and stay to the main roads or motorways if you can – country roads are very scenic but can be very windy – not great for car sickness sufferers. Try to keep 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 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 it really does seem like an adventure. And it’s hopefully 2 weeks before you have to do it all again!
If you’ve got any of your own top tips about travelling with children we’d love to hear from you!