Are we nearly there yet?
In the last 5 years my family has undertaken three epic family road trips around Europe (from Scotland to Portugal, and from Scotland to Croatia twice).
The key to a successful long car journey with kids is to think of it as the start of your holiday and make sure you all enjoy it. This is a chance to spend family time together, to talk, to share each other’s time, ideas, music etc. (Our book, the Family Travel Journal can help stressed and tired parents out here!) Essentially kids just love having your undivided attention.
Every time you complete a journey that is actually fun for the children, the easier it will be to sell them on the idea of travelling by car next time.
2) Eliminate as much time related stress as possible.
In other words, try not to have a ferry crossing booked at the end of a 7 hour car drive. If you can, overnight near the terminal. Otherwise every single contraflow will stress you out, right from the start of your trip. If there’s no rush to get where you are going, there’s no need to get stressed about traffic or roadworks. Remember your holiday has already started.
3) Charge up your screens & other gadgets.
Buy or borrow at least one portable DVD player, Nintendo or iPod etc. Ensure every gadget is charged ahead of travelling and that you have enough travel leads and multi adaptors for everyone to use the 12v cigarette lighter socket.
Obviously you don’t want the kids plugged in to screens for too long as they’ll never see where they have been. So ration their screen time and use it as a tool for rewarding good behaviour.
4) Take regular breaks.
Break up your journey regularly with picnics, walks and play areas. Fresh air and a runaround for the kids plus a power nap for the driver reduces stress all round.
If budget allows, an overnight hotel with a pool gives the kids something to look forward to and burns off energy before bed time.
5. Buy some journey presents (bribes).
Buy some small presents, like Christmas stocking fillers, and wrap them up for the journey. Action figures, crayons, DVDs etc. Ensure they see the bag full of presents beforehand. You can then award a present (bribe) for milestones or legs of the trip achieved without arguing, fighting or tantrums. This encourages and rewards good behaviour as well as keeping them entertained for the next leg of the journey.
6. Stock up with snacks.
OK, your back seat upholstery will take a bit of a hammering but snacks are so, so important. Pack a snack bag that can be pulled out when you sense that their attention and patience may be waning.
7. Play games and quizzes.
Kids have you all to themselves for once (and vice versa) so why not take advantage? 50 Games to Play in Cars is good. Our favourite is this number plate game: Take the letters from the number plate of the car in front of you and make up a proper sentence. Score points and prizes for cleverest or funniest etc.
Nowadays, you can buy all sorts of spotter charts for particular landmarks and vehicles for the children to look out for.
Car journeys are also a good opportunity to test their spelling and maths ability. There are no distractions (for either of you) and they often enjoy this time, knowing you are not secretly checking your emails or texts.
8. Travel in convoy, if possible.
If you’re holidaying with friends or grandparents then, if possible, travel in convoy. It makes such a difference for them to see a new friend or face when you stop and gives them something else to look forward to.
9. Stock up on essentials such as baby wipes and water.
Lots of baby wipes are a must. As well as bottles of drinking water, we keep several big jerrycans of 5 and 10 litres of water in the boot, pretty much permanently. Sooner or later you’ll be thankful you did too. (Spills, puke, poo, sand, mud etc.) We also keep a roll of black bin bags in the boot as sometimes a complete set of clothing or shoes needs separated from everything else until such time it can be dealt with properly.
10. Involve children
We have a map and a globe that the kids can place stickers on once they have visited those places. Take with you a map or two and buy a couple of packets of ‘organiser’ sticky dots, one colour for each child. Tell them where they are heading to, where they are staying next, or are passing though and award them coloured dots to place on the map for whoever sees the town/sea/river first.
If you have SatNav, you’ll notice how quickly they fathom the concept of the map and soon become aware of how long it takes to travel from town to town.