As with all family events involving little ones, preparation is key. Anticipating potential pitfalls and finding ways to avoid them will ensure everyone has a better time and when you are crammed in a tin can together for hours at a time, this could make a world of difference to the success of your trip. In this post, I’ve tried to think of all the issues that can arise to threaten the harmony of your merry band of travellers and have included lots of tips to try and avoid them. If I’ve missed any out, or you know of a sure-fire travelling tip, feel free to add it in the comments.
Little children have little bladders, which are particularly prone to spring into action when their owners are bored. This is the first and most important reason for rest stops every hour or so, depending on the age of the children. Every child in the known universe can instantly be DESPERATE for the toilet the second your car wheels touch the other side of the last motorway exit for 20 miles, so anticipate the boredom-wee and pull off periodically. If you can plan your route to include toilet stops that don’t involve service stations, even better, since you won’t have to walk them past everything they suddenly have to own, but at vastly inflated prices. This is quite tricky, but options include; public facilities, such as leisure centres, supermarkets, or shopping centres. You can also try this helpful website The Great British Public Toilet Map, where you can search for a loo by location or postcode. The other reason to pull over now and again is that everyone gets cramped and grumpy in a small space over time, so by planning regular opportunities to stretch little legs, run off some energy and get some fresh air, hopefully the grumpy can be avoided. It will help your driver stay awake too.
There are various ways to combat car-induced boredom. One option is to play ‘Are We There Yet Bingo’, where the driver and adult passengers have a list of likely questions that will spout forth from the mouths of little people, such as ‘Are we there yet?’ ‘When will we get there?’ ‘How much further is it now?’ and you get a point for every time you hear one and don’t lose your sh*t. But I don’t recommend this, so here are some serious suggestions. Let the children navigate. The best way to answer the ‘are we there yet’ question, is to put the children in charge of their own navigation. For older children, this could be a Driver’s Atlas (remember those, from before sat navs?) which you can buy for a few pounds from a petrol station or supermarket. They will (hopefully) rise to the challenge of plotting and following the route, which should keep them busy and they will know whether or not they are there yet, without asking. For younger children, you can make your own ‘map’ which can feature landmarks for them to look out for, and you can perhaps put the miles left at each landmark, so that they can see how much further there is to go. The best aspect of this activity is they can work together, or individually, whichever suits the family dynamic. You can also play ‘Spot the Name of the Destination’ on the road signs as you get closer to it.
Some people get judgey about too much screen time for young children, but this isn’t every day, this is a one-off survival exercise that you all want to get to the other end of with ear drums and nerves intact. Using a portable DVD player or tablet, to amuse the back seat dwellers is something that is personal choice and if it works for you, why not utilise it? Previous generations would have given anything for a portable entertainment box which virtually guarantees peace on the motorway, when the only option seemed to be endless rounds of I Spy, or territory wars over the arm rest. It doesn’t work for everyone though, looking at a screen while travelling makes me feel ill, so it’s not always an option. In which case, there are games which are fun to play, such as The Pub Game, where each side of the car is a team, and your team gets awarded points for the number of legs on any pub signs you pass on your side of the car. As an added incentive, you could agree to stop for a drink or food once you reach a certain number of legs. I also recommend making up your own version of Punch Buggy Red. This game is fairly self-explanatory, and the obvious incitement of violence inevitably leads to bruising and hysteria, so I suggest establishing your own rules. You could operate a non-violent scoring system, such as offering a small sweet incentive for not bashing anyone.
Snacks are your currency. It’s astounding what suddenly becomes achievable in a little mind when their are delicious treats in the offing, so use them wisely. The first rule is; do not leave the snacks in the back, with the small, bored people, because they will be gone by the time you reach the motorway, probably followed by a few hours of ‘I feel sick!’. Snacks can be used for: Rewards – well done on not belting your brother! Prizes – congratulations on winning ‘game I just made up’! Bribery – Who needs exciting Service Station stuff, when we have … other stuff back in the car! Boredom busting – Only one more junction til your next jelly baby! You get the idea. It’s also obviously not wise to fill children up with sugar and then confine them in a small space close together, so pacing is very important for a world of reasons. Equally, pay very close attention to drinks bottles and their contents, otherwise you are going to spend a lot of time referring to point one. One idea is to fill smaller bottles now and again with just a little water, or whatever their preferred tipple is, from a bigger bottle kept in the front. This way, they won’t drink pints without thinking, which can happen when there’s not much else to do.
Finally, these are my personal recommendations of items you should always keep in your car for long, or short, road trips.
Tissues – Sneezing, mopping, or even wrapping rejected sweets, the uses are endless.
Wet Wipes – A more advanced tissue, particularly useful for intercepting the sticky, before it reaches the seats.
Plastic Bag – Rejected by society, the humble carrier bag is a life saver in a car. Whether it’s storing wet clothes, or catching vomit, they take up no space, and have a multitude of uses.
Window Blind – The greatest in-car anti-moan device ever invented. The sun can be troublesome through a window even in winter, so don’t leave home without one.
Lap Tray – For long tech-free journeys, these are great for activities such as colouring, or even eating, when you don’t want to be trying to reach stray crayons, or nuggets, from the floor every two minutes.
Electric Cool Box – If you travel a lot and have room, these are a great investment. When you are travelling in the summer, the temptation for a cold drink can lead to a whole lot of expense at the services, and you can keep sandwiches and other snacks in there too, for a healthier, less warm, lunch.
Thanks so much to Lucy for sharing her top tips for travelling with children. You can read more on her blog The Parent Game.