No holiday smacks of freedom quite like piling the family in a car and hitting the road. But car journeys and little kids are not generally considered to be a winning combination. Here are some of our favourite tips for surviving family road trips.
Whether you’re going coast-to-coast across the USA, driving through France or simply heading to a summer festival in the next county, there are a few things you’ll need to plan ahead.
Let Me Entertain You
From story, sticker and colouring books to CDs and audiobooks (which are actually better if your kids are prone), here’s the one area where you shouldn’t travel light. If you’re playing audiobooks on the main car stereo, bring a library, or you’ll have to listen to the same story on repeat and will lose your mind. iPods with headphones are a life saver on longer journeys. Usborne is brilliant for activity books and cards. There’s an entire collection for this purpose, which includes 50 Things to Do on a Car Journey, and 100 Things for Little Children to do on a Journey. Or check out Jo Pink’s brilliantly retro but very useful Are We There Yet? guide to in-car games for families. It will extent your repertoire far beyond I Spy, which (let’s be honest) gets pretty tedious after around 8 minutes with an pre-schooler.
Break It Up
Snacking or stretching legs at a string of service stations is no fun for anyone, but there are usually plenty of diversions near main roads that can provide loos, a café or a couple of hours’ entertainment: stately homes, petting farms or out-of-town shopping villages. Don’t be snooty about tourist traps, either. You can have a lot of fun in a cheesy theme park or amusement arcade, especially on a tolerable time limit. They also give you a goal and the kids something to look forward to – or rather, you some leverage over their in-car behaviour.
Sleep It Off
You’ve probably already learned that it’s worth planning your journey around younger children’s nap times. But if you want to ensure they go to sleep, plan a stop-off at a swimming pool or outdoor adventure playground and feed them well.
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An estimated 66 per cent of children’s car seats are wrongly installed according to an article in The Observer so it’s worth having yours checked. Halfords will install any car seat bought there for free. The law states that children need a car seat until they reach age 12 or 135cm in height – whichever comes first. And if you are travelling long distances think about getting some neck pillows and light blankets or muslins to keep them comfortable.
Long stretches in the car often mean sore limbs, cramp and backache, so do some exercise during stop-offs. Get the kids to join you in a few yoga moves and stretches, and encourage them to race each other in a nearby field (you may need to offer prizes).
Most food tends to go rancid after even the shortest stretch in the car, so buy snacks that can survive the distance. Rice cakes, bagels, pretzels and granola bars tend to travel better than fruit, juice and sandwiches. Always have carrier bags, which make invaluable temporary bins, and never underestimate the value of wipes and tissues (if you have space, a kitchen roll will be your best friend).