Any length of car travel with kids can be challenging. Most often, as soon as you set off (even if it is just after breakfast) the first request for food come in. Not long after that is the first ‘are we there yet?’.
Having just had over 30 hours driving time in 10 days with four young children (and that does not include the time we spent stopping for the toilet, food, sightseeing or waiting for the tow truck!) we thought we now would be the perfect time to share our 7 top tips for car travel with kids.
1. Choose your Mindset
Okay, I know I may well be starting to sound like a broken record about choosing your thoughts and choosing your mindset…but it really is the best place to start to tackle most aspects of life – and a family car trip is no exception.
Before you set off, spend time visualising a happy family, and feel yourself being calm. On the journey, choose to be the one that stays positive, and sets the mood. Be realistic about what you are expecting of the children, and know that there will inevitably be some challenges along the way. Know that you can deal with them calmly, and that peace will be restored.
2. Getting comfortable
Being comfortable on the journey is key. If your children are still of car seat age (all four of ours are) then it is well worth investing in good quality comfortable carseats. Check that all the straps and headrests are set at the right level before you go. If you are renting a vehicle it is well worth considering taking your own carseats, as the children will be accustomed to them already.
It is also useful for comfort to have some light blankets, a pillow, their favourite cuddly toy and plenty of space in the car (pack light – how often do you ever wear everything you packed?).
However, children do seem to somehow make even the most comfortable carseat look uncomfortable:
3. Plan your travel time
If your children still nap, then work your travel time around that. You may be lucky enough to get an hour or so peace on the journey!
The best time to travel is going to be very individual to each family. If your kids sleep easily in the car, then you may consider driving into the night, or getting an early morning start. However you do also need to consider your best time to focus, and never drive tired.
Plan your routes carefully beforehand, including approximate travel times. I put together a travel folder for each of our adventures, that has our travel times and route for each day, our accommodation details, and some interesting places we may like to stop. The trick is then to double the time you think it would take, because you will need plenty of these:
4. Stretch stops
There is no point pushing on with tired, grumpy, hungry kids who need the toilet! You are best off stopping, getting everyone out of the car for a quick stretch/run around, toilets, and back on the road.
Speaking of toilets, having a travel potty in the car may be useful, as may teaching your girls to wee squating…sometimes the nearest toilet stop is a long way away, so the side of the road may be necessary (and in Europe sometimes the nearest toilet stop is a squat toilet anyway).
5. Food, food, food
This is the thing that bugs me the most – the constant requests by Miss 3 for more food “now I am really really hungry Mummy”.
Pack a variety of snacks and some more substantial food. Taking your own is really worth the effort – what you can get along the route is often expensive, tasteless and lacking in the nutrition stakes. Water bottles for each person are also worth their weight in gold.
We sometimes do things like throw out a box of raisins each, and then play ‘who can make their raisins last the longest’. Although this can cause some problems when Miss 3 finishes first and then sees everyone else eating theirs long after hers have gone…leading to the initial food question being repeated.
Most of the time it is really just because they are bored, so a bit of distraction can go a long way.
Involve the children in planning the holiday, including the packing of activities for the car. Get each child to pack a small activity pack with some toys, crayons, books, stickers, favourite toys etc. It is worth overseeing so that nothing with small parts gets packed – these will inevitably end up down the side of the carseat.
Audio books are readily available from the library, or downloaded, and can break up the journey.
DVD’s are also well worth it. Some people use portable DVD players, we are lucky enough to have a built-in DVD player in our car.
Of course the simplest things are often the most effective – playing eye-spy, car cricket, the silent game, the supermarket game, or having some conversation such as recalling favourite holiday moments.
7. Easy access packing
This involves a little bit of crystal ball work – what are you going to need on the journey. Pack everything you may need within arms reach in the car – camera, plasters, food, tissues, wipes, and a bag for rubbish.
Also take your easy-access packing further by thinking about what you will need the next day. If you are moving daily (as we were for the first few days of our latest adventure) then it may be worth having each person pack a little backpack each day with pj’s, toothbrush, clean clothes (including underwear and socks) for the next day. Then each person only needs to take in their small backpack rather than unloading the whole car. As we had secure parking most nights this worked so well not having to unload and re-pack the car just to find a clean pair of knickers!
Family trips and holidays are amazing opportunities, we hope these tips make your next one fabulous!