It is true, long car journeys + children are not exactly a match made in heaven, but they can work. With a little preparation and a lot of patience you can go the distance with your kids - and survive! Here’s our top tips for driving long distances with children:
Get your children involved in the planning of your journey. Take out a map and show them point A and point B and how you plan to get there. This will help them to understand how long it’s going to take to get there. Ignite their excitement with a travel book for your destination and ask them to pick out possible activities and attractions for your time there.
The distance and time shown by Google Maps isn’t always accurate. They don’t allocate for unexpected traffic, car breakdowns, toilet breaks, energy levels or hunger pangs. One thing you can be certain of is: no matter how many times you ask, “does anyone need to use the toilet” and receive a resounding “no”, someone will in fact need to go within ten minutes.
Be realistic when planning your route. There’s only so many hours you can drive in one day. Consider breaking up the journey with an overnight stay at a hotel.
A sleeping child is a happy one. If possible, begin your trip in the afternoon/evening after the kids have been running around throughout the day. Plough ahead with the drive for a couple of hours and then make a pit stop for some dinner. Use the restaurant facilities to change the kids into their pyjamas and bundle them back into the car.
Set the mood in the car with pillows, calming music and anything else to help them fall asleep. Enjoy driving in peace until you’re too tired to continue.
Note: Stop driving as soon as you feel too tired. Driver fatigue is extremely dangerous.
Use a map to locate suitable rest stop areas. Lookout for stops with the following amenities:
...and whatever else you think you might need.
Tips: Learn more of how to keep your little ones safe in the car.
Food is your friend when travelling with children. Keep a range of snacks on hand for when the imminent “I’m hungry” statement strikes. Sliced and dried fruit, sandwiches and other healthy snacks are ideal as sugary items might raise levels of restlessness. However, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do - if allowing your child to enjoy a bar or a bag of crisps keeps them happy and quiet for a moment, go for it! Just don’t overdo it.
This tip is a given. We know that screen time is a taboo subject but when you’re driving for a long distance, they’re a great help. Make sure that everything is fully charged and pack portable chargers as a backup. Download movies etc before the journey so that they can be watched without an internet connection as signal could easily drop.
Tip: You can buy holders that will suspend the tablet / player on the back of the front seat’s headrests, so kids don’t get bored of holding them up.
A good old-fashioned singsong always helps when travelling with kids. Create a playlist with some of their favourite songs or the soundtracks from their favourite films and sing along. You can also download an audio book for some on-the-go story time and calming music for when it’s nap time. If you’re worried about connectivity while on the road, transfer the above onto a CD.
We touched on this earlier in the list but it’s a good idea to take your child’s pillow with them in the car to provide comfort and encourage nap time. If there’s a certain teddy or blanket that they adore, bring it along too.
Here are some suggestions
There are other options like mini Lego and mini board games but unless the kids have a fold out table, they could prove difficult to use. Also, you want to avoid small, fiddly bits that can fall behind seats etc as neither you nor the kids will be able to retrieve them safely while the car is in motion.
Try to keep the children (and yourself) encouraged with thoughts like “only x more hours and we’ll be checking in to the hotel” and “this time tomorrow we’ll be doing Y”. Discuss your exciting plans post drive and generate an air of excitement among the family.
We know it’s easier said than done but trying to remain calm can really help on long journeys with young children. Discover your inner child and allow yourself to get silly with your kids. Cherish moments like these as much as you can. By being prepared, open-minded and using the above tips you’ll have the greatest chance of staying calm while hitting the road.
Child safety in the car is also very important.
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