Traffic jams, irritable children and frazzled parents can make long car journeys a real challenge for families. So we asked some experienced parents to share their top tips for a stress-free car journey.
The key here is to plan for the worst and expect the best. An optimistic friend tells me this always works. Our experience has been slightly less rosy. We’ve lived through projectile vomiting, emergency poop stops, fights over whose window should be looked out of, snack wars and stationary traffic jams … all standard family life.
Timing is everything. If it fits with your schedule, snuggle them into pyjamas or a baby sleeping bag (you can get these with slits for seatbelts – ingenious) and settle them down with teddies, pillows and blankets. No radio allowed until everyone’s asleep! But make sure to exhaust them first. One chatty three-year-old we know was so excited by the late-night journey he kept talking until way past 10.30pm! Travelling through the night with sleeping children is one of the most luxurious moments you might have as a parent - so enjoy!
If the timings don’t work and you have to travel in the day time, distraction is the holy grail of car journeys. Even the most placid of children will not appreciate the scenery, or want to listen to that fascinating rambling documentary on the radio. They will get bored, and fidgety, and start poking their siblings for kicks.
Before you go, prepare your car with a mirror for the baby seat, toy organisers, a window shade and tablet holder. Don’t forget spare plastic bags, wipes, a travel potty – and spare clothes. Ask your children to pack their own backpack of things they might enjoy playing with on the journey. This will nourish their independent souls. You may find they have packed an eclectic mix of glass jars, fossils, hair clips, weaponry, elastic bands, paint, playdough… you may want to subtly edit it before departure.
Crack out the classic games but save the ones you don’t truly enjoy for desperate times only. Our Little Explorers can play I Spy for hours on end, without really knowing what letter anything starts with, and usually picking something that is actually at home or perhaps totally fictional. It always ends in a row. A classic is Who can stay quiet for longest?, which has potential to create fully 45 seconds of peace. Other good ones are Spot the first yellow car, Count the car transporters, and What animal am I thinking of?
The trouble with anything competitive is that with winners there are always losers – usually very bad losers in confined environments. The Neverending Story is a good one for team participation and in-car cooperation. Depending on the age of your children it may well descend into bottom jokes but it will have kept them busy for a passable 10 minutes.
If your children are old enough and calm enough, audio books can be fantastic – the funnier the better! Sing along CDs are brilliant and for a moment you can smugly feel like the Von Trapps. Don’t feel you have to put yourself through hours of nursery rhyme torment – get them into the music you love from a young age!
Being well prepared with snacks is essential and preparing lots of mini, clean nibbles is a winner. Squeezy pouches, carrot sticks and cheese cubes are tried and tested favourites, and you could mix things up with alternative snacks of coconut, cereals, freeze-dried strawberries, beef jerky and fruit leather.