Road trips can be a great family bonding experience as you set off on a new adventure together but they can also be tiring and stressful. From the ‘Are we nearly there yets?’ to back seat squabbles and traffic jams, it doesn’t take much to derail your best plans.
To help you get the most out of your half term, we asked real mums and dads for their tips from the front line (front seats) on how to make long car journeys easier and more comfortable with children.
1/ Prep your car before you set off
Less a hack than a necessity. Don’t set off on a long drive without fully prepping your car to reduce the risk of breaking down. ‘We always check the car the day before we travel in case there are any issues’, says Sarah, mum of 2. ‘Children who’ve been promised a trip to the seaside won’t be happy sitting at the side of the road while you call for help if you breakdown.’ Check your tyre pressures, that all your lights are in working order, and that your fuel, oil and screen wash levels are topped up.
2/ Pack your car wisely and safely
‘We use clear stackable containers in the boot so you can see what’s in them at a glance,’ says Matthew, dad of 3. ‘And pack essentials like sunglasses, your phone/ sat nav and charger, snacks and drinks, and activities for the children at the top of your bags so they’re easier to access.’ It’s important not to overpack your car, no matter the size. Not only is it unsafe but you could be landed with a large fine and 3 penalty points. Consider upgrading to a family friendly SUV for your next car if you’re regularly taking the kids on long journeys.
3/ Don’t be afraid to travel at night
If you’re travelling a long way to visit family or friends, consider driving at night. ‘Our trips from Essex to Liverpool to see family are about 4 hours,’ says Stevie, mum of 2. ‘We always travel at night. We get the kids ready for bed in their PJs and set off. The traffic’s generally better and the kids are mostly asleep so we can crack out the grown up playlists and eat the bags of chocolate they don’t know we have.’ Claire, mum of 2, agrees, ‘Give them their blankets and favourite teddies and the car helps lull them to sleep.’ Make sure you’re not too tired to drive though.
4/ Wrap it up
Keeping children occupied for long stretches is a worry for most parents. ‘I buy cheap pound shop toys, stickers and crafts and stock pile them for long journeys,’ says Gemma, mum of 2. ‘Then I wrap them up. The kids love unwrapping them and they have toys they don’t normally have at home so the novelty factor keeps them occupied for longer than usual.’
5/ Burn off energy
‘Make sure you have regular stops,’ says Chloe, mum of 3. ‘We have favourite service stations on our regular routes where we know our boys can burn off some energy and we can stretch our legs. It also stops you going insane counting lorries!’ If you’re on a route you’ve not travelled before download an app like Motorway Services GB that lists every service station and its amenities so you can find the one nearest to you wherever you are in the UK. AA members also get 20% off at Moto services.
6/ Eat smart
Pack a selection of healthy snacks for the whole family. ‘Avoid sweets or sugary drinks in the car – they get way too much energy,’ says Hannah, mum of 1. ‘Cereal bars, fruit, cheese and water all work with my kids. And always have a plastic bag for rubbish, tissues for sneezes and kitchen roll or wet wipes for spillages.’
7/ Let me entertain you
Playlists, smartphones and tablets are all part of the long car journey arsenal now. ‘We compile her favourite songs into playlists for when we’re fed up of talking and playing games,’ says Hannah, mum of 1. ‘Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter on Audible has saved many car journeys,’ says Lucy, mum of 2. ‘We do a lot of long drives from Brighton to Norfolk and the Midlands with our two and they love them.’ Just don’t forget the chargers.
8/ Travel sickness sorted
You can get everything from wristbands to herbal tablets to help alleviate motion sickness but if your child suffers with travel sickness, limit their food intake in the car and prevent them from reading or looking at their tablet or smartphone if that triggers it, and make sure you’re prepared. ‘We pack hospital sick bowls for travel sickness because they’re disposable so you can chuck them in the nearest bin,’ says Stevie, mum of 2.
9/ Avoid ‘are we nearly there yet?’
Do your kids ask if you’re there yet the minute they get in the car? ‘We made a simple but colourful map with little drawings of tourist destinations like Stonehenge and Durdle Door, along the route when we drove from London to Cornwall,’ says Mark, dad of 1. ‘It helped us point out where we were and pre-empted THAT question.’
10/ Keep things tidy
Long car journeys and children equal crumbs on the seats and pieces of Lego trapped between the seats. ‘I hang 2 shoe organisers over the back of the front seats and stuff each pocket with the kids’ games, puzzles and toys so they can get to them easily but the car isn’t a complete state 15 minutes into the journey,’ says Alex, dad of 2.
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