I think I’ve reached the age where driving holidays are a must now. I would far rather choose to pack the car full of people and stuff, and set off when we want and be as loud and crazy as we want. Better that than deal with public plane tantrums (probably from Andy rather than the kids), overtired children, broken air con and delays.
When we embarked on our journey, Indi was about 5 months old, so she was still exclusively breastfed. If you’ve read my post about our breastfeeding journey, you’ll learn that she was a snacker, so we had to stop LOTS of times along the way! The next time we go, I’m sure we can ply the kids with millions of snacks, snacks on snacks on snacks, and we’ll complete the journey much quicker.
It’s an experience that needed some careful planning, a lot of boot space, and a reliable car (like a Honda, Fiat or Volkswagon), but it’s liberating to be able to just take off whenever you want.
Try these 10 top tips for surviving a long car trip abroad…
1. Bring all the snacks
One major reason that children get cranky and irate is hunger. Don’t rely on service stations for food, pack the car full of healthy, fun and filling snacks. You can even use them a bargaining tools if things get fraught in your Ford as you’re speeding through France!
2. Provide entertainment
Singalong tapes, audio books and family games (such as I spy – gah I hate that game) will help the hours to fly by. We packed a bag full of pencils, paper, magazines, little toys and games etc. for Fin, and kept another surprise bag for the journey home. He was super-excited to receive some new things, and it actualy kept him occupied for hours.
3. Make the journey fun
Get your kids looking out for landmarks – the white cliffs of Dover, the sea, windmills, you name it! – and turn this into a fun game.
4. Plan your toilet breaks
If possible, try to all take a toilet break together, as this will reduce the total number of interruptions to your journey. I know, easier said than done with small children, but maybe a little easier with older ones.
5. Give rewards for silence
Are your kids’ squabbles getting a little too much? Play a game called: ‘whoever speaks first, loses’ or sleeping lions! Offer a reward such as a small chocolate bar, or a promise of more holiday spending money in exchange for half an hour’s precious silence from older children.
6. Make sure everyone’s comfy
Favourite toys, soft blankets to curl up in and a good quality car seat for younger children will work wonders in terms of reducing their tendency to become restless and irritable. We took a couple of feather pillows to prop tired bodies on during the nightime hours. Turns out we needed one each at least as we had to stop to sleep (listening to Andy snoring was unbareable whilst sleep deprived), so pack all the cushions you can fit in! Stuff them down the footwell.
7. Prepare by telling stories about fantastic car journeys you have taken
Before you leave, spend a couple of occasions telling your children how much you love travelling in the car, and recall some wonderfully exciting car journeys you took in the past (you may have to embellish a few details here!). This will help them to see the journey as a positive adventure rather than an arduous chore.
8. Consider a physical barrier
Do your kids squabble if shut up together in an enclosed space for too long? Consider placing a physical barrier such as a bank of pillows or a piece of board between them if they are sitting beside each other in the back seat to stop them from pinching, poking and hitting each other, or generally getting on each other’s nerves.
9. Consider driving at night
Opinion is divided on this matter, but some parents do find that taking all or part of their journeys after their kids’ bed time will usually lead to your little ones spending an hour or two sleeping in the car. Let me tell you this, though. Don’t drive at night if you find it hard to stay awake. My husband and I had a hell of a journey that took far longer than it needed to because of tiredness at night. Also, driving on the other side of the road in the dark is not a fun task. Our journey home in the daylight was much more pleasant. That’s not to say we won’t night drive again, but we would certainly share the driving and get some good night’s sleep before the next trip (how with two kids, I don’t know.)
10. If your budget allows, try breaking your journey
If you still think it would all be too much, try splitting the journey in half and spending one night in a hotel at a mid point such as Paris or Normandy.
Enjoy the ride!
Travelling long distances with your children in the back seat can actually be positively pleasurable, and a great way to spend some quality time together.