How To Survive Long Car Journeys With Small Children
When your children are teeny tiny, car journeys aren’t all that much different to when they weren’t there – a couple of toys dangling above their car seat and you’re away. So long as you have the usual changing bag and the like with you to deal with nappy incidents and feeds, should they be required mid-journey, there isn’t all that much else needed.
Then suddenly they stop being babies and start being toddlers and small children and they start getting bored – often only about four minutes into the journey which can have you headbutting the dashboard in despair when you know there are three more hours to go before you can answer ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ with a yes.
So how do you get through long journeys without losing the will to live? Here’s a few survival tips that we’ve learned along our way:
Allow extra time in your journey – plan for loo breaks
Now that Arthur is just about potty trained, we have lost our security blanket of nappies. Now we can’t answer his desperate ‘I’M WEEING!’ with ‘You’re wearing a nappy’ every time because sometimes he isn’t. (There is no ‘I need a wee’ with Arthur, it’s total desperation or nothing – even when he’s not really desperate.) This means we have to stop for toilet breaks where we would normally just go the whole journey without pausing. This does add time on to your journey so it is better to allow for it before you leave.
Along the same lines, we sometimes stick a potty in the car when we are going away for a few days – this means you can stop just about anywhere where it is safe for an easy toddler loo break. This has resulted in a few very scenic views so far – one of my favourites being this one. Tori totally had the best seat in the house that day! (The entire promenade was deserted and the car hid her from the road.)
If you are going to be on the road for a long time, snacks and drinks are almost vital. A bottle of juice or water each (not too big or there will be extra loo breaks!) and a supply bag of car-friendly snacks handy enough to be dished out every now and then can stave off irritable episodes.
I tend to take a packet of non-melty sweets (Dolly Mixtures are good) and something savoury along the lines of breadsticks or Mini Cheddars on most journeys that are longer than an hour. We don’t always use them but they are good to have, just in case you get stuck in traffic and miss lunch or something.
We permanently have a few toys in the car – a toy helicopter, a tractor and a couple of Thomas trains usually – but if we know we are off on a long trip we let the kids each pick another toy (or two) each to bring along so that they have a variety of things to keep them occupied. This does lead to the odd argument; ‘Mu-um! Arfur won’t let me have the green tractor!’ and more often than not you hear a ‘No, that’s MINE!’ but generally it causes more peace than war.
Books and Magazines
I was a terrible car traveller as a child (and teenager and adult…) and just thinking about reading in the car made me go green and more often than not, throw up. It did look like Tori was following in my footsteps when she started being sick on long journeys but thankfully she seems to have outgrown it (unlike me). This means that we can include books in our long trip inventory – a robust board book each works as a distraction and if you have any old map books lying around, they go down a storm. Tori and Arthur love plotting pretend journeys and working out where they think we are going – it also lends some entertainment for the grown-ups when they shout out things like ‘We’re going to hit the sea!’ whilst you are driving through a landlocked county.
As a treat on long trips I also sometimes buy the Smalls a new magazine each and don’t produce it until we are halfway there – this works as a nice surprise for them as they don’t get magazines often, and breaks the trip up for them a bit.
Music & Audiobooks
There are millions of CDs out there designed to entertain kids, the biggest challenge is finding ones that aren’t so excruciating to listen to as an adult that you want to claw your own ears off. If you can find a couple of those then they go down a storm and pass half an hour or so (and then go round and round in your head for the next week…)
Of course you can just find kid-friendly music CDs and play those, or listen to the radio if you find a suitable station, instead of specific ‘kid’ CDs. I find this option slightly better for my mental health.
Audiobooks are also good if you can pick them up – we recently got given the Paddington Bear books read by Stephen Fry from someone who got them free in their newspaper. Although admittedly I think Caius and I enjoyed those even more than Tori and Arthur.
And of course there are the old faithfuls such as ‘I-Spy’ and ‘Count the red cars’ that you can all play together. You can spot fields of animals and talk about the sounds they make, you can look out for different trees and talk about those, different buildings and what they are for – anything appropriate to where you are driving.
When they are old enough to read you can play at making words out of the letters on number plates or Pub Cricket (aka Sign Cricket) which entertains the grown-ups a bit too!
What do you do on long journeys to keep the rabble amused? We are always looking for new ideas so please share any you have – we go up to visit family in Yorkshire quite regularly so are often needing to entertain a pair of bored kids in the back of the car!