The Ultimate Checklist For Stress-Free Car Travel With Kids
18mths ago I was facing down the barrel of what we weren’t sure what was to be the adventure of the year… or a hellish month.
We set off in a Baileys Motorhome, and drove a round trip of over 4,000 miles in almost four weeks from Dorset through France and Italy via Venice, Rome, the Puglia Coast, the Amalfi Coast, Pisa and Tuscany, before meandering homewards again.
See what I mean? Awesome… or nightmare.
But actually, travelling with the children was the smallest of our worries – it really wasn’t ever an issue. Of course, we’re no strangers to long journeys with the children – we’ve driven with them in a normal people carrier to the south of France, the entire length of the UK, and various slightly shorter journeys in between.
It’s incredibly rare that we have any issues with squabbling or are-we-nearly-there-yet-ing. Maybe we’re blessed with extraordinary children (well, obviously that’s true, because I made them), but I think it’s possibly more about the planning and preparing for the journeys.
So here’s my personal top tips for long journeys with children.
The Car Bag.
This is essential. Each child must have their own personal car bag – preferably a backpack as they tend to be tall and take up less leg room, plus they’re easier for your child to tote themselves (I love the Lassig kids backpacks).
It’s essential that YOU pack your child’s travel bag.
That way you avoid the issue of a 6yr old heading off on a two day car journey to the south of France with a large pack of far-too-young-for-her picture books, a pad of paper – with no writing/colouring implements – and not a single toy. I’ll never make THAT mistake again!
So here’s my essential car bag checklist (and this counts whether your kids are 3 or 17):
- MP3 player – loaded with new songs AND some audio books. Plus in-car charger or new batteries.
- Handheld Gaming Device – Maybe invest in a new game. Don’t forget the charger. Perennial favourites are Pokemon (Age 3+) and DragonQuest IX (Age 12+, but our 7yr old plays happily with occasional assistance from older brothers). Long, involved, absorbing games that are not rage-inducing.
- Clean notepad and set of pencils. No felt pens or crayons in the car – a couple of biros and a set of colouring pencils are risk-free in terms of staining car seats!
- Water flask. Obviously you’ll have water and snacks in your own supplies, but a flask they can sip on as they wish is essential for preventing dehydrated grumpy snapping.
- Reading Books. This one’s a maybe. I can’t read in the car for more than 10 minutes without feeling hideously car sick. Yet my 13yr old who suffers from travel sickness can avoid feeling queazy by sticking his nose into a book for an hour or two. Make sure the book is a big one to last a while – for younger readers who can’t manage long chapter books then activity books are excellent. Things like Where’s Wally, sticker books, magnet play-books etc are all long-lasting calm activities.
- Car games – Top Trumps, Travel Hangman (this wooden Melissa & Doug Hangman one is awesome, we’ve been using it for 5 years), Snap, Happy Families etc.
The Grown Up’s Car Bag
Apart from their own bag, it’s inevitable that you’ll need supplies too. Here’s what we won’t leave home without:
- Water. Lots of it. Rationing drinks to avoid too many loo stops is a fruitless exercise that just makes them bad tempered and irritable. I’d far rather have hydrated happy children and a few minutes extra on the journey! But keep it to water – juices go through them too quickly, and create far more mess when they spill.
- Snacks. You never know when you’ll hit bad traffic. Make sure that you have supplies to prevent low blood sugar being an issue. Choose your snacks wisely though – you don’t want high blood sugar creating chaos in a confined space, either!
- Baby wipes. My oldest is in his mid-teens now, but I’m not sure there’ll ever be a time when baby wipes don’t come in handy.
- Audio books. We love listening to them as a family. Many family holidays are associated with what story we had; ‘the cottage where we listened to Muddle Earth’, ‘the time we listened to the Philosophers Stone all the way up to Northumberland’. A well-written kids story is great for the whole family to listen to.
- Plastic Wallets. I know, not exciting. But keep all your travel info in one – tickets, holiday property details, emergency numbers, directions, insurance details. In a second keep all the tourist info that you’ve already researched about where you’re going, tickets you’ve booked ahead, details on the restaurants you’d like to try, places you want to visit. Having them organised and to hand makes life SO much easier. I get mine from The Works – 99p for a pack of 5, what’s not to like?
- Your game head. I Spy can be a bit tedious, but change the rules to make it fun. We play First-To-Spot instead, and have a list of six things (one suggestion each). If you spot one you get to replace it with another. Be as random as you like – red tractor, woman on a bicycle, green BMW, a Buzzard, a man with two dogs. Pub Cricket is another good one when you’re not on the motorway – split the car into two teams, one on each side, and start looking for pubs you pass. First team in bat gets a run (point) for each actual leg on the sign of the pub (e.g. a king will gets 2 points and a horse gets 4). The pub has to be on your side though – if there’s a pub on the fielding team’s side that contains an inanimate object (e.g. a crown, or a sheaf) then they’ve got you out, and they’re in. This game can run throughout an entire holiday (beware of cheaty drivers who change routes to revisit favourite high-scoring pubs).
- Your singing head. Nothing beats a singalong – whether to your stereo, or just singing old favourites like Green Grow The Rushes-Oh. It’s the joining in that matters.
Ultimately, the biggest tip is to see the journey as part of the adventure, to be enjoyed as much as the rest of the holiday; whether you’re heading for a weekend in Newquay, or a 4 week monster-trip across Europe you can’t go far wrong.
If you’re looking for yet more tips, you might want to take a look at Daisy’s over on Dais Like These – she remembered the pillow/rug combo which I failed to mention, and which is a total essential. And Sam’s list over on ‘North East Family Fun‘ makes a good point about avoiding service stations – planning your journey to include an hour’s break somewhere fun has to be better than the motorway scene at Fleet, right?
Lastly, Carrie from Flying With A Baby has some absolutely invaluable tips on car seats abroad that is essential reading if you’re planning a fly/drive break.