A while back, pre-COVID! (while dolling out some alternative Christmas travelling tips), we promised you a longer list of ideas for entertaining kids in the car. Seeing as the majority of us are looking forward to British holidays this year, but may be feeling anxious about the mammoth car journeys to get there, we thought this was the perfect time to pass on our child travel advice!
Whoever came up with the phrase “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” might have been right, but they also had more time on their hands than most of us! Having said that, when you know you have a big trip ahead, it’s worth every minute of preparation you can spare for happy children and a smooth journey.
We fully expect you to take advantage of the amazing electronics that are now available for your brood, whether that’s the family iPad, their own phones, a portable DVD player, or any other device that makes the hours pass faster. However, even the novelty of electronics can wear off on a long journey and it’s always worth having plenty of other tricks up your sleeve, or in this case, in the glove box!
If you’re embarking on a really long journey, you’ll probably have to plan your route and when you do, really consider your timings and child-friendly stops such as extra service station breaks or even a playground to work off your stiff legs and the kids’ steam! Having a plan will make for a much easier journey, even if things change on the day. Plus, if you decide to use some of the other ideas and activities from the rest of this list, a really helpful tip is to have each activity released by certain landmarks or distances on your journey. You could even make it a countdown to your destination. It keeps each stage of the journey fresh, with things for the kids to look forward to; whether it’s a new game, refreshments, an activity, or a treat.
Don’t worry about feeling judged – embrace the electronics and make sure your little ones (or bigger ones!) have all the accessories, power packs, cables etc they need for the journey and in fact your entire trip! If you really want to feel better about relying on gadgets, try a creative challenge – a photography competition for the journey is a great way to kill time and get their eyes away from a screen. Whether it’s an unusual shot inside the car, a sibling pulling a silly face, or a scene outside the window, it can create a lot of fun, plus it makes for an interesting record of your journey!
Every family tends to have a fall-back game for the car, but it’s always worth refreshing your repertoire when it comes to extra-long journeys. We love these conversation starter games that can get the whole family laughing…
Car bingo is a great game to keep everyone entertained (as long as no enthusiastic ‘bingo’ calls put off the driver!) – who’s the first to spot a blue Beetle, a horse in a field, a red post box – you get the idea! We’ve created this special CarTakeBack Bingo you can all have fun with, although you’ll have to supply a prize for the winner! Or, you can create your own and even personalise it with special sights or landmarks you know will be on your route. No cheating for the creator though!
We’re far from Super Nanny, but a great tip we’ve tried for helping with young children’s behaviour on the road, is to keep their name pegged to the sunshade. While everything is going well, the peg stays up, but if behaviour dives, you can remove their peg until things improve. If their name isn’t ‘up’ at the next stop they might miss out on the fun activity or treat you have planned.
If your little ones tend to nap in the day, or perhaps your journey is starting earlier or finishing later than they’d usually be awake, their pillow and a blanket from home can help them settle much faster. Plus, they can be really useful once you get to your destination. You can even buy some activity pillow cases now, including colour-in ones, which is another game for the trip! Although maybe not just before nap time, or you may be getting some semi-permanent face paint you didn’t bargain for!
Even kids that don’t usually get car sick can surprise you on a long journey. If they’re past the age of potty training you probably don’t usually travel with spare clothes. Even if you have suitcases full of them, no one wants to be digging around in the boot and riffling in their freshly packed bags, with an uncomfortable poorly child and the rest of the family complaining about the smell! Keep a change of clothes, wet wipes, bin bags, and anti-bacterial wipes for your car, easily accessible! An old towel is also a great bit of emergency kit for covering car seats or anything else you may have to clean properly later. Don’t forget your normal first aid kit for any other minor medical emergencies or the driver’s headache!
Refreshments! You may be a seasoned traveller with a great knowledge of roadside cafes, but if not, it’s worth spending some time considering when you can all eat properly. Hungry children, or adults for that matter, aren’t much fun to be around and a long journey requires more than snacks if everyone’s going to arrive in good spirits! If the weather is good enough you could research a picnic spot, or take some time to look at reviews of service stations – there are gems such as the Westmorland at Gloucester, which is more like visiting a glorious farmer’s market! However much you plan, there’s always a chance you’ll be stuck in a queue or face an unexpected hunger pang, so don’t underestimate the amount of snacks you’ll need – their favourite fruit, crisps, popcorn etc will be useful to have on hand, as well as some sweet treats and plenty of drinks! For little ones, mini snack boxes with a choice of colours and flavours can provide some added entertainment during the journey.
Reading a proper book might end up taking you back to the scenario we dealt with in tip number 6! And we don’t want to regurgitate that! But that doesn’t mean stories are out. Audio books, (age appropriate) comedy sets, or podcasts, can keep the whole family entertained. Select them together before the journey to make sure everyone’s happy about the choice, and you could even set a designated stage in the journey to switch it on as something to look forward to. Just don’t get too carried away and forget to navigate!
Keeping little hands busy is key to a quieter journey, but loosing colouring pens, Lego pieces, or other small toys down the backs of car seats can end up adding more stress. Great ideas we’ve tried and tested for activities include sticker books, Rubik’s cubes or other large ‘fiddle’ toys, and magnet travel games. Another genius idea we’ve read is to use old catalogues from home… you can take it turns to add funny stick people to scenes in the book and pass on to the next passenger. You only need a biro so colouring pens aren’t a problem and you can make everyone else laugh with your silly scenes!
Don’t forget the music! Even with the best intentions, that trip playlist may never have been put together… But just listening to the radio or putting on your children’s favourite movie soundtrack and having a family sing along, can provide great entertainment. Play ‘Name That Tune’ or take it in turns to choose a radio station or song and get ready to horrify your children with a word-for-word rendition of a ‘classic’.
Alright stop, collaborate and listen…