by Jenny Schippers
As the prospect of an overseas trip this year seems like less of an option by the day, our appetite for time away from home is greater than ever after months of lockdown; so, it is no surprise to see the UK holiday market booming ahead of the summer as families book camping, glamping, and rental properties from John O Groats to Lands’ End.
For those travelling with children, the ease and convenience of packing up a car rather than attempting to squeeze all the essentials into a suitcase is a welcome relief however, the thought of a long car journey with kids can often seem like a daunting trade-off. Working out routes to coincide with service station stops, wondering how to keep the children entertained for hours and how best to keep them comfortable are all valid concerns for parents. Having travelled extensively with my two young children, now four and seven years old, here I share my top five travel tips for surviving a long car journey with kids.
1. Plan your Route
It goes without saying, if you are travelling a long distance with children in the car, then you need to pre-plan your driving route in advance and schedule stops along the way, whilst also having a contingency plan. For small children and babies, you should be stopping every 90 minutes whereas older children can travel for longer periods. Planning your route should take into consideration service station stops to use baby change and toilet facilities, the chance to break the journey to reduce tiredness and allow for mealtimes.
Where possible, research the service station you are planning to stop at, do they have all the facilities and eateries you require? Some are better than others and many have a degree of outside space for little ones to run safely or for dogs to be walked if you are travelling with a pet. It is also best to use a route planner with up-to-date traffic information where the route can be updated to allow for roadworks, accidents, and traffic jams.
If we are travelling on a longer journey, over 2 hours, then I will look to break the journey halfway with the opportunity to see a tourist attraction, a National Trust property, or a nice spot for a picnic. I much prefer to leave in plenty of time and make a day of the travelling stopping along the route to break the drive. A road trip is the chance to see parts of the UK that you would otherwise have driven straight through so maybe consider going a slightly longer route to incorporate a place you wish to visit.
2. All the Snacks
Once you have planned your journey and you know the complete time you will be travelling for, plus a buffer to allow for delays, you can work out the snack situation. For me, I work on the rule of a small snack for every 30 minutes of the car journey plus breakfast/lunch/dinner depending on what time of the day you are travelling. The snacks do not have to be anything too extravagant, and I always pre-prepare these in advance to avoid lots of mess. Small tubs, pots and picnic boxes work well as these allow you to pass things into the back easily.
For small children and babies, schedule feeding stops as it is not safe for younger children to be eating unaccompanied in the back of a vehicle. This will most probably coincidence with the chance to nurse/feed smaller babies and change their nappies. For those children that are weening, service stations often have plenty of highchairs or you could feed your baby in their buggy for ease. Older children and teenagers always appreciate their independence, so why not pack them a picnic and explain that they have their food for the journey to eat as they see fit.
Some mess-free healthy snacks that work well include carrot sticks, chopped apple, peeled tangerine, sultanas, breakfast hoops, fruit winders, crisps, and sandwiches. I always carry a small bag to use as a bin and the girl’s drinks bottles. Now my children are older, I tend to restrict their fluids to within 30 minutes of a scheduled stop, just to avoid any emergency requests for the toilet, every parent’s nightmare! This is weather dependent so if you are travelling on a hot day make sure to keep your children hydrated and never restrict fluids for younger children and babies.
3. Keep them comfortable
Aside from ensuring they are fed and watered, one of the most important consideration to a long car journey with kids is making sure they are comfortable.
As my girls are four and seven, they fit perfectly into their hifold fit and fold booster seats and we use them on our day-to-day journeys as well as longer drives. There are numerous benefits of the hifold including its unique MultiFit technology that allows the seat to fit to the child and be adjusted by height and width. The wrap-around head rests are perfect for longer car journeys and the girls often fall asleep in their seats which is always a bonus.
During long car journeys, car seats can get pretty grubby and are often very hard to clean due to all of the little hiding spots and crevices, which are a magnet for crumbs. It can be a nightmare, especially with the children snacking the whole journey. The hifold is made from easily removable and machine-washable airflow™ fabric (at 30°), which makes cleaning at the other end of your journey a breeze and one thing less to worry about.
Window blinds to protect against the sun, rear view mirrors and a seat belt protector are also useful products to ensure that children travel happily on long car journeys. I always pack sunglasses and a baseball cap in case they are in direct sunlight as well as a blanket, pillow, and teddy for when they get tired.
The key to travelling further without as many hiccups is by ensuring children are sat in a safe seat appropriate for their age that provides peace of mind to parents and comfort for the child.
4. Travel equipment
Again, this is age appropriate but now my children are a bit bigger, they pack a bag each with what they want to take on a car journey. This includes a tablet each, to avoid arguments, fully-charged and downloaded with their favourite programmes. Headphones are also a must and I now carry a power bank to ensure we do not have any tears if they run out of battery life. In my opinion, the key to a fuss-free car journey with kids is technology, it is not the time or place to be limiting it! Save that for when you arrive at your destination and you can limit screen time then.
5. Choose your travel time carefully
Having tested every which way of travelling on long car journeys with the kids, for us, the key is to travel during rest and sleep times. Getting the girls bathed, fed and into their pyjamas for bigger trips seems to work well; they are naturally more relaxed, and the hope is always that they fall asleep for some or all of the journey.
Plan your route to incorporate meal/milk stops and factor in additional time to account for delays when planning your journey and arrival time. Always consider the time you will be arriving at a holiday rental property, if it is late in the evening and the children will be going straight to bed, ensure you have a small bag with essentials in that you can easily pull out of the car to save unpacking it fully.
Again, the time you leave a holiday rental property is something to consider; we will often forego the last night to travel home in the evening when we have had the day to pack and clean, rather than rushing to leave early in the morning.