Long drives are tiring and boring for adults, never mind kids. So how do you prevent World War Three from breaking out in the car on those tedious long motorway drags that are an inevitable part of long-distance driving holidays?
On our recent trip to France we were away for two weeks. With three children. Across four locations. Covering a total of 1,900 miles on the road, traversing the entire breadth of the country and back and covering as much as 400 miles in a single day.
Here are my six top tips from a holiday in which our sanity remained intact. Just.
1. Get the kids involved in planning
By giving our children the opportunity to assist with certain aspects of our pre-trip preparation, they bought in to the journey itself more.
It’s a tradition in our household for the kids to select songs for holiday compilation CDs that we will then listen to – over and over and over again – in the car during the journey.
We spent a couple of days in Paris on this trip, which gave our London Underground-obsessed boys an opportunity to research how we would get around on the Metro and RER train services. This gave them plenty to focus on before the trip and a big topic to discuss on the long drive from Calais to Paris.
2. Give them a ‘care package’
Everyone loves a surprise, don’t they? We prepared a cardboard briefcase containing lots of useful items for a long trip: a sun blind for the window, a blow-up travel neck pillow, an activity book and pens and so on.
We gave this to Toby just as we were leaving home at the outset of our trip and the contents kept him occupied in quieter moments throughout the two weeks. He took great pride in looking after his case, storing it carefully wherever we went. The sun blind and the travel pillow were particularly useful for keeping him cool and comfortable – if you don’t have either of these already, they’re a worthwhile investment.
In future, we’ll prepare individual ‘care packages’ for all three of the kids. It gives them something a bit more exciting to look forward to, rather than just giving them a magazine each before we go.
3. Change the seating configuration (if you have a people carrier)
We’re lucky enough to have a roomy seven-seater, where we normally seat the three kids together in the middle row, leading to many arguments and much flinging of elbows on any journey of more than, say, 23 seconds.
This time, however, we put Isaac in the back and folded down the centre seat in the middle row, which served not just as a barrier but as a food table/storage area. The end result? Slightly less luggage space overall but fewer arguments and easier access to food and toys to distract them from simmering hostility.
4. Make time for breaks
It’s tempting to try to speed up the journey by stopping for fewer and shorter breaks. Bitter experience has taught us that this is a false economy.
Aside from the obvious benefits of a more rested and alert driver and fewer emergency toilet stops, stopping more often gives kids the chance to get out and blow off some steam, which helps reduce the amount of bickering once they’re back in the car.
We built in enough time for at least a couple of longish (40-50 minute) stops on our 300-400 mile blasts across France. A picnic stop for lunch. Another stop for ice cream and a play. (Also a chance for me to catch up on social media.)
Of course, we could have hurried on through and arrived earlier. But would all three kids have been alive to tell the tale? Possibly not.
5. In-car entertainment
In the past we’ve tried portable DVD players, iPads and other hand-held devices. But for this trip I invested in a Seagate Wireless Plus – a portable hard drive with built-in wifi.
Now the kids can sit in the car and all three of them can stream a separate film or programme of their choice to individual tablets. No more carrying around a stack of DVDs. No more having to purchase and download films to multiple devices, or wait for access to a wifi or a flaky 4G signal. Just put on Frozen (for Kara) and Cars 2 (for the boys) and enjoy the silence.
Of course, you need to own the tablets already but if you do then devices such as the Seagate allow you to carry your very own multiplex cinema around with you for a reasonable outlay – we bought the 1TB model on Amazon for £104.
Not every activity requires a massive financial investment in gadgets or toys, of course.
There are old favourites such as I Spy but you can make up your own games too. Our Cars A-Z has long been a favourite of the boys – you have to spot a make or model of car on the road beginning with each letter of the alphabet in turn. Or how about ‘I went to the shop and bought a …’, a memory game in which each player in turn adds a new shopping item to the end of a list that has been added to one at a time by all the players, with each additional item often more outlandish and extravagant than what has come before. For instance, “I went to the shop and bought a loaf of bread, a mango, new socks for Daddy, an Aston Martin” and so on.
It’s amazing how involved the kids can get in the simplest of observation or memory games and how quickly the miles fly past as a result.
So those are my top tips for a successful road trip holiday. Do you have any of your own?