I love going away. Travelling was a big part of my life pre-kids and I still enjoy discovering new places. However, like most parents, those long car journeys spent listening to some favourite music or a great audio book have been replaced by whining and shouting from the back seat.
It’s hard enough travelling with kids at the best of times but long car journeys with kids who have additional needs can take it to a new level.
The longest car journey we’ve completed as a family was nine hours to Cornwall last summer. I was dreading it so I went into preparation overdrive, planning out each hour in the car and making sure I had enough snacks and activities to keep them occupied should – er when – they got bored.
We’re going to Norfolk for a few days during the Easter holidays so my mind is turning to planning for the three hour trip. From experience, the key to achieving a successful and safe car journey is to stay calm and be prepared for every eventuality.
Here are my 9 top tips for long car journeys with kids who have additional needs:
1. Be patient.
Easy to say but harder to do. Your children WILL drive you crazy but it’s your job to remain calm. Try not to fall out with your partner either. Children will mirror adult frustrations.
2. Play traditional games.
This will depend on your child’s understanding and level of engagement but we had success last year with I Spy, using colours instead of letters
You could also try car bingo, which involves looking for things out of the window such as a cow, a caravan, a lorry etc, and seeing who can get five in a row first.
3. Audio books and favourite songs
It might bore you to tears but if you stick on their favourite audio book or music CD, you might get a few minutes’ peace to scroll through your phone or actually chat to your partner. Shorter ones work best for my two even if it means changing the CD more often. The Julia Donaldson collection is a favourite, as is Thomas the Tank Engine, and Paddington.
Or you could have a family sing-along. Bravo to you if you have kids who will listen to your music or favourite radio station – you are the winners. For the rest of us, the endless repetitions of Grand Old Duke of York, or If You’re Happy And You Know It, might feel like we’re going insane but we’ll have to get over it. It’s not about us.
4. Car seat trays
Car seat trays are great for long car journeys as they can be used for all sorts of things. Take some colouring or drawing books if that’s what they like. Or magazines with different activities. Sticker books also work well. Little cars or characters might also keep them entertained. You could bring these things out as little surprises during the car journey.And trays are also great for the endless snacks needed for long car journeys. Which brings me to my next point….
5. Pack for success
Long car journeys with kids are not complete without a food bag with goodies – but avoid too much sugar. The last thing you need is hyperactive kids in a confined space. Fruit and water are best. Try to choose snacks which are designed to take longer to eat such as boxes of raisins and bags of crisps or popcorn. Also carry wet wipes and spare clothes that are easy to access within the car.
6. Make sure the technology works but don’t rely on it
Downloading TV programmes or films is a good idea to while away an hour or two but make sure everything is charged up. A flat battery on a phone or ipad would be a major disaster, right?
We didn’t reveal that we’d brought the ipad until about 7 hours into our 9-hour journey to Cornwall. We knew there would be major meltdowns if we gave it to them and then took it away later on. Once they’ve used the ipad, everything else is going to seem pretty dull in comparison and if you’ve still got five hours to kill, it will take its toll. So reserve it for the ‘break glass for emergency’ moment if you’ve got an extra-long trip. If you can…
7. Know your journey
You don’t want to get lost on long car journeys with kids. Also know where you’re going to stop and take breaks, so the children can get out and stretch their legs.
Children need regular stops. Never go more than two hours without a stop. For very young babies too long in a car seat can be stressful, so factor this in when you plan your journey.
If your kids still nap, try to factor this into your journey too so they can rest and you can too.
8. Set off early and take your time
If you set off early and take your time instead of rushing to your destination the journey will be a lot smoother. But, remember driving when you would normally be asleep is a risk factor, so make sure you are fully awake by taking frequent breaks and sharing the driving.
9. Organise your journey
Break down the journey into hours when thinking about long car journeys with kids. Think about what you’re going to do for each hour in the car. Factor in different activities, snacks, any mealtimes and naps. It might not go to plan but it will give you an idea of what activities you can bring out next or prepare the kids for the next stop. It’s surprising how manageable it can become with a little bit of planning.