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Our Favourite Ways to Survive a Long Car Journey with Children

Spending a lengthy amount of time in the car with children can send shivers down the spine of even the bravest parents. But with a plan and a box of tricks in your arsenal, you can survive the journey with your sanity intact

 

The idea of getting in a car with any number of excited, tired, grumpy, or [insert other descriptor here] children can be daunting. But with a little thought and a lot of pre-planning, a road trip can be an exciting adventure!

We polled our experts and they've come up some suggestions to help you make it to your end destination in one piece.

How can you make long car journeys fun for kids?

Find a route master

If your children are old enough, get them involved from the start. Pull out the antiquated maps (your sat nav can't have all the fun!) and show them where you'll be going; get them to follow along while you're en route, and make it a learning experience.

If you're brave enough to trust their map reading skills - and you've got the sat nav running for back up - you might even let your child guide you.

Plan your rest breaks

Calm cars make for a happy familyThere will always be an unplanned rest stop needed, but knowing where the possible stops are along the way is a good place to start.

We know it seems like a schoolboy error, but make sure you start with empty bladders and, while you need to keep the kids hydrated, take into account the amount of liquid you're offering if there isn't a rest stop nearby.

Which food is good to have in the car?

It's snack time

For some reason, car trips breed hunger - snacks are a good distraction! It's a common misconception to think that car trips equal junk food. Remember that an increase in sugars can change behaviours, so too much and your angelic child may become a demon in an instant!

We suggest a combination of snacks - some healthy and nutritious, and some treats that they normally don't have. Again, the number you need will be determined by the length of your trip and the ages of your children, but suggestions include:

Mini-sized treats - we know everyone loves chocolate, but think about how hard it is to clean up when melted, so avoid where possible!

Cheese - cheese strings or mini Baby Bells are good as they're individually packaged, as is Pepperami.

Granola bars - chewy ones are better as they are less likely to crumble and make a terrible mess.

Pretzels - these make less mess than crisps or other salty treats with powdery coatings!

Water - we know juice boxes seem like a good idea; however, anyone who's been hit in the back of the head with projectile juice knows that cleaning up the mess can be a nightmare. Water is an idea because it doesn't stain and doesn't smell if you don't get around to cleaning it up like milk based products.

Nuts - taking allergies and choke hazards into consideration, nuts are good for filling hungry tummies and counteracting an accidental sugar high.

Fruit - it can be tricky as it is often finicky in the car, and dried fruit is higher in sugar. Find a balance of dried fruit that is durable and fresh fruit that can easily be doled out in the car; if your kids are older, a container of grapes is often a good place to start.

Note: With any family sized bag of any snack, split it up into smaller portions. If you hand the big bag of crisps to the back seat, not only will there be tummy aches, but you'll also have a much bigger mess to contend with!

What to pack for long car journeys with kids

You know your family (and your car) better than we do, so there are a few things you need to think about when packing activities for a road trip...

The container 

Pack wiselyWhether you opt for a bag, a box or a tub, let your children choose it and decorate it. The size and shape of your 'pack' should fit your vehicle, and you need to think about how you can access it as the driver or the passenger. Older children may have a rucksack they like to fill - in which case, the following points still apply!

The element of surprise

Don't let your car pack get tired; you'll need to breathe new life into it every time you hit the road.

It doesn't need to be brand new, but having a few surprises up your sleeve will make everyone's lives a little easier. If you want to add even more mystery, make a habit of wrapping up little treats and dolling them out at varying intervals.

What you put in the box will depend on the ages of your children and their likes and dislikes. You will want to think variety.

Colouring

Think about your location! Markers are not easy to clean up and crayons melt in hot temperatures, so pencils are a good place to start. Have a combination of things to colour on - whether it's blank paper or a colour by number.

If colouring feels the same every time it can get boring, but with new images or instructions it feels like a new activity.

Games

Remember little pieces get lost easily and are a choke factor for smaller children. Pick your games wisely and keep a few favourites on hand.

Think back to the games you used to play when you were a child; make a series of flash cards with items on them that you might see on your trip, get your children to look for them and collect that card, or make a list of the number plates you see from different countries.

Make it a fun challenge and have a prize for the winner or a treat when you've all completed a task... you'll know whether a group task or competition is better for your brood.

Toys

The space you have could be an issue, so pick items that are small and, in most instances, squishy; the squishier they are the easier they are to pack! Think about whether you need two of each thing or if your children like playing with different toys.

Electronics

While we're not big fans of putting on a film and ignoring the kids, we do understand that, depending on the length of your trip, this might be a useful idea. Especially if your children are different ages and you need quiet times so that the little ones can have a nap.

Use electronics as a treat, and make sure you have enough spare batteries or a way to charge the device. There is nothing worse than promising Peppa Pig and realising your iPad doesn't have any juice.

Audio

Whether it's a new music CD or a book on tape, these can be a good way to cheer everyone along, or put them to sleep. These can be costly if you only use them once, so why not visit your local library and borrow a new one before your next trip?

Alternatively, you could record yourself reading your child's favourite story and let them watch it on a tablet; this way you can be in the back seat and the driver's seat at the same time!  

The role out plan

Electronics can be a treat

Think about how long the trip will take, and how many different items you have in your pack. Spread them out - if your children have access to the whole thing from the beginning they'll be through it in no time, and you'll be back to a car full of kids wanting to know if you're 'there yet'.

Depending on the ages of your children and the number of items you have, decide if you'll give them out on a regular basis, or just when the protestations start.

So now you've got a survival plan, the only thing left to do is to put it into action... Happy travels!

 
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