Do the car journeys with your kids fill you with dread? While it is easier for adults to stay calm on long journeys, many challenges are faced when you have children in the car too. Not only do you need to ensure it is safe, but also keep your children entertained, which is not the easiest job in the world when you are confined to a small space for a long period of time.
Whether you are heading out for a long cross country journey, or simply heading across town to visit a friend, here are some top tips for family car journeys, that will hopefully make them a tad more fun, and hopefully more bearable for you, the adults.
Make a plan
The real key to a better car journey lies in the preparation. Preparation is key and can make or break the journey. This will take some time, but it will all be worthwhile when you see what a difference it can make to the journey.
One of the most important tricks you can use is to get the kids involved. Let them tell you how often they want to stop or may need to use the bathroom, what games and entertainment they would enjoy, and what route to take. These sound like very grown-up decisions, but if you can provide them with options, for example, present them with different scenic routes that are available to take, and what they may see along the way, it will get them excited, make them feel more responsible for the journey, and hopefully provide them with some entertainment on route as they look out for their chosen locations, and perhaps even have fun with the timings, or create their own map/stories around them. The more you can get your children involved in the planning, the more pleasant the journey ahead will be.
Before you set off, make sure everyone is aware of the plan and is happy with the journey ahead.
Identify everyone’s strengths and weaknesses
We all have them, and there is no shame in identifying what they are. In fact, by doing this, you can plan accordingly and make the journey a lot smoother. Some people prefer to sleep on the journey, some prefer to play games, watch TV, or read a book. Speak to each family member who will be in the car for the journey and find out what works best for them. This information will be a great addition to your planning and preparation for the journey, and significantly decrease the challenges you face while on the road as you find balance and harmony between what makes everyone happy. And as a parent, this can be very hard to do!
Take plenty of snacks
Already know what snacks you want to take, and how many? Well, pack even more. You can never have enough snacks when you’re on the road, especially with a car full of children. Pack a variety of snacks, from sandwiches and crisps to fruit and raw vegetable sticks. Try to avoid anything that is too messy.
Just because you have packed lots of snacks, doesn’t mean you should give them to your children all at once. Try and pace them throughout the journey. It is easy to use snacks when you want to relieve some of the boredom you experience on long journeys, but a good pace of snacks will be more rewarding for your children, and also help them develop a little patience too, which is always a good thing on long journeys.
Entertainment is vital for any car journey, especially long ones. Children, and adults alike, will easily get bored when left to just sit and look out of the window. Thankfully, if you went through what everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are, you may have a better idea of what kind of entertainment is best for the journey. You may need to pack different items and plan different games to suit each child, but it will make all the difference if the time is taken to prepare them. Speak to your children and ask them what they would like for the car journey, and pack any of the equipment needed for the activities into individual bags. The bags will enable children to feel a little more responsible (and hopefully model that behavior) but also means they will have all their activities to hand in the back of the car, so they can use them whenever they want to. There are many activities that can be played in the car, from watching a DVD, playing a quiz, coloring in drawings, playing a game on a device, listening to audiobooks, and more. If you have young children, make sure you double-check with them before you set off for your journey, as they have a tendency to change their minds easily and may have a different interest by the time you travel.
It may also be a good idea to have a handful of games in your head, in case your children get bored of the ones they have packed, which happens more than you may realize. Get creative, and think of some out-of-the-box ideas that will educate them, keep them busy, get them thinking, or make them laugh. You could also get your children to draw a map of your journey and all the different things they see along the way.
As important as snacks and activities are for entertaining your children and keeping them busy on the road, none of that will matter if the car environment is not right. From the temperature to the smell and the space, there are different things you need to consider. Firstly, make sure you have the right equipment working in the car to ensure it is not too hot, or too cold. It is a good idea to pack extra sheets, blankets, and pillows, as the car temperature may be one of the biggest debated topics on your journey. This way, you can make compromises and keep everyone warm. With a full car and lots of food, the smell of the car is important. Get your family a custom air freshener, which will make the journey a much more pleasant experience. Lastly, you must consider the space. It’s good to be prepared, and pack lots of games, activities, snacks, blankets, and amenities for the trip, but with all these extra items, is there enough space in the vehicle to be comfortable? Check everyone has enough legroom and can move around enough to be comfortable, to eat, and to use their activities.
If you have a long journey ahead, pit stops are crucial. This will ensure you can stop off, have a stretch, and allow your children to run around. Children often struggle on long journeys, because they have a lot of bottled-up energy that needs releasing. Stop off, and if it is safe to do so, encourage your children to run, jump or play around in the outside areas. This may even encourage them to sleep on the next leg of your journey. Regular stops may make the journey a little longer, but it will make it much smoother for everyone.
Last but not least, is safety. While you want the journey to be more enjoyable, safety is the number one priority for everyone. While making these plans, packing snacks, creating activities to stay entertained, it is important that you check everything you are doing will be safe for the journey. For example, can all the games and activities be safely accessed and played from the seat, with a seatbelt on? If not, perhaps some of the activities should be saved for when you stop at a service station. Is there a safe passage to the car doors, and windows, in case of an emergency? Does everyone who needs one, have a car seat that is in working order and fits correctly? Are there any obstructions to the driver, for example, in the rearview mirror that could hinder their driving ability?
If you are planning a long journey, it is a good idea to check over all the essentials, and even take your car to a specialist to check it over. This will ensure it is safe to drive. A specialist will be able to check inside and outside the vehicle and ensure it is in working order and will be able to take you to where you want to go. Not only is this important for you and your family’s safety, but will also help eliminate any additional costs or unplanned delays on the way. In the unfortunate event, this does happen, make sure you have adequate insurance and breakdown cover, as well as additional snacks, amenities, and safety equipment on hand, such as a torch, high visibility equipment, and a spare tire.
Whether you are planning a road trip for a vacation, or just across town, preparation for everyone in the family is key. The more prepared you are, the better the journey will be.