For a long time my family lived in Sussex and we lived in Manchester. Four hour car journeys were a regular thing for us, and even thought we’ve now moved to be closer to family we still like to get out across our beautiful country for holidays and to visit friends, so back into the car for long stints we go. Over the years I have gathered together a few tips and tricks to make journeys with kids just that tiny bit easier. They are always a bit of a slog and between sickness, and ‘I’‘m bored can I have a snack?’ Requests and stops for a poo when you only stopped 13 seconds ago, there are no quick fix solutions but there are some things we can do to make our lives just that tiny bit easier while we are all trapped inside a tin box on wheels for several hours at a time!
Long Car Journeys with Kids
If at all possible travel at bedtime! This is our usual trick. We have an easy oven pizza for dinner, which everyone eats on napkins to avoid more washing up. Kid then go up for a bath and get into PJs while the other adult packs the car, and then we hit the road at bedtime so the kids sleep for the journey. When they were very little they used to be easily transferred to bed upon arrival but now they wake up when we get there and have about an hour saying ‘hi’ and exploring wherever we have arrived at, before a quick story and into bed. The advantage of this is that me and my husband can listen to funny podcasts or our own music during the journey, plus the roads are always much quieter.
If you can’t travel at bedtime my top tip is to get organised! Below is a list of a few of the things I gather for long car journeys however a full list can be found on my shop HERE:
A sick bag/box
We have had a LOT of epic voms over the years. I now have stuff especially for this kind of scenario (we’ve spent many an occasion in a service station car park trying to make 6 baby-wipes clean up 9oz of milk off a toddler!). My box/bag includes old towels and muslins, a FULL pack of baby wipes, plastic bags, those potty training absorbent mat things (puppy training mats also do the trick and are cheaper!) and a spare set of PJs or a onesie for each kid. We also use the travel potty as a sick bowl because the bags are easily removable. However Flo still isn’t able to aim into the bowl so if she suddenly goes a bit green I get one of the towels out and lay it across her and just catch it all in that. Works a treat. Delightful.
for it’s actual intended use. Always handy. Not just for the kids!! Chuck a spare loo roll in the boot with it.
A snack box
We use these bento box sort of things because then I can pop in all sorts of treats. I hand over the box for them to choose something every once in a while. Buys me five minutes of peace.
We had a Tonie Box which was brilliant when they were toddlers as they can change it themselves and pick and choose what stories they like. But you can get CDs for the car too. Ours loved the Polar Express one when we travelled south for Christmas. We now borrow audiobooks from our library for long journeys but I‘ve selected some of our favourites and put them on THIS LIST.
I have created different TAT bags for different ages over the years. It started off as just a little zippy pencil case each (like these below) filled with all the plastic tat we gathered from happy meals, party bags and from magazines. I collected it up and popped it into bags to pull out whenever we were on the go as entertainment for the kids - they saw them as bags of treasure! But over the years I added to each of them to create perfect little grab bags full of stuff to keep them busy wherever we were. I still call them TAT bags and I wrote a list of all the things for each age in my ON THE GO book.
Magic Colouring pads
These are ace as it’s only water so they can ‘colour’ without making a mess.
If you’re going to give them a treat give them a lolly as it can last a good ten minutes sometimes (so long as they don’t crunch it!)
Ipads and headphones
I recommend wireless headphones as we have had lots of broken wires over the years. I download lots of their favourite shows from the BBC iplayer app the day before we go, so they each have a loaded selection to watch when the internet won’t work.
A car bin
Essential. Anything will do but have something dedicated to the rubbish. I love this one.
Books where they have to choose something on each page are brilliant. They can take ages for the kids to go through and they will do it time and time again. Our favourites are here.
Games we play
- Obviously eye spy is a classic. We switched it up for colours rather than letters when they were very little but now we do phonics sounds in the things we see too. e.g. Something with a ‘sh’ sound in it. You can obviously do ‘I hear with my little ear’ too.
- Magic traffic lights. Whenever we get to traffic lights we each take it in turns to make up a magic spell. We see who’s spell works to make the light go green! So as soon as the car stops I say “iggity zaggety zeem, make the light go green” and point my finger at it, if it doesn’t go green one of the kids will immediately jump in to say their spell. Whoever is saying a spell when the light changes has clearly got the right magic! 😉
- Lorry count. Ideal for a motorway. Everyone chooses a colour. When a lorry of that colour goes past they add it to their tally. The winner is the one with the most tallies when the car clock turns to a certain time, or the first to get to 10 or 20.
- Link stories. Start off a line from a story. Get your children to come up with the next bit. So “one day I went to the park and I saw an ENORMOUS….” Ewan your go. They need to be a bit older for this one! I sometimes write down the stories and read them back to them for giggles.
- Guess that song. Hum a song and they have to guess what it is then let them have a go at humming a tune too. Or if they are much older beat out the rhythm of the song on a harder surface and see if they can get that.
- Give us 2 clues - my friend Gemma told us this one the other day. You give two clues for the kids to try and guess a compound word. So for example if the word was butterfly you would say ‘the first word is something you spread on your toast…and the second word is a buzzy insect.” It can be funny when they say, “jam bee?” Some good words to get you going are - treehouse, sunflower, carpark, carwash, earthquake, eyeball, headband, ice cream, hotdog, moonwalk, nightlight, rainbow, skateboard, strawberry, teacup, wheelchair. Just google compound words for more!
- Car bingo - spend five minutes writing or drawing (depending on ability to read) some things they might see on the journey on some paper. Draw a tick box next to each. Write them in a notebook or on a bit of paper and pop on a clipboard or bit of card with a paperclip. When they’ve got them all they shout CAR BINGO!
All of these tips plus many more on travel can be found in my book called On The Go - link below.
Are we there yet?
And for when you get there? Here are some games for the beach. Happy Holidays!