After reading the latest eBook from Chill Insurance, as part of their #HiddenDrives campaign, I got thinking about when car journeys used to mean scenic routes, time with the family, picks of our favourite CDs, boiled sweets and stops at lovely country pubs for lunch.
These days however, car journeys have a tendency to be about getting from A to B in the shortest time possible. The very idea of a long journey with kids can bring parents out in hives. With the car packed to within an inch of it’s life for every single weather eventuality, a three night trip can feel like an arctic expedition.
I have become a proper Mum, with sheer refusal to fork out the overpriced food at service stations, and our cool bag has seen a lot of use since it was freed from it’s cellophane a decade ago. Peanut butter sandwiches, crisps, fruit and a few snacks often discarded at the destination, packed in along with a pint of milk because…errr…surely we won’t be able to buy that once we arrive (?!).
The packing of the car too has become somewhat of a slick operation. With a Trunki in each footwell and the bags going in around the pushchair and travel cot ‘just so’ there is even the ability to squeeze the kids microscooters in the boot too. One of these days we’ll be able to travel lightly…surely?!
Stops on route are usually every couple of hours, mostly due to Mums pea sized bladder and over drinking of tea and coffee the morning of departure. That could all be set to change this summer as we embark on potty training round two, in sync with our summer schedule of day tripping and mini breaks. This is going to be interesting…
This year we are making the once every two years journey from our corner of the south east to North Wales. Probably the longest drive with two kids yet, and one that’s set to test everyone’s patience.
So can we make this long journey part of the holiday? Embrace the journey like we used to? Here’s some ideas I’ve been mulling over and if anyone can offer any tips then please, please do!
Finalise the route before leaving
Ever since the invention of Sat-Nav we have been the laziest route planners, rarely considering the path from here to there other than googling the postcode, often fifteen minutes after leaving home. Having been stung by the ‘mind of it’s own’ crap-nav many times, this summer we WILL plan out a rough route and a plan B before leaving the house.
Plan some good stop offs
Whilst planning your route, check if there is anything or anywhere worth diverting to, making your journey day somewhat of a memorable experience rather than just a durge of motorway after motorway. Are there any landmarks worth driving by on your way?
Check for roadworks
With kids or without kids, there is nowt worse than being at standstill when you’d rather be popping open your first holiday beer, and that torture will go cataclysmic if you have crying toddlers or any family member (probably Mum again) busting for a wee. Check ahead for any roadworks to avoid and check again on the day of travel, and on route too if you have a co-pilot.
It goes without saying that your car should be roadworthy and legal at all times, but heading off on a long drive is the perfect prompt to check everything’s signed, sealed and delivered. A quick maintenance check (oil, tyres, water, screenwash), an appropriate level of car insurance cover, breakdown cover and a valid Tax and MOT certificate. You certainly do not want to realise your cover has expired when huddled at the side of the motorway with your young children, miles away from home.
It goes without saying that to entertain two under six year olds for many hours in the back seat, that you are going to need to pack stuff for them to do.
For a really long drive, portable DVDs or tablets can be a god send, although don’t expect that to keep them entertained the whole journey. We have had some hellish journeys where the damn DVD player kept skipping and I have to say it caused more harm than good. The same goes for tablets which require WiFi and kids that don’t get the constraints of technology on ‘WANT PEPPA’.
For that reason, I always try to go a bit old school – colouring pencils and a clipboard of paper, some small bags filled with nic-nacs to fiddle with, and some books to look at. A decently packed toy bag wedged between the girls might help keep them occupied for some of the journey.
I spy with my little eye
I have so many happy memories growing up playing games like ‘I went to the shop and bought’ on car journeys, and there’s no denying that playing silly memory games and ‘I spy’ is one of the most simple yet effective ways to engage and play with the children from the front seat. Variations of ‘I spy’ using colours works well for younger children, and you can take turns to play ‘the first to see a …..’. Okay so it’s not as relaxing as listening to Ed Sheeran in silence, but it’s better than the whinge of ‘Are we nearly there yet’.
Before your journey, prepare a family playlist of everyone’s favourite songs that will keep everyone guessing what’s next and singing along. This can work so much better than just grabbing a naff Disney mix CD – as we learnt the year Tigs would only have ‘Bibbety Bobbedy Boo’ on repeat for a four hour journey. Save your sanity by throwing in Mum and Dad’s tunes between ones the kids will know and love – consider it an education, and let your ears have a rest from the battering of kids film soundtracks at least every couple of songs! Who knows, they could end up becoming huge Oasis fans…
Be a feeder
Long car journeys are probably days you might want to put your healthy eating goals aside, and accept that a bag of crisps at the right moment might be enough to get you another twenty miles in golden silence. Without long pit stops for meal times you can eat on the go and make good headway while the kids are munching through their sandwiches happily. Or, take the opportunity to stop, let go of the miles vs time challenge and let the stress float away over a picnic lunch on one of your stop offs. Either way, on that road trip you can never have too much food.
Timing is everything
With small kids, you might want to plan your journey around nap times, or an early / late start when the kids might snooze away in their PJs. It’s not a technique we have tried but I can definitely see why you would if you were a night owl.
Bear in mind Friday afternoon / evening and Sunday night is always busy due to everyone else doing exactly what you are doing. If you can extend your stay an extra night or leave earlier to avoid the rush hours, you won’t regret it. If you can extend a weekend over to a Friday to Monday stay it’ll make that long journey all the more worth it as you maximise the time-on-holiday:time-in-car ratio.
There is no doubt that driving with kids in tow just ain’t what it used to be. But, with more and more parents choosing to holiday in the UK and Ireland as opposed to the usual european package holiday each summer, driving the family to and from, and around your destination is pretty unavoidable. With the right amount of preparation and planning, you can make those journeys not only tolerable, but enjoyable, and set off on your family adventure, discovering hidden drives along the way.
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