Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Surviving a long car trip with small children

As promised - hints and tips on surviving a car trip with small children...

Last Thursday I trekked from Scotland all the way down to Devon in the South West - left at 8.45am and arrived there at around 6pm I think.  I broke the return journey, driving on Monday from Devon to Stoke-on-Trent, around 9am - around 2.30pm.  And then on the Tuesday from there up to Scotland, unfortunately encountering a large accident on the M6, so despite again leaving at around 9am, still not arriving until 4.30pm.  Phewee!  That was some trek.

Not sure now that I can actually offer much advice, as my two were just angels the entire trip!  However, here are my pearls of wisdom:

  1. Don't do it.  Make people come and visit you.  I like rail travel because you can wander around and you can interact with the children.  However, you are then reliant on other people having car-seats and ferrying you around at the other end, also with very small children you are as exhausted by entertaining them and preventing them escaping as you would have been with the driving.  And one final negative for the train is that with very small children you are needing to take them both to the toilet with you every time, and as the journey progresses you really don't want to be putting the one who can't walk yet on the toilet floor (yuck!).  As the children get older and more able to settle themselves with colouring, card games, books and puzzles I intend on using the train more often.
  2. Plan your timing.  I know some people who try to drive into the night so that the children sleep.  I don't like this as it means that I am too exhausted to drive, and it's not very nice for your host.  Instead I left every time just before Sis's morning nap at 9am, then stopped for a lengthy break for lunch at around 11am, returning to the car in time for both of them to settle for a long mid-day nap.
  3. Don't use motorway service areas.  You'll spend far too much and end up back in the car with bitter resentment in your heart because you've spent all your hard earned cash on very poor food and service.  I used Google maps to make a note of where there were large supermarkets within sight of a motorway junction on my route.  I stop there, make use of their cheaper cafe, much cheaper fuel and perfectly adequate toilets and baby changing facilities.  On Tuesday we needed lunch and I didn't know the nearby supermarkets, so ventured off the M6 at junction 27 and ended up at a little cafe called La Mama on High Street in Standish.  Very decent food.  There's also a Spar and a Co-op down the road if you want to buy anything.
  4. Provide toys and entertainment.  I don't think children need portable or in-car entertainment systems.  I certainly don't think that they need hand-held gaming devices.  I think that children develop their own methods of entertainment using their imagination, learning to drift off into a world of day-dreams, and as they get older a few simple interactive games such as I-spy.  Sis had a teddy - that's it, and spent most of the journey snoozing.  C had a bag of toys which included a car, a notebook and pen, a book and a few other bits and bobs which he had enjoyed selecting.  We also had a couple of BBC Schools Podcasts and a Winnie the Pooh audiobook, which we listened to at various points in the journey.  In between, I listened to whatever radio programme, podcast or music I wanted.  We also did a fair bit of chatting when he was awake.
  5. Provide sustenance.  The principle that I operate on is, "If in doubt - Feed them."  It seems to work.  I packed a few drinks for us all, a few packs of mini-Cheddars (easy to get out of the packet, not too messy) and some sweets.  Every now and then, if they were starting to get a little unsettled, I would just pass something back.  C can just about reach Sis to make sure that she was getting some too, and as the journey progressed she got more adept at reaching forwards to take whatever I was offering.  Avoid chocolate like the plague - it gets very messy as any that is dropped immediately melts.  Apples are good, but the unwanted core gets wedged somewhere in the recesses of the carseats.  Dried fruit such as apricots are a good option.  
That's it really.  Oh, and to really score points with your other half?  Fill the car with fuel and take it through the car-wash on your way home, so that they smile when they get back in it to go to work the next day.
...and my last recommendation?...


  1. To add to the debate re the driving through the day vs night...
    When you have a child who gets very car sick, sometimes it is much cleaner, pleasant smelling and easier to travel through the night while they sleep.

  2. good point well made. Since none of our lot suffer this way it never even occurs to me.

  3. I'm hoping he'll grow out of it at some point. Meanwhile, a combination of Travel Wrist Bands and TravelEze tablets do the trick most of the time.