We love our annual trips to Wales, but it does involve an eye-watering six and a bit hours in the car with my two boys. It’s always, always, worth it when we get there, but here are a few things I’ve learnt along the way…
1. Plan where to stop
Planning is key. We like to make a list of good places to stop at various points of the journey. You might not need them all, but it’s nice to know you’ve got it all ready just in case. A good alternative to a service station is to stop at a National Trust property. If you’re already members, then it’ll cost you nothing to go and eat your picnic, stretch your legs and use the loos. If you’re not a member, then look for places like country parks. If you stop at traditional service stations, there isn’t really a chance for children to run around – which is so important on a long journey.
2. Take plenty of snacks and a picnic
You don’t want to be at the mercy of over-priced service stations, do you? We always pack up a picnic to eat and plenty of snacks. The last time we forgot to take one, we ended up spending about £25 in a roadside Starbucks on sandwiches which the boys didn’t eat. It was such a waste and ate into our holiday spending money. If you don’t have the time to make sandwiches, call into a supermarket and buy things like sausage rolls and apples – it’ll still work out much cheaper.
3. Consider breaking your journey halfway
Rather than trying to do everything in one go, it’s worth thinking about staying in a hotel at a good halfway point. When the boys were younger (and less good in a hotel) we used to press on, but now it’s getting easier to stop at a Premier Inn halfway. If you book in advance it’s pretty good value. We all share a family room and it’s quite fun for the boys. This means our journey is reduced to 3 hours each day – not so scary!
4. Make a simple map
If your children are inclined to start up the ‘are we nearly there yet…?’ chant as soon as you set off, then it’s worth making them a simple map so they can plot your progress. Draw a simple design on some sturdy cardboard and make a little car which you can move along with blu-tac as you go. This really helped my boys get an idea of how far we’d come – and how far we still had to go!
5. Travel sickness
My eldest son gets terribly car-sick. We’ve had some truly miserable times cleaning up sick on the roadside – usually when we’ve only been driving for about half an hour. At six, he’s old enough now to take travel sickness pills so we always make sure he’s had some before a long journey. My youngest isn’t affected so badly, but we use the wrist bands for him, just in case. If your child isn’t old enough for the tablets yet, then avoid giving them too many drinks, or a giant bowl of cereal for breakfast. Keep a window open, drive slowly on twisty roads and make sure you have a big sick bucket with lots of kitchen roll and wet wipes. It really is awful, and I wish they’d make some medication for under fives!
6. Play some simple games
We like to play I-spy – although my children have some quite amusingly creative ideas about the rules. Another game we always play is spot the Eddie Stobart lorry – the prize is a sweet, which I usually regret as we spot so many of the damn things!
7. Story CDS
We have a stack of fairy tales on CD which were free in a newspaper a while back. You can get good ones from the library too. These short stories are a bit easier for those with shorter attention spans!
8. Find your own coping mechanisms
We always have a bag of sweets on the journey, which is probably very bad, but it cheers things up. And as much as I like picnics, sometimes it’s OK to just stop at a McDonalds – at least you know it’ll be clean and you won’t be ripped off. It’s fine – relax, and don’t feel guilty.
9. Have a few surprises up your sleeve
I sometimes buy a few little inexpensive toys or stationary as prizes or rewards – which is great if things are getting a little fraught. A new comic or a colouring book is a great thing to whip out at a stop, or in a hotel room.
What are your top tips for surviving a long car journey? I’d love some new ideas!