How to: travel by car with kids

13 April, 2010

The best advice I can share with you, if you are going on a long car journey with children, is take a map.  My second tip would be to make sure the pages you need are still in that map.  Having recently zig zagged my way from N. Yorkshire back to Oxfordshire “freehand”, believe me, when I say that £2.99 for a map is a good deal.

My next tip is make sure you have enough money in your bank account to pay for sweets and petrol.  Let’s just say, er hypothetically, your card didn’t work in a service station a long way from home.  Would you know what to do?  So, be sensible and plan ahead before disaster strikes.  Make sure you have the numbers of all the people most likely to lend you money stored in your mobile phone.

If you have an unreliable car and you’re making a long journey it’s worth joining the AA/RAC and investing in Relay.  This can save you hundreds of pounds and make the journey a lot more peaceful for you and the children.  We had some friends who lived in a very unreliable van.  They lived in it in a field in Oxford during the winter, and in a similar way in Devon during the summer.  Each year, when spring arrived, they would simply push their van onto the road and ring AA Relay.  The AA man would ask them where they were going, “Devon”, and then he’d tow them all the way there.  In the Autumn, they’d push the van onto a road in Devon and again call the kindly people at AA.  Guess what would happen?  You got it; they’d get towed all the way back to Oxford.  It saved them a fortune in petrol and repairs, what to speak of the stress of long distance driving.

One of my pet hates on long car journeys is the kids whining. There are many ways you can curtail this nightmare.  Bringing along interactive games such as Nintendo DS or car Scrabble is a good idea for kids of a certain aptitude.  Investing in a portable DVD player and a bunch of mind-numbing Disney films works well for everyone else.  Or for those who home school, it can be fun to pass hours of a long journey making up your own games.  Such as what’s the square root of the sum of the number plate on the car in front?  Personally, when it comes to whining in the car, I tend to stick with a little technique I remember my mum using on us.  As soon as I hear the first bleats of discontent, I simply lean over and face them in back seat.  Then shout over them until they shut up.  I’ve found that on-coming traffic blast their horns if I’ve accidently swerved across the road, or one of the kids will point a finger and open their mouths in a silent scream.  Then I know it’s time to end the lesson of the day and concentrate on driving.

Another difficulty on long car journeys is how, what and when to feed them.  If you stuff them with a cooked breakfast before you leave, will they go longer between meals, or will it end up regurgitated all over your upholstery?  (Top tip: bicarbonate of soda, used like shake n’ vac, is the only thing that gets the smell of sick out of car seats).  Or do you go till lunchtime, then have a good break and let them run off a bit of steam before getting back in the car?  Well, if Service Stations were designed by anyone who had ever traveled with kids, they would be jam packed with nicely fenced playgrounds.  They are not.  They are jam packed with expensive gimmicky toys and rip-off rubbish food.  What to speak of a car park full of F1 apprentice drivers and no footpaths.  A stop at a service station is not for the feint hearted.  The alternative option is to pack a picnic and eat as you drive.  The good thing about this method is that the kids can eat on demand.  Obviously most of the food and drink will end up spilt all over the car seats and mashed into the interior.  Personally, I prefer this done on the way into their mouths – than on the way out, so this is my chosen option.

Take plenty of fruit on long journeys

Finally, the  greatest  time waster on a never ending car journey is loo breaks.  These often occur about ten minutes after you’ve got into the car, or five seconds after you’ve joined a motorway.  Ignore them at your peril (bicarb does work on pee smells too).   There is not much you can do about children’s bladders.  They somehow shrink to the capacity of a miniature liqueur bottle as soon as they get in a car.  With younger children, they can sometimes be bribed into a nappy for a journey.  Boys can often pee accurately into an Evian bottle, (just make sure it’s not accidently put in the picnic bag).  I’ve found that by explaining we will arrive at our destination in time for lunch without toilet breaks.  Or, we will arrive in time for bed if we continue to stop every ten seconds, has helped my children get a grip on their bladders.  The record for toilet stops goes to one of my god children who made us stop fifteen times on an 80 mile journey back from the seaside.  That’s every five miles.  Each time we stopped, he managed to wee about a pint and a half (and stand in it). You-the-man, K.

Are we there yet?

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7 Responses to “How to: travel by car with kids”


  1. This is a bit randon, but I tagged you in a post http://tinyurl.com/y52onox

  2. Nicola Says:

    Oh God, this is so funny. Brilliantly funny. I also have another use for baking soda, but as I read it in a 1970s edition of Hustler (that I received as a gift at a book club…I kid you not) I am not sure it is appropriate for sharing. Although I will just say it has nothing to do with the removal of stains…but may go some way towards the creation of them…

  3. hedgewytch Says:

    Genius! Oh so very very well written 😉 and I don’t even have kids I can’t wait to have them to try the oncoming cars trick 😉
    When I was 8 we had a family holiday in Crete and my dad stopped the car and told my sister and I to get out and he drove off and left us there at the side of the road. He was gone for 30 mins and my sister and I became best of friends for a little while as we walked along a strange road in a foreign land until he came back for us xxx

  4. Hari Says:

    I’m just gonna pretend, for my own peace of mind, that he was parked around the corner secretly watching over you the whole time. Like a loving Daddy-Angel.

    xxxx

  5. marisworld Says:

    That’s brilliant! I found it on BMB and came over to comment. I’m about to do UK – Lake Garda, Italy in June with 2 x 22 month old twin girls….any tips?
    I have the DVD and loads of films and will be buying Bicarb on my next shop 🙂

    • Hari Says:

      Marisworld:
      Valium, a blackout eye mask and some ear plugs. Get one set for you and two sets for the twins.

      This simple travel kit will also save your marriage.

      (Maybe I should work for Relate?)


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