My dad used to be a school teacher, so order and organisation was very much part of his fabric. If you cut him, he’d bleed lesson plans. So when it came to holidays, he loved camping because it gave him total freedom to plan where we went, what we did and when we did it.
The thing about family holidays abroad that didn’t suit him was the lengthy drive – made to feel even longer by a pair of irritable kids in the back of the car asking incessantly whether we’d reached our destination or not, using those four words that parents fear so much.
Holidays with kids are magical, but they can also be hectic and overwhelming. Many parents spend so much time planning activities for when they’re abroad that they overlook the journey. Children are resilient, but they’re not patient. It’s a good idea to think about ways of entertaining them during the drive down – that way you can enjoy a smooth start to what should be a relaxing time together.
Here are 7 tried and tested things you can do to get your self-drive holiday abroad off to the best possible start:
1. Plan your journey and take regular breaks
When strapped into a seat, kids lose their sense of freedom and get frustrated quicker than they would at home. One tactic my parents revealed to me was that they used to stop at service stations that had a playing area. They used to let me wear myself out and so I’d sleep in the car!
2. Colouring books and pencils
Simple but effective. You might prefer coloured pencils rather than crayons or felt tips because they can make more of a mess. The books won’t keep them occupied for the entire journey but colouring in between those lines takes a certain amount of concentration – and that means a quiet car!
3. Travel games and sticker books
I had a travel sticker book when I was younger – and a felt book when I was very young, full of farmyard animals. These are great for letting their imaginations loose as they can make each page look different, or can construct their own stories if they’re too young to read and write. Games like Connect 4 and Battleships stood the test of time in my car too.
4. Car bingo
My dad claimed he invented this but I’m pretty sure he just stole the idea. Before the journey he’d write out 12 things we were likely to see on some card and would hand these to me and my brother in the back. We’d cross them off as we saw them, and the first to get them all would get a prize when we got to the campsite (as great incentive to keep the game going for the whole journey!).
5. Car snooker
We used to watch a lot of snooker in our house, so this transferred to the car. I’d be encouraged to spot a red car, then a black car, then a red car 10 times and then go through the colours (yellow, green, brown, blue, pink and black). Brown and pink could be troublesome, so prepare to be flexible and open minded at that point!
6. Tablets, audio books and headphones
They might be buckled into their seats but there’s no reason why their minds can’t wander somewhere far, far away. Audio books are best for keeping little ones occupied and (crucially) quiet – they’re great if they’re too young to read. Tablets are ideal if you have older children who need a bit of extra stimulation. Don’t forget the headphones!
7. The Name Game
One of you picks a place name that you see on a sign. The next person then needs to find another place that begins with the last letter of the previous name (so if someone said ‘Brighton’, you’d look for a place beginning with ‘N’). It could get quite tactical!
Finally, don’t forget those neck pillows and blankets. If you’re lucky enough to have kids who want to sleep, don’t miss out on making it as comfortable for them as possible.
I’ve listed 7 things but every year millions of people enjoy holidays with babies, young children and teens – so that means there will be many more travel ideas out there. We’d love to hear some of them, so why not share your travel survival tips in the comments below – or tell us about them on Facebook?