Top Tips for Surviving Long Car Journeys

For many of us, our families and friends no longer live locally, but some distance away. And with all these lovely sunny bank holiday weekends approaching over the next few months, this is the ideal time to pack up the car, pack up the kids, and get away to spend some valuable time with loved ones.It sounds such a great idea, until you start to think about the long car journey crawling down the motorway, listening to the squawks and whines in the back of the car. Then we start thinking about them saying “Are we nearly there yet?” and “I need a wee-wee” and suddenly staying at home seems a much better idea.It’s not – getting away for a break, and spending time with family and friends, is too valuable an opportunity to be lost.



Time your journey as smartly as possible

We all know when the roads are busiest, so see if you can be creative about the time you leave and travel. It will be well worthwhile leaving earlier or later than usual – the roads will be quieter, and if the children are usually asleep at this time, it may well be quieter in the car too! If the children are small, wrap them up in their pyjamas and fill your thermos flask. Alternatively, give them a good run around before the start of the journey to expend some energy.

Plan some stops

Regular stops are not just good for the children, they’re good for you too. Check out on the map or route planner where you can pull off the road every couple of hours and have a run around, and revive yourselves for the next stage.

Pack some emergency supplies

Include baby wipes, plastic bags, calpol sachets, emergency snacks, water bottles, a travel potty may also be helpful! It may be worth taking a spare set of clothes, depending on whether it matters what you look like when you get there….



Allocate time to various activities

Apportion a set time for different activities – for example, during a 2-hour journey you could have ½ hour for looking out of the window and chatting, ½ hour of games, ½ hour for a packed lunch and ½ hour of stories on the disc player or ipod.

Get as comfortable as possible

Take a pillow or folded up blankets to put under knees or behind necks.

Divide and conquer

Keep as much space as possible between siblings in the back – the closer they are, the feistier they can get. Try a physical boundary like a bag or pillow, or the picnic box between them. Consider rotating children around so everyone gets a turn behind Mummy or by the window or in the back row….

Games for the car

A recent survey showed that, despite all the modern technology that’s available, most families still also play the traditional games in the car, from I-Spy to naming the capital cities or major rivers of Europe. Here are a few of our favourites:

  • Yes and No – everyone take turns to ask any questions of one person, but they can’t reply with yes or no or they are out! (For example “Are you sitting next to Rosie?”)
  • Granny’s Knickers – everyone asks one person a question to which they have to respond with the answer “Granny’s Knickers” regardless of the question, without giggling! (For example “What’s your favourite ice-cream flavour?”)
  • Alphabet Spotting – take turns to name something you can see from the car beginning with a, b, c, d etc.
  • Make A Story – take it in turns to construct a sentence each to make up a nonsense story.
  • Chocolate or cheese – each person takes turns to ask the question “If you had to choose between the following, which one would you choose?” For example, chocolate or cheese, or perhaps being able to fly or become invisible!
  • The 1 Minute Game – choose any topic and talk about it for one minute.
  • My Granny Went To Market – one person starts with “My Granny went to market and she bought a…..” and then you take it in turns to remember the whole shopping list! Be as silly as you like…
  • Car Snooker – first spot a red car for one point, then either a yellow, green, brown, blue, pink or black then back to another red car and repeat until all the colours have to spotted in order! (The pink ones will take some time!)
  • Word Linking – think of a theme, fairly broad, like animals or food, and whoever starts chooses an example, say cat, and the next person has to think of another example starting with the last letter of the one before, in this case t. Have a plan for words ending in y in particular!
  • Backseat Bingo – prepare some grids on pieces of paper before you set off, and fill in with words or pictures of the things you expect to see out of the window – blue car, lorry, bridge, telephone box, zebra crossing, sheep, police car etc. Everyone ticks them off as they see them and when they have a full sheet they call out “Bingo!”
  • Landmark Spotting – similar to Bingo, prepare a simple map of the route and mark out the major sites or towns which can be ticked off on the way.
  • Who Am I – one person imagines a character from a favourite story or show, or history, and the others have to ask questions to guess who it is – are you a boy, are you a girl, have you got 4 legs, do you use a wand, are you an alien, are you a baddie etc.
  • Sponsored silence –seems so obvious now you think about it!



Just when you thought it was all over…….

Do remember that the children will probably fall out of the car when you arrive, either full of energy, sugar and thoroughly over-excited, or groggy, car-sick and nervous. Either way, plan for some transitional activity – whether that’s running up and down stairs or forming a fireman’s chain to deliver bags, or sitting quietly in the corner reading a book.

Overall, it’s safety first. We can NOT simply expect our children to understand what it is like to drive a car, let alone drive with fighting and arguing going on in the back.

But we can explain it to them beforehand – not angrily or resentfully, but gently and respectfully. We tell them that we have to look in mirrors, make signals, use pedals, judge speeds, guess distances, anticipate other people – as well as steer the car. And we can explain they need to keep the noise to a reasonable level – some parents use a “noise meter” where Levels 1-2 are fine, 3 is the absolute maximum and 4-5 is danger zone. Practice it beforehand!

Once in the car, while they are at Level 1-2, make sure you notice and say something! “Thanks guys, you’ve got the noise level just right – I can concentrate and keep us safe, and you can hear each other too!”. Then if it gets noisier, rather than suddenly shouting to them from the front, just refer to the “noise meter” along the lines of “Uh oh, we’ve reached Level 3, so just be careful”.

Ultimately, if the noise does reach a point that you can’t drive safely, don’t drive. Pull over. Explain that it’s too noisy for you to drive right now, so you need to stop. Rather than haul them out and tell them off, get out yourself, take some deep breaths and count slowly to whatever it takes.

When you get back into the car, perhaps you can start with a “sponsored silence” game for a while!

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