Tips for surviving long car journeys with children.

So as it’s half term next week and most of the toddler classes will not be running we have decided to go and visit friends and family. However this entails a four hour car journey. Below are the tips I can give you from our long car journeys so far as well as memories from when I was younger. However, as our daughters are getting older and more active I could really do with some additional tips for surviving long car journeys. Hopefully I can then compile a comprehensive list for surviving long car journeys.

 My tips for surviving long car journeys:

Pre-Journey tips

These are tips for planning the journey so that you are as prepared as you can be.

    • Timing: If at all possible time the journey to avoid rush hour and to fit in with your childrens schedule. For example when we went to Europe via Dover we determined that a 6.30am ferry was the best option for us. This would mean leaving at around 3am, but it would also hopefully mean that our daughter would sleep most of the way there. As it happened she didn’t sleep that much, but she was quite calm as she was tired. The timing meant that we missed rush hour on the M25, were on board just in time for breakfast, she got to run around on the ferry after breakfast and expend some energy. By the time we had to get of the ferry and back in the car for another long stretch she was ready for a rest. This journey, about eight hours in total, worked out better than we thought it would.
    • Route planning: Plan your route in advance or at the very least have a reliable Sat-Nav handy. Getting lost is stressful. It’s even more stressful with a crying toddler in the back seat. It is therefore important to know where you’re going. On the eight hour trip to Europe I mentioned above we had planned the journey and printed out directions, but we hadn’t used our Sat Nav as we didn’t want to use roaming charges on our mobile phone. We took one exit too early, it was confusing right in the heart of Antwerp, and ended up taking a 45 minute detour as it took us a while to realise our mistake and  correct it.
    • Packing: Pack the car in advance as much as possible as it will probably end up taking longer than you think. Have everything you think you might need, such as changing bag, change of clothes, snacks, etc, within easy reach.
    • Baby Car Mirror: A baby car mirror is really good for both the adult and the child. What it does is allow you to see any child in a rear facing car seat through the rear view mirror. It attaches to the headrest in front of the child so they can have fun looking at themselves in the mirror too. We have found ours to be really useful.

Passive in car tips

By passive in car tips I mean tips that include little adult participation.

    • Toys: Toys are a good distraction especially for younger children who do not get as easily distracted by music and other activities. Having said that toys do fall easily out of little hands and if you don’t want a crying baby, because they’ve dropped their toy somewhere you can’t reach I suggest having a bag at the front with a wide selection of little toys that can be passed back to your child.
    • Music: At the moment our daughter really likes listening to music and she often asks for the music to be put on. We have a lot of children’s CD’s by the CRS Players, which we managed to find in a charity shop. This is lucky as she absolutely loves these and they are now hard to find although they are available on itunes.We have put them all on our ipod which we can connect to the car stereo so that we don’t have to keep switching cd’s. My daughter has her own playlist on the ipod so we can go quite a distance without the music going off. I expect that once our daughters are a bit older we might need to give them their own ipod with headphones so they can listen to what they want. Especially as we have two in the car as they might otherwise fight over the music choice. It would also be nice to get a break from the childrens music.

  • Food: This used to be a big no-no for us, but we have found it to be helpful on many occasions especially when stuck in traffic and unable to stop. We always carry a snack box with us which include drinks and snacks like breadsticks and bananas. Easy food that they can hold and eat without making too much mess.
  • Video: Although not on our radar yet I imagine a portable dvd player or Ipad will be required at some point in the future. Again they would probably need to have one each as they will otherwise fight over it.
  • Books: I think we will try this with our daughters, however I’m a little unsure as reading can lead to car sickness. Whenever I used to read in the car I got sick. That’s not to say it will happen with my daughters and having books nearby can also be good for when you need to stop.


Active in car tips

By active in car tips I mean tips that will probably require adult participation.

    • Sing alongs: Although my eldest daughter loves listening to music on the in car stereo she sometimes wants a change. She likes mummy and daddy singing to her and she’s reaching the age where she is starting to sing along herself.
    • Games: We haven’t started his with our daughters yet, but I don’t think it will be that long till games like I Spy become popular. Another game I enjoyed when I was younger was the game where you try to spot certain things, like trains, dogs, etc before the other people in the car.

Other tips

These are my tips that don’t fall in the above categories.

  • Scheduled stops: Try and have a scheduled stop every two to three hours so that the children can stretch their legs for a bit. It’s also good to have some lunch/snacks outside the car so you can enjoy some time as a family, without them talking to the back of your heads. Of course you should also plan for unscheduled stops. When our eldest was younger we took her on a journey that lasted six and a half hours when before she was born it took three hours. We had stopped at a service station and between nappy changes and feeds we were there for nearly two hours. Five minutes after we left the service station she did a dirty nappy. By the time we had reached the next service station and changed her nappy she was ready for another feed.
  • When you arrive: Don’t expect too much normal behaviour after a long car journey as it can affect your children in different ways. Sometimes they can get exhausted from the journey even if they’ve just been sitting there. At other times they get a bit hyperactive to let of steam. The latter is usually the case when they see familiar faces like grandparents who are obviously also excited to see them so they gee each other up a bit. Be aware that they might need to alter their routine be it an earlier night or a later night.


Share your tips for surviving long car journeys with children

The above are tips based on my experience of travelling with a two year old and now also a four month old as well as from my childhood memories. As my children grow up I’m sure I’ll add massively to this list. However I would also be grateful for any tips you can share with me now so I don’t have to find out the hard way.

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20 Responses

  1. martyn February 14, 2015 / 10:37 pm

    Great post and I think you pretty much covered everything that I do so don’t have anything more to offer lol spent the entire time reading going through a check list and nodding saying “yep do that”
    Very sound advice for anyone planning on travelling with the sprogs.
    Thanks for linking up with us on the #bigfatlinky
    martyn recently posted…Valentines Day 2015My Profile

  2. MyLifeMyLove February 15, 2015 / 7:18 am

    Super tips here. I think you have covered the ones we tend to do. Definitely snacks to hand and the Kindle for games helps us out. A charger for the car is always handy if you run out of battery for the electronics! And our best tip is to try to time the journey with sleep time! x
    MyLifeMyLove recently posted…My Sunday PhotoMy Profile

    • stayathomedad February 15, 2015 / 7:26 am

      Great tip about the charger. We have our phone one handy, but will try and remember the charger for the tablet once our daughters are allowed to use it.

    • stayathomedad February 15, 2015 / 8:09 am

      I’m glad you like it. I’d be happy for you to host this post on your tips section.

  3. Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault February 15, 2015 / 7:47 am

    Good list of tips Here’s mine for when the worst happens: Some children do get car sick and it is worth carrying a lidded plastic box. It is much easier for a child to be sick in a box and easier for your deal with. My recent post on toddler packing may interest you.
    Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault recently posted…Essential toddler packing – 9 things to rememberMy Profile

    • stayathomedad February 15, 2015 / 2:14 pm

      That’s a great tip. I used to get car sick, but hopefully it doesn’t run in the family. I’ll check out your post.

  4. Hannah February 15, 2015 / 8:51 am

    Good tips! We always have a snack box for long journeys as that always keeps them happy when they start to get grumpy x
    Hannah recently posted…Brotherly love …. FinallyMy Profile

  5. Heledd February 15, 2015 / 7:50 pm

    Great post and one I needed to read! My family live five hours away in Wales and my husband’s already talking about driving to the South of France this summer, so all these tips will come in handy. The big one for us is timing, we always try to drive at night so the girls (who are 2 and 4) will just sleep!

    Thanks for linking up to #SundayStars xxx
    Heledd recently posted…Sunday Stars 15th FebMy Profile

    • stayathomedad February 15, 2015 / 8:03 pm

      Thanks for your nice comments. Not only is driving at night good for having them asleep there is also less chance of getting stuck in traffic, which can be a nightmare with children.

  6. Dad-without-a-map February 15, 2015 / 9:24 pm

    What a lot of things to think about – and now I wont have to so thank you! Baby B was only five months old when we last went away and even then we got stuck in traffic on the way to Cornwall and got all his sleeps and feeds messed up. Next hols he will definitely need entertaining. Great article.

    • stayathomedad February 15, 2015 / 9:31 pm

      Thanks for your comments. I’m sure the list will evolve as our daughters get older, but hopefully we’ll get through all the journeys without too many meltdowns.

  7. doubletroubledaddy February 16, 2015 / 3:12 pm

    Great Post, and a lot of good information! We haven’t traveled more than 20 minutes at a time in the car with the twins, but have just started talking about family vacations and are juggling the idea of either flying (about an hour) or driving (4 hours.) I’ll let you know which we do, and how we manage. If we survive….lol

    • stayathomedad February 16, 2015 / 6:35 pm

      I’m not sure which is better driving or flying. Flying might be better due to the shorter journey time, but you might get aggro from other passengers. Also we never travel light with two little ones so don’t think flying would be an option for us.

    • stayathomedad February 16, 2015 / 10:18 pm

      Thanks for your comments. The baby mirror is really good. It’s well worth getting one.

  8. Julia @ rainbeaubelle February 16, 2015 / 11:13 pm

    These are all good tips, I have to say both my children are rather different on long car journeys. Last summer we drive to Devon and in all it took about the hours including traffic and stops. My son is nearly six and is happy to watch films on a portable dad player and read comics, listen to music etc. my daughter is 18 months and hates the car, she never sleeps in the car seat for more than an hour and that is rare, she can’t be calmed with snacks and just spends the whole time wanting to get out! It was a hard journey! Hopefully this year it will be easier! #sundaystars
    Julia @ rainbeaubelle recently posted…Sock puppet socks from ChattyFeetMy Profile

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