With the rising costs of airfares and package holidays, and the increasing time it takes to get through security at the airports, more and more families are deciding to travel by car for their holidays. Families are electing to take more road trips, both within the UK and Ireland, and wider afield in Europe. To make your journey easier here are some top tips to remember while travelling by car with children.
Most of us with young children are returning to the days we grew up in, where our holidays consisted of our parents packing up the car with us, bags and other essentials, and setting off to travel within our home country. My parents couldn’t afford holidays abroad, so we often travelled to other counties of Ireland for our summer holiday. I fondly remember a hot week in June spent in Salthill in Galway when I was 15. I also remember the windy beaches of Tralee in County Kerry when I was around 12. There were also regular camping trips to Brittas Bay or Courtown, two seaside towns on the east coast of Ireland. And getting there was a road trip.
As a family we’ve been travelling by car with our son since he was four months old. The first long trip was to Ireland via the ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare. And since our epic two-week USA road trip in 2017, we’ve become huge fans of travelling by car with our son. You can move from place to place and see much more of a country than just holidaying in one spot for a week or two. This is a huge advantage to road trips that we’ve come to love.
But, how can you beat the age-old question “Are we there yet?”, uttered by little people in the back. Well, here are some top tips to help your car holiday go a lot easier with the kids in tow.
Top tips when travelling by car with children
1 Decide what time of the day suits your kids for travelling.
You need to decide if your kids do better in the early morning or evening hours for travelling? You know your kids better than anyone, so this is really your choice. Some people elect to travel at night when the kids are bound to be asleep. However, you need to ensure who ever is driving isn’t too tired behind the wheel. Others, like us, prefer to travel during the day, taking in the scenery and sharing the driving between the two of us. Whichever is best for your kids, plan your travel to match. For us, leaving early in the morning is best and our son will nap in the car is he gets tired. I’d also prefer us to sleep in a bed and get a proper night’s sleep than try and catch the zzz’s in the car.
2 Don’t leave home without the snacks and drinks.
Make sure to pack some snacks and drinks for everyone in the car. Yes, you might be able to stop along the way, but snacks can calm hangry children and they can also fill a gap if there is a way to go before your next stopping opportunity. Drinks are also essentials, particularly if you are driving during the summer on a hot day.
Stock the car with water or juices and bring snacks consisting of fruit, cereal bars, biscuits, crackers, crisps and even some homemade sandwiches. Keep them handy so you can pass them over without having to stop the car to fish them out of the boot.
3 Bring some entertainment.
Bring some colouring books and crayons or pencils, sticker books, travels games and even electronic devices like Gameboys and tablets. And let the kids use them if necessary. You could even bring personal DVD players and use a mounting brace to mount them to the back of the front seat headrests. Just remember individual headphones if you’ve got more than one child so that you don’t end up with a volume war.
I’d also recommend ensuring you have some music that the kids like in the car. We’ve created a playlist on our Spotify account for our son with his favourite songs and we add to it from time to time. This can be a sure-fire way of keeping him entertained for a while in the car. And you don’t have to limit yourself to this type of entertainment. Playing I-Spy or other games can be fun. We even created a game in America called “Spot the Mack truck” shouting out “Mack” every time we saw a truck that looked like Mack from Disney’s Cars. And a pair of toy binoculars provided hours of entertainment for our son in Yellowstone National Park.
4 Pack an overnight bag and keep it handy.
If you have an overnight stop somewhere, or are only staying a few nights in one location, why not pack a 3-day bag with 3 days’ worth of clothes for everyone in it, rather than packing one individual suitcase for each person. Use colour coordinated packing cubes for each member of the family so every knows where their clothes are.
This is much easier than hauling 3 or more suitcases into a hotel or AirBnB every night or two. You can do this for a road trip that consists of several short stops along the way. It will mean you take one suitcase of clothes in every three days. Keep your family toiletries in one large clear bag so it can be brought in with your one bag.
We did this during our road trip in Central Portugal at the end of the summer. We were stopping at three different locations for either two or three nights each and I packed one 3-day bag for our first stop, rotated clothes for the second stop and then we brought everything into our last location’s accommodation as the car was parked in a shared carpark and away from our accommodation. It made it much easier when it came to empty the car with a boisterous four-year-old in tow.
5 Consider how long is too long.
Everyone’s kids will be different and each of them will have a tolerance limit when it comes to how long they are happy to stay in the car for one day. When we emigrated to Portugal from the UK we faced over 800 miles from the very north of Spain to reach the Algarve. We docked into Santander at 6pm and stayed overnight an hour outside of the city. The next day we drove all the way, taking 13 hours to complete the drive with regular stops. And our son coped just fine.
A few months later we flew to Portland in Oregon and stayed 3 hours away overnight before facing another 13-hour day to reach Yellowstone National Park. Having completed the Spain to Portugal trip we knew our son would be fine. But other kids might find this length of day way too much. Again, you know your kids better than anyone else and can judge how long is too long for them.
6 Try not to overfill the car.
Haha, says the family who had a completely full Land Rover Discovery when they emigrated to Portugal. We had our son, our large German Shepherd, two camera bags, two laptop bags, a Trunki toy box, our son’s buggy/stroller, his balance bike and two overnight bags, as well as the dog’s food, accessories bag and his bed. It was full to the brim.
However, for your own family holiday in the car, try to ensure the kids have enough space around them. There is nothing more uncomfortable than being stuck in a cramped space for several hours. And you really don’t want to have tears and moans from the back because they don’t have much leg room. If you have a lot of stuff to bring, consider a car top box instead for your belongings. Your kids will be happier, meaning an easier journey all round.
7 Do get a souvenir from every major destination along the way.
We always get a fridge magnet from every major place we stop or visit during our road trips. This is something my mother-in-law did, and her fridge is full. I swore I didn’t want a fridge like that and, ahem, let’s just say it’s happening.
Getting a souvenir like a fridge magnet or even just a postcard is a great way of remembering all the amazing places you’ve been as a family. Although our current fridge in an integrated one, so we cannot display any of our magnets, we’re moving next year and, if the fridge is another integrated one, I’ll by a magnetic board to put our magnets on.
Another idea which my sister-in-law does is to get a Christmas decoration from each destination. If you find these are too expensive, then buy a cheaper keyring, remove the chain and loop, and replace them with some Christmas-coloured ribbon. It’s just as effective and usually works out cheaper. Then each Christmas you can reminisce about the holidays you’ve had while decorating your tree.
8 Be sure to take the digital camera you’ll create lifetime memories.
Whatever you do, don’t leave home without your camera or smartphone and ensure you have plenty of memory. Going on holiday as a family gives you the opportunity to create lifetime memories so, take lots of pictures to capture those holiday moments. You can either look back on them or display them using a digital photo frame. Or if you’re old-school, print them out or create photobooks to look through with the kids in years to come.
9 Have fun.
The most important thing about travelling by car with children is to try and have fun. Yes, it can get stressful at times, but the good times will far outweigh the bad, especially after you get home. Play games, have sing-songs and laugh together from the comfort of the car. Stop if you see something interesting and take some pictures. Unscheduled stops can often be the most surprising, so be flexible enough to allow for this as well. Have a picnic while enjoying a nice view. Just remember, have some fun alongside the hours of driving.
Travelling by car with children can be an enjoyable experience if you plan it right and remember a few essential tips such as those above. Keep everyone fed, watered and entertained, stop regularly for toilet breaks and to stretch the legs and the hours will fly by. Try to have fun and remember to make some memories too along the way. Not only can road trips work out cheaper than some package holidays, but you might even be bitten by the bug as we have been!
Massive thanks to Cath for guest posting. Ive been a long time fan of her blog so very delighted to have her featured on my own blog. Cath is an Irish expat who now lives in Portugal with her husband and son. A former scientist, she gave up working when they emigrated south from the UK. She is a family travel blogger and hopes that, through her blog, they will inspire more families to travel, especially with the toddlers in tow. As a family they love travelling and have started working their way through their family travel bucket list. Cath writes about their family travels and experiences on her blog, Passports and Adventures.
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Thanks for the car tips -very helpful. I often have to take my daughter on long-distance road trips due to my work.