Does the idea of taking road trips with kids fill you with dread?! It needn’t! Because depending on where you live, packing up the car with all your family travel essentials and driving to your destination can sometimes be far easier than navigating your family through a busy airport or train station. Luggage is packed away and doesn’t need to be checked in, you don’t need to worry about what liquids you can and can’t pack, you can make as many stops as you want along the way, and you don’t need to worry about disturbing other passengers when your kid inevitably kicks off at some point during the trip!
We have driven many miles from our home in the UK, mainly down to the South of France – last year alone we managed nearly 5000km with three kids and a dog in tow! How did we survive? Here are our top 10 tips for road trips with kids:
1. Pack like a pro!
It’s always tempting to overpack when you’re travelling in your own car – there are no baggage weight restrictions to worry about after all! But there is nothing worse than travelling for long distances surrounded by bags and luggage; taking up your footwell, sitting on your lap, and generally stopping you from being comfortable.
So, to make sure you travel in a bit of comfort, and save some space to bring back souvenirs (and, ermm, wine!) try to only pack what you definitely need. If you’re heading to self catering accommodation, find out if they have a washing machine, that way you can always wash a few items if you desperately need to. Find out what will be available at your destination when you get there; will your hotel or rental have a travel cot, will they supply towels, will there be toys available for the kids? If so, you can save some precious space.
We recently invested in a roof box and it has revolutionised our long journeys; anything that we don’t need to hand goes up in the roof box, leaving only the essentials down in the car, and plenty of space to spread out a bit.
2. Plan your journey ahead
Obviously knowing how to get from A to B is a given, but a little extra planning goes a long way. If you can, check ahead for any big road works and find an alternative route if possible. Research if you are travelling on a notoriously busy day; we learnt the hard way by travelling through France on ‘Black Saturday’ (or ‘les grand departs’ as the French call it) one year and a 3 to 4 hour journey took us over 8hrs! You may want to move your travelling day, or get up super early to try to beat the rush.
3. Snacks, snacks, snacks!
In our car on long trips the most used phrase, even beating “I’m bored”, has to be “I’m hungry!” Even if we have literally just left a service station, or have just eaten an enormous lunch, I still get a little chorus from the back seats. I therefore pack ALL the snacks! My footwell in the front is basically a snack store, with an array of healthy and not so healthy snacks to stave off the moaning.
4. Home comforts
We always encourage the kids to take their teddy and a pillow in the car with them, and if we’re leaving early in the morning they have a blanket over them too. It’s so much easier to do this when travelling by car!
5. Make time for regular stops
When travelling with kids, stopping regularly is to be expected, wether it is a toilet break or simply a leg stretch. So make sure you factor this in to your journey planning so there is less stress all round.
6. Make a stop-over part of your holiday
Even if it is possible to complete a long journey in one day, we often opt to do it over two days and find somewhere nice to stay on the way. That way, not only is the journey less stressful but you also get to experience another destination on the way. We’ve stayed in some amazing places, which often we can only afford to stay at for one night; including a converted water mill and a restored monastery.
7. In-car entertainment
On a long haul flight you have movies, radio and cartoons at the touch of a button, so expecting kids to travel all day in a car with eye spy and 20 questions just isn’t going to cut it! From audio books to DVDs and devices, there are many easy ways to keep boredom at bay in the car. For younger kids, a portable DVD player is always a winner and we keep a disk wallet to hand with a selection of top kids movies or TV shows. You can get products that attach the DVD player to the headrest of the front seats, and some even have a connector so that the same DVD can play on two separate screens so there is no arguing over who gets the best view! As they get older, being able to play their computer games is a real treat for them, and helps keep them occupied.
8. Have a separate over night bag to hand
If you are planning a stopover, it is always a good idea to have a separate bag with only the items that you will need for your overnight stay. That way, you won’t need to drag a big suitcase out of the car, and inevitably search around for the bits that you need.
9. Road tolls? Be prepared!
If you’re travelling through a country that has road tolls, make sure you have change to hand to pay. Most tolls will accept card payment but just in case the card machine doesn’t work, or if it doesn’t like your foreign card (which has happened to us before!), it pays to be prepared. If you’re travelling through France then I can highly recommend registering for the Liber-t Automated Toll Payment Service. You are sent a little electronic transponder which you stick up near your rear view mirror and when you approach a toll barrier (you can go in the priority lanes!) it reads your unique reference and opens the barrier. It logs all of your toll charges and then sends you an invoice and takes payment at the end of the month.
10. Get the kids excited about where they’re going
Are you visiting family or friends? Is there a pool or a playground where you’re headed? Is there a beach? If so, talk to the kids about it, it may help them understand that the long journey is going to be worth it in the end!
So, there we have it! If you’re planning a long road trip with kids then I hope that these tips come in handy for you. If you are a regular road-tripper too, and have any tops of your own I’d love to hear them!
If you’re looking for road trip route inspiration, then check out the travel posts on Monkey and Mouse blog where Jenny has some ideas for amazing routes in Europe.
You can also check out more fab tips from these great posts:
Surviving a road trip with kids | 5 tips that actually work by Samantha at North East Family Fun
How to survive a long car journey with kids by Carrie at Flying With a Baby
The ultimate checklist for stress-free car travel with kids by Laura at HaveKids, Can Travel
So many of the tips remind me of stuff our Mum and Dad used to arrange for us for long car journeys to the West of Ireland. The lovely picture of everyone in their car seats definitely reminds me of my brother, my sister and me stuffed in the back of our Morris Marina.