School Holidays: Planning For Half Term

07/09/2014 21:59 | Updated 20 May 2015

Parents with children (6-9) in car, woman looking at map

So we've survived the seemingly eternal summer holidays and finally got our little darlings back to school in one piece. But, before we know it, the October half term break will soon be upon us and we'll be planning for another family-friendly break to recharge.

October is a funny old time to go on holiday. While it's tempting to head abroad for that last grasp at sunshine before the winter sets in, Mediterranean resorts have all but closed for the season, while the warmer destinations prove too far to trek for just a few days (and hideously expensive!). So whether its blustery walks with granny and grandpa on the North Cornwall coast, or racing through muddy puddles on mountain bikes on a rustic forest break, it's become traditional to keep things a little closer to home for the October half term getaway.

Outdoor activity holidays offered by the likes of Center Parcs and Forest Holidays are becoming an increasingly popular choice for an autumn break. The Center Parcs resorts offer a slew of outdoor activities, sports and bike trails, plus there's a massive subtropical swimming complex for when the pre-winter chill gets too much. While Forest Holidays has a wholesome, climbing trees and romping through the woods type of appeal.

But whether you opt for one of these, a week with Aunt Winnie in Wales or a cosy cottage break in Suffolk, what most UK breaks have in common is that they all begin with a lengthy car journey.

"Bored children can quickly turn the atmosphere in the car into a stress-filled time bomb causing distractions for the driver and anxiety for other passengers," says Katie Stephens, a spokesperson from the AA and a mother of two.

"The AA advises that as well as checking the car before the journey to ensure that fluid levels and tyre pressures are correct, it also pays to pre-plan the in-car essentials," says Katie.

And I don't think she means the valium and Haribo stock levels. "Keeping the younger members of the family entertained makes the journey far easier for the whole family," says Katie.

"Ensure there are enough drinks and refreshments on board as well as a good selection of activities. Plan the route carefully by checking AA Route Planner and take regular breaks, especially on journeys over three hours."

I enlisted the help from some fellow parents who enlighted me with their tips for surviving long car journeys. "We start off really early when we travel up to Scotland," says Marianne, a mother of two boys.

"So we have the full deluxe treatment; reclining rear seats, DVD player, airline sleep masks, cushions and blankets, not to mention a full picnic brunch. And when they start to get restless we haul out the old 'spot the Eddie Stobart lorry' game. It never fails."

While it's tempting to plug the kids in to whatever games console or tablet takes their fancy, playing a traditional car game like I-Spy or the alphabet game, something sociable which involves the whole family can also make the journey a lot more fun.

"We're big fans of car snooker in our family," says Anthony, a father of three. "The first one to spot a red car gets a point, then we fight to spot a yellow for 2 points, back to red, until all the snooker colours are finished. It's a tense but exciting moment to see who will spot/pot the black. The game is always accompanied by a rousing chorus of Chas and Dave's Snooker Loopy."

However, my own favoured tactic for surviving long car journeys is good old fashioned bribery. Whether it's offering 2p for every mile of silence or a lollypop for not fighting with your brother, it's proven to be an essential tool for any journey.

"For my daughters I use the three sweets in a pot trick," says the AA's Katie. "At the start of the journey I put three sweets in two lidded pots. These are then placed within view and if they moan, whinge, bicker or complain they lose a sweet.

"At the end of the first hour they are given the pots and can eat whatever is left and then three more sweets are put in for the next hour. They soon learn that behaving is the best way to get the sweets!"

So there we have it. With good planning, plenty of breaks and an armoury of games, DVDs snacks and most importantly, bribes up your sleeve, it is possible to enjoy a calm and successful start to the autumn family break, without having to resort to the soundtrack to Frozen on a loop.

And in the meantime, take a look at these for September inspiration for fun family days out...

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