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Car Travel With Children - Five Ways to Keep the Kids Amused

17/07/2013 12:06 BST | Updated 15/09/2013 10:12 BST

In my mind, the glorious undulating scenery of South Wales will always be synonymous with one thing - the plastic upholstery of a 1978 Austin Maxi.

Before anyone from the Welsh Tourist Board (otherwise known as VisitWales, I believe, who do a tip-top job) bother my fax machine with a note of complaint, please let me explain.

As a child, I once went on a family holiday to the Gower. Included in our party was my grandmother, who was given the task of entertaining my sister and I in the back of the car.

There were two soundtracks on the trip along the M4. The first was a taping of a recent Radio 1 Top 30 countdown. This was made unique by my dad's bungled attempts to pause the recording between songs, which means that to this day I have no recollection of the first 6 bars of most of the summer hits of 1981. The other was my sibling and I chanting the now well-worn phrase of "are we nearly there yet". You may think the expression a little clichéd, but in the early 80s it was still quite cutting edge. Anyway, my granny's response to this plaintive cry has stayed with me ever since. She would take her finger, draw an imaginary X on the left of the rear driver's seat and say, "This is your house". She would then draw another X on the right of the seat and say "And this is Wales". Her final flourish would be to pick a seemingly random point somewhere between the two Xs and say "And we are about here".

Since then, whenever I hear Tom Jones singing the 'Green Green Grass of Home', I am mentally transported to the back of the car I affectionately call the 'Final Nail in British Leyland's Coffin".

Of course, for a family car, the annual summer holiday is perhaps the biggest test it can undergo. Not only does it have to put in the extra mileage, but it does so whilst being rigorously poked, prodded, and abused by children who care not a jot for the cars resale value.

(For a good example of what a motor has to endure, it is worth taking a look at this video of a group of school children putting a family car through its paces)

Perhaps the best way to avoid this kind of scenario is by keeping children occupied on a long journey. So here are 5 suggestions, some from me, some from the wonderful world of social media:

1 - Idiosyncratic Car Games

The options are huge - you can bring some of the kids' smaller games, or even go hi-tech with some kind of techno gadgetry. Alternatively you can opt for the retro delights of I- spy. Be warned though, the novelty of 'something beginning with C - a car' will soon wear off. However, my favourite is Car Snooker. First you need to spot a red car, and then it is onto the colours; either a yellow, green, brown, blue, pink or black. Then it's back to red and another colour and so on until all the colours have been spotted. Expect your 'break' to end when you hunt for a pink car, as these are hard to find.

2 - Make Your Own Map

In 20 years time the idea of a road map on a piece of paper will seem as passé as silent movies and chimney sweeps. However, even in these days of Sat Nav proliferation there is still value in creating your own map for a forthcoming journey, filling it with landmarks and allowing your child to look out for (and tick off) these points as you go along.

3- Get Your Story Straight

This suggestion comes from @Polandishere, who says "audiobooks are good, age permitting. For little ones songs on a CD, although this could get tiring for adults" A good point - I have heard it said that ' The Wheels on the bus' is played incessantly at Guantanamo Bay as a form of mind torture, so be careful.

4-Recreate the phenomena of the 70s & 80s

‪Here's another piece of advice shared with me on a popular social media site where you can only use 140 characters (guess which one?) from @Trail_Dad

"A few minutes of Frisbee or hacky sack at rest stops has always paid happier-kiddo dividends for me on lengthy trips."

Yes, I know what you are thinking - you can still get hacky sacks?!

5- The utterly foolproof nuclear option

Finally, if all else fails then go for the portable DVD player. Hunt around and you can pick up a new one for about £30 to £40, and whilst not as cheap as a box of crayons, after a couple of hours of hassle free driving you will feel it is well worth the money. Personally, I got one for my 4-year daughter and I never looked back - both metaphorically and literally.