From I Spy to iPad, finding the right method to keep the kids entertained on car journeys is something that will have even the most patient parent perplexed.
As a father of two curious boys aged four and two, I should know. Every journey is a trek into the unknown, the good times all too often mired by the back-seat tantrums, travel-induced vomiting and toy-or-snack-shaped missile aimed at the back of my head.
I don’t claim to have all the answers to child-based mobility. Instead, this is a little bit of insight from a downtrodden father trying to make car travel as bearable as possible.
1: Have ALL the answers
At four and two, curiosity strikes the little beasts at every opportunity. “Daddy, what does that sign say?”, “Daddy, where is that motorbike going?”, “Daddy, why are we on a dual carriageway?”, “Daddy, why won’t you talk to me?”. The questions won’t stop. The answers often don’t exist. Make up a story but stay on your toes because the questions will be relentless.
2: Share a love of driving
Before kids, I’d often find any excuse to go for a drive, especially as back then my job was to write about cars. Now, while it’s tempting to head off for a long drive, the reality is that every time I’m in the car, the boys are in the back. Thankfully, the shared love of driving seems to have made the genetic journey. Little voices from the back regularly encourage me to “drive faster daddy” or “drive as fast as you can, daddy”. Naturally, I don’t...
Essential. Do not leave home without a small corner shop’s-worth of supplies, arranged neatly on the front passenger seat, ready to start passing back the moment you turn the key in the ignition. Fruit, snacks, drinks, crisps, sandwiches, all demanded at the most inopportune times. And be prepared to negotiate roundabouts while your little Caesars demand Ella’s Kitchen Organic fruit bars IMMEDIATELY. Who said dads can’t multitask?
That Spotify playlist you painstakingly created for long road trips. Delete it. You will never, ever listen to your own music in the car again. Instead, get used to such eclectic children’s party classics such as ‘I Like to Move It’, ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ and ‘Black Betty’. The fun part is guessing which song they want when they don’t know the name of it.
5: Stop. Often
The secret to the successful long-distance road trip is to stop often, for a short time. Plan to stop every two hours, for yours and their sanity. The rejuvenating effect of fresh air, a short walk, a nappy change or toilet break, and a snack or drink can lead to great things (see point 7).
6: The mild respite of technology
Academics are constantly telling us that devices ruin our sleeping patterns, but in the car, there is nothing that will get the little ones to sleep quicker than half an hour of staring at your iPhone while travelling at 70mph.
But therein lies some danger. We’re not nouveau riche, or even just rich, so can’t afford those snazzy headrest TV screens you see in some cars, so we’re left with no choice but to send back our precious iPhones to the pits of toddler hell. Invariably the phones come back soon after either locked, smudged or with tractor videos posted to your Facebook timeline. But at least, the cherubs are nearing nap time.
Toys. Contentious subject this one. The toy has to be soft enough that when thrown it won’t knock the driver (me) out, or smash a window. But if it’s too small they’ll constantly drop it and you’ll spend half the journey telling them to look for it themselves as you are concentrating on the road and really can’t have one hand behind the seat scanning the carpet like a minesweeper. Books are good, toy figures even better but avoid cars: the wheels make them very mobile.
8: And sleep
When it comes, and given a long enough journey, it does, sleep is the most wondrous event to happen to your back-seat progeny. It doesn’t last for long, the merest bump in the road enough to disturb their slumber, so enjoy every moment as best you can. But don’t even think about putting on your own music…
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