How to manage long car journeys with kids

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Single dad Simon Newby has been on some epic long car journeys with his three children, including over 30 1,100 mile drives across the UK and Europe. Here he shares his tips for long car journeys with kids.

Long care journeys with kids

Step 1: Where do you want to go?

The first step of any kind of trip planning is of course to decide where you want to go. You might already have some ideas on your bucket list, or, if you’re looking for inspiration you could try asking the Frolo community for ideas. There are a few questions to consider before you embark on long car journeys with kids:

How many days do you have?

This is such an important question because a trip is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. You’ll want to make time to investigate those intriguing roadside attractions and weird museums along the way.

How many hours do you want to spend driving?

If you’re a beginner to long car journeys with kids, err on the side of fewer hours in the car, especially if you have younger kids who need to get up and move about. Four or five hours in the car, with stops every two hours to let the kiddos out of their car seats can be plenty. If you only have a few days for your holiday and you only want to drive a few hours, that sets the parameters for choosing a destination.

Get out a map.

Look online or use a paper map for more of a sense of adventure!

Discuss the options that are within the family budget. As long as social distancing rules are in place, look for spots that are likely to be less popular.

Check local requirements.

Closings, openings and Covid-19 restrictions are changing fast these days — sometimes changing from hour to hour – so make sure you’re aware of any local restrictions.

Don’t forget to check your car.

Now this may sound like an obvious one, but sometimes in the rush of packing and planning it slips your mind! If you have roadside assistance, make sure to keep that number handy – and if you don’t, it might be worth looking into!

The RAC has a good guide to basic car checks.

Step 2: Plan the Route

Now you’ve probably already got a basic route planned out, but make sure you’re familiar with where you’re going and any directions needed. As a single parent you can’t rely on another adult to help navigate.

Every time we stop, whether for a comfort break or overnight, I try to look ahead at the route for the next section of our trip. Even with GPS, I find it easier if I’m familiar with the general route. Many cars come with a GPS now, but if not, maps.me or google maps are great and you can even download your route on google maps so that you can use it offline.

Step 3: Along the Route

You finished the route planner, now you need to figure out if you and the kids will break the journey along the way. Are you a camping family? If so, you’ll want to research campsites along the way. Are you happy to put up and take down the tent for one night? Do you prefer hotels? Airbnbs? Or does spontaneity work? 

Step 4: Pack Right

This is the getting-ready phase. It’s when you do things like make sure the family car is up to the task, the bags are packed, any essential apps are downloaded and the snacks are bought or made. Make sure you check the weather forecast too – sun cream and sun hats should be packed just in case, as well as wet weather gear!

Healthy, dry snacks like rice cakes, granola bars and cereal are some of my go-to options but stick to favourites – halfway down the motorway is NOT the time to be introducing something new! Fresh fruit and vegetables are good too, if they can be eaten without too much of a mess.

As a single parent, you don’t have an extra set of hands to help pass things to kids in the back, but you probably DO have the front seat empty. This is a great place to set up anything you need access to on long car journeys with kids. Keep a few snacks handy, Kleenex or napkins, water bottles and anything else that you may need. If you have a older child who is sitting in the front seat they will have this in the footwell in a bag.

We’re not a screen-free family, but we don’t rely on screens, whether in the car or for other travel. But whether or not you use screens, be sure to pack some other activities as well! Small toys like dolls, hot wheels or trains are safe and will amuse kids for awhile. My kids also love books and will also happily play magnetic games, Road Trip Bingo or do some drawing with Mess Free Markers.

Depending on the ages of your kids, there are loads of DIY car games or busy bags that you can find online, so you can make up your own.

Some final road trip tips

If you’re doing long car journeys with kids, here are a few quick tips to help the drive go as smoothly as possible:

  • Have a first aid kit in the car and fluorescent jackets for everyone just in case.
  • If you spy a designated rest area, take advantage of it! We’ve stopped at some that have picnic benches and play equipment, which is a bonus when you’re travelling with kids. 
  • Have a spill kit for the inevitable spill – wet wipes, kitchen towel and nappy sacks to gather up the rubbish.
  • Carry a spare clothes bag – no matter what age your kids! 
  • Carry a robust torch – you would be surprised how many AirBnbs use unlit key boxes.
  • Pack an overnight stop bag and pack it somewhere in the car that’s accessible, so you don’t have to unpack the whole car or huge suitcases just to get your essentials.
  • Make coats easy to find – not buried at the bottom of the boot.
  • If you’re going into self catering accommodation or camping, pack a quick and easy meal that you can make as soon as you arrive if needs be.
  • Emergency wine! I tend to have my bottle of wine available when I am not going to be driving any further that day – deep breath, kids fed, kids clothes sorted and relax!