My children have always travelled well. I’ve pinned it to the fact that the first few years of their lives were spent on long trips everywhere as we lived so far away from any centre. To get the milk alone was a 20-minute drive into town!
Now, that we are urban dwellers, most of our journeys are short ones, but during the last three weeks, we’ve embarked on long three-hour-or-more journeys and I was amazed at how well the eight-, six- and three-year-olds coped.
Here are my tips for smooth car journeys with children:
» Before you go, make sure everyone has gone to the toilet and has with them a jacket and another layer – you don’t want to be stopping and starting to find a jacket in the boot of the car.
» Pack a good healthy lunch and a bottle of water per child for the trip. It can be tempting to load up on junk food but it makes everyone scratchy with all the sugar. It can also get really expensive to buy food at every stop. Be careful that the packaging is easy to open. There is nothing worse than being asked to open a packet of crackers with non-existent free hands by a two-year-old who wants them now.
» Prevent any temper tantrums before they begin. Explain what treats you will be getting them during the trip if any, and what they won’t be having. Remind them of the expectations you have for their behaviour.
» Talk, talk, talk. I’ve grown to love long journeys with my children because we have each others’ undivided attention. We spend more time in these long trips talking about things that are important to us as a family, or playing together, than we often do in a whole week. It’s not all serious conversation – we enjoy playing word games, and they love hearing stories about my childhood. Sometimes they take turns making up their own stories. It’s a great opportunity to talk about more than just: “Have you done your homework?” or “Remember you have music practice this afternoon!”
» Take an ipod full of songs and stories for those moments you need to concentrate on your driving or are feeling a little weary. It’s a good idea to have a mix of both children’s and your music to choose from. If you need to bargain to get your own choice of songs, do so. After a while, they’ll begin to develop a taste for your favourite pieces. Don’t over prepare. Children actually don’t need computer games, activities or expensive toys to be happy on a long trip. Take a technology break and let them unwind.
» Be prepared to change your plans. Last week I took a rather major wrong turn that turned our three-hour drive into a five-hour one. The children loved it. We took it as part of the trip experience, and stopped at several unplanned places during the day. At the end of the weekend, even after the hot pools, the game parks and the places we saw, the fact that we got lost and had fun trying to find the right way again was their favourite part of the whole trip!
» See the trip through the eyes of your children. It’s the most fun part. Children see the whole journey as fun, not just the part where we get to our destination. Catch the excitement from them and learn to enjoy the whole trip. The time will pass a lot faster if you do.
Rachel Goodchild is a presenter and writer specialising in relationships of every concoction from family to dating. Her book Eighty Eight Dates was released by Penguin in Feb 2009, and she is currently appearing on TV3 in New Zealand for “Rachel Goodchild’s Good Advice”