Long Car Journeys with Kids ǀ Travel

Jess McGlynnFebruary 21, 2017

Over the past few years we have made several long car journeys with Meg and Eli; having family who live all over the country means that we are fairly used to hopping in the car and driving for 2-3 hours at a time.

However, we have also attempted a number of fairly insane mammoth journeys with them when we have driven down to the South of France.  We have (stupidly some might say) done this twice, and despite the fact that both times we have said never again it’s something we are currently looking into for this year as well!

Our first excursion down to France was a 36 hour round trip and our second wasn’t far off that although we did break this up with an overnight stay in a hotel (an adventure in itself when James got lost trying to park the car and I had to go looking for him…).  

Both times we thought we were setting off fairly well prepared. 

We had bags full of colouring books/stickers/magazines/new toys and we had a couple of tablets loaded with games and movies for when things got desperate. We had snacks, drinks, car seat tables and generally felt good about how things were going to pan out.  Oh how we laugh…

…because there are something things you just can’t prepare for, right?

We weren’t leaving them at the side of the road.  Honestly…

Here are some of the lessons we learned:-

‘Are we there yet?’ conversations
Young children have absolutely no concept of time. If you say ‘yes, in 3 hours’ that means zero to them and they will probably count to 3 and then throw a tantrum because you haven’t arrived yet.

Neither should you answer with ‘No’ as James has repeatedly discovered to his detriment. This will entice your children to continously ask ‘why not’ for the next 2 hours until you are glaring daggers at your husband for being so ridiculous and the tension in the car has risen to boiling point.

Distraction techniques work better than direct answers in this situation: ‘Oh look, there’s a cow/cloud/red car’ etc etc

Back Up Supplies
You will discover that your children have the uncanny knack of throwing their things into the ‘place of no return’ during the journey. Even once you’ve arrived and the car is empty, good luck finding where those 4 dummies/brand new tsums-tsums/colouring pencils disappeared to.

Have a back up supply and then a back up supply for your back up supply. Trust me, listening to your toddler screaming for their dummy at the top of their voice for a prolonged period of time is enough to give anyone a twitch in their eye.

Don’t attempt to unfasten yourself and root around in the back of the car whilst your other half is driving either. Not only is it incredibly dangerous but you will probably receive a poke in the eye from your youngest child for your efforts, not find the item in question and bang your elbow on the cool box nestled between your loving offspring. The plus side is that they will find your squeals of discomfort hilarious and will be distracted from thinking about the lost item for approximately 5 minutes.

Toilet Habits
Service stations in France are either FAB or TERRIBLE.  Many of them have adventure playgrounds which can be brilliant for burning off energy and stretching legs when you stop for that all important toilet break.  However, the bad ones (and I think we all know which ones I mean…) can also introduce your child to some pretty awful toilet habits.  Such as the moment when you are driving down a remote country lane and your child announces they need the toilet.  No problem, just pull over to the side of the road and get them out.

Of course whilst you are busy checking that you aren’t breaking any obscure French laws about pulling over, your child may decide to take matters into their own hands, and, left to their own devices will squat down and wee into their pants, shorts and shoes before announcing they have been to the toilet the ‘French Way’.  Best to make sure you only visit those service stations with ‘real’ bathroom facilities instead.

Kids Can Hear In Their Sleep
You might think it’s safe at 4am in the morning when the kids are certain to be fast asleep to talk about important stuff but trust me, they are either pretending or they have super skills and can hear even in dreamland. Don’t have serious conversations about other people/intimate moments/life changing decisions as your children will pipe up about them the next day at the most inappropriate moment they can think of. The owner of your home for the next 2 weeks probably doesn’t want to know what you really think about your best friends.

Movie Moments
Let’s be honest, at some point during your lengthy car journey, you are going to bring out the screens.  Absolutely no judgement here.  You might even download a few favourite films to keep your children well and truly occupied.  Great thinking!  Just make sure you have invested in a really good pair of headphones for your children otherwise you will be listening to them play the same movie on repeat for the remainder of the journey…

Experience tells us that it’s a sign you’ve been in the car for too long when your husband can quote the lines of the film word for word and you laugh hysterically at the one liners you’ve already heard 10 times. Take a break.

Plan To Stop!
We have tried so many variations of the long drive and how best to factor in a break.  In all our naivety on our first trip to France we thought that if we took it in turns we could drive through the night without stopping.  Let me tell you that when you finally drop off in the passenger seat and then stir in the early hours to discover that your husband is, in fact, driving directly towards a line of confused French cars, it’s a bit of a wake up call.  A 3 point turn on a French dual carriageway is enough to wake anybody up.

Equally, we have tried simply pulling over into a service station and attempting to catch 40 winks.  This is great if you have children who will get on board and go to sleep.  Not so much if you have a child like Eli.  The one time we tried this, I kept waking to the heart-stopping fear that he had somehow opened the car door, climbed out and disappeared into the night. In fact, he was just in the boot of the car rooting around for food or at one point on the dashboard kissing the windscreen.

And our final lesson in this category is that it IS best to plan an overnight stop but you should make absolutely sure you have booked the hotel for the right night to avoid having to drive around an unfamiliar French town at 10pm, after hours already spent in the car, desperately trying to find 3G signal so you can find somewhere to sleep for the night.

The Journey Home

It is likely that everyone will be super tired and fed up on the journey home. After all, there’s not much to look forward to at the end of it.  This can be the most draining as you have to try and keep everyone occupied and happy.  If you are planning to stop late at night then be aware that French shops will probably not be open at 9pm when you’ve arrived at your hotel for the night.  Luckily, a lot of the motels in France also offer vending machine dinners (yes, you have indeed read that correctly…)

You should do your best to not be offended when your children intimate that the grey looking slop in front of them is the best meal they’ve ever had.  It’ll have been a long day.

Make Those Memories
My final lesson is that in everything, you just have to keep smiling.  Unfortunately for us, all of the above has happened at some point and although at the time I wanted to back into a corner and weep, now I can look back and laugh.  And maybe cry a little too…

Whether it’s listening to the same soundtrack 8 times in a row, or turning up the radio to drown out the sounds of your children squabbling for just a short period, or taking the wrong turn or not being able to find your accommodation…try to face it with a smile and think of all the wonderful memories you are making in the process.  It will be worth it in the end!

This is my entry for the GoEuro #travellessons competition.

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