Many of our close friends have young children and are often shocked at the distances we travel with ours. They wonder how we cope with two youngsters in the car for such long trips so we thought that it was about time we shared some our tips.
Now we’re no authority on children and we by no means guarantee that any of these tips will make travelling a breeze for your kids but they are all things we have tried and that regularly work on our journeys:
1. Make sure your children are comfortable – this is a pretty obvious tip, comfortable kids are less likely to whinge and more likely to sleep. In New Zealand, it is a legal requirement for all children under 7 to be in car seats so both of ours are. Our now 5 year old rides in a phil&teds Tott XTR – this ensures that he’s not only safe but tall enough to see out the window – a must of any journey! Our 2 year old rides in a phil&teds evolution car seat. She’s had it since she was about 6 months old, as soon as she came out of her infant capsule and we chose it for one reason – it looks like a La-Z-boy armchair with big padded cushions. She’s definitely got THE most comfortable seat in the car! We don’t generally travel with pillows or blankets for the kids to use in the car as we find that these take up extra room and actually give them less space in the back of the car.
2. Pick your travelling time - now this is one thing that we have learnt the hard way. We used to travel first thing in the morning, eager to get to attractions and our destination as soon as possible but this was actually our biggest downfall. Our children are most active in the morning so to try and get them to sit still and quietly in the car for 2-3 hours in the morning is just not possible, and ends up being stressful for everyone. Instead we now try to visit an attraction or do an activity first thing in the morning, have a picnic lunch and then set off on the long section of the journey. In nearly all instances, this ensures that the children are tired and no longer hungry so tend to go to sleep pretty quickly for around 2 hours. For especially long journeys, breaking the journey after 2-3 hours in the afternoon with another stop-off (like a playground) before embarking on the final leg can be beneficial too. However try not to add in too many stop offs as it can actually make the trip seem even longer for the kids.
3. A few ways we keep them entertained - keeping children entertained in the car is quite difficult. We actually try to ensure they’re tired enough to sleep so entertainment isn’t required but in some instances we have no choice but to travel in the morning so to keep our children entertained we usually have a few picture books in the car for each of them. A few toy cars or airplanes is usually enough to keep our son entertained for an hour or so whilst a cuddly toy or doll is enough to entertain our daughter. Our children are a little young to understand ‘i-spy’ so we play a slightly different version on our trips. We pick three animals or birds that they need to look out the window for. Usually these will include an easy to find species like a cow or sheep, some sort of native bird like tui, magpie or fantail and then something a little less common like an alpaca, horse or deer. This helps to prolong the game a bit. If it’s a route you’re used to driving, you’ll be able to pick the right species that your kids will be able to see on route.
4. Snacks, snacks and more snacks - our kids are used to eating breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner so having food in the car is a must for us. We try to avoid sweets and sugary foods on car journeys as they have no outlet for the sugar rush. Instead we opt for large rice crackers, carrot sticks and fruit with the odd sandwich available too. For drinks, we always have water available and refill bottles when we stop. Buying food on journeys can be very expensive so we tend to always travel with enough food and drink with us to cover snacks and any meals whilst travelling.
5. Keep your itinerary flexible
- although we usually start the day with a rough itinerary, we’ve learnt to be flexible when travelling with the kids. Sometimes one might not go to sleep as planned and we might need to factor in another stop for extra entertainment or to tire them out. But most of the time we find that it’s us adults who alter the journey as we travel. On many of our trips, we’re going places we’ve never visited before so might see something we want to take a picture of or explore some more. A prime example was on a recent trip through the West Coast
of New Zealand, on our way from Haast to Wanaka we saw a sign for a waterfall so decided to stop for a look. On the same trip we also discovered a loop track walk with stunning views in Wanaka so decided to do that instead of the attraction we had planned for the morning. We view the journey as part of our holiday so trying to stick to a firm plan can be difficult and add extra pressure to the journey. We’d rather arrive at our evening accommodation later in the day, knowing that we’ve seen what we want to on-route.
6. A few useful things to include – when we first started to travel around New Zealand we found that we packed way more stuff than we needed to whilst in some cases, hadn’t packed things we really needed. We’ve got a lot better at packing recently and our first packing tip would be to leave suitcases/large bags at home and instead use durable plastic boxes. We use one box for all our food and kitchen items and another for our clothing on short trips. These are easy to lift in and out of the car and the kitchen box comes in very handy when we stay in cabins with separate kitchen facilities. We’ve found that in recent years, most camp grounds now no longer provide pots and pans so we have a camping set which stack inside each other that have proved invaluable when travelling. Washing up liquid, a sponge and a tea-towel are also required and not always provided so remember to pack these too. We usually also travel with sleeping bags as some accommodation will add a charge to provide bedding so we can reduce costs by carrying our own – plus if we’re staying somewhere cold, the extra layer of bedding can be handy too.
We hope that by sharing our tips for travelling with young children we can help you enjoy your journeys more and make the journey part of the adventure too. We’d love for you to share your tried and tested tips too so feel free to use the comments section below.
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