With many people opting to travel by car rather than plane for their holiday this year, the question of how to keep the kids entertained on a family road trip is likely to be front of mind.
To help, in this guide we've compiled our top 10 ways to keep the kids entertained on a long journey, including the best car games and suggestions that the whole family can enjoy (or at least tolerate). We can't promise complete peace and quiet. But at least you'll have something prepared for when a shrill voice from the back seat pipes up with “Are we there yet?”
1. Story Time
If you have older kids who are happy to make up their own stories, then go with it. However, with younger children, the onus is on the adults to provide an entirely spontaneous yet cogent narrative, so it’s useful to have a clear beginning, middle, and end in your head before starting. Or, if modern life has destroyed any creative thinking you once had, try reciting a well-known story but substitute the names of the main characters with those of whoever is on the car trip.
The alternative to telling a story yourself is to play one through the car’s stereo. You can pick up CDs online or in charity shops for a couple of pounds, or download stories in the form of audiobooks to your smartphone, which can then be connected to the car. True, it means enduring four hours of Enid Blyton when what you really want is to listen to Test Match Special, but at least nobody will be moaning.
No, not that sort of tablet. We mean Apple iPads, Android tablets and the like, which have become as much a part of modern parenting as sleep deprivation and babyccino. By planning ahead, you can download age-appropriate apps, racing games, Disney TV shows or Star Wars films prior to your journey and simply hand the device over when things begin to get lively. Be prepared, however, because these devices can create as many problems as they solve, particularly when it comes to switching them off. You have been warned.
Giving the kids games to play can keep them occupied for hours. From old-school classics to all-new driving games that you just thought of (first person to be quiet for 10 minutes wins! Bonus points for longer!), the possibilities are endless. Unlike your patience.
There are few in-car games as famous as I Spy (with my little eye), which is perhaps surprising when you think how difficult it is to play whilst travelling at 70mph. Some recommend turning the idea on its head with a game of I Don’t Spy, whereby players have to guess a completely random object. If that idea fills you with dread, you could always try something like Twenty Questions or Would You Rather instead. Memory games, or number plate/license plate games can also go down well. Or you could try making up some all-new games.
Whatever you choose, stick to word games rather than card or board games, because when you’re on the M5 and the three-year-old drops a counter under your seat, there’s not a great deal you can do.
Obviously you don’t want to give kids anything they can use to deface your car, so pens or plasticine are out. Stickers, however, can provide hours’ (okay, maybe an hour’s) worth of entertainment, particularly if there’s a story book to put them in.
Athletes talk of the constant need to keep their body topped up with fluids and carbohydrates so as not to ‘hit the wall’, and it’s much the same when it comes to kids and long car journeys. Aim for little and often when giving snacks and drinks, and try to keep it to wholesome, healthy stuff such as bananas, raisins, and water. Dealing with hunger rage isn’t fun at the best of times, let alone when you’re trapped in a car.
As a driver, you should take a break every couple of hours or so to stretch your legs and get some fresh air, and the same goes for the kids in the back. If you can plan your route to include an interesting stop on the way, such as a park or a playground, then all the better. But even if it’s just a service station, children will appreciate a break from the monotony of being in the car. Plus, their bladders are smaller than yours.
In an ideal world, we’d teach our kids to enjoy our favourite bands. However, “The Wheels On The Bus” and its ilk haven’t endured this long without reason, so either embrace them or learn how to adjust your car stereo’s fade and balance settings to pipe music to the rear occupants only. For older children, consider buying some headphones and an MP3 player, thereby making everybody a winner.
9. Talk About Where You’re Going
Logic dictates you’ll be far more prepared to wait patiently for something if you know you’ll enjoy it when you get there. So, if you’re on the way to meet the grandparents, talk about how nice it will be to see them. Or, if your destination is a particularly interesting place, nail down some exciting facts to recite. Of course, logic and children don’t always go hand-in-hand, so remember that hyping them up about the journey’s end can also serve as another reason to moan about not being there yet.
While we’re not suggesting handing over your digital SLR, giving the kids a cheap camera of their own can be a great way of keeping them busy in the car. Whether it’s documenting the journey or using fun filters to make their siblings look silly, a half-decent camera can help their imagination to run free.
All that’s left to say is good luck – and if these 10 tips aren’t enough, you might just want to consider choosing somewhere a bit closer instead.