The school holidays are here again. Two weeks without the tedium of trying to think of something healthy and substantial to fill the lunchboxes every morning. Two weeks without those daily monologues: “Can you please brush your hair! Where is your other shoe? No, I don’t want to play Easter Bunny meets Batman now. Get in the car, get in the car, pleasegetinthecar“. You know – the kind of monologue that leaves you needing a G&T at around 8.30am when you’ve finally dropped them off at school, hair brushed and both shoes in attendance (if not necessarily on their feet).
The holidays present a dilemma – on the one hand you really want to celebrate, get away, hit the road and at least deal with the daily refusal to get dressed in a different town. On the other hand, the roadtrip to get to said town leaves you in a state of panic only slightly smaller than when you’re told that it’s dress-up day tomorrow and you need to fashion a vegetable costume before daybreak.
I’m not going to lie and say “but roadtrips with small children can be fun!” – the sort of cheery crap that will have you reaching for the vomit bag even before your most nauseous offspring. But roadtrips with kids are doable – and here are a few ways to make them more bearable.
Plan your route
When travelling with small children, there is a simple equation: tap your destination into Google maps, note down the total estimated travelling time and add on 53%. You cannot begin to hope that your journey time will be the same with kids as it is without. Planning is required – check out farm stalls and restaurants along the route so that you can schedule stops for peeing and playing and eating the ice cream that you bribed them into their car seats with when you left the house…It sounds like a simple thing, but knowing that you’re only 47 minutes from a roadside cafe with a jungle gym and a petting farm is going to save everyone’s sanity. And of course, be sure to plan the longest stretch around your kid’s naptime, if you’re lucky enough to have such a thing in your life.
Prepare a soundtrack
This is something we usually pull out after three or four hours, when Kai is really starting to tire of sitting in his seat and even passing a big red truck is no longer newsworthy. Whip out your phone, or USB drive, or CD if you’re one of those retro types and your kids haven’t jammed the CD player full of coins and paper… Before you left the house, you would have carefully prepared a child-friendly soundtrack. It might be the kind of soundtrack that would typically have you reaching for the earplugs, but even It’s a Small World sounds amazing after 12 solid minutes of “when are we going to get there?” on repeat. I load my phone full of tracks from Moana, Trolls and yes, even Frozen. It kind of sucks, but when we’re all belting out He’s a Bit of a Fixer Upper together, it’s also kind of awesome.
Make a list of games and songs
Playing car games with pre-schoolers can be challenging, not least because they have an attention span that would make a goldfish raise his eyebrows. That said, I kind of rue the day I introduced Kai to I Spy, using colours instead of letters (“I spy with my little eye something that is red…”) for he will play that game for hours. That’s why you need to come equipped with a list – so that you can throw out a new game whenever you, or your kids, are getting bored. A few of our favourites are the car game (choose a colour each, first to see ten of their colour is the winner), guess the animal noise and (with limited success) 20 questions (using animals). We also love playing “Stop the music”, which Kai made up. One person starts singing and then when someone else wants to take over they simply shout “stop” and carry on the song. It’s simple, but it sure beats having to single 16 verses of Old McDonald by yourself (seriously, I once heard myself singing “And on that farm he grew some wine…”).
Pack a giant bag
Get the biggest bag you can fit on the back seat and fill it. Fill it with snacks and juice, with teddies and books, with toys and paper and pens, bubbles and for that last half hour, when all else fails, a fully charged tablet filled with education games (or crap cartoons – no-one is judging). Don’t forget the nappies (if you need them), a change of clothes (for the inevitable juice spillage), sunscreen (for pit stops) and hats. And perhaps a photo of your destination, just to remind yourself why you’re doing this…
Just do it
I know people who love road-tripping, but once their children were born they didn’t take a drive of more than an hour or so until the kid was in double digits. This is madness! For a start, when they’re really little, road trips are so easy unless you have a rare baby that vomits instead of sleeps whenever they’re in a moving vehicle. All you need to do is stop every so often to feed them, let them wriggle and change a nappy at the side of the road. But even when they start to crawl and walk and talk, don’t let it put you off. Yes, a five-hour road trip will turn into seven hours (and will probably feel like nine) but once you arrive at your holiday house/campsite/luxury hotel, all will be forgotten. Like many things about parenting, you do have to make compromises – maybe you have to sit in the back with the kids, maybe you have to stop every hour for a half-hour break, or maybe you have to listen to Let it Go on repeat all the way from Cape Town to De Hoop, but like many things about parenting, the rewards will make it all worthwhile.
What are your top tips for a road trip with the kids? Which games do you like to play on the road? Share your thoughts in the comments section!