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It’s no secret that we love taking family road trips. We’ve done two epic road trips with kids over the past few years and lots more trips around the UK in school holidays. Plus, with grandparents living 250 and 300 miles away, we are pros at the drive up to the North East!
Friends often ask for advice about taking road trips with kids. It can seem a daunting thing to embark on, but we think it’s a great way to travel as a family. For sure, there are more considerations than travelling solo or as a couple, but that’s always the case when travelling with kids. In this post, I’ll show you that you CAN ace a road trip with kids!
Plan the journey from your children’s perspective
We’ve found out the hard way that long legs of driving don’t work for our kids. Now we try to stop every four to five hours for a break. More importantly, we plan our route to include stops that will interest the children, like villages with playgrounds, streams for paddling, or even simply a McDonald’s. We try to avoid motorways where possible, so there’s lots to look at out of the windows.
If you have younger children, it’s likely you’ll need more toilet stops. Make sure you know what this will look like in the country you’re visiting. For example, in France, while there are public toilet stops along the main road, they are often simple holes in the ground. Our kids would rather go in the bushes than enter one of these cubicles!
Let your kids run off energy
When taking a road trip with kids, it’s important to plan activity and rest time between long travelling days. Try to find something that your children will really enjoy, for example, a park where they can get outside and run off energy. We even found a few rest stops on a German motorway with mini play parks, which was perfect for a quick tension release when our kids were sick of the car!
Last year we learned the hard way that planning a trip without adequately considering our kids’ needs was a recipe for disaster.
Bring more food and drink
Within a few minutes of setting off on a road trip, our kids usually start saying they’re hungry. It’s linked to boredom, but it’s often hard to entertain three kids when stuck in a car!
While we’ve found some interesting food along our routes, shops at motorway petrol stations in mainland Europe are less frequent and less well-equipped than we are used to in the UK. The fresh sandwiches we found at one pit stop in France were delicious for us adults but full of salad, pickles, and cheese that the children wouldn’t touch. On that leg, they ended up eating just crisps and prepackaged galettes for their lunch.
We’ve learned to stock up on familiar and healthy snacks before setting off: our kids’ favourites are apples (with our trusty apple slicer*), grapes, baguettes, dried fruit bars, and Mini Cheddars. And we always take much, much more food than we think we’ll need.
While I’d prefer our children to quietly stare out of the window on long drives while I knit, I’ve realised that this is not a realistic expectation. Our children are full of energy on a normal day and don’t like being cooped up. They have adapted to tolerate long journeys and to their credit complain very little. However, they need lots of entertainment and interaction from us along the way. We have these seat-back organisers* in our people carrier, and before each trip, we fill them with wipe-activity books, stickers, crayons, books, and of course three trusty Amazon Fires*. Before each trip, we load the tablets with the kids’ favourite films and TV programmes. Each child also has their own pair of headphones. We have an in-car adapter with multiple USB ports* and this portable power bank* to make sure the tablets never run out of battery!
We’ve also invented road games like ‘spot a car in each colour of the rainbow’, ‘spot each letter of the alphabet’. The kids love classics like ‘I Spy’ and ‘ABC Suitcase’ (“I’m going on holiday and I’m packing…”).
Be compassionate to yourselves and your children
It can be really hard to be together in the car for long periods of time. It’s hard on the kids and on us parents, too. Sometimes we need to abandon our plans for the day because we are all cranky and in need of reconnection. This is absolutely OK! Often Guy and I have to remind ourselves to let go of our expectations about trips. We try to remember that we’re on the road to enjoy time together, and let our kids behave like kids. After all, they’re only 6, 4 and 4!
Check out my post about what we learned on our road trip for even more tips.