We recently took our 7 month year old on her first trip to Scotland. Trains and planes were ridiculously expensive so having recently purchased a very sensible estate car that we reckoned would just about squeeze all her baby gubbins in, we decided to drive. From the south of England. For eight hours.
The summer holidays are nearly upon us and for those taking a break in the UK or nipping over the channel, that may well mean packing the car full to bursting and squeezing everyone in for a long car journey before joining the holidaying hoards on the motorway . Before you cancel your vacation at the horror of the scene or if you are wondering whether to make that booking because of the logistics of a long trip, be reassured. We survived our journey to Scotland and found that although long car journeys with babies, particularly for the uninitiated, can seem daunting they needn’t be a show stopper.
Here are ten suggestions to help make your long car journey with babies and young children smoother:
- Work with baby ‘s routine and if you can, travel when your little one is most likely to be catching some zzzz’s and take breaks when they are at their most awake. There is a lot to be said for setting off early evening and taking a break overnight en-route;
- Keep lots of small toys in the front of the car with you. Baby is bound to throw any toys from the start of the journey on the floor at some point and you’ll be grateful to avoid having to stretch your arm round backwards for the tenth time in as many minutes to retrieve their journey toy yet again;
- If baby likes a dummy, again keep a stock of them in the front of the car to post back to baby along the journey. Alternatively, now would be a good time to invest in a dummy clip to prevent them being throw on the floor – just make sure to get one made from beads or similar and avoid anything that could present a strangulation hazard;
- Take regular breaks! It sounds obvious but for those of us used to ‘just getting there’, stopping the car for more than a quick loo break can be a novel concept. If you want to avoid a ratty baby and consequently rattier parents on the rest of the car journey, make sure to sit back and sip that coffee slowly and give everyone a change of scene, refreshments and a chance to stretch their legs;
- Learn how to adjust your car’s speakers on the move, so that you can just have music playing via the back speakers and vice-versa. You’ll be glad you took the trouble when you find yourself listening to the Wiggles or ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’ for the hundredth time on your long car journey and likewise that you can put your own music on to compensate when baby finally nods off;
- Take a large variety of music! Audio books are also good for older children on a long car journey;
- Invest in a large baby car mirror that attaches to the headrest facing baby’s car seat. Not only will this give you peace of mind being able to see what your little one is up to whilst on the go but will also provide extra entertainment for baby. Just remember to remove it at night-time – you can’t see it and the mirror may well wake up your sleepy baby by reflecting car headlights and street-lamps into their eyes.
- Dress baby in something comfortable and breathable. Cotton all-in-ones are perfect for a long car journey as they don’t ruffle up and make uncomfy creases or bundle baby up too warm. Remember also when you have the AC blasting out in the front of the car that baby in the back will not be getting quite the same effect. Adjust clothing on a hot journey and make sure to keep baby hydrated;
- If only travelling with one baby or child in the car then it’s worth trying to keep your luggage and packing in the boot and avoid the temptation to overspill into the spare back seat. That way, if baby gets really cranky and a stop doesn’t sort it out and you are travelling with another adult passenger in the car, then someone can at least easily hop into the back at your next stop as an emergency measure to give them a change of scene and entertainment.
- Enjoy the car journey and think beyond service stations. Accept that you are going to be travelling slower and with more stops with kids than if driving alone and plan accordingly. There are some great country parks, wildlife reserves and historic sites located close to motorway junctions so why not stop the car and stretch your legs in style whilst exploring the scenery along the way rather than grimacing through yet another tepid coffee at a cramped and unhygienic service station. You can find some of my recommendations for the M4, M5 & M1 motorways here.