I’ve recently handed over my role as Editor of The Voice, quarterly magazine of the Cambridge branch of the NCT. I very much enjoyed volunteering for the charity in this way, but it was time to move on being as we no longer live in Cambridge and I would like to take on other things (mainly Sewn Down Purple Lane). During my time as Editor, I wrote quite a few articles, some of which I think are relevant beyond just Cambridge, so I thought I’d share some on this blog. First up is an article I wrote recently about our experience of long distance car travel with little ones. I hope you find it useful if you’re planning a long journey with young children soon.
The location of our boys’ grandparents’ (holiday) homes – Devon, West Midlands and Lake District – means that we’ve done our fair share of middle-to-long distance car journeys with them at various ages. Before kids, we used to catch the train down to Devon, but as the route means two (overground) trains as well as hopping on the tube across London, we haven’t fancied that with a baby, toddler, or baby and toddler, plus all the paraphernalia that travels with them for a week away. Cross-country (i.e. not through London) train services to the Midlands aren’t something we enjoyed even without kids. And for the Lakes, it’s handy to have our own car for getting around once we’re up there
The first time we attempted the Midlands trip – which takes about 1 hour 45 minutes in good traffic – with each baby, they were 2-3 months old. As they were still quite unpredictable with feeding and sleeping, we couldn’t really tell when was the best time of day to travel from their point of view, so we just went for it and ended up stopping for a feeding break or two, even though we’d normally do this distance in one run.
For about the first 6 months or so, neither of them liked being in a car seat for very long awake, so we took it in turns to sit in the back and try to keep them calm and reassure them. Joel didn’t seem as distressed as Andrew did at the same age, probably because he had his big brother in the back with him too, pulling silly faces and chucking toys at him! If you have to drive alone with a rear-facing baby in the back, a mirror attached to the back seat’s headrest means they can see your face reflected in your rear-view mirror.
As they got older, we would usually time our journey for when they would normally nap or sleep (early afternoon or evening), since they both started to sleep well in the car, though Andrew is less likely to drop off now that he’s just turned 3. But neither of them have slept for the entire journey to Devon or the Lakes – about 6-7 hours with a couple of breaks in good traffic.
So what to do during awake time? As babies, toys attached to the car seat were handy, so when they inevitably got thrown out, whoever was sitting in the back could easily retrieve them. It’s also amazing how long games like ‘peekaboo’ and ‘pulling silly faces’ can entertain a bored baby in a car.
One of our best buys since having kids has been our in-car DVD player for long journeys from around the age of 1. It attaches to the back of the driver’s/front passenger’s headrest for back passengers to view, or on the back seat’s headrest if baby/toddler is still rear facing. I have also heard of iPads/tablets (which we don’t have) and a car headrest holder (available to buy online) serving the same purpose. The novelty of a new (to us) DVD or one not watched for a while has worked wonders at entertaining them in the car. Of course music CDs go down well too.
So far Andrew seems to be fine at reading on the go (something which makes me car sick), so a new magazine does the trick of amusing him for a good hour or so. We’ve also just got into playing the simple game of ‘spot the [insert colour] car [or other common/rare vehicle]’, particularly in slower moving traffic, and this encourages him to look out of the window and take in our surroundings. As much as we don’t like being stuck in traffic, watching out for emergency vehicles if there has been an accident is very exciting for a vehicle-obsessed toddler.
As they get older, I’m looking forward to playing more games, some of which we used to play as children on long car journeys, for example ‘I spy’ or making words with the letters on registration plates, and some of which I have discovered from friends or the book Are we there yet? by Jo Pink. One friend of my parents, who has two girls a few years older than Andrew, takes an Argos catalogue for each daughter on long car journeys: she sets the girls ‘tasks’ from the catalogue, for example they have to find the cheapest set of saucepans or the most expensive television, or they have to plan their dream bedroom or toy collection and add up how much it would all cost (if they were ever lucky enough to get it!) Apparently this keeps them amused for hours, and it’s totally free!
Expect the unexpected
Apart from thinking about entertainment, it’s important to plan food, drink and other supplies when driving with little ones. We always take more than we think we’ll need, in case of hold ups, and a substantial packed lunch and other snacks mean we can eat and drink if stationary rather than having to wait to pull in at the next services. When travelling in winter we pack coats and sturdy shoes so they are easy to get at if we need to stop or were to break down. And in (warm) summer we take plenty of drinks. On that note, the potty is also handy to have close at hand
I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed every single moment of car journeys with the boys, but we’ve certainly learned how to make the most of them and try to avoid pitfalls.