1. Plan your journey AND your breaks
When you’re embarking on a long journey, if you’re anything like me, the first thing you’ll think about and plan is the journey. How are you going to get from A to B? How long is it going to take? When travelling with children it’s equally important to plan where you’re going to stop (especially if you’re travelling with a potty training toddler!). Do your research before you go – are there any great service stations you could head for? Is there somewhere exciting (or somewhere a bit different) you could stop to break up the journey?
Here are my top tips for travelling in the UK –
- There’s a great book called alternative service stations – it features pubs and restaurants that are near main motorways. They not only offer better value but wonderful food. One of our favourites is the Moody Cow Pub near Ross – delicious food and chickens in the garden!
- If I had my way I’d plan every journey I made around Gloucester Services. There is not only a wonderful farm shop (selling everything from cheese, ham, fresh bread, yummy sweet treats and farm-made ready meals), there is also a delicious cafe (the ideal spot for breakfast, lunch or dinner on route) and an indoor and outdoor play area (think wooden tree houses etc). Honestly, we’ve been known to drive here just for breakfast! There’s another incredible one in Cumbria – Tebay
- If you are a member of the National Trust these can be a wonderful option when travelling with children. Download the app and plan your journey around somewhere you’d like to stop. They nearly always have great cafes and open spaces to stretch those little legs!
Here are my top tips for travelling by road on mainland Europe –
- The French motorway network has an impressive selection of service stations (approximately every 15km) – large ones, small ones, something for everyone. The larger ones (with petrol stations) nearly all have a children’s play parks and an outside activity space. They all have plenty of parking and restaurants, cafes, picnic spaces etc. Some now have high end cafes like Paul so you could beeline for those! Our firm favourite is Aire de Jugy (its located near Chalon-sur-Saône (in the Burgundy region between Dijon & Mâcon). It isn’t massive but it has a truly spectacular play park for the little ones (note that its only accessible when travelling south). Keep an eye out for the little models on the side of motorway as you approach.
- Generally speaking when we’re driving in Europe (we’ve driven to Spain, southern France and Italy), we’ve always driven for two hours and then planned a little pit stop (usually timed around a snack!). When planning your route it may be worth considering places just off the motorway….when travelling back from Italy a few years back we had lunch overlooking Lake Garda sitting on a bench and the following day lunch in Strasbourg! (does it get much better than this!?!).
Anyway, the gist of what I’m saying is plan your route and plan your stops….it breaks up the journey but also makes it feel part of the holiday!
Top Tip: If you’re travelling with a young child the guidelines suggest that they shouldn’t remain in their carseat for more than 2 hours. I get a lot of parents asking how they can get from A to B with this rule in mind. I would say….take a sensible decision. Lots of breaks, a chance for particularly young child to kick around on a mat etc.
2. Time your journey carefully
This is particularly important if you’re travelling with young children and babies. Try and leave the house when your child/children would normally snooze that way you should get a few hours under your belt whilst they’re sleeping. You could also drive very early in the morning (lift the children from their beds)….and then stop for a breakfast. You may find it easier to drive at night. There’s lots of options.
3. Make the journey an adventure.
Enthuse the children about what they’ll see and where they are going. If you treat the travel as a chore it quickly becomes onerous and boring! Give your children maps and help them follow the route – it makes the journey more manageable for them and teaches them something at the same time! You can also do a lot of preparation before you leave, in the days running up to your trip.
4. Sort your entertainment options.
If children get bored the journey instantly gets more difficult – tensions rise and people start squabbling. I definitely recommend sorting out your entertainment options (and yes you definately need more the one!). We love our play tray for the car. It allows our daughter a reasonably flat space to colour and do stickers, whilst also providing her with a place for a drink and the all important snacks! Be relaxed about screen time. If this is going to make your journey more enjoyable then go for it. Download favourite films and programmes before you leave and make sure it’s charged and that you have an in car charger! You could also put some age-appropriate apps- Peppa paintpot and Duplo games are some of our toddlers favourites and they’re free! If you feel the need to be educational then put some phonics apps on etc. Other favourites in our house (for slightly older children) are the Room on a Broom and Gruffalo app. Audio cds are another firm favourite in our house (or car!). Think up age appropriate game options – it could be eye spy, it could be spotting letters or shapes in Road signs, number plates etc.
* Top Tip – see if you can adjust your car stereo so that music only plays in the back of the car…that way you can continue to talk without nursery rhymes blaring!
5. Pack a plentiful supply of treats and snacks
Don’t be tempted by cartons of juice etc (it can get seriously messy!) – stick instead to sippy cups/water bottles. Pack some little treats for those desperate moments (and ultimate bribe!). Generally speaking it’s Ngood to have plenty of snacks on board!
6. Pack things you’ll need in easy to reach places!
Sounds obvious but how many times do need something and realise it’s at the bottom of a bag that’s underneath everything else in the boot! Also, remember to pack spare clothes etc. If you’re travelling somewhere hot then consider packing swim stuff and a towel. Many service stations in France, Italy etc have splash areas for children.
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