by Ben Hatch, The Telegraph, July 28, 2017
Having survived driving more than 8,000 miles around Britain with two children in the back seat while writing a guidebook about family-friendly attractions, I have come up with some essential tips for those long car journeys this summer. Hopefully it might stop one or two of you doing what I once did - losing my cool so badly at the wheel I snapped the rear-view mirror off and flung it into a field. Stay calm parents, read this, and let me know if you have any other ideas.
1. Enthuse kids about their destination
Enough take the edge of the journey, but never oversell it as we once did visiting the Wensleydale Cheese Visitor Centre. On the strength of a Yorkshire Tourist Board leaflet featuring pictures of Wallace and Gromit sticking their thumbs up, we rashly promised life-size models of these cartoon characters would be wandering around. Unfortunately the only thing Wallace and Gromit related at the Wensleydale Cheese Visitor Centre was a chalk outline of them on the café’s specials board. Effectively we’d driven two hours to a working cheese factory to show small kids some stainless steel tubs and information boards highlighting the cheese-making processes of milling and tipping. I’m not sure about your kids, but it turned out ours weren’t that interested in milling or tipping, something they reminded us about the whole drive back.
2. Always carry treats
Travelling long distances with young children in a car minus a packet of fruit pastilles or its equivalent is like walking through a vampire-infested grave-yard in New Orleans after midnight without a wooden stake. OK, you just might survive, but why take the chance?
3. Forget I-spy
There’s little to see from a speeding car window except the road, others cars and the back of dad and mum’s head. Instead play I-don’t-Spy, as in “I don’t spy with my little eye something beginning with P”, where the p is then capable of being anything in the known universe unobservable from your car. Our kids once spent two full (I wouldn’t say pleasant, but tolerable) hours guessing the word armadillo. The pub sign game also works. Split your family into two halves - one on the right-hand side of the car, the other on the left. Now each time you pass a pub whichever team is sitting on the nearest side to it is awarded points according to how many legs are in its sign e.g. the White Horse scores 4, the Jolly Sailor two points. If it all gets too much, stop in at one, have a stiff drink then insist your partner takes their turn at wheel. The kids will still moan but you just won’t care as much.
4. In-car DVD players
They can be found for under £70 - but don’t buy the cheapest model. We did and it kept disconnecting from the cigarette lighter and returning the film to the beginning every time my wife scratched a mosquito bite on her leg in the passenger seat. Consequently despite watching Finding Nemo 10 times our kids are still unaware Nemo was eventually reunited with his father.
Yes, it’s evil screen-time but iPads work. But to avoid that ipaddy (a tech toddler tantrum) ensure your device is charged before setting off. It is prudent to download movies the night before and not leave it to the morning of travel because of the mysteriously temperamental nature of buffering that’s been known to last almost as long as an entire movie takes to be shot on location.
Note: while the iPad is perfect for an hour’s amusement it stores up problems on long journeys by creating a massive vacuum in your child’s life.
I.e Although they are now bored of the iPad and want to do something else, the dilemma is that there is now nothing nearly as good as the iPad so however many times you pass a packet of Berol soft-tip pens into the backseat smiling encouragingly about a lovely picture you’d like to see of an elephant, say, you will be greeted by snarls, and the eventual reluctant sigh: “Fine, give it back. I’ll play more Minecraft then.”
6. Pander to their ego-centric personalities
If you have young children and feel wholesome, adapt well-known children’s stories into tales involving your children themselves. You can do this by replacing the main character’s name in a classic fairytale with your child’s name so that for us it became, for instance, Phoebe and the Three Bears (“And then Phoebe tried the medium-sized bowl of porridge...”) or Hansel and Phoebe (“And the wicked witch told Phoebe, I will eat your brother be he fat or thin”). The thrill of an ego-centric toddler hearing themselves thrust into unlikely adventures involving beanstalks, glass slippers and witches even when they suspect they might have “heard one like this before” buys valuable time. Alternatively set them up counting passing Minis or cars of a particular colour. Warning! When the journey ends, an enthusiastic child might well continue to point out minis or red cars for some considerable time. By which I mean two years!
7. Lie about how far it is
As a rule of thumb under 50 miles is “round the corner”. How far dad? “Round the corner.” Over 50 miles then divide how long it will take to get there by four. Thus an hour becomes 15 minutes. You must divide by four again if this stills meets with disappointment. In fact, keep dividing by four until your child says, “That’s around the corner.”
8. Keep the atmosphere between you and your partner amicable
Children will mirror adult frustrations. Basically by this I mean: buy a sat-nav. Not to have a sat-nav today is a bit like a 14th-century sailor rounding the Cape of Good Hope without nautical charts. Put another way, if I had a choice – brakes or sat-nav – I’d drill a hole in the driver’s footwell and use my feet to slow down like the Flintstones. As well preventing arguments a sat-nav also means brain cells required to remember to turn right or left at particular junctions are more usefully re-directed towards establishing just who in the backseat was the first to slap the other one round the face with the Corfe Castle activity sheet.
9. Let Haydn sort it out
Finally, if all else fails, and it will, turn Classic FM to maximum volume and kid yourself you aren’t muffling your kids’ din with an even louder one, but that you’re actually educating them about Haydn.