We are currently in a flurry of excitement, as we’re busy preparing for our first holiday of the year: a trip to the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides (which also happens to be where my parents live!) We will be breaking up the 11 hour drive and the 2.5 hour ferry journey (yes, really – 11 hours in the car with two kids) with the luxury of an overnight stay which we don’t usually do, but it’s still a mammoth trip, and one that you shouldn’t overtake without a little preparation.
We’re lucky because the boys are really good in the car: they actually enjoy it and if we drive during the night then they sleep straight through. People often ask us how we got so lucky but just like everything its a learnt skill: we started long driving across Europe with both of them when they were just babies, and so now it’s totally normal to them. And now back to the point! Here is a quick list of the things I do to prepare for a long trip in the car in the UK. I’ll write a separate list of the documentation you’ll need to drive in Europe later:
-Prepare Your Car. It’s boring but totally necessary before any long journey. Check your tyre pressure, water levels, and fill up with petrol: you should also have a rough idea of where you’re going to stop for petrol on your journey. We also keep a torch, a first aid kit, and our break down cover information in the glove box. If you know when you’re going to need to fuel up again then you can locate the nearest petrol station (and whether it’s open 24 hours or not: you don’t want to have to stop your journey for several hours whilst you wait for a petrol station to open!)
-Pack plenty of snacks! A child with a snack is a happy child – and you never know when hunger is going to strike. On some journeys (and our trip is one of them) you can go hours between service stations, so having snacks and water bottles in your car means no one will ever be hungry or thirsty. As well as the usual car sweets, I also pack individually wrapped croissants or brioche snacks, fruit, yoghurt tubes or pouches, crisps or crackers and raisins or other dried fruits. I try not to pack too many sugary snacks: that way lies car sickness and sea sickness!
-Bring your own coffee flask. As mentioned above, you don’t know when your next stop might be. So if you’re driving through the night when you do stop for a coffee buy two: one to drink and one to put in your flask. We have these ones from Lisa Angel (which are currently reduced from £16 to the bargain price of £3) which will keep your coffee hot for up to 12 hours and look super cute too!
–Have blankets and cushions in the car. If you stop for a nap, or break down, or the night time temperatures drop unexpectedly, then you’ll regret not having blankets and cushions in the car. The boys have their own ‘captain canary’ (they’re Norwich City Football Club fans) travel cushions and blankets in the back of the car with them at all times. We then keep two spare blankets in the boot of the car in case of emergency. When we drove to the Isle of Lewis for Easter in 2019 we left in glorious sunshine, and then had to stop as we passed through the Cairngorms because snow had left the road impassable: I’ve never been so grateful for those blankets! We wrapped up warm and slept at the side of the road until the snow plough passed us, then followed it all the way to Inverness.
-Plan a Play List. How can you travel without music? We play ours via Amazon music, and we have two travel play lists: one full of our favourite songs, and one full of the kids favourite songs. We take it in turns to play both (with the kids music stopping at bedtime) and they spend ages planning the perfect playlist and choosing all their favourite songs before we travel. I can’t imagine what we look like to drivers on the other side of the road, pulling out our best seated disco moves, but the kids love a car disco!
–Pick Car Games. Long journeys can be boring, and bored kids are frustrated kids: they only make the long journey seem longer. As well as letting the boys pack toys and electronics, we also play plenty of cars games. The yellow car game is a particular favourite (where you are given points for spotting yellow cars), as well as eye spy, the animal game (every animal you say must start with the last letter of the animal that went before it), or any other games you can think of. If it entertains kids then it’s on the list!
–Bring a Mum Bag – I carry an A5 sized zip up pouch with me wherever I go (it is affectionately known as the ‘mum bag’) In it I keep wet wipes, hand sanitizer, face masks for us all, plasters and antiseptic cream, a packet of tissues, sun lotion, and a packet of mints. It’s perfect for quickly cleaning up any spills or messes, and at a push it can be used for freshening up before you reach your destination.
–A Separate Overnight Bag. Finally, if you’re planning to break up your trip with a mid way overnight stay as we are, then I would strongly recommend packing a separate single night overnight bag for your family with the basics in it: PJs, your wash bags, and clean clothes for the next day. That way, you don’t need to lug your larger suitcase into the hotel for a single night stay, saving you the inconvenience of unloading and then reloading the car.
What do you always pack when you’re going on a long road trip? Any hints and tips are always welcome!
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