Making Car Journeys Fun
It’s time to dump Tim. Mick picks out Sexy Serena as our new SAT Nav Guide. I object and choose the more straitlaced Jane, she has a direct, no-nonsense, trust me voice. I think she sounds reliable until I hear her lilting and teasing ‘roundabout’ inflection. Can we really count on her to get us to our destination? Our first family trip for a while and our first road trip in the UK for absolutely ages. We’re in Mick’s new Landrover. No comment! I am determined to make this car journey fun.
We’re leaving Broughton in Lincolnshire and heading to ‘Broughton Place’ in Edinburgh for two nights. Home from home perhaps, perhaps not. Mick announces that he is unimpressed with the bed and breakfast we are going to. I agree. The reception staff’s clipped English pronunciation phone voices and ‘the computer says no’ approach to changing the date of our trip was not the Scottish welcome we were hoping for. Our stoicism, or is it stubbornness, is admirable. Fine – if we can’t change the booking we’ll bloody use it, even if it means listening to Mick’s Scottish accent all the way there.
Jane claims it is only a four and a half hour drive to Broughton from Broughton, but the AA Breakdown Insurance, prudently joined prior to departure, claims it is six. Time will tell.
It is, of course, peeing it down with rain.
We’re four minutes into the journey. I have eaten a bag of prawn cocktail flavoured Walkers crisps and I’m halfway through my first cheese and cucumber sandwich. Delicious, though already a little squashed. I’m not greedy, it’s just that whilst the rest of the family lingered over coffee, muesli and yoghurt, I was forced to frantically tidy the house. Everyone knows that towels need to be straightened and the toilet bleached just in case burglars pop by. We do have standards. I wish we had some wholenut chocolate to munch on. How far is it to the first ‘pit stop?’
Eight minutes into the journey. We’re greeted by a flurry of traffic cones closing off two lanes of traffic and get stuck behind a big yellow van driving in the remaining single lane. It’s driving slowly, very slowly. Time for another sandwich.
The kids are bickering: “She’s lying to you.” High-pitched squeaks and giggles.
I’m making factual observations about the new (23 years old) car.
“It’s steamed up in here.”
“Well open the window.”
“Surely it has a de-steamer thingy.”
Annie announces she will take music requests later but she is starting us with a ‘chill’ playlist. I’m not sure what a playlist is, but it is soothing. So far we’ve listened to Stop This Train by John Mayer, Beyond by Leon Bridges and Top of My List by Lime Cordial (I’d never even heard of them before!).
Twelve minutes into the trip and Mick asks for a can of diet coke. He has to shout above the engine noise, though he denies this. Perhaps it will settle down into a purr soon – the car, not Mick, though the idea of a purring Mick amuses me. The request for the can of coke is relayed to the back and the can is retrieved and passed forward from the big green eski-bag. It is refreshingly cold. I silently reflect that even the ’50s perfectly coiffured housewives, unlike me, probably didn’t always remember the eski-freezer packs. A fleeting sense of smugness coarses through my veins. Mick delights in having found a little spot in the dashboard to keep his can of diet coke in. And he raves, “as it is in front of the vent, my drink will stay cold as well as upright!”
He loves his car. I almost smile.
Jane tells us to take the exit and meet the motorway. Delay signs flash aggressively at us in orange text.
As a family of four we’ve had hundreds of road trips. Our first ones were also in a landrover back when we lived in Tanzania twenty odd years ago. We gave it a name – Larry. This isn’t like us, we’re not the car naming types, but in memory of Larry, it seems only right that we give our new landrover a name too. Lazarus fits.
I remember distinctly breaking down in Larry, near Morogoro National Park. I was left with my parents and a six month old baby as Mick headed off into the unknown seeking help. His final action before he left was to pass my dad an extremely large, heavy spanner, “just in case”- in case of what? Eventually, we were towed home in the dark on a busy motorway. The car lights gave up the ghost and my poor mum waved a flag out the back window of the car alerting other traffic of our presence for the duration of the journey. My parents didn’t visit Tanzania after that. This trip down memory lane makes me worry a little bit about Lazarus’ reliability, though to be fair, so far we are bombing along.
Tips for Travelling with Children (of any age!)
We have now got things ‘off to a tee’, so whether you’re travelling with a seven month old or a seventy year old, if you follow these tips you will be guaranteed a good journey, even in a landrover as old as time itself.
- Snacks. Take lots of them. For the health conscious take dried fruit (very nibble-able) or if you’re like us give the kids so many ‘M&M chocolates’ that they vomit upon arrival. This happened more than once. Today it might just be me though!
- Audio Books/Podcasts/Playlists. Engine noise permitting, take the chance to hone your listening skills. Taking it in turns for listening to preferred podcasts or sharing a good old-fashioned audio story makes time pass by quickly. Having worked our way through all of the Harry Potter stories narrated by Jim Dale, we then went on to listen to them all again, this time read by Stephen Fry. We’re still not sure who our favourite narrator is.
- Timings. Pack the car the night before so you can leave early and ideally the passengers will sleep the first half of the journey… we never manage this!
- Comfort. Make the journey as comfortable as possible and turn the back seat into a snug nest with pillows, blankets and (for the little ‘uns’) favourite teddies. Straining to look over my shoulder right now at the kids this is an area we need to improve on before our next trip. Annie’s head is bumping on the roof and Betsy is clutching the cushion I put in the car for her. Either there is nowhere for it to go or it is some kind of replacement security blanket to help her anticipatory ‘I get my exam results today’ nerves!
- Treats. Either just prior to the trip, or at the first ‘pit stop’, allow your kids to choose a new treat to play with on the journey. In our case this was pretty basic stuff like a new word search or activity book for the journey or new game for their game boy, or for the oldies a new crossword book.
- Play Games. You can’t beat the good old road trip games such as I-Spy, spot the number plate beginning with a particular letter’ etc.
- Catch up on Jobs. My kids hate the very word ‘jobs’ and still don’t seem to have forgiven me for the constant lists that appeared on the kitchen whiteboard of things to do, but regardless I think ‘journey time’ is a good opportunity to complete tasks. Finishing a particular book, making a list of the next month’s house improvement tasks, or even updating a blog seems to me a good use of time.
- Break downs. Always have plenty to drink in the car and if you are driving anything perhaps a little unreliable (such as a 23 year old landrover) join a car breakdown service, such as the A.A or R.A.C. If these don’t exist in your country of travel have a charged phone loaded with numbers of people or organisations who could help in an emergency.
- Emotions. If you break down, the kids vomit down the back of your neck, or you hit a traffic jam ten miles long try to keep your sense of humour. Why not write about the experience in ‘real-time’? It might be therapeutic. Ok, if that’s not realistic at least count to ten, lots of times. You will get out of this situation and what may seem a disaster at the time is only a few hours away from being a ‘good story’!
I just asked Mick for more tips about how to make journeys smooth and enjoyable. From his sarcasm soaked driver’s seat (and why does he always insist on driving anyway?) his response was to suggest that the driver requests silence from the passengers. I’m not sure if that is because of the racket the karaoke queens are now making in the back seats. He’s now trying to back track and claim he was joking! We’re an hour into the journey, so it is definitely time to stop for chocolate and to remember that we are on holiday! Car journeys with children (of all ages) can definitely be fun. Trust me!