Long car journeys with kids can be trying for all concerned. Here’s how to cope

Stage 1: The excitement (part 1)

The car is packed inside and out, about to explode Buckaroo style, and you’re off! Whether it’s heading to the surf or balmy southern France, everyone is bleary-eyed (4am start to ‘miss the traffic’) but wildly excited. The kids are wedged in the back seat with pillows, blankets and in-car entertainment, and you can just about see the dog’s head in between the holdalls in the boot. With any luck the unearthly departure time will mean the kids nod off for a while, delaying the inevitable stage 2.

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Stage 2: The questioning

You know they’re awake when one of them pipes up ‘Are we there yet?’. This is shortly followed by ‘What is there to eat?’. Crisps are begged for at 6.30am, then there’s a perfectly reasonable request to crack open the Haribos at 6.45am.  Which brings us to in-car snack choices. On an 8-hour car journey, not bringing snacks is sheer lunacy, but choose wisely. Unless you quite fancy a sticky back seat with a nice coating of fluff, dog hair (and on the way home, sand), pack dry foods like breadsticks, rice cakes and bananas, with a few crisps and sweets (non-sticky) thrown in when stage 5 kicks in.

Stage 3: The creeping tedium

You’ve played I-Spy, Count the Car Colours and Farmer Brown Went to Market, reading makes them feel a bit sick and looking at the scenery lasted for four minutes. You still have four hours to go. It’s time to combat the creeping tedium with the big guns – the portable DVD player and/or the iPad. We are all concerned about the evils of screen time, but needs must. A couple of their favourite movies works magic and seriously eats up the miles. Make sure you supervise the packing of DVDs, unless you want to discover that your 10-year-old has watched Scarface on the way down to the beach. 

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Stage 4: The relentless rest-stop requests

Even if you plan your rest-stops meticulously, there’s always a phase in a long journey that involves desperate cries for the loo. It’s usually shortly after your 45-minute leg-stretcher and freshen-up break, when the next service station isn’t even showing up on the road signs. The key to avoiding roadside emergency stops is to ask at every approaching service station and rest area if anyone ‘needs to go’. And don’t give them too much to drink.

Stage 5: The utter boredom

The majority of the mileage is under your belt, but the kids feel like they’ve been in the car for two years. The screens have been banished (because they’ll get square eyes), so they are reduced to jabbing each other with breadsticks and bickering. The only way through this stage is to chuck the aforementioned Haribos into the back and hope the sugar rush doesn’t kick in before you actually get there. Field the ever-increasing queries about how far it is with ‘Just round the corner’ and ‘Only a few minutes now’, reminding them that as soon as they get there they can jump in the pool/check out the playground/take the dog for a run around.

Stage 6: The excitement (part 2)

They can see the sea, they’ve spotted a sign to the campsite, the SatNav is intoning ‘You have reached your destination’. However exhausted, your kids will be hyperactive with the excitement of arriving (and from the Stage 5 Haribos).