Long car journeys at Xmas - we're looking for your tips

(50 Posts)
CatherineHMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 15-Oct-12 13:32:40

Yes, we do know it isn't even half-term yet, but here at MNHQ we're trying to get ourselves organised for Christmas, which put us to thinking about all the long car journeys people do at that time of year.

We'd love to hear any tips you have on improving Christmas car journeys - whether they're ideas for making the journey go quicker, preventing bust-ups over directions, packing all those presents into the boot or simply ensuring you all reach your destination in one piece.

Or, if you have any heart-warming or plain funny/awful stories about Christmas car journeys that went spectacularly wrong (or well) we'd like to hear them too.

Saltire Mon 15-Oct-12 13:37:57

My tip is - don't do long car journeys, let everyone come to you instead grin

That may be better than any other tip that comes up Saltaire!

My tips:
Avoid that weekend immediately before Christmas, it's going to be very busy on the roads.

Avoid the M25, just generally in life, but especially between 6am -10am and 3pm-7pm.

Invest in lots of story tapes and figure out how to adjust the balance on your car stereo to the rear speakers only.

Be willing to sack all of your plans if there's heavy snow forecast or anyone's ill, it's just not worth it.

See if you can get the BBC Travel webpage for mobiles on your phone.

Have the waterproofs and woolies handy in a big shopping bag in a footwell in case you break down and have to sit up on the verge. Also have a bottle of water, chocolate and a blanket if you can for the same reasons. If you don't need them, you still get to eat the chocolate.

MousyMouse Mon 15-Oct-12 14:12:30

- listen to the weather forcast. driving in a snow storm (central europe) with roads closing around you is not fun
- plenty of tapes/cds/dvds (whatever keeps them entertained)
- skipping rope for some excercise during breaks
- go for a nice meal some time into the journey

- have all the breakdown stuff accessible in the car and if abroad check if you need hi-vis, breathalizer, warning triangle...

Travel on Christmas day itself if you can..... last year the dc's counted less than 100 other vehicles on a journey from Leeds to Anglesey (M62/60/56) grin

Be prepared for weather/delays.

Get your child trained from birth. My DD (nearly 3) does 5-6 hour journeys without a whimper. No DVD, just books, stories, and a parent in the back with her to keep her company. She just thinks it's normal to sometimes have long car journeys.

HappyTurquoise Mon 15-Oct-12 14:34:34

Pack plenty of snacks. We always found the biggest issue was food, as at any other time of year you can stop off to get a meal easily (motorway services are so depressing, expensive and full of people with 'flu in the jolly holidays).

It's the same with the nice pubs and restaurants you made a mental note of visiting last time you were there. If you have not pre booked in the season to be merry, you could be sharing (another) pack of rusks! If staying at a hotel, check they will still serve breakfasts, and that local shops will be open.

If you are visiting different relies/friends over a number of days, see if you can arrange to see them at mealtimes (offer to cook, or buy take out). Offer to bring the drinks and a pudding if they cook, or stay and babysit their kids so they get to go out one night.

BabylonPI Mon 15-Oct-12 14:36:12

Be prepared for delays, bad weather etc and if at all possible do the actual travelling on Christmas Day - roads are empty!!

Avoid weekend before Xmas for travelling, always hugely busy sad

Happy Xmas everyone grin

HappyTurquoise Mon 15-Oct-12 14:47:57

Games you can play:

Legs
Someone shouts legs and everyone starts to count the legs they can see on their side of the road (people/cattle/tables) (not sign posts or legs of anything you can only see the top of). The first one to (random number) wins and gets to pick the next activity.

animals
For some reason our youngest loved this, arpund age 8.
Think of any animal. (e.g. cat) The person sitting clockwise to you has to think of another animal beginning with the last letter (eg tiger). Es can be ignored, but player must declare 'I'm ignoring the E'. You need to look up animals beginning with n for this to work. Can also name countries, cities or other things.

yellow car

Anyone who sees a yellow car, mini, soft top or combination of any of these declares it and hits the person next to them (gentle taps. Driver excluded! No hitting strangers on trains.)

YouSmegHead Mon 15-Oct-12 14:57:11

My tip was to buy some toys from the charity shop so you can whip out some books or toys they haven't seen before. Also being flexible about rest stops!

TeWiDoesTheHulaInHawaii Mon 15-Oct-12 15:05:46

Drive at bedtime, or if you don't like night driving take the kids outside to run around for at least an hour before you leave. Hopefully that way they'll go to sleep, or at minimum the kids won't notice you sneaking presents into the boot.

Gumby Mon 15-Oct-12 15:07:56

We often travel Xmas day
We do all other family presents Xmas eve so no taking presents with us
Kids just open stockings Xmas morning
Leave at 10am, 3 hour journey gets us there for dinner at 1pm
Play local radio for festive songs to get us in the mood
Maje sure you know which services are open on Xmas day for toilet breaks

ScienceRocks Mon 15-Oct-12 15:17:29

Travel at night. Do your bedtime routine as normal but put the kids to bed in the car instead of in bed, making sure they have blankets etc. They will fall asleep in minutes, making for a peaceful drive. At the other end, they may wake up briefly but a glass of milk and snack is usually enough before tiredness hits them again and they are ready for bed. This usually also makes for a slightly later rising in the morning so adults get a lie in grin

If travelling during the day is unavoidable, do time it so you don't hit traffic. As someone else has said, the M25 is not worth using at 7-9.30am and 3-7pm. Check the traffic before leaving.

Fill up the car with petrol beforehand so you don't have to stop.

If you do have to stop, go to a decent service station. Many have outside play areas and some are not as expensive as others for food and drink. If planning to stop, tie it in with a meal so it feels as though it has purpose.

ScienceRocks Mon 15-Oct-12 15:21:21

Oh yes, don't take all the presents with you. A few years ago, my brother and his family came to my parents for Christmas with literally everything they had been given. Not jolly at all, especially as their pfb dd had millions of expensive presents and my lovely nephew - just a few months younger - had far fewer. Three hours spent earthing them open presents that we're mostly from people we had never met or were ever likely to meet was awful.

If we travel, we just take a few and leave the rest until we come back. Christmas just lasts longer grin

HearToday Mon 15-Oct-12 15:43:38

Harry potter audio books, tape or CD – read by Steven Fry, buy on ebay --then sell again –

If you have a TomTom with the option of buying TomTom HD Traffic (£3.99 for 1 month)this is live traffic data and it will direct you around delays – or at least give you peace of mind that although you are in a jam you are still on the fastest route….. saves many arguments…

If you have to travel when there is likely to be snow, snow socks for tyres are a much cheaper and easier to use option (than chains) for getting you out of snowy patch…. But agree with others if it looks like snow just bin it…

If all else fails buy a time machine and follow worlgonecrazy’s advice….

BiddyPop Mon 15-Oct-12 15:44:45

Cbeebies have podcasts you can download to add to your DVD, apps etc stash. Stories and jokes etc as well as music and fun.

Having a dvd player, especially if there are earphones attached, is GREAT!! iPods can be great too if DCs are techie.

I spy, counting numbers of specific colours of cars, guessing how far a mile is,...and any other number of general "car" games are vital to have in the memory banks (or listed in your handbag notebook).

"Stop the bus" can work well too (someone starts at a and goes through alphabet silently in their head til someone else shouts "STB", that gives you the letter. Then everyone has to think of a boy's name, girl's name, animal, place, and food (could add sport, celebrity etc based on numbers and abilities) beginning with that letter - 1st to think of all shouts STB and gets 5 points. Then everyone says what they thought of (so all boy's names first, then all girls names etc) and for everyone that a person gets, 5 points. Mark down totals. Start again with next person choosing letter).

Sing-songs - practise your carols for Granny etc.

And then make sure that there are quiet activities too.

Colouring pages (use crayons or twistables rather than having to pare pencils or deal with felt tip stains), activity sheets, stickers etc are all good to have on hand too. Reading should be limited (see next point) but can be allowed for a while if not prone to motion sickness.

If kids aren't terribly used to long journeys or prone to illness at ALL, pack a spare outfit within easy reach. I tend to keep a tracksuit, facecloth, tissues and wipes in a plastic bag - just in case.

Snacks that are not messy, and a mix of treats and nutrition, are good. So some jellies but some dried or fresh fruit and plain/fruit biscuits too, cold meat/sambos/quiche are good picnic items. Chocolate can be messy, crisps can be smelly, but that's up to you to decide your boundareies. Drinks in sippy cups, travel cups, sports bottles, tetra packs with straws if need be etc. A flask of hot water to make tea/coffee/hot choc/cupa soups is very helpful (with sachets in a ziploc bag), even a flask of hot milk if milky coffee and hot choc or even plain hot milk are preferred - warm milky drinks can be good in evenings if long way yet to go. (You may not need these, but may not pass services at the right time, or may have delays).

Wipes, tissues, lip balm, travel aromatherapy oils (eg. Neal's Yard roll on for wrists for travel, stress, sleep etc) are all handy to have within reach at all times. Keep some paracetemol and kid's pain relief to hand as well, and perhaps some rescue remedy if that helps you or them.

Bring small blankets/rugs and cushions for heads to allow sleep. You could use coats instead of rugs, but they can be awkward (I use an old cot blanket of DD's so relatively small volume). Also bring a favourite snuggly toy for when tired.

Use maps. Print off 2 copies of the route from AA/RAC/Google maps etc. 1 of these are for the driver/navigator. The second is for the back seat and can be used to show progress, but also look at where you are now, talk about landmarks en route, etc. (Lots of different learning opportunities if you wanted!! grin ) Even if you have a satnav, have at least a map of the expected route as above but preferably a proper map of the entire journey so that if diversions happen and batteries die, you can still move onwards or find stopping places.

Can presents be posted ahead? Or at least some of them? Or ordered online and delivered to the destination rather than your home?

And of course, as with all journeys, the driver has full veto over the music. No Christmas tunes allowed while I'm at he wheel!

BiddyPop Mon 15-Oct-12 15:51:56

Oooh, audio books are great (I never thought of CD versions). You can get versions to load onto ipods too (we have Paddington Bear, and Alice in Wonderland - must look into Harry Potter as DD is getting older).

We've done travelling for Christmas, lots of travelling (about 3 hours) to see our parents, and a fair bit of long distance travel on hols etc.

Sorry, 1 VERY important point. Make sure all the kids are sitting comfortably before you set off. DD normally sleeps on a cushion as well as a pillow, so I tend to bring the cushion with us and put that onto her booster seat to make it more comfortable (and remember to raise the back again to the right new height), and pull it into the laid back position (rather than straight upright). we also have a child-sized neck cushion for when she does sleep (although that IS something that is for the weak, not DD!!). But it means we can get an extra hour or more out of her in any 1 stretch as she's not on a tiny thin strip of foam on hard plastic, and can wriggle about more too.

BiddyPop Mon 15-Oct-12 15:52:53

Dress everyone in layers - can take off some if car is very warm, but wrap up to go out again.

NEVER FORGET THE SICK BUCKET - for travel sick kids or any who've been stuffed with chocolate & sweets over the hols. Toy buckets, plastic viking hats and (swiftly emptied) handbags are also valid alternatives.

longjane Mon 15-Oct-12 16:01:36

come home on new year eve evening/night roads very quiet

timetosmile Mon 15-Oct-12 16:02:14

David Tennant reading the 'How to Train Your Dragon' series on audiobook. utterly, utterly brilliant I listen to them even without the DCs in the car

Set off late afternoon/early evening and stop for a nice tea somewhere before bundling them into PJs and snuggling them up in the back.

They will get bored, and you will get tired and frustrated. Go easy on each other, eh?

No reading books until you are on a straight A road or motorway. And absolutely no Petit Filous in the back seats. <bleurghhh>

ContinentalKat Mon 15-Oct-12 16:15:05

DVD player in car (with headphones) - bliss! children singing along when you can't hear the song not so blissful, though

If you drive abroad make sure you comply with regulations re. child car seats, winter tyres, hi-vis gilets, stickers on headlights etc.

ChippyMinton Mon 15-Oct-12 17:00:37

I'm going to disagree with all the advice about times to avoid the M25:

Rush hour traffic will slacken off from Thurs 20th when all the schools have broken up and the mornings become your window of opportunity. Saturday & Sunday will be busy. Christmas Eve morning will be quiet again - no commuters, no school runs. Tea-time is always busy.

The M25 is fine during rush hours normally, as everyone knows exactly what they are doing and where they are going. It descends into chaos at weekends and holiday periods when full of drivers unfamiliar with the roads. Be prepared, know exactly which junctions you are exiting at, and which direction you are heading in when joining it.

Take sick bags, or bowls or lidded tupperware, kitchen roll, spare clothes. More importantly have the DC ready and prepared to sing out when they feel sick and to hold the receptacle on their lap.

Boiled sweets are good, because they last ages. We have a stash of Pez machines too, which live in the car.

Have the phone number for Simon Mayo's Drivetime show so you can get a namecheck grin

We got these on a trip Stateside - car bingo

christmasmum Mon 15-Oct-12 17:08:17

We do lots of long drives and my top tips are...
1. Invest in DVD players for the car
2. Pack a large bag with interesting and preferably chewy snacks
3. Never drive for more than two hours without a break
4. Be prepared for traffic jams and winter weather delays with flasks of soup and proper food, not just snacks

Doyouthinktheysaurus Mon 15-Oct-12 17:16:58

Factor in plenty of stops.

Nintendo ds re great for older children

Avoid peak times if possible.

Emergency toilet facilities. I will be packing a urine bottle for the dses after a recent panic on the M25 along the lines of "will we make to the next services or won't we" Oh the joy......

Ditto for emergency sick bowl.

Unfortunately most of our long journeys include the M25, it is indeed the road to hell...

hairtwiddler Mon 15-Oct-12 17:41:41

I operate a ticketing system with my kids stolen from this website where you can print the tickets.
It's very simple. You divide the journey by a number of miles or minutes and give the kids that number of tickets. (So 200 miles would be ten tickets) and when you've done that number of miles/minutes you say "ding ding ding tickets please" and they hand you over a ticket. My kids love it, and always know how many tickets they have left, so get an idea of how much of the journey there is to go...

DystopianReality Mon 15-Oct-12 18:13:30

With older children, try 'Just a Minute' Good practice for speaking fluently and actually really hard but a lot of fun

thewhistler Mon 15-Oct-12 18:14:17

I'll be flamed for one of these but it works..

Games
Animals, we play with places and football teams as well.

20 questions

A variant on I went to the market and I bought. For small boy who found that so boring, I went to the arms dealer and I bought... could be anything for the camp followers (nappies, babies'bottles, food), or arms ( bazooka, gladiator's helmet, elephants and their hot water bottles), you name it or whatever, the force to be caparisoned does not have to be modern or indeed real, light sabres acceptable.

Joke competition. Go round in turns telling jokes, last one wins.

Make up a limerick. No winners, joint effort.

Get them to sing, rounds. You can't sing and fight unless you are a trained performer or chorister.

Equipment
Wet wipes, plastic carrier bags to put rubbish in, snow shovel, rugs, thermos, chocolate or similar. Soup in a thermos for lunch is usually a winner.

Imperial Mon 15-Oct-12 18:14:54

Use vacuum pack bags for clothes to save space and pack a bag of travel potty liners even if your children are too big for the actual potty - always better to wee into a bag with an absorbent pad at the bottom than a carrier with holes in!

DystopianReality Mon 15-Oct-12 18:14:59

Sorry, meant to explain rules. Speak on a given topic for 1 minute without repetition, deviation or hesitation

horsebiscuit Mon 15-Oct-12 18:33:19

Try and make sure that the driver has had more than four hours consecutive sleep at some point in the previous week, as otherwise their driving will be incredibly erratic and downright scary. Speaks from experience of driving two kids including a four month old to Devon earlier this year. Terrifying.

We travelled 11 hours from the South coast (Sussex) to just outside Aberdeen for Christmas last year, I drove all 4 of us (me, DP, 5&7 yr old sons) in my 1ltr Nissan Micra with a packed boot and packed roof box! grin

We left at about 3pm and drove until dinner at 6pm then drove through the night, the kids slept and I stopped every couple of hrs for a stroll about and some air.

I made sure the car was fit to drive and had new tires and wipers put on. I also double checked the emergency kit in the boot to make sure we were safe if anything went wrong, I am also covered by RAC so was safe from that point too.

It was a big adventure and the boys loved it! I was very pleased with myself mainly because I had never been more than an hour or 2 from home in the car before.

We borrowed some in car DVD players that the boys watched for an hour at the most. The rest of the time they were sleeping or playing games.

DP filled up a spotify playlist with 8hrs worth of music so we all had a sing a long.

Sabriel Mon 15-Oct-12 19:31:38

We used to travel from East Kent to Bath regularly with 4 DCs. We found that we often had to travel Xmas Eve and that once it got to about tea time the roads had cleared. Put Dc into pajamas, bundle up with blankets and teddies. M25/ M4 good route in the dark for spotting FC's sleigh high above wink when they start getting bored near Gatwick and Heathrow. Xmas songs on radio.

SkiBumMum Mon 15-Oct-12 19:42:01

The kids to bed in the car thing works for us. Means we get time to chat too.

Don't forget adult snacks too but not wine obviously

Turniphead1 Mon 15-Oct-12 20:01:01

The bed thing never worked for us. Example - a 10 hour drive from London to Scotland with our three (small) kids. Left at 7pm and AT NO STAGE did we have all 3 of them asleep.

We do this journey every summer as follows: I drive car and all our kit. Takes 7.5hrs not 10. DH takes kids on train- takes 5.5hrs.

I enjoy peace and quiet in car. Fab!

upinthehills Mon 15-Oct-12 20:20:50

Get up at 5am - lift DC in their PJs and put them in car at 5.30am - put them on the loo if you feel you need to. They will be stupefied and may go back to sleep, even if they don't, because it is dark they will doze and be no bother!

Hand out buns like chocolate brioche when everyone is properly awake and put on a story CD. Stop about 8.45am/9am and get everyone changed out of PJs and have a good breakfast (by this time if you have been on the motorway you should have done 200miles). Back in car at 9.45 and drive to 12.45. Watch DVDs if you have, more stories and games. With luck you will have done 400 miles by this time and may be at your destination! Treat yourselves to a nice pub lunch and pat yourself on the back for such a stress free trip.

Works without fail for us - Central Scotland - Oxfordshire - would never to any different now.

Turniphead1 Tue 16-Oct-12 08:14:31

Upinthehills - that was my idea for trip to Scotland from London this year - on the dreaded Saturday before Christmas. You've confirmed it for me!
Sadly can't do my car/ train combo due to the trains being to £££ already.

The main thing on that journey is to get up past Manchester etc before the traffic gets heavy. Have had so many nightmares on the M6 around Stoke etc.

upinthehills Tue 16-Oct-12 12:46:12

Do it! Worth getting up early - otherwise it will take all day.

Doyouthinktheysaurus Tue 16-Oct-12 19:04:02

If it is snowing, don't go!

Wish I'd taken my own advice a couple of Christmases agohmm

We made the mistake of setting off to come home from Cambridge to Brighton on the Sunday because DH had work and we figured &#373;e could take our time! The downside was that the roads had not been cleared. We nearly crashed, wiper wash froze and it took us about 10 billion hours that may be a slight exaggeration to get home.

My new tip for Christmas driving is don't do it!grin

grumpyoldbookworm Wed 24-Oct-12 08:13:15

Harry Potter CDs saved us from killing each other on a very delayed drive back from Cornwall - JK Rowling and Stephen Fry are saints! Also good for older kids has been the CD dramatisation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials - the unabridged version from 2000, not the shorter later one which messes with the story too much for me, CDs of Old Harry's Game and CDs of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue from the BBC. Ebay is great for these. Also, as everyone has said, sick bucket!

GreenShadow Thu 25-Oct-12 14:41:29

Story tapes / cds. Absolutely brilliant.

WE got a lot from our library, but ebay is also a good source.

ThompsonTwins Sun 18-Nov-12 19:07:45

Weather permitting, leave home at the DCs' bed time and get at least part of the way or leave early in the morning before the rush "hour". Story tapes. Music - I kept Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells just for long journeys. The children loved it (it was the version with the growly voice). Stop and have a break for half an hour with somewhere to run around if possible.

Or stay home and play hosts (if possible).

Jenijena Mon 19-Nov-12 20:21:33

Radio 2, Christmas morning, Ed Stewart and Junior Choice. Nostalgia alert, good fun to sing along. I've not yet done Christmas with my son, but I have done a lot of driving (typically south coast - north east England) at Christmas and driving on Christmas day is blissful. Particularly leaving at 1 am in the morning (after midnight service).

Dingdongmerrilyalong Tue 20-Nov-12 09:41:21

Put the kids in onesies with blankets and pillows. Christmas music blaring or a dvd. Take a flask and supplies in case it snows. Allow time for breaks and traffic.

JourneyThroughLife Sat 08-Dec-12 10:26:25

When the children were small I always drove at night even in winter, but that was fine because I like night driving better. Much less traffic on the road, no rush hour and no heat of the day/glaring sunshine if it's summer. I found night driving more restful to the eyes. I'd stock the car up with everything we needed and literally put the children to bed in the car, snuggled up in their car seats with extra cushions, blankets and duvets wrapped around them..They'd chatter for a while but as time wore on they'd fall asleep and stay asleep even if I stopped for a "comfort break" on the motorway.
These days I do Christmas driving on Christmas Day, if I leave early there's nothing much on the road and no lorries on the motorway and it's bliss....

ClapTrap Sun 30-Dec-12 00:53:09

Just come back from a 7.5 hour car journey outwards and 6.5 hour return journey to visit the rellies - one word - iPad!

Complete and utter life saver - lots of interactive books downloaded for DD, interactive cbeebies magazine, about 20 hours of cbeebies downloaded on iPlayer and a million apps ranging from useful (phonics) to inane (Hello Kitty) and creative (Drawing Pad).

Our smoothest and happiest journey yet - DD was thoroughly entertained.

ClapTrap Sun 30-Dec-12 00:55:55

Should add this was in combination with lots of regular stops for wees, running about and food.
Also, we make sure we go late in the day so that DD can do something very active in the morning.

twooter Sat 02-Mar-13 10:14:05

Contrary to other people's advice, I'd say DON'T travel on Xmas day.

it might be quiet roads, but surely the best thing about Christmas is when you don't have to go anywhere, just lounge around and relax, with all the stuff, food, people you want.

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