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

JammySplodger Mon 15-Oct-12 14:01:11

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

JammySplodger Mon 15-Oct-12 14:07:42

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...

MissKeithLemon Mon 15-Oct-12 14:14:26

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

worldgonecrazy Mon 15-Oct-12 14:24:25

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:

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.

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?

JammySplodger Mon 15-Oct-12 15:47:19

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.

JammySplodger Mon 15-Oct-12 15:54:53

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

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