Travel with Children Part 2: When Things go Wrong August 15th, 2011
I’m writing this blog on a ferry from Ireland to England, at 2.30 in the afternoon. I’m not supposed to be on this ferry now – according to my schedule we should be just about arriving home, having driven four hours from the ferry port after docking this morning. We always choose the night ferries – so much easier to travel with children when they can sleep for most of the trip, and we get some rest to break up the long drives.
However due to circumstances beyond the ferry company’s control, instead of leaving at 22.00 and arriving at 9.00, we in fact boarded the ferry at 04.30 and are due to arrive sometime between 16.00 and 19.00 – we are currently waiting on the captain’s latest instructions. These times are not fun at the best of times, but when travelling with children, they could amount to a disaster.
We had booked a cabin, so like most of the passengers we crashed out for a few hours sleep between 5am and mid morning. However as I sit here now, people are emerging, crumpled and disorientated, and some are coping better than others with what is an extremely trying and tiring delay.
Some of the older people look really shell shocked, forced to eat strange food at strange times and really out of their comfort zone. And there are quite a few out of control children, and stressed-out, fractious parents. I feel really sorry for the staff, who must also be shattered having to deal with us all.
It’s at times like these that I thank goodness that we are a gadget-oriented family. Sometimes I get a bit embarrassed and ashamed at my son’s addiction to Nintendo DS and my daughter’s to her iPod. However when times get tough, it comes in very handy. I have managed to bag us a seat next to a power socket, plugged them both in and set up a little work station for myself. I’ve told them both that they can play games for 2 or 3 hours and I won’t be cross. They are in games heaven and I am snatching some time to do a bit of work.
I love the fact that I can work any time any place, and my business can carry on wherever I am. It pays to be adaptable in this world. We are reasonably used to travelling with the children now and I’m happy to go with the flow in most situations.
Here (from bitter experience) are my top tips for travelling long distances with children
- Plan your travel to coincide with the best times for your children – consider nap times and normal sleeping patterns. For us that means a late evening drive and night ferry – trial and error has shown us that this works best for all of us.
- Make sure that you have age- appropriate entertainment with you, sufficient to last at least twice as long as you think the journey will take. As I said in an earlier blog, I love audiobooks for my age group (6-8), but computer games books and magazines are also good.
- Build in some time for physical activity. Half an hour at a playground or play zone can really help to make the rest of the journey run more smoothly. We also travel with a soft ball, which can be played with in lots of different places.
- Make provision for down time and rest. Don’t forget teddy bears/comforters if your children normally have them at bedtime, and maybe a familiar blanket – they can really reassure in unfamiliar surroundings. However also make doubly sure that the comfort items are taken with you and not left anywhere – we lost a teddy in Italy 3 years ago and my daughter still goes on about it.
- Make sure your children are drinking and eating regularly, whether you feel hungry or not. Normal mealtimes will go out of the window, but make sure at the very least to keep the children hydrated and that they eat a small snack every few hours. Make time too for toilet breaks – they are likely to be needed more frequently, and usually at the most awkward moments, so take time to go whenever you get the chance.
- Accept at the end of the day that all your best laid plans may go out of the window. You won’t be able to do anything about this, so the best thing is just calm acceptance. Let the rules go out of the window, and turn the journey into a family adventure rather than a disaster.
When things are going wrong I do my best to think that this journey is a big adventure for the children, a family memory that they will remember forever. I’m well aware that it is my attitude as mum, that will set the tone for this whole horrid journey. I can’t make it better or easier, but maybe I can make it more bearable and maybe even fun. I want them to remember the night that they were allowed to stay up till 4 am, play games all day, and eat breakfast before going to bed. I don’t want them to remember the night and day that mum was horribly grumpy and made them do lots of things they hated, making the whole day extremely boring and horrid for all of us.
As I look up from this blog, the boy is playing Angry Birds on his dad’s iPhone, and his sister is listening to pop music and playing Bejeweled. They are calm and chatting happily to each other. A picture of family bliss….
How to Survive a Long Car Journey with Children August 10th, 2011
And so last week we set off on the annual summer holiday to Ireland with the children. Although we live very near a major airport we have discovered through trial and error that we very much prefer to go by car and take the ferry. A long car journey with the children is not everybody’s idea of fun, but we have found its better than air travel, even though it takes longer.
Firstly some of our relatives in Ireland are quite remote and we like to have our own car for the freedom it gives us to do our own thing. We have tried various car hire options but you never get a car that is quite as comfortable & familiar as your own – this is crucial when you are travelling with children. Plus I absolutely love the idea of taking as much as you like, packing everything in the car only once, then not touching it again till destination. The constant humping of suitcases and security that goes with air travel these days is enough to put me off forever.
We can pack large toys and games, great for entertaining the children away from their home comforts. We can happily accept large presents from our Irish grandparents, which have caused real nightmares on previous visits by air. This way, giver and recipient alike are very happy.
The other thing we love about the car and ferry journey is it makes the travel into a great adventure. The kids love the motorway service stations, and as for the overnight ferry, with cabins, play area and disco – they are having fun from the moment we leave home till the moment we get back again.
The only downside to this plan, has been keeping the children entertained, over what are some very long stretches of driving compared with what they are used to.
When they were very little we had endless nursery rhyme CDs – they drove us mad but the kids sang along until they were blue in the face. When they got a bit bigger we invested in an in car DVD player. This worked to a certain extent but was not suitable for some of the more rural roads we drove down, as unfortunately our children both tend towards travel sickness. This also rules out books, magazines, activity packs and games consoles in the car, which I know have been the saviour of many of my mummy friends.
For the most part we have had to put up with various observation and word play games, interspersed with plenty of whining and “are we there yet”. I have also had to listen to ever more excruciating pop compilations, as my children’s taste in music differs ever further from my own, and arguments as their taste differs from each other’s.
This year I had a plan. First of all I purchased some sea bands – this may well be a placebo, but both kids seem to think they help so who am I to argue? I think just the thought that I am trying to help their travel sickness helps them to feel better.
Secondly, they both feel less sick when they are able to suck sweets regularly. Again, I’m sure there is part placebo effect in this, and the idea of getting one over on mummy and getting more sweets than they are usually allowed, but they both know that if there is any whining or complaint of sicky tummies, the supply of sweets will stop, and so it works, for whatever reason!
And finally my secret weapon, new this year. I purchased a selection of audiobooks and loaded them up on various devices (in my case, iphone, ipod and ipad) so that each of them could listen to stories especially chosen for them, and at their own pace.
I thought this would buy hubby and me an hour or two of peace but the results were astonishing. From London to Swansea (180 miles and over 3 hours in the car) we didn’t hear a word out of either of them, apart from my son asking me to change the story to a different disk. It was almost spooky. Not only that but there wasn’t even the slightest mention of funny tummy and we only heard the dreaded “are we nearly there yet?” once, about 10 minutes from destination, because my daughter had spotted the port. It was without a doubt the easiest long car journey we have ever done.
I’m not saying that I would ask for total silence on every journey, nor that we will stop playing our word games or talking to each other, but on a family-visiting holiday like ours, where we may cover up to 900 miles in a week with long journeys every other day or so, it is nice to have a few of those journeys relatively peaceful and stress free. I would thoroughly recommend audio books to any stressed out parents.
For your information these were the most popular choices of audio books as chosen by my daughter (age8) and my son (age 6). I have put links to purchase all of them in the Motivating Mum bookstore.
Little Women (13 hours of audio – great value)
Diary of a Wimpy kid
How to speak Dragonese (read by David Tennant – one of a series)
Billionaire Boy by David Walliams – they both liked this one