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Car travel with children can be a joy or a disaster depending on how well you prepare for it. I moved with my children to the country when they were quite small, so they became used to long car trips at a very young age. It didn't take me long to figure out what worked and what didn't when it came to avoiding boredom and drama.
Here are some tips for car travel with kids that you might find useful:
- Babies love to have something bright and busy to look at, so on hot days when you need to use a car shade, put some colourful stickers on it so they have something to look at. Another idea is to keep a piece of fabric in the car that has colourful designs or pictures on it. This can be used as a window shade or draped over the back of the seat to capture their attention.
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- Toy steering wheels attached to the back of the seat keep young children amused as do any of the numerous activity boards available today.
- Have some toys or books that are only to be used in the car. Don’t allow them to be played with at other times – keep them especially for car trips. Your child will look forward to the treat.
- Always pack a drink and a couple of snacks that aren't too messy. Keep a towel or water-proof sheet under their car seats. This will catch any spills and protect the seats.
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- When my children were younger, I kept rectangular plastic containers with lids in the car. Not only were their snacks kept in these, but they would use them on their laps to catch crumbs and then store their rubbish in them. At the end of the trip the containers were taken inside and washed ready for the next trip.
- Keep an insulated bag or small Esky in the boot that contains a few emergency supplies, like sunscreen, wet wipes, bug spray, lip balm etc. You might even consider a change of clothes in case of little accidents.
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- For older children or teens, avoid arguments about who gets to sit where by assigning set seating. Make this non-negotiable right from the beginning. Perhaps you can set a rule of swapping sides for the trip home.
- Keep a couple of small cushions and lap-rugs in the back seat or boot so that children can have a nap if needed.
- When it comes to music choices, either set a rule of alternating songs, CD’s or stations (i.e. your child chooses the first few songs and then it’s mum or dad’s turn.) If there is an argument, they don’t get to choose. If they have their own IPod or similar – even better.
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Travelling with children should be an adventure, not a chore. I always made a point of marveling at the scenery and pointing out interesting sights to convey my enthusiasm to my kids. It must have worked, because they have all grown up with a love of the countryside and long drives.