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A car vacation gives you a lot of freedom but with children it is not always easy. Still, it doesn’t always have to be all doom and gloom. You can take children of all ages on a car vacation without risking a nervous breakdown and while it is quiet in the back.

The secret? Good preparation and an adjusted rhythm. We give you some tips to get through your next car vacation with kids more smoothly!

1. Good planning

Start preparing for your vacation in good time: a relaxed start sets the tone for the rest of the trip. Make sure you have all the necessary travel documents on time (don’t forget the kids ID!), do the necessary shopping and pack your bags the day before departure. Load your car on time: don’t wait until the last minute to realize that you can’t take all your luggage.

2. Travel as much as possible when the kids are asleep (or not at all!).

Depending on how many driving hours you have ahead of you, plan your departure time. You may choose to leave in the late afternoon, stop for dinner after a few hours, and then drive off into the night while the kids are asleep. Then, as the driver, make sure you are well rested yourself and know that you will be sacrificing at least part of your first day of vacation to catch up on sleep. Besides, it may well be that your children decide not to sleep a wink that night out of sheer excitement, and then that night driving has actually been a measure for nothing (although of course it is significantly quieter on the road at night).

Or pluck them out of their beds in the morning before dawn and put them in pajamas in the car. With any luck, they’ll sleep on for a few more hours and you’ll be way ahead of breakfast (and then you can immediately exchange the pajamas for comfortable day clothes).

 

The most important lesson: children are unpredictable. No matter how well you plan it, there is a good chance that your children will not sleep at the times you had planned. So drive when you feel most comfortable.

3. Take into account that the trip will last longer

You can’t expect a toddler to be able to sit still for long, so expect a stop every 2 to 3 hours. A stop easily lasts 15 minutes. Take this into account and you will be a lot less upset if your child has to go to the bathroom again.

Do you have a very long drive ahead of you? Plan a long break along the way. Stop at a park or a nice playground and let your kids romp around. Two 5-hour trips are much more enjoyable than one 10-hour trip. Plan well in advance because it’s hard to find nice places along the way without losing too much time. Tip: One of our favorite stops on the way to the South of France: aire de Jugy, a stop with a playground full of mushrooms. While dad takes a power nap, the kids can have fun playing.

4. Bring out the child in you

You may be dying to catch up with your partner or listen to your favorite music. But don’t count on it too much and prepare yourself for all the attention to go to the kids. (Every stolen hour that they do amuse themselves without your help is then a bonus). But make sure you have entertainment for the road – and choose something that doesn’t drive you crazy. Are you crazy about K3 and Kabouter Plop? Good for you, that will surely be a lot of fun in the car. Captain Winokio, the radio plays of Het Geluidshuis and our subscription to Storytel are particularly popular with young and old. If there are two adults in the car, one can drive and the other can entertain the kids. What works well for us is to change the setup in the car for a few hours (one parent in the back seat and one child in the front, next to the driver. In a safe car seat of course).

Play games (count all the red cars) or sing together. Make a playlist and let your inner child free. Sing loud, sing soft, sing in crazy voices. Or provide a little surprise: play puppetry with a bunch of new hand puppets. Your child will have a great time and before you know it, you’ve gone several miles.

5. Time for a picnic

Children need to eat and drink more often than adults. You can of course stop every time they are hungry/thirsty but that will add a few hours to your trip and cost you a lot of money (not to mention the plastic waste around pre-packed snacks). So be sure to take enough food and drink with you. A cool box is ideal for this! We took a handy drinking can and a spout for the youngest along on our travels. This way the children always had drinks within reach and without spilling! A snack box with flaps is also a must-have when traveling. You can put small cookies or pieces of fruit in it. Thanks to the flaps, the children can get their hands in, but the contents cannot fall on the ground. Very handy for in the car.

Instead of stopping at some roadside restaurant, we opt for a cozy picnic along the way. Before and after the healthy meal, your kids can have a blast on the grass. This way they get some exercise and admit it: those highway restaurants are usually not very cozy.

6. Fun games for in the car

Is there a baby traveling with you? Anything colorful and something they can reach for will keep babies busy for a few hours. Think of an organizer for the driver’s seat (also useful for older children, by the way), a music mobile or another fun thing you can hang on the car seat. If you want to be able to keep an eye on your baby during the car ride (is he sleeping, does he still have his nipple, etc), then an extra car mirror can be of help.

Magnetic puzzles are ideal for toddlers! They can let their creativity run wild and you don’t have to worry about small pieces wandering around everywhere: they just stick to the box!

In the Jaq Jaq Bird chalk book your child can draw, color or write endlessly with the crayons. With special dust-free crayons. Ideal for on the go!
Watching books is always fun for our children in the car. Sound books are very popular for toddlers, while a search book will keep preschoolers busy for a while.

Tip: Provide a gift (or a few). Something new usually keeps children occupied for much longer than toys they have known for a long time.

Vacation chatter from Gezinnig is also a great tool for the long car journey. This is a booklet with 48 task cards that offer entertainment on the road and at your vacation destination. Play Listening Bingo, check the stop or spy on holidaymakers. Fun guaranteed!

Schatkaart maken

Make a treasure map

Tip: Print out a map of the route and follow it with your kids. This way the kids can imagine how far it is. You can turn it into a treasure map. When you reach certain points, they get a snack or a present.

Let your kids play photographer
Also fun for older children: let them take photos with a tablet or smartphone. They like it and you have a memory afterwards.

7. Be prepared for accidents

Is your child not yet potty-trained or does he or she have difficulty holding on to his or her pee until the next gas station? A compact potty with you when you travel is handy. The Potette Plus travel potty is also a glasses reducer, which can come in handy at public restrooms.

8. Last resort: videos

Do your children no longer pay attention to their coloring book? Are they tired of playing games? Long live the tablet or a DVD player! Depending on what the habits are in your family, it is best to make clear agreements with your child. We try to avoid the kids staring at the screen the whole trip, but on long trips it can certainly be a relief.

9. Don’t forget the return trip!

We speak from experience: the outward journey of the car vacation with children is prepared and planned down to the last detail, but we forget the return journey, which of course takes just as long! So make sure you have fun on the way back! The last thing you want is a stressful return journey that makes you forget all about your vacation feeling in one fell swoop.

10. Handy stuff for the road:

I go on car vacations and take along in the car:

water or something else to drink
food (sandwiches, rice cakes, bananas, apples, cookies)
An Aeromoov Air Layer (for in the car seat)
toy
coloring book, crayons or a chalk book
CDs or other music
(audio) books
tablet
medication against car sickness
a blanket
a flashlight
garbage bags
wet wipes or reusable wipes
an extra set of clothes for your child within reach (an accident happens quickly and you really don’t want to go searching in that packed suitcase)
Do you have any tips from your last car vacation with the kids? Share them below by posting a comment, other parents will thank you!

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