Are we nearly there yet??? Tips for long car journeys…

We have a looooong car journey coming up – something like 7 hours of driving time, which I know is a mere walk in the park for many people living in the far flung corners of the world, but for us Brits (especially those of us who don’t travel much) this is an epic journey. Personally I love the slow travelling – it’s a huge part of the adventure (check out The Idle Traveller by Dan Kieran if this resonates with you). I love getting up super early, forgoing breakfast (quite a feat for me – a woman who needs to stuff her face as soon as she gets up – I blame 11 years solid breastfeeding for this 😉 ), whispering our way to the already packed car, trying not to wake the neighbours with our excitement, and setting off as the birds warble in the dawn….

But the days when I would pack a pile of books and curl up in the passenger seat to work my way through them (Mr S always does all the driving), to the accompaniment of some banging tunes, are long gone. Now I spend our journeys in a cramped kind of purgatory, constantly trying to keep kids entertained, fed and happy, contorting myself into strange positions as I reach for this, and rescue that, and clamber over all the luggage to find some obscure something, packed at the bottom of an overflowing bag, that someone has suddenly decided is absolutely vital for their continued survival on this terribly arduous trip.

As I’ve said before in this post, we are a family who use technology sparingly so we don’t have any electronic devices to occupy the kids on journeys. Plus we try our best to steer well away from single use plastics (such as those that wrap convenience foods) and this requires me to get creative when thinking of things to keep the girls busy.


Like a magician packing up a box of tricks, I like to have a few surprises prepared and hidden up my sleeves to whip out at opportune moments. Every year I find great joy in putting together inexpensive “Journey Bags” for each child which they find on their seat when they get into the car on the morning we set off. These bags are very simple but contain a few exciting things – some new, some recycled –  to keep them interested for, um, a few minutes (if we’re lucky)…

This year each bag contains the following:

A magazine: we’ve been very blessed and have been gifted subscriptions to several brilliant kids magazines this year which have been a great boon in our home ed life. The girls are always thrilled when they pop through the door and we’ve found them inspiring and informative. This month I’ve been ever so mean and hijacked each one as the Postie delivered it, holding it back to pop in the Journey Bags…We’ve long been members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the girls have always had children’s membership which entitles them to free entrance to R.S.P.B. bird reserves and a monthly Wildlife Explorer magazine. Packed with wildlife facts and creative activities, it is a firm favourite in our home. Aquila is a fabulous educational monthly mag aimed at 8-12 year olds. Each edition is themed and full of fascinating articles on science, maths, history and general knowledge and I particularly like the ethical/philosophical questions it encourages you to discuss with your kids. The artwork is fun and contemporary and it’s packed with puzzles and conundrums to beaver away at. WhizzPopBang is a wonderful science mag aimed at 6-12 year olds. Like Aquila, each month focuses on a different topic and contains super exciting experiments, news, facts and interviews. Full of fun stuff, they find this mag very exciting.


A couple of books: Now, sometimes I am organised and manage to pop into a few charity shops to pick up some new books to engage the girls on our journey. This is a great way to find something fun at minimum expense. However, this year I am apparently not organised and failed on this essential task 😉 so instead I raided the bookshelves in their rooms and discovered a few choice articles that have been rammed in, forgotten and neglected, so these should tick the box. I also always take our family read aloud book – this year I’m super excited to start reading them The Fellowship of the Ring – that should keep us going!


Something new: It’s always nice to pop something completely unexpected in and hear their shouts of glee when they open their bags to discover some little gift. This year we have a new audio, Robinson Crusoe, for Bod7 who has been asking and asking about this fabulous classic, having heard all about it through Swallows and Amazons. Bod10 has the card game UNO, which we have played with friends and was a huge hit. And Bod3 has a set of wooden birds for stacking – yup, I know, a bit random, but just the sort of thing I know she’ll love 🙂


A cotton bag containing some journey food: growing up with a South African family meant that no journey, however near or far, was complete without ‘padkos’ (in Afrikaans this means “food for the road”) and it’s a tradition I’ve continued and the girls love. It does mean that the interior of the car is constantly covered in a deep layer of crumbs, which I’m sure Mr S curses me for, but a bag of padkos ensures that you get the odd moment of peace. Our padkos bags usually contain homemade muffins, biscuits, sandwiches, dried fruit, nuts, seed bars and fresh fruit – hmmmmm, plenty of crumb-making victuals 🙂


Activity pads: I found these gems in Tiger and leapt upon them with joy, knowing that they would keep the Bods busy for a bit – a nice mix of creative thinking, puzzling and  drawing that can be done independently or collaboratively. Cheers Tiger!


We also take plenty of long audios, old family favourites which the Bods love, such as Harry Potter, Swallows and Amazons, Narnia, The Hobbit and Just William. These epic audios provide literally hours and hours of storytelling which means I can sit back a bit and let the journey flow, maybe even stare out of the window 😉 This year the girls are massively into rock music too and have asked for a collection of “what Mummy and Daddy used to listen to when they were young” , so we thought we’d use the opportunity, whilst they are a captive audience, to, um, educate them. You may hear us coming….

You never know what you might see on a long road trip so I always pack binoculars and a bird guide. This can cause some frustration as by the time each child has whipped out her bins and found the window with them, the bird in question is long gone. But I haven’t learned my lesson, so in go the bins. The bird guide is essential for those moments when you have to demonstrate that that seagull over there really isn’t an albatross 😉

We’ve found that a couple of simple games such as Top Trumps, Howzat and Rush Hour are a great way to while away a few moments, as long as no-one starts fighting over who wins…

This year I’m going to pack some handwork for Bods7&10 – they can both knit and love knitting, and I have found that the process requires such a huge amount of concentration that it renders them almost speechless…

Even though the girls are now older, the monotony of driving often has a soporific effect upon them and they conk out at some point on the journey. I always have snuggley blankets to hand and their favourite soft toy for them to curl up with – it just makes the experience more cosy and comfortable for them.

So with this arsenal at my disposal, we might make it as far as, ooooooooo, maybe, Birmingham (?!?!?!) without a hiccough…here’s hoping…. 🙂

Cathy xxxx



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