In April we took our children on their first road trip, around the fantastic island of Sicily. Our boys are aged five and three so we ensured their first experience of being on the road was a relatively gentle one; we kept drives short, there were plenty of interesting stops along the way and we had four exciting destinations (and lots of pizza and ice cream). The trip went pretty well so I thought I’d share some of the things we learnt along the way as well as information I’ve learnt through my travels over the years.
Start them young
If you plan to make a habit of taking your kids on road trips, it’s a good idea to do this type of holiday while they’re young and fairly unaware of other types of holiday. They should hopefully come to accept that travelling is part and parcel of holiday adventures.
Read up on other countries’ road rules
We once hired a car in Germany, drove into Austria and were promptly fined for not having a motorway toll sticker (vignette) on our windscreen. There are an increasing number of rules in Europe and further afield which the AA has handily compiled on its website. My boys will be delighted to know we need to pack hi-vis jackets for all passengers when we next visit France.
Take notice of parking restrictions in towns. In Italy, the parking bays are coloured differently depending on who is eligible to park in them and we nearly parked our car on a street that was about to be taken over by an Easter parade. However, we discovered that not all parking laws are negative: it’s often free to park in the centre of town at lunchtime for a couple of hours.
Take your own car seats / booster seats
If your road trip involves flying and hiring a car abroad, I’d recommend taking your kids’ car seats with you or if the ones you have in your own car are too heavy to take, buy some for the trip. It costs a lot to hire them from the rental company and you won’t know what condition they’re in. Also, if the rental company’s car seats are an unfamiliar brand, you could spend precious holiday time trying to fit them (I speak from very bitter experience). Have a read of my post on car hire for more tips in this department.
Hire a car with a big boot
If you’re travelling from place to place with a boot full of luggage, it’s reassuring if your car has a sufficiently large boot to hide everything in. We hired an estate car in Sicily and although it was tricky at times navigating the narrow roads we felt confident parking it on quiet streets while we went off to explore.
Be realistic with distances
It should be a holiday for everyone so don’t try to tackle unrealistic distances unless there are plenty of interesting places to stop at on route. It’s a good idea to try a trip with short driving distances to get everyone used to the idea of travelling. For example, we drove around eastern and central Sicily rather than driving across the whole island. The maximum we were in the car in one day was three hours and that was broken up by a stop for lunch.
Assume you’ll all wear your favourite outfit repeatedly on holiday, even if it gets a bit mucky. It’s so much easier to travel when you’re not lugging tons of clothes and shoes around. A lot of places will wash clothes for you even if they don’t advertise the service or you can rinse a few things if you’re really desperate. I find the parcel shelf of the car is a great place for drying clothes.
Although you can obviously buy snacks on route, there’s nothing like having the kids’ tried and tested snacks stuffed into the glove box, boot, suitcase, rucksack, coat pocket, everywhere. Food solves so many problems.
Have an easily accessible spare set of clothes for everyone
From being pooed on by my six week old at an airport to car sick children, I’ve discovered it’s useful if all of the party has a spare set of clothes to hand. On our trip to Sicily, each of us had a set of clothes in our hand luggage which was then kept in the car during the trip. It’s so much easier than dragging a suitcase out from the bottom of the car boot or waiting two days in dirty clothes for lost luggage.
Pack clothes in clear plastic bags
If you’re living out of a suitcase for a week or two and staying in a few different places, it’s a lot easier to locate a tiny pair of pants or socks if they’re all together in a clear plastic bag. We also dumped all of our dirty washing in the boot of our car when we moved on from each accommodation stop to free up space in the suitcases. This meant a bit of repacking on our last day but made the rest of the trip much easier. And if anyone had dared to break into our car the dirty washing would more than likely have put them off.
Make sure you have a few picnic essentials packed including a sharp knife for cutting and peeling carrots if this is a snack of choice for your brood. You’ll save loads of money by buying bread, cheese and fruit from markets or a supermarket for a picnic lunch and it’s reassuring to have this as a lunch option if you’re visiting a country where the restaurant cuisine might not be to everyone’s liking…
In car entertainment
I’m a dinosaur when it comes to technology so I got a bit of a surprize when I discovered our hire car in Sicily didn’t have a CD player. I have no music or games on my phone so it was lucky none of the drives were too long on that trip. If you’re going to be spending quite a bit of time in the car it’s worth loading up your devices with music, games, movies or whatever is required to keep your little ones entertained. However, don’t underestimate the interest that a new destination might generate in your children. Sicily offered such diverse landscapes, architecture and engineering (think big bridges) that our kids were pretty happy gazing out of the window on most of our drives.
If your trip requires extended periods on motorways, it’s worth packing a few car friendly toys; playdoh, sticker books or a bit of Lego have all been suggested on blog posts as great car-friendly diversions. Alternatively, a bit of Googling throws up a multitude of creative ways to pass the time, Skyscanner and the RAC have some good ideas on their sites. I Spy can get pretty repetitive on the motorway.
Don’t give out all the goodies at once
If the kids are happy looking out of the window, don’t put on their music or dole out the snacks until you need to. I was a bit terrified to discover we couldn’t play the kids’ music on our trip round Sicily but it turned out that we didn’t need it.
Try to stay relaxed about the list of destinations you’re keen to tick off from your guide book. Your children are likely to get “hill town fatigue” a lot sooner than you will. Remember that playgrounds and ice creams are just as important as the Instagram images you plan to take of that remote Unesco village your guidebook has raved about. Everything will take a lot longer with kids in tow, try to relax and embrace it.