Ready for Christmas? Presents bought and wrapped? Stockings hung? Large amounts of alcohol ready to be consumed? Or are you one of the thousands across the UK who are facing one of the biggest challenges that the festive period can offer... a long car journey with excitable children. Accepting the invitation for Christmas dinner with Aunty Vera in Inverness no longer seems like such a great idea, does it?
There's nothing for it but to approach the whole terrifying task like a military campaign. No, no weapons - we mean planning and lots of it.
Firstly, know where you are going. Toddlers are very clever and are pretty sure that you've reached your destination 5 minutes after setting off. And they will let you know. When you hear their battle cry ("Are we nearly there yet?"), be armed with the right response - "We have 2 hours to go, which is a sleep, a snack and 6 rounds of Wheels on the Bus" will be received much more favourably than "erm, I think we should've turned left 3 hours ago". Check traffic reports before you set off and have an alternative route ready - driving 30 miles out of your way via Little Uppingsnoot is still better than sitting stationary on the motorway for endless painful hours.
Schedule the attack. The best course of action is to drive at night. Leave just after their bedtime, when they are in comfy pyjamas (make sure the car is pre-warmed) and ready for sleep. Make sure they've had a wee. Have the car speakers set up to only play in the front - you don't want your sleeping beauty to be woken by the dulcet tones of Iron Maiden banging out in the back of the car.
If you can't drive at night, try to schedule the drive to fit in with their routine, if they have one. Have a rough idea of when the toddler may need a wee or a snack or when your baby might need a feed and plan to stop regularly. Even if you're not the driver, don't try to breastfeed as you zoom down the motorway - it's not comfortable trying to hoik a breast over the baby's car seat, it's not restful for your baby and it gives the lorry drivers an eyeful.
Bring wipes. Lots of wipes. Babies, like their older siblings, are a cunning breed - and if they get a whiff of a forthcoming trip, have been known to store up a super-sized poo, ready to release as soon as you've hit the M25. Equally, your toddler, through no fault of their own, may decide that car travel is not for them and that organic carrot and hummus lunch that you so lovingly prepared will be regurgitated all over the central console and footwell. Remember to keep spare clothes and wipes in the car - if they are in the boot, packed deep in the suitcase under the present for Aunty Vera's dog, they will be no good to you. And have more wipes than you think you need. You will need them.
Avoid situations of torture. We're talking CD's here. Be truthful with yourself. Just how many times can you realistically sing along to Wind the Bobbin Up, before you go stark staring mad and attempt to eat your own bellybutton? Twice, we think. Before the trip,
The Art of Distraction. Toddlers get very very bored, very very quickly. You will need to work your way through your entire repertoire of car games (I-spy does not work and should not be attempted ever. When your child announces 'something beginning with M', they will mean a dragon they think they saw two weeks ago). Keep lots of small toys to hand for your baby, too. They will throw them on the floor at three minute intervals, so if you're organised you can get a nice little conveyor system going.
If in doubt, feed them. When games and toys have been exhausted, snacks will hold their interest, give them something to think about and hopefully fill their little tummies with the slight chance of making them sleepy. But plan your snacks - light finger food is perfect although give them anything sticky and you may live to regret it. And if you are giving them bananas, keep the peel unless you want to be wondering what that slight rotting smell is, coming from under the seat 3 weeks later.
Keep Smiling. Ultimately, the best way to survive the car journey is to relax and enjoy it! Tension and grumpiness (yours or your children's) will make the journey feel ten times longer and actually, long journeys can be a great opportunity to spend some real quality time with your little ones. Take the time to unwind and re-energise - because let's face it, you're going to need all your patience and strength for coping with Aunty Vera.
Visit Born to find products to make your journey easier - including Children's CD's, Wipes and Nappy Bags, snack containers, small toys and kids luggage!