You need to set the tone from the start here. The car should be ready. There’s nothing more annoying than hearing your Mum or Dad say “We just need to pop to the petrol station and then we’ll be on the way”. You’ll have indirectly communicated its okay to deviate from the plan. Doing that so early in the journey can lead to anarchy later on. And if Dad (we’re presuming he’s driving) says he knows ‘the way’ and doesn’t need the GPS, then it’s perfectly okay for others to use their smartphones to plan the route out ahead of time. If you don’t know how to do this, your children will probably be able to show you.
You’re going to need to sell the trip. Saying you’re off to visit Aunt Mabelle may just turn out to be at odds with what your 12 year old daughter was planning to do with her day. You need to be able to answer the question ‘what’s in it for me?’. Be creative. If you really are going to see Aunt Mabelle then tell the children Aunt Mabelle has a dog to play with. Or keeps the worlds best collection of chocolate (you may wish to forewarn Mabelle about such a promise). Failing that, bribery works. We’ll get to that shortly.
No jokes for this one. You're travelling with the most precious cargo in the world. Do the right thing and make your car is ready for the journey. Remember ‘WOT’. That’s Water, Oil & Tyres. If your children are still in car seats, check the seat. Make sure it’s secure. Make sure your children are buckled in correctly and there’s no chance of them slipping out. You don’t cut corners here. Just do it properly. Do it right.
You need variety. You need to make sure you mitigate any possibility of spillage and staining. And you need to be willing to play hardball with the good stuff (that’s pineapple lumps, jaffas and fizzy drinks). Don’t go hard in with the sugary goods from the start. You don’t want the children on a sugar high in the hope they crash later and sleep. They won’t. They’ll just get withdrawals and nag at you for more. Start off with the savouries with a promise of something sugary later. You want to fill them up and get them drowsy. A food induced coma is a good thing for a long journey. But be aware of the risks. Throw too much stuff down their necks and you risk increasing the chances of motion sickness. Know your child's limits.
You are not an entertainer. Sure, family time is important. But this is about survival. If there's ever a time when unlimited screentime is a good idea, this just might be it. This is a special treat and your children need to make the most of it. Additionally, unless you're okay with hearing the same thing over and over on the entire journey, make sure they have some headphones.
6. Bribery and Corruption
It’s okay. Just be comfortable with it, it is okay. You are simply rewarding good behaviour by providing positive reinforcement in the form of a promise of a treat or an actual treat. You are encouraging good habits and responsibility. Okay - you’re going to bribe the little people with the promise of toys and treats if they behave. And you’ll use the threat of removing toys and treats if they misbehave. Perfect parenting? We’ll leave that to the experts. Functional parenting? Absolutely. Like we said, this is about survival.
7. The Pit Stop
You might want to stop in Cromwell for a picture next to the giant fruit. Your children probably do not. The sooner you accept the pit stop is for the children, the better. Plan ahead. Make sure you have one or two ready to call upon should the trip not be going to plan. Think of the journey as a series of waypoints. When the children ask the inevitable “are we there yet”, you don’t want to respond with the gloomy truth. Deflect and distract. The art is in saying “we are almost at the…(insert planned pit stop here). You need to break the journey up into bite sized children chunks.
8. Spare Clothes
Never, ever underestimate a child's ability to make a mess. You might think a packet of M&Ms is safe car food. But in the wrong hot little hands, they become a melted chocolate mess which can be easily dispatched onto any nearby surface, most likely a t-shirt or the sides of a trouser leg. And don’t fight the need to make a mess either. Just run with it. Accept the inevitable. Make sure you’re prepared with wipes and spare clothes so everyone can look fresh upon arrival (you may want to plan the final pit stop to close by Aunt Mabelle’s so you can get changed and freshen up).
9. The Arrival
If you get through all of the above and arrive safely and with your sanity intact... remember there is always a return journey. Take this opportunity to praise the family and repeat the oft-said (but not logical) fact... "the journey home is always shorter".
Go on, you deserve it. Treat yourself to something nice. It won’t be as easy next time.