You may or may not have noticed that I had a bit of a blog break around November/December time. This was partly because I’d lost some of the blog love (fyi I’m baa-aack!) and partly because I was too darn busy driving up and down the country.
Pretty much all our family live in excess of 4 hours drive away and towards the end of the year we had a ridiculous number of birthdays/weddings/anniversary/Christmas celebrations to traipse north for. This however has made me somewhat of an authority on babies and long car journeys (if I may say so myself!!)…
My army officer husband introduced me to the ever so annoying ‘5 P’s’. It turns out ‘Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance’. A novel concept to this fly by the seat of your pants type of girl. Planning anything in advance does not come naturally to me, but I’ve had one too many epic-journey-hashtag-fails to not even attempt to plan ahead these days. So here are my 5 P’s of long car journeys..
1. Pick your time
I’ve found leaving at bedtime or first thing in the morning provides the easiest journey. For the bedtime trip I do the usual bedtime routine and then just put her into the carseat when she’d usually go into her cot. The pros of this are:
• Roads usually quieter
• Baby sleeps the whole way (hopefully…)
We’ve done this a couple of times now and Matilda has indeed slept the whole way and we’ve managed to get to our destination super quickly and stress free. There are a couple of drawbacks however:
• A long journey at night after a long day is tiring.com
• It’s hard to have breaks. We’ve successfully managed a quick refuel and loo break at a garage, but I don’t dare attempt a stop at a services to get a maccy d’s and walk about type break. I’d feel too nervous leaving Matilda in the car for 30mins and I’m also firmly of the ‘don’t wake the beast’ opinion to dare getting her out of the car and bringing the babe into the services with us.
• The transfer. The first time I did this I was trying to break the habit of feeding Matilda at night and after a dreamy 3 hour trip back from hols in Dorset Matilda woke up catawauling when I tried to lift her out of the carseat into the cot. This persisted for a good couple of hours (she’s got stamina) until I finally relented, gave her some milk and she went back to sleep within about 30 seconds. Now I just accept that if the transfer itsn’t seamless (and it never is) a little bit of milk and a story is the way to settle the beast into the cot.
I’ve also made what usually is a 6 hour journey in a miraculous but entirely under the speed limit 4 hours by setting off at 6:30am. This worked pretty well – Matilda was too sleepy for the first part to be grumpy, once she started to pipe up we had a proper services stop for breakfast and a nice long morning nap took us to the destination in time for lunch and a lovely nap whilst I recovered.
2. Prep the Car
As seems to be the way with babies you need the essentials.
• After a queue on the M40 with bright sun shining directly on to Matilda’s face we bought one of those sunshade suck it on to your window things. It also felt like the first step to being ‘proper’ parents….
• Snacks and water are essential. Baby and parent. Think of how many you think you’ll need and double it. Law of the road means healthy eating intentions go out of the window and I’m somewhat ashamed to say that this has been the case for Matilda as well. For the record I’m classing baby unhealthy eating as a whole host of organix snacks, not like peppa pigs and lemonade. Try keeping a sugar high baby in a car seat for 5 hours…
• Distractions. For ages I thought Matilda travelled badly. Turns out she doesn’t, she was just bored. A lovely church run playgroup we sometimes attend gave out a cd up of the songs they sing there. It’s a mix of the standard nursery rhymes and some Christian children songs. In desperation I tried it one day and instant baby happiness. It’s now on constantly in our car, even though ‘trust the Lord in all his way’ blaring out has raised some strange looks of friends who never really had me down as particularly religious. All I can say is, if it takes God to make Matilda quiet on car journeys, then that’s how we roll !
I’ve also found that certain toys are car hit, including, interestingly, a pair of goggles. If it works, use it!
3. Plan the Route
I know, this is an obvious one. But my usual mode of navigating is to stick the postcode in the sat nav and blindly follow it to the destination. Plan the route you want to take online before you go. Check the sat nav is taking you the desired route before you go. Listen to the traffic updates, on the radio and if you’re not driving or when you take a break, check the route is still the best one with live map programs like google maps. All so, so incredibly annoying, but better than being in a three hour long traffic jam with a hungry, bored baby. Trust me. I’ve been there.
Obviously always the best laid plans sometimes go wrong with unexpected and unavoidable delays and it’s especially tricky if you’re driving on your own.
3. Prepare for the worst.
I used to laugh that my husband had hazard signs, a sleeping bag, toothbrush etc in his car. However after a friend’s car broke down recently and she was stranded on the side of the road with a screaming 3 month old and no phone reception, I have made sure the car has been topped up with fuel and my husband has given the car a ‘once over’ (whatever that means…) before any long journey. Also, make sure you know what to do if the worst happens.
5. Purchase a train or plane ticket
If it’s the option of a super long car journey or spending a bit more to take the plane, I’d be sorely tempted to throw money at the problem. Or plan a trip closer to home… A recent revelation has been the trains. My only experience has been with South West trains and Virgin and they’ve been brilliant. You can sit in the disabled carriage and keep your buggy up as long as there isn’t someone in a wheelchair wanting the same space. The toilets have baby change facilities and on virgin trains you can even request assistance to help you board the train when you book your ticket. Very handy if you have lots of luggage. Again, this means you haven’t got the flexibility of a car at your desitnation but if that’s not an issue I’d receomend it. As with everything if you can travel at off peak times it is easier but we had a trip back from York on a busy Sunday afternoon train and it was absolutely fine.
As is always the way though, when you have finally figured out how to deal with one stage then they grow and make it all redundant. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I’m a tried and tested expert on long car journeys with toddlers!!!