We live in Somerset but I grew up in the north east and visit my family fairly frequently. I often travel alone, the journey is 350miles and takes on average 6 hours. We now have the journey pretty sussed and even on my own with a 1-year-old and 2-year-old it usually goes smoothly, despite their ages and the long-distance.
My first piece of advice when traveling with children is you need to accept that it is going to take time to get anywhere and you really can’t be in a hurry. Try to just go with the flow and stop as many times as you need. Starting off with this mindset really does take a lot of the pressure and stress out of a long drive and you will more often than not arrive in good time anyway feeling a lot better off for it.
I feel that the time of day you set off is very important and it’s changed for us several times over the years. My children just won’t settle during the day for 6 hours in the car. We used to set off just after the kiddie’s bedtime, which worked for a long while. Then the youngest started waking as we arrived at my parents’ house at 2am, we would be shattered and wanting to sleep and he would think it was morning and was raring to go. Now, we get up in the night and currently leave at about 4am. They stay awake for an hour or so then fall asleep, waking up around 8am just in time to stop for breakfast. By that time, we are over half way. They seem to like being woken up in the night, it’s all part of the adventure. For our last trip it was obviously dark when we set off and a full moon was shining brightly in the sky and they totally loved looking at the moon from the car.
Be prepared to make as many unplanned stops as needed. If the children are screaming, or they want something they cannot reach then pull over in a layby or come off at the next junction. There’s never that far between junctions etc. so if they start getting upset, I just try to verbally de-escalate the situation whilst I try to find a safe place to fix their issue. I’ve exited the motorway so many times and It’s the safest thing to do. If you are alone it’s an absolute must! Unhappy, screaming children are a major distraction when trying to drive so please don’t take the risk of trying to push on regardless.
Have regular breaks
Having done the journey many times we now know one of the service stations has a park and another has a soft play so we aim to stop at these if we can. We try to make the services an exciting part of the journey. We always have something packed to eat, carry pound coins for the little rides and toy machines and let them pick some sweets or a magazine to keep them entertained once we get back in the car.
We have considered searching for things to do close to the motorway around Birmingham, our half way point. For now the children seem happy with our service stop adventures and going away from the motorway would obviously add time to our already long journey, but going off track to break up a long drive is definitely worth considering.
They don’t really use tablets at home, but on long journeys they are a must. Up until Christmas we only had a really old Amazon tablet that has some programmes downloaded onto it. Santa (Nanny) kindly got them their own tablets and some headphones and its been an absolute gamechanger now they can watch and play whatever videos/games they choose.
Small toys are also a good idea and for older children or toddlers colouring books and magazines are also a great way to help pass the time.
Whilst my son was still rear facing, if we were travelling as a family of 4 and my husband was driving, I would sit in the back with the kids, between the car seats on hand to deal with any child emergencies. If driving alone I had the youngest on the front seat and my eldest set up in the back with her tablet, surrounded with toys, drinks and snacks. My son is now forward facing so has made things slightly easier dealing with things from the front passenger seat on the move when needed.
When attempting my first journey alone I hadn’t considered the seating arrangements and famously tried to throw several bags of open crisps to the children from the front seat, over my head to the back of the car. They only caught 2 out of the 6 open packets! The rest ended up everywhere and made a right mess. We do still laugh about that but I now try to be organised, take regular breaks and consider the seating in order to pre-empt any needs the children may need during any given leg of the journey.