16 hour road trip alone with 3 young children, Help!

I need help - I’m trying to plan a 16 hour car journey with my 3 youngest children (9, 6 and 3). In 3 weeks I’ll be setting off on the nearly 1200km journey from our home in South West France to visit family in South East England. My husband is staying here to hold the fort and so I’m journeying as the sole driver with James 9 – who’s incredibly good unless he’s bored, when he turns into the biggest teaser and tormentor of his younger brother Luc who needs no encouragement whatsoever. Luc is the cheekiest, liveliest, most hot tempered, noisiest, “boy-est”, lovable, toothless 6 year old you could ever wish to meet. The youngest, Frankie, is 3 going on 13 and she is the stubbornest, sweetest, winiest, cutest, tallest, girliest child I know. Individually they are brilliant kids, but together they spell BIG TROUBLE.

What am I thinking of? Even 10 minute journeys to the supermarket turn into major battlefields. Luc’s kicking James, James is hitting Luc over the head, Frankies trying to avoid the blows. Or, Frankie’s singing the most annoying made up song in the world and Luc’s joining in, James is screaming at them to stop and the more he screams the louder they sing. I start off with “Come on, stop it now please”, progressing to a slightly firmer “That’s enough now”, to a more irritated “Will you pack it in”, to a slightly crazed “If you don’t stop it I’m going to turn round and go home”, to a final crescendo of “SHUUUUUUT UPPPPPP!” Sometimes my screams do the trick, but rarely for long and I’m sure they’re doing me no good at all.

So, how on earth are we going to survive such a long journey in tact? I can’t scream all the way to England, I’m going to have to think of something else. Here’s what I’m planning so far.

We’ll be leaving fairly early in the morning (about 6am), so that I can get to Calais to catch our ferry at 8pm.

Plan 1 – get them tired out the day before with a really long walk or something. Bed at the usual time, then up early, so hopefully they’ll be tired out and sleep some of the way. I know that the most I can hope for though is maybe 2 or 3 hours of peace (if I’m lucky), so that just leaves about 11 or 12 hours to fill before we get to Calais.

Plan 2 – DVD’s – I’ll take a few new DVDs and some old favourites, that always keeps them amused for a while, but again I don’t think I’ll get more than 2 or 3 hours of peace this way, so that leaves 9 or 10 hours to fill.

Plan 3 – take lots of food, snacks and drinks to keep us all going. I’ll have to stop several times, so I’m going to try and pack some really yummy food – maybe get them all to help make it and choose what to take. This should take up about couple of hours in total, leaving 8 hours to fill.

Plan 3 – I’m going to make up some CDs of music for the journey and let the children choose their favourites. We can sing along with these to break the boredom and they’ll enjoy choosing them in the lead up to the holiday. This should hopefully fill another couple of hours over the course of the journey which now leaves me 6 hours to fill.

Plan 4 – I’m going to try and think of a number of games we can play at various stages of the trip – memory games like “I went to the shops and bought a …, but perhaps I’ll make it “In may bag for England I packed a …” and a few other games that I can bring up from time to time to diffuse arguments and allay the boredom. Hopefully that may take up another hour or 2, so that just leaves me 4 hours to fill.

Hmmmm I’m running out of ideas now. How can I fill these last 4 hours? Has anyone else out there had to take a long journey with children? How did you cope? Any bright ideas of things to while away the hours? Please, I’m getting desperate…

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Thanks for all your tips. We had a reasonably smooth journey there, they slept for a few hours, watched a DVD and loved the Road Trip Bingo game and Has it got a tail? We stopped over night just past Orleans which worked well apart the fireworks going off at 10 when I was trying to get the kids to sleep and the unbearably hot room. 3 over excited kids eventually crashed out about midnight and warn out mother 2 minutes later! We didn’t wake up until 10.30 which is unheard of, but the room was shuttered so they didn’t know it was morning. Second leg of the trip was not so smooth - missed the turning for Rouen, youngest wet herself just as we were approaching Paris and a big traffic jam and it was over an hour before I could stop and change her. Apart from that it was OK - only had to shout once as we were approaching Dunkirk. Managed to catch an earlier ferry (at no extra charge) and arrived at my sisters in Kent at about 7,30pm. When we woke up the next morning to grey sky and drizzle, my 6 year old informed me “I’m not sure it was worth all that long drive.” Don’t you just love them!

We are some what smug now, we found a 7 seater with 3 rows of seats, Wife driving, middle daughter in second row, and small boy and eldist daughter in back, no more, she is pulling,kicking ect ect

I think what has worked best for us is all things electronic! (shame on me!!). Portable dvds, Nintendos (turn off the sound though), cds. Also put in pillows so that if they do want to relax it will be comfortable for them. You might do a simple map and enlist help with the ‘route planning’ - that way you avoid the ‘are we there yet?’ because they can plot their positions.

Thanks for you comments Kerry - well done you! I feel encouraged now :slight_smile: Just out of interest, did you stop over night or do it all in one go?

also i kept the kids up later the night before, they slept for 3 hours of the drive which helped alot to.

i have just come back from germany on a 14 hour trip including stops, My drive was pretty much stres free i had a 20 month old, 7 year old and 9 year old, the two oldest normally very good togther but in cofined places tend to scrap. the 20 month old is a screamer when she does not get what she wants.
Anyway, i had plenty of snacks,drinks,baby toys, books, toys dvd’s and the good old faithful dsi’s.
Before the journey i was thinking i was slightly mad to even think about so long in the car on my own, being the only adult. to my surprise the kids were fantastic, the older kids were pretty much well behaved and even entertained the baby, i thinking my planned stops helped even more for them and for myself, gicing the kids a 15 min break every so often helps break the trip up for them.

Hi Teresa, yes of course I count my au pair as help. I said “alone” in the title because it is the first time I have attempted a journey this far “alone” without the aid and support of my husband. I am the only driver with parental responsibility for my 3 young children. I did say in my reply to Terry that she was an extra pair of hands and can help with the little ones in the back. However, she can’t drive and she’s the same age as my eldest son (21), so she is more like a big sister to the 3 young ones - a great help yes, but not an authority figure like a parent. When I made the original post I wasn’t even sure if she was coming with us or flying with one of my other sons (17) as we didn’t have enough room in the car for all 6. Sorry, I didn’t want to complicate the posting when all I was asking for was a few ideas for amusing the children from others who have made similar journeys.
I’ve gleaned a lot of useful information from the members here for which I am very grateful. Thank you everyone for all your suggestions and comments :slight_smile:

on my high horse today - sorry - but Nikki - when you say you’re going on your own - do you not count the au pair as any help whatsoever?

Thanks again for the tip Terry. I’ve just looked up Fasthotel Orleans and yes they have a room for 5 with a toilet and shower for 69E! Excellent - thanks very much :slight_smile: I’ll have a look at Balladins as well before I book.

On hotels, the only problem with the F1 is the queue for the toilet/shower! Have you looked at the Fasthotel chain? There are two near Orleans. Are local one does family rooms and is well rated by Brits on route from the UK to Spain as an overnight stop. Also the Balladins chain may have something reasonably priced.

It seems to me that the UK reg based on height rather than age is more sensible. Our grandson was definitely big enough to sit up front at that age. I think that what it comes down to is this - if you can fit the seat belt correctly when your son is sat in the front passenger seat without a cushion or other child seat then he’s big enough to sit there. Whether that would satisfy a French traffic cop is another matter!

Thanks for pointing that out Terry. I’ve just looked on line and it seems you are correct :frowning: Bang goes that idea! However it seems the rule in the UK is Children over 1.35 m in height(which he is), or who are over 12 years old, so he’ll be OK in the front in England :slight_smile:
I’ve been looking into hotels all evening, it’s difficult to find a room for 5 and 2 rooms often work out expensive. The cheapest options seems to be Hotel F1 at 32.50 euros per room, making 2 rooms 65 euros - don’t think I’ll find better than that.

Nikki, Check the French regulations on children in cars. I’m happy to be proved wrong but I have a vague memory from our grandson’s earlier years that a child has to be 10 or perhaps even more before you can put him/her in the front without risking some rule-bound gendarme giving you a ticket. It ties in with the rules about when you can abandon special children’s seats. I know we ignored the children’s seat bit because our grandson was far too big to fit into even the biggest one long before he was legally old enough to be spared this indignity! Maybe one of the others knows what the rules are? Suzanne?

Thanks for all the comments and tips. Yes I think I will put the 9 year old in the front and get him to help with directions. I do also have our au pair traveling with us. Unfortunately she doesn’t drive, but it is an extra pair of hands and she can help with the little ones in the back. I take your point about the safety aspect Terry and was very sorry to hear of your friend. I have made the trip several times alone and found it better during the day as I don’t get so tired. But, as you so rightly point out, I will be responsible for 3 children and they can be distracting at the best of times. We are trying to save money, but I think probably the suggestion of splitting the journey over 2 days is a wise one. Thank you for the recommendation Suzanne I will look into the All Seasons hotel in Orleans.
Thanks again everyone

I have a friend, a delightful, bright, intelligent woman, a brilliant journalist/photographer full of energy and drive. She decided to drive from Brussels to her parent’s home in Switzerland with her two young girls, a trip she’d done many times before without incident. This time she rolled her car for no reason that anyone has discovered. The girls didn’t have a scratch but she is now paralysed from the neck down. She wishes she had been killed. It would have been easier on her girls, she says. It’s this sort of thing that makes me worry.

Good point Terry, we share the driving when we do our trip, you are absolutely right, it is a long drive for 1 person without 3 kids. Our stop off point is usually around Orleans which is a good break point from South of France to South of England. Nikki, could you do that? The All Seasons hotel is very good and offers family rooms for around 70euro including breakfast & they gave us an ajoining room for our kids included in the price.

I admire your courage and hate to be the grumpy old man of the party but is what you are planning safe? HGV drivers are allowed to drive a maximum of nine hours a day with at least 45 minutes rest for a reason Yes, I know, the unions will have had their say and there’s the EU working time directive but at heart it’s because it’s unsafe for them to drive for longer than that. You’re planning 16 hours. Even if you take a break every two hours you’ll have to spend it dealing with increasingly fractious kids so you won’t actually get any rest. You’ll be exhausted and exhausted people make mistakes or fall asleep at the wheel. Driving is a full-time occupation. Looking after three under-tens is more than a full-time occupation. I know you’re good at multi-tasking as we mere men are always being told but to my mind this is a no-no. You can’t drive and entertain the children, sort out arguments or whatever without the risk that you’ll take your eye off the road for that fraction of a second which is all it takes for the guy in front to slam on the brakes and for you to smash into him. In the same way, you can’t drive and talk on the phone without taking an unacceptable risk, which is why it’s banned. If you don’t believe me then the next time you see an HGV wandering from one side of the lane to another or dropping onto the hard shoulder, draw alongside and look at what the driver’s doing. Nine times out of ten he’s on the phone. Couldn’t you at least cut the journey in half and stay overnight at a cheap hotel? At least that way you’d get some rest. OK, it will cost a bit of money but what’s that set against your safety and the safety of your children? Not to mention the safety of the other people on the road. Sorry to be scary but I felt it had to be said. I’ve seen too many accidents in my 50 years of driving to want to see another.

Here endeth the sermon! I hope you have a good trip.

I like the valium lol
Another game is of course the old I spy with my little eye :slight_smile: We always travelled with our 3 boys (2 years between each one lol) and they were little sods :slight_smile: Anyway we used to travel with our 3 during the night, they at least slept for half of the voyage!!! The ferry was the hardest when they were full of life and tearing all over the place !!! I agree also to the personal picnic bags for each, No sweets though !!! Dont need that enrgy when travelling lol We used to play the car game too and its is actually educational at the same time lol The eldest in the front as he is a torment :slight_smile: He can be the big boy, yes good idea to let him read the map !!! GOOD LUCK However you do sound quite organised

Ohhhh another song to sing is the wheels on the bus, there are lots of verses and they can make up verses to that song too, we had great fun with that song when they were little lol
anyway good luck, let us all know how you got on :slight_smile:

Could you make your eldest in charge of map reading? Make him a simplistic map with obvious things to look out for like Eiffel Tower, Volcanoes, Cooling Towers etc? Obviously you’ll know the route anyway but might keep him interested on/off for a while if he feels important?

Play the car game? We used to have to spot the number plates of different countries, districts e.g. 34 plate, colour of car etc

We’ve started night driving now as our (tiny girls) do sleep most of the night (could you set off even earlier so its dark & tricks them into snoozing for longer?)

We used to have activity packs with crayons etc, personal food hampers & story CDs (tapes) when we were kids on our way from North of England to South of France. We did it every year (without DVDs) and although I know we used to fight, I think it must have been tolerable as we did it again and again or else highly likely mum took Valium and Dad just tuned out!