Entertaining kids in cars – alternative summer holiday survival guide

Forget speed cameras, dawdling tractors and tailgaters – the biggest cause of holiday driving stress this summer is going to come from your back seats. It’s a repeated high-pitched squealing noise that will occur several times during a journey, but your local dealer won’t be able to fix it. It’s the noise that makes every summer holiday car trip a total nightmare:


Factor in the peak-season traffic chaos and soaring temperatures (naturally the heavens will open the second you’ve unpacked your bags), and suddenly taking the kids on holiday in the car doesn’t seem such a smart idea. But we’ve found the best ways to keep your kids entertained and – just as importantly – quiet in the car. Even better, most of these ideas won’t cost you a penny.

1) I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with…

This classic in-car game is almost guaranteed to kick-start a massive ruckus, but it’ll at least give the grown-ups a chance to start an argument and take young minds off the M25 tailback. Simply take it in turns to spot things you can see and give clues until your fellow prisoners – sorry, passengers – guess it correctly, or slip into a hyperglycaemic Jelly Baby coma. Either way’s a winner, right?

2) Travel tablets

As parents you’ve probably already realised (and thanked the tech gods for) the silencing qualities of the humble tablet computer. Throw one of these digital wonder-slates to your little back seat passengers and prepare for a blissful journey, punctuated only by the occasional squawk of an Angry Bird or thud of a disembowlelled zombie hitting the floor.

If you’re after total silence, spend £15 on an iPad headrest holder (or make one using a sandwich bag and a bulldog clip, see above for inspiration), supply your young ‘un with some cheap headphones and let them hum their way through their favourite film. We’re big fans of How to Train Your Dragon

3) Back-seat bingo

This one needs a little planning. Draw a 5×5 grid on a piece of paper and run it through the office photocopier a few times before you go on your travels. Then fill each grid with a set of things you might witness on your travels, such as mountains, roadworks, cattle, landmarks, rare car makes or even swear words that Daddy likes to call other drivers when they cut him up.

4) Nap time

This is a brilliant, simple, but under-rated tip that’s so effective you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it before. Once you’ve wedged the kids in the back of the car with an immovable wall of coolbags, Thermos flasks, melted Kit-Kats and packets of wet wipes, tuck them in with their favourite comfort blankets or pillows. For best results, start long journeys at about 3am – the kids should sleep right through.

As long as the air-con is set just so, their little heads will be nodding off in no time at all, so Mum can croon along to her Michael Buble album without being hit in the back of the head by a well-aimed HobNob.

5) Map-reading

When we were little carwowers we liked nothing more than to track our progress on road atlases – the combination of brightly coloured squiggles and rude-sounding place names (favourite: Six Mile Bottom, near Cambridge) kept us glued to the maps for a good half hour. You could even turn it into a game by highlighting famous landmarks and rivers to see who can spot them first.

However, we wouldn’t recommend ditching the sat-nav entirely and relying on your onboard ToddlerTom, but if you can instil some map-reading abilities at a young age then we’ll all be safer from sat-nav-distracted drivers when we’re entering our twilight years.

6) Roadkill bingo

Even before you elope to enjoy unsullied views of nature on your holiday, you can get your eye in with a slightly morbid game of roadkill bingo. Simply keep an eye out for has-been beasts at the roadside and try to spot one of each: rabbit, badger, deer, fox, hedgehog, pheasant. First to spot a full-house of flatmates gets to choose where you eat dinner. Perhaps this speaks volumes about our childhoods…

7) Treat bags

Remember those small paper bags of sweets that you could buy from newsagents many years go? The bags that contained a surprise collection of sugary delights? Well it’s time to get a bit creative and plan some treats. Rather than dole out a heart-stopping amount of Haribo to your young ones at the start of the trip, why not prepare small bags of pick’n’mix that you can hand over every 50 miles?

If you were feeling suitably prepared you could also include a small toy in each one (such as a spinning top, puzzle or firework) to liven up the journey. Not only will this help break your trip into several chunks, it’ll also reduce the damage done to your car’s roof from sugar-crazy kids bouncing around in the back.

8) Music

There’s no escaping the fact that putting on a playlist containing tracks from your tots’ favourite films will keep them entertained. Equally, the fifth run-through of the Frozen soundtrack will probably make Dad drive straight into oncoming traffic, so why not try to please everyone?

If you don’t want the expense of giving your backseat passengers their own portable music players and headphones, why not bring along a battery-powered set of speakers to rest in the back of the car, and continue with the grown-up tunes in the front. Just fiddle with your car’s stereo balance and fader controls to pipe all your music to the front, et voila! It won’t make for a perfect listening environment, but it’s better than the fiftieth blood-curdling rendition of Let It Go…

Need a new family car this summer?

If our tips aren’t enough to make your current car comfy for the whole brood, check out carwow’s car chooser to see how much you could save on a new set of wheels for the family.

Photos: Fale – Barcellona – 194” by Fabio Alessandro LocatiOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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