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Driving Home For Christmas (And Surviving)

chris-rea-driving-home-for-christmas-1Driving Home For Christmas (And Surviving)

“Driving in my car, driving home for Christmas…” Hands up if you’ve had this one piped at you recently on the radio or through the store sound system. At least it’s one of the least toe-curlingly cringe-worthy Christmas ditties that get hauled onto the playlist at this time of year (unlike “Let It Snow”, “It’s Lovely Weather For A Sleigh Ride Together With You” and other tracks that are singularly inappropriate when it’s sweltering and the streets are full of sweaty people in sunnies; just don’t get me started… rant over). At least this one raises a point and talks about a bit of what really goes on – long-haul driving to visit the rellies and crowded roads where you’re “top to toe in tailbacks” and get “red lights on the run”.

It can be a bit of a nightmare, trying to load the kids in the car and head off on a long drive interstate to the home of whoever is hosting the family Christmas this year. Haven’t we all been there and done that, either when we were kids or when we got kids of our own.

To make sure that you arrive in one peace and reasonably sane, it pays to plan ahead. To help you with this process, here’s a few handy hints that will get you through that 8+-hour haul.

  1. Be prepared to take the trip in two bites. If the trip requires more than 12 hours of driving, it could be wisest for everybody’s safety and sanity to spread it over two days. This may mean a stopover at a camping ground or motor inn unit in some obscure little town so everybody can sleep. Attempting to have the entire family sleeping in the car is probably not going to work unless you have a small family and a large car. The only time that I’ve managed to get a decent sleep in the car when accompanied by the family was when (a) both the children were under 10, (b) we owned a van and (c) my husband slept underneath the van.  If your trip is going to take three or more days of travel, consider flying instead of driving unless you’re really keen on driving and have a very tolerant family.
  2. Allow for breaks. And we don’t just mean a quick whip into the dunny when you’re stopping to refuel. It’s better for your back and for your alertness (and will tire the kids out more quickly) if you actually get out and move around a bit.
  3. Share the driving. If you have more than one driver in the family, then make sure that everyone gets a turn. This includes the L-plater, who could probably do with the experience of driving at night. Don’t forget to pack the L plate and/or the P plate if applicable.
  4. Audiobooks are a wonderful way of passing the time – possibly better than music in some circumstances (might not be the best in very busy traffic, as they may distract the driver, especially if you’ve got to the big showdown between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort  just as you negotiate that spaghetti junction). On the whole, children’s stories are a lot easier for adults to tolerate than cheesy children’s songs. If the worst comes to the worst and you really can’t agree on the book or the music, get separate devices and headphones for individuals – but not all the time. Learning to share and tolerate each other’s tastes is an important life lesson.  You may want a session where you pre-load your MP3 player, iPod or phone with a playlist for the journey where every family member makes a contribution.
  5. Have some time when the music isn’t playing and use this for old-fashioned “quality time” conversation, telling Dad jokes and playing silly story-telling games. Or singing.
  6. Choose food and drink wisely. It’s best to be flexible here and pick food that can be eaten in the car if needed or taken out as picnic food – it’s all very well to plan a nice picnic where you make your own filled rolls from the ingredients in the esky but this is horribly fiddly and messy if a heavy downpour coincides with your planned lunch break. Beware of too many drive-through takeaways, as all the additives, caffeine and sugar in the soft drinks and/or food, as these will make everyone more frazzled and energetic. They also get pretty pricey if you do it every time. Bring your own in lunchboxes or have a “supermarket special challenge” where you set a dollar limit and see what you can find in the nearest supermarket.  Stick to water for the kids (and possibly for the driver), as this doesn’t make your upholstery sticky when it gets spilled. Freezing a bottle of water the night before helps the water stay cold; adding a splash of herbal tea (e.g. peppermint or one of the fruity ones) makes it a bit “special” for the kids. Don’t overdo the water or you’ll have billions of toilet stops, but don’t underdo it either.
  7. Swap positions around. This means the passengers as well as the drivers. This is more feasible if your children are in the booster seat stage or older but is a bit of a hassle in the case of a more substantial baby or toddler seat. Possibly have some sort of competition (which the parents rig to ensure that everyone gets a turn at winning) with the winner getting the most coveted seat.

Aagh, now I’ve got an ear worm and can’t get that Chris Rea song  out of my head.

Safe and happy driving,