It’s the highlight of the year, the family holiday. Well, it’s supposed to be.
Caravan holidays with children can be great fun (or so people tell me). Or it can be 14 days of psychological torture while setting fire to £20 notes.
By the end of some family holidays, I feel like I need another. Only without my children.
So I can’t and won’t claim to be an expert in keeping children happy, but I have learned a couple of things over the years.
Don’t go too far
The journey can set the tone for the rest of the holiday. Any weekend tow in July or August is likely to need plenty of patience, and patience is something young children rarely have.
“Are we nearly there yet?” gets annoying very quickly. After six hours on the M6 it could reduce the Dalai Lama to violence.
So I’ve found that journeys of 150-200 miles are far enough with impatient young kids. Much more than that and nerves tend to fray, and the first day or so is spent unwinding from a stressful drive.
For longer journeys, it’s worth splitting the drive in two with an overnight stop at a good campsite. Or getting up very early and beating the worst of the traffic while the kids are snoozing in the back of the car.
Keep them entertained
Yes, many modern children spend too much time in front of a screen. Yes, it’s sensible to limit how much time a child spends playing on a tablet computer or watching TV.
But all rules have exceptions – and travelling to your caravan holiday is one of them.
A screen-holder on the back of the front seats, a tablet computer or portable DVD player each, and a pair of headphones for each child – it’s the best way I’ve found to enjoy peaceful long journeys.
So long as you remember to download their favourite programmes before you leave, that is.
And pack the chargers, rather than leaving them in the kitchen. Not that I’ve ever done that. Well, not more than once.
Play the game
Gadgets are great on the journey, but once on your pitch, nothing beats an old-fashioned board game.
Monopoly, Risk, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble – the old family favourites are still a lot of fun. Board games can rescue even the wettest and most miserable British summer day.
And they get everyone involved, away from their tablets, phones and music players. You never know, a games afternoon might even be an excuse to speak to one another…
Embrace the unexpected
I remember driving miles down a never-ending, single-track road to a café that had rave reviews online, only to discover it was closed on Mondays. No prizes for guessing the day of the week.
Glum faces and rumbling stomachs could have been avoided if I’d checked before we set off. Instead, we carried on to the next village, and found somewhere probably just as good – if not better.
I suppose what I’m saying is that careful planning has its place, but sometimes a wrong turn or an unexpected detour can take you and your family to amazing places you might otherwise have never discovered.
Sometimes simple is best
Most kids have no idea how much a day out costs, especially when they’re young. Often, the best days out are the cheapest.
After one recent holiday I asked my daughter which had been her favourite day, expecting her to name the visit to a theme park or a trip to an expensive museum. She told me it was our visit to a local park, which cost absolutely nothing.
It helps to choose a campsite with lots of child-friendly facilities, and to really make the most of them. Not only will your children have a great time, it helps keep a sensible lid on what you spend.
The more active the kids are, the more tired they will be at the end of the day. The more tired they are, the better your chance of a good night’s sleep.
The better the chance of a good night’s sleep, the more likely that you’ll reach the end of the holiday with a smile on everyone’s face.
If all else fails, it’s really not that long before they go back to school in September…
Careful planning has its place, but sometimes a wrong turn can take you and your family to amazing places