While we all love time off with our families, a family vacation may require more time-off afterwards than anything else. And the truth is that going away at the end of a busy year can be one of the worst times to take to the South African roads.
There’s more traffic on the country’s main roads, it’s in the middle of generally hot summer and an added stress is that the “silly season” often comes with some silly driving. So there’s a lot to contend with even before bringing kids into the equation.
The best tip might just be to have a holiday in your home town but I’ll deny that if your kids ask whose idea that was.
Children generally don’t like to be cooped up, especially for long periods at a time. So if you’re going to be travelling any distance this festive season, here are 5 tips to ease the stress of the journey
1. Plan your route
Forewarned is forearmed. Check whether there are roadworks or diversions en route to your destination which may result in delays.
Children like to be on the move: they don’t do well in hot, stationary vehicles so avoid stressors that will lead to a carful of tired and frustrated occupants – the driver included. The less time for children in the car (and for some adults) – the better
If you do get caught in a snarl-up, make sure there’s a refreshments box at hand and a plastic bag for the litter. Pack a pillow or two for the kids to catch a few winks too
2. Start out refreshed
Just because it’s the festive season, you can’t afford to let down your guard. You’re carrying precious cargo that needs to be delivered in one piece.
Don’t be tempted to rush from work straight onto the road. Leave some time to unwind. Make sure you get at least one good night’s rest before setting off.
Travel preferably in daylight hours when your vision, alertness and concentration are at their best.
Feeling rested will also give you better coping skills if your patience is tested.
3. Make sure everyone uses their seat belt
This is a basic rule that is sometimes overlooked in the excitement of a trip.
Too often parents buckle up in front, forgetting about the safety of those in the back. Before setting off, strap everyone in. This includes putting babies or toddlers in car seats – not on anyone’s lap.
If occupants are not wearing a seat belt and the vehicle stops suddenly, the forces of gravity take over and they’re flung forward. I don’t have to paint a picture of some of the devastating consequences.
4. Keep kids occupied in the car
Electric devices are not the sole answer to long trips with children. At some point the batteries will die too. Use this opportunity to really engage with your offspring. Have a few car games up your sleeve, like the old guessing game favourite: “I spy with my little eye”
Counting games are also a good distraction – whether it’s cars, trucks, telegraph poles, bridges. Or number-plate spotting.
This is where a little imagination might go a long way in easing tensions and passing the time. You can even award prizes – only to be dished out (to everyone, of course!) at the end of the journey. And of course, if you are going to the coast, there has to be a prize for the first person to spot the sea.
5. Stop for interesting breaks
It’s not a race to see who gets to their destination quickest. Often there are interesting places along the way if you’re willing to take a detour or even an overnight stopover.
It could be a place of historical interest, a cultural experience, or taking in South Africa’s diversity of flora and fauna.
Let everyone go wild taking photos on their favourite device, creating memories they can share with family and friends.