I’m writing this blog on a ferry from Ireland to England, at 2.30 in the afternoon. I’m not supposed to be on this ferry now – according to my schedule we should be just about arriving home, having driven four hours from the ferry port after docking this morning. We always choose the night ferries – so much easier to travel with children when they can sleep for most of the trip, and we get some rest to break up the long drives.
However due to circumstances beyond the ferry company’s control, instead of leaving at 22.00 and arriving at 9.00, we in fact boarded the ferry at 04.30 and are due to arrive sometime between 16.00 and 19.00 – we are currently waiting on the captain’s latest instructions. These times are not fun at the best of times, but when travelling with children, they could amount to a disaster.
We had booked a cabin, so like most of the passengers we crashed out for a few hours sleep between 5am and mid morning. However as I sit here now, people are emerging, crumpled and disorientated, and some are coping better than others with what is an extremely trying and tiring delay.
Some of the older people look really shell shocked, forced to eat strange food at strange times and really out of their comfort zone. And there are quite a few out of control children, and stressed-out, fractious parents. I feel really sorry for the staff, who must also be shattered having to deal with us all.
It’s at times like these that I thank goodness that we are a gadget-oriented family. Sometimes I get a bit embarrassed and ashamed at my son’s addiction to Nintendo DS and my daughter’s to her iPod. However when times get tough, it comes in very handy. I have managed to bag us a seat next to a power socket, plugged them both in and set up a little work station for myself. I’ve told them both that they can play games for 2 or 3 hours and I won’t be cross. They are in games heaven and I am snatching some time to do a bit of work.
I love the fact that I can work any time any place, and my business can carry on wherever I am. It pays to be adaptable in this world. We are reasonably used to travelling with the children now and I’m happy to go with the flow in most situations.
Here (from bitter experience) are my top tips for travelling long distances with children
- Plan your travel to coincide with the best times for your children – consider nap times and normal sleeping patterns. For us that means a late evening drive and night ferry – trial and error has shown us that this works best for all of us.
- Make sure that you have age- appropriate entertainment with you, sufficient to last at least twice as long as you think the journey will take. As I said in an earlier blog, I love audiobooks for my age group (6-8), but computer games books and magazines are also good.
- Build in some time for physical activity. Half an hour at a playground or play zone can really help to make the rest of the journey run more smoothly. We also travel with a soft ball, which can be played with in lots of different places.
- Make provision for down time and rest. Don’t forget teddy bears/comforters if your children normally have them at bedtime, and maybe a familiar blanket – they can really reassure in unfamiliar surroundings. However also make doubly sure that the comfort items are taken with you and not left anywhere – we lost a teddy in Italy 3 years ago and my daughter still goes on about it.
- Make sure your children are drinking and eating regularly, whether you feel hungry or not. Normal mealtimes will go out of the window, but make sure at the very least to keep the children hydrated and that they eat a small snack every few hours. Make time too for toilet breaks – they are likely to be needed more frequently, and usually at the most awkward moments, so take time to go whenever you get the chance.
- Accept at the end of the day that all your best laid plans may go out of the window. You won’t be able to do anything about this, so the best thing is just calm acceptance. Let the rules go out of the window, and turn the journey into a family adventure rather than a disaster.
When things are going wrong I do my best to think that this journey is a big adventure for the children, a family memory that they will remember forever. I’m well aware that it is my attitude as mum, that will set the tone for this whole horrid journey. I can’t make it better or easier, but maybe I can make it more bearable and maybe even fun. I want them to remember the night that they were allowed to stay up till 4 am, play games all day, and eat breakfast before going to bed. I don’t want them to remember the night and day that mum was horribly grumpy and made them do lots of things they hated, making the whole day extremely boring and horrid for all of us.
As I look up from this blog, the boy is playing Angry Birds on his dad’s iPhone, and his sister is listening to pop music and playing Bejeweled. They are calm and chatting happily to each other. A picture of family bliss….