Welcome to Parent Hub

How to entertain your children on a long journey

Posted on 10 July 2015

Are you looking forward to your summer holiday but not the journey there?  Thought so.  I too am one of the 62% of parents who confess to being happier without their children in the car and one of the 43% that admit to feeling anxious, irritable or simply angry when travelling with their children.

It’s inevitable isn’t it?  Confine a child in a small space over a long period of time and they will become bored and in need of distraction and stimulation.  Simply add siblings to increase the rate of combustion. Rather than letting frustrations boil over to incessant bickering and fighting stay one step with these ideas and activities.

First a word from the experts….

As parents we underestimate how quickly our children get bored leading to unrealistic expectations of tolerance.  Child psychologist professor Tanya Byron advises on average children get bored 29 minutes into a journey and will lose interest in any activity designed to combat boredom within 5 minutes (two year olds) and 20minutes (older children).

Start by managing your own expectations says Byron, accept the truth that your children will get bored and sooner than you think.

Mitigate your own levels of stress

Bickering parents create tension, which children react to.  Avoid marital discord by planning your route with military precision.  SatNav is great while it works but ensure you have paper based instructions to fall back on. 

Plan in breaks for the toilet, eating and stretching legs.  Stay calm and show your children that the journey can be an exciting part of the adventure.


Parental hand wringing over screen time has no place on long journeys.  Offering a choice of film, music, audiobooks and games the iPad is widely venerated by 80% of parents as the Swiss army knife of children’s entertainment.

Avoid i-Paddies (tantrums bought on by user frustration) by ensuring batteries are fully charged and download films to avoid the buffering effect.  Preserve your own mental health by insisting your child wears earphones.

Research suggests you can expect 1-2 hours of iPad-assisted peace.  After that you will need some traditional fun to fall back on.

Traditional games

Professor Byron reminds us that holidays are a time for us parents to reconnect, communicate and have fun with our children.  Time then to brush up on games we played in the olden days.

Word games

20 questions is a great one to play with a range of age groups.  Someone chooses an object and says whether it’s an animal, vegetable or mineral.  The rest of the family have to ask yes / no questions to work out what it is. 

Budding thespians and older children enjoy the adverbs game.  One person puts their fingers in their ears and the others choose an adverb such as “flirtatiously”, “sarcastically’ or “dementedly”.  The person with fingers in their ears then asks questions such as “Have you had a nice day?” and is answered in the manner of the chosen adverb, which they have to guess.

Travelling on A and B roads? Try the pub sign game where players accumulate a point for each leg, arm, head etc. they spot.  Road kill proves a good substitute in more rural locations.

A word of warning i-spy doesn’t work unless the object is in the car. It will have passed three miles ago before the guessing starts.

Board games

Most come in travel versions e.g. connect 4, backgammon, guess-who, battleships.

Pencil and paper are all you need for a host of games including hangman, noughts and crosses, heads, bodies and legs, word square and consequences to name but a few.

Activity packs and Christmas stocking style incentives

Consider putting together a travel activity pack. Depending on your child’s age items might include colouring, activity, sticker, puzzle, word search or i-spy books.  Crayons, pencils, pens.   Reading book (subject to travel sickness.)

Some parents encourage good behavior by handing out items to be unwrapped each hour of the journey in reward for good behavior including pocket money toys and edible treats. 


To expend some energy try a hearty sing-a-long  - 10 green bottles, what shall we do with a drunken sailor or the pirate song (over the Irish sea.) 

Alternatively compile a list of the family’s favourite tunes and play just the opening bars of each song asking the children to “name that tune”.  If ears and nerves become frayed try tuning into Classic FM for a soothing experience. 


Essential for maintaining sugar levels and therefore tempers.  Experts advise opting for low sugar, high fibre snacks such as fruit, nuts, and cereal bars.  Personally my children feel short changed by any snack not covered in chocolate – we are on holiday after all. 

Bon Voyage