There’s an old saying that the journey is more important than the destination. Often that’s true. But not always.
As anyone who does a lot of travelling will know, sometimes the journey can be gruelling. Long hours in a confined space, with or without restless children, aren’t always exactly easy. And travelling long distances in cars is often the worst. So as a family we’ve developed a few strategies to help survive the journey.
First, let’s be clear, giving in to the iPad in the back seat is fine every now and again – we all have a breaking point and sometimes it is perfectly acceptable to let the children watch a movie or play a game for a bit. That is normal and OK, but allow too much of it and the danger is that mindless screen time(whether games, movies or social media) becomes an imagination-sapping and spirit-draining default, and a tough habit to break. Often it can result in children who are both grumpy and isolated.
By trying to limit the amount of time the family spends in front of the screen when we’re travelling, the journey becomes an opportunity for us to spend time together, either chatting, playing or telling stories.
My and my wife Shara’s unofficial goal as a family is simply to divide the journey up with a maximum of 25 per cent screen time and 75 per cent spent making our own entertainment. And a great way to stretch our boys’ imaginations, test their memories and make the time fly is to play some simple, fun games. Here are some of our favourites.
“I packed in the elephant’s suitcase…”
An apple, a boomerang, a cricket ball… Go through the alphabet with each player reciting the items that went before and adding a new one to the list. It can get pretty bizarre, but it’s a great memory game.
We try to spot different colours of cars – the first to 20 wins. It’s a great way of getting the children to look out of the window, not down at their screens. Alternatively, play the first to spot a train, a bridge, a canal, a tractor, a wind turbine, you name it.
Go through the alphabet and name different countries starting with each letter. Then do different types of fruit, different vegetables, different boys’ and girls’ names. The sky’s the limit.
In Kim by Rudyard Kipling, the hero plays this game when training to be a spy. It’s very popular with the Scouts and the military, who use Kim as an acronym (Keep In Memory). In the book, Kim is presented with a tray of jewels, photographs and other objects that he has to try to remember once they’re taken away. You can adapt this for long car journeys. The adult in the passenger seat chooses a picture in a magazine and gets the children in the back to stare at it for a minute. They hand the magazine back and have to remember as many objects in the picture as possible. It’s amazing how just a few rounds of this can increase their powers of observation and memory.
Baden-Powell’s memory game
This one was invented by the father of Scouting, Robert Baden-Powell. The leader comes up with an alliterative sentence: BP suggests “one old owl”. Everyone repeats it in turn. Then the leader comes up with another sentence, such as “two tantalising tame toads”. Now each player has to repeat both and so the game continues. Aim for ten such sentences, starting again when someone makes a mistake. It’s good fun, but it also heightens concentration and awareness.
One of my biggest pet hates is the phrase “killing time”. Time is so precious – it’s the great leveller – and we distinguish ourselves by how we spend it. So never waste it, but use it, whether it be to strengthen relationships, have fun, get productive or experience new things. I try to remember this when we travel as a family and use the time to chat, play, catch up, cuddle or simply read to each other. We all lead busy lives and time together with nothing else to do but be together is to be cherished.
Mind you, just try telling that to the parent with vomiting, screaming, fighting children in the back seat! Hey, we’ve all been there.