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The secret to happy travels is to make the journey as much fun as the destination. One mom shares her advice on how to survive a family road trip.

I’ve come to realise that I’m not supposed to travel long distances. I love the destination; it’s getting there that’s the problem. There is no such thing as happy travels when I have to entertain three children between the ages of 5 and 13 for several hours, while my husband threatens to drop them off on the side of the N3. Here are some of the things that make the road trip fun and more pleasant.

Make an early start

The trick, as I’ve learnt over the years, is to get an early start. That way the children will hopefully sleep for the first hour or two and I won’t have to entertain them. There’s nothing more pleasing than climbing into the car before sunrise with three sleepy children in the back, a flask of coffee, some muffins and the radio playing quietly.

Happy travels survival kit

The second trick is to travel as though we live in our car. I’ve stopped being embarrassed about the paraphernalia that emerges as I trip out of the car at a petrol stop. The children’s travel survival kit includes toys, gadgets, a portable DVD player, books and snacks. You’ll usually find an assortment of these stuffed between the seats and on the floor.

Games and songs

The best entertainment is the kind that we make up as we go along. The windmill game remains a firm favourite. My husband isn’t so fond of it, as every windmill sighting elicits a heart-stopping shriek from the back. Car Bingo is also lots of fun. The aim is for the children to spot a variety of cars that they’ve put onto a list on my eldest son’s cellphone. We also have sing-alongs to my husband’s collection of ’70s and ’80s CDs.

On a recent trip to Sun City, my children, who were clearly bored, decided to see who could keep their arms in the air the longest. The looks we got from people in passing cars were priceless. The children howled with laughter every time one of them dared to lower a limb. Needless to say, we arrived at our destination with three pairs of very tired arms.

Read our 10 tips for how to make your family holiday free from stress and hassles.

Stop the fighting

As any parent with more than one child knows, even the most eventful car trips are seldom harmonious and fight-free. Refrains of “Mom, Ciaran’s stinky toe is touching my arm,” and “Mom, Ava is looking at me” will be heard at some point.

To solve the fighting, we play the quiet game. The child who keeps quiet the longest; without making any huffing, puffing, sighing, giggling or other noises; is the winner and gets to choose the treats that we buy at the next stop.

No, I definitely don’t travel well, but the squeals of excitement at our first glimpse of the sea make the trip worth it. Not to mention that first sighting of the city skyline that signals that we’re home.

Lynne O’Connor