Are we there yet? Four words dreaded by parents everywhere, particularly one hour into a six-hour car ride. A couple of decades ago children were told to quieten down and find something to do. Maybe play a couple of games of I Spy, or crash corners, or story telling. Not so today.
There's a technical gizmo available to dispel any form of travel boredom from portable DVD players that slip over the back on the driver's chair; to hand-held computer games designed to train a tyke's brain; to mini-laptops equipped with wireless internet and access to The Wiggles free home page.
A survey by travel website Wotif.com found that people think the best distraction on a driving holiday is other passengers (38 per cent), followed by in-car DVD players at 16 per cent. Rounding out the rest of the list was sleep (13 per cent), lollies and snacks (8 per cent) and car games (7 per cent). They say that the worst part of a driving holiday, after packing and repacking the car because nothing ever fits properly (40 per cent), is keeping the children and other passengers entertained (15 per cent). And they say the most annoying travel companion, after people who can't read maps (32 per cent), is children (20 per cent).
But is a little boredom actually good for children? Or is it better to create a cave of calm when trapped inside a moving tin can where usually energetic children must be belted in place?
BYOKids.com.au director Leah Squire says parents try to tailor transit times to their children's needs when using her child-friendly travel agency. "Many parents do ask for airlines with inflight entertainment on the back of each seat now. Also we try very hard to tailor our flight times to suit the family, such as if the children do sleep well anywhere we might discuss the pros and cons of a night flight," Squire says.
But is a little boredom actually good for children?
Mum Donna Flockhart says she won't cave in and buy artificial in-car entertainment. "I know I am being really judgmental and that Bodhi's only 20 months, but no,'' she says. "For me, I think that a child is born with the innate ability to just be whatever they are, to mix with the outside world." They look to us to tell them what the big picture is, what the world is like. If we tell children 'Be like this, don't be like that' then that restricts them from being who they really are. And that includes stopping them from entertaining themselves.'' She says she does play music in the car, and that her son loves to "bumdance" in his seat.
Blogger Rachel Power took her family by car around Australia last year for four months. She says an in-car DVD was no match for her children's natural curiosity. "We have a four month-old, a five-year-old and a three-year old asking 'are we there yet'," Power says. "We did take a mix of DVDs along but found that as the trip progressed they were more happy to look out the window. A cow was more interesting than the DVDs we were putting on." To see their journey, go to the fun website www.greataussieroadtrip.com.au.
Linda Taneja says her family regularly travels from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast, and has developed a routine to beat car-bound boredom. "The night before, we pack the car. And then at 3.30am we load our two boys, who are 11 and 13, into the back seat with their snack bag, pillows, doona, reading books and more recently the iTouch. "Then we load our two golden retrievers into the rear of the car. We set off and everyone falls asleep, except for Dad, who is driving. "They make it to Kempsey for breakfast at McDonald's. "Then we set off again and play I Spy and sing to music played in the car from the iPod. "They also play guessing games and point out landmarks of interest along the way."
Clayfield solicitor Tori Perkins says "bring on all things technological''. "As a professional working mother of two children - one aged seven and the other two - you soon work out what you need to get children working on your side without you going insane on long trips," Perkins says. "Dual DVD players, iPods, and my personal favourite the (Nintendo) DS (handheld computer game). Coupled with the obligatory set of headphones and I'm almost driving by myself. "Seriously though, there is a swing back to good old-fashioned book reading and silly old games like I Spy on long trips these days, but when all that gets too much -- revert to technology. "Just make sure you pack the in-car battery charger."
Buying a portable DVD player
There are many models available from many makers, with different options and add-ons.
Screens: The bigger the screen, the more power it will use (and the brighter it will be in the back of the car); but the bigger it is the more people can watch it. Some units also available with two screens.
Portability: A carry case is essential for travel. There are also over-seat holders for some models. When you test the units at the shop, bump one to see how much it takes to make the DVD skip or freeze. Weight is also important -- the lighter, the easier to carry but sometimes that means a less powerful battery pack.
Add-ons: Think about what you want to plug into the player -- iPod, Xbox, external speakers, headphones or multiple sets of headphones.
Power: Find out how long the battery will last between recharging, and how long it takes to recharge. Does it come with an in-car charger?
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