My A to Z Guide To Surviving A UK Road Trip With Kids

What!?! You’re taking the kids in a car for hours at a time, without devices and you’re calling this an actual holiday! Are you completely barking mad!?!

Yep that’s what we’ve done.

2 adults, 2 kids, 1 Mini Countryman, 1 roof box, 15 days, 7 locations, 15 pieces of luggage, 1040 miles travelled, 40 hours spent in the car, 6 David Walliams audio books, 3 petrol stops, a million loo stops…

Here’s my A – Z guide of our Family UK Road Trip – be warned… it’s almost as long as our time in the car!

A is for… Accents

Being from the South, none of us really have that much of an accent. OK so yes I’ve got a bit of a country twang every now and again (growing up in the west country does that to a girl my luvver) but other than that I’d say we’re easy to understand and there’s nothing that definitive about our intonation. The more you head North however, that’s when us southern lot really start to struggle. Glasgow was by far the hardest accent to understand; it has this kind of gruffness to it and it’s as if people have no gaps between their words. Asking someone to repeat what they’ve said once or twice is obviously fine, but when it gets to the third it begins to get a bit awkward – they look at you as if you’re the dumbest person on earth and in all honesty you stand there looking like the dumbest person on earth! The only way we found to get around it was to just nod. Doesn’t matter what it is you think they’re saying… just nod. Well, it worked out OK for us 🙂

B is for … Breakfast

We stayed in lots of different accommodation whilst we were away – from a yurt in the Lake District, an Airbnb wooden lodge by the edge of a Loch in the Highlands and various hotels in the cities we visited – and some included breakfast whereas others we either self catered or found local cafes. I love my breakfast (it’s literally my fave meal of the day) and I’m usually a porridge kinda girl, but when I’m on my hols it’s nice to take the time to eat more leisurely (yay no dashing out on the school run) and take advantage of a hotel buffet breakfast. ‘Cos a hotel breakfast is just lush isn’t is? Well a good one that is, because it can vary so much. Whilst in Glasgow we decided to have breakfast in our room one morning (we were feeling rather decadent that particular day, plus we’d just come from ‘roughing it’ in a yurt, a treaty breakfast in bed was deffo in need!) so we filled out our menu choices – Money Saving Tip: order three adult breakfasts as the kids can share and there’s usually more than enough – and hung it outside the door before settling down for the night. When it arrived in the morning it was such a disappointment – late, limp ‘broast’ – a completely made up word which translates as bread toast i.e. more bread than toast, wrong choices, cold coffee, miscellaneous hair in the sausage and *bleurgh* it’s making me vom just thinking about it… an open and half used butter packet with a smear of someone else’s jam in it!!! Needless to say we had no more hotel breakfasts in bed after that, and yes we did complain and got all of our money back… well I think that’s what they said… we just stood there and nodded 😉 (see ‘Accents’ above).

But that bad breakfast aside, the rest were all yummy thank goodness. In terms of the self catered brekkies, we packed mini cereals (holiday staple), coffee sachets, chocolate brioche, fruit and juice, and then picked up fresh milk on our travels. In the hotels where we hadn’t booked breakfasts we went out to cafes and had pancakes, bacon rolls or french toast – Hanger Warning: you want a lie in on holiday obvs., but don’t expect anyone to be civil if you’re not eating breakfast until 10am… avoid conversation until you’re at least 4 mouthfuls in! And in the hotels where we did book breakfast… well we stuffed our little piggy faces!

C is for… Car Time

40 hours in a car is a LONG time no matter how you look at it, which is exactly why we split the journey up into sections. Our aim was to get up to Scotland and that’s a long old drive in one go, so we broke it up into roughly 3 hour stretches, which seemed just about doable without us killing each other. But of course that doesn’t allow for traffic does it, and 3 hours all of a sudden turns into almost double that – especially when you travel the day before Good Friday and then again on Easter Monday (you foolish road trip virgins!)!

I had fully anticipated that most of the car time was likely to be hell on earth, so like any person preparing for a potential apocalypse I was armed with a car survival kit.

  • Snacks… lots of them.
  • Emergency snack pot… for when the snacks run out, because they will. Under no circumstances should you reveal the existence of these to the kids. Should only be broken into when absolutely necessary and when you know there is a minimum of 1 hours travel time left.
  • Sick kit… Even if they’re wearing travel bands and you’ve forced travel sickness pills down their throats, there is still a good chance they’re gonna vom. Do yourself and everyone else in the car a favour and pack a sick kit, which is basically a carrier bag filled with loads of carrier bags (make sure they don’t have holes!!!), tissues, wipes and hand sanitizer.
  • Audio CDs… If you value your sanity invest in as many of these as possible and download onto a USB stick (see ‘Ratburger’ below for more)
  • Seek the help of others… Social media’s great ain’t it, spesh when you put out a request asking for car game suggestions and you get a ton of ideas within mere minutes of posting. Our favourites included: ‘Pubs legs’ – split the car into left and right sides, when ever a team spots a pub on their side they get a point for the amount of legs the pub name has, for example ‘The Kings Arms’ would get you two points and ‘The Red Lion’ would get you 4 (this kept us going for ages!), ‘Red Fox’ – score a point every time you spot a red telephone box or post box, ‘Car Colours’ – assign different coloured cars with a different point and see who can get the most points (go for the slightly rarer colours like purple, orange and yellow if you want the game to go on a bit longer and be less rowdy!).

Miraculously, we survived those car journeys with only a few little bickers, no vomit (result!), and with some snacks left over at the end… it’s ALL about the preparation!

D is for… Dancing on Ice

Sunday evenings in the Stafferton house usually involves a living room picnic (basically a blanket laid down with loads of picky bits on it) in front of the TV. There’s a ban on kids programs and definitely no YouTube gamer or unboxing vids; we choose something the whole family will watch. One of our favourites is Dancing on Ice (even the boy will admit he loves it, although perhaps not in front of his mates!) so when I found out it was going on tour and it just so happened to be at a place we were visiting, I just had to get tickets.

We’ve never taken the kids to something like this before, we’ve been to the theatre but never something that’s at an arena, so there was this nagging doubt that it was going to be too much for them, that it was going to be too noisy or too crowded. Who were we kidding, it’s Dancing on Ice not a freakin’ Motorhead gig! The audience consisted of doddery old grannies (all of whom had booked tickets in the cheap seats right at the top of the steep staircase – how they made it up there I will never know!), middle aged couples and lots of groups of older women gagging to get a glimpse of the male ice skater’s bods (they were not disappointed!), so let’s just say it was a mild and mellow atmosphere… well apart from those women… jeez!

The show was great and the kids loved seeing the skating in real life, but the best bit by far was watching Torvill and Dean perform – now that really is a once a lifetime experience. Pretty wasted on the kids really, but us adults had a bit of a lump in the throat moment.

E is for… Edinburgh

Ahhhh lovely Edinburgh, the town of castles, royalty and ghostly goings on. This was our 5th port of call, and the second time myself and the hubby had visited the city (a first for the kids). It’s always a bit strange going back to a place you’ve been to and loved before, because there’s always that risk that it won’t quite live up to the memories that you had of it from visiting it the first time round. In fact we’d even booked into the same hotel as before, in some strange nostalgic ‘let’s show the kids where mummy and daddy stayed’ type ritual.

Highlights included taking the tour of The Real Mary Kings Close (loved it the first time, a little disappointed the second time as it’s been over commercialised and packed out with too many visitors. Plus a little bit disconcerting being told by the ticket seller that we’ll enjoy it more now as the facts are correct… hmmmm what web of lies were we told first time round then!?! And don’t even get me started on the two annoying tourists one of which thought it acceptable to barge themselves in front of the kids every time meaning they couldn’t see what was being spoken about – everyone knows you let kids go to the front, it’s just standard manners and the overenthusiastic one who leant in so close to the tour guide to listen to what he was saying he might as well have been snogging him…I’m really not a people person!), Edinburgh Zoo (more on that in ‘Z’), and taking part in the Can You Escape challenge (see more in ‘Quizzes & Questions).

We still love Edinburgh and would choose it over Glasgow every single time, but it wasn’t quite how I remembered it – there’s now more dog poo, more homeless people and way more traffic and building work. Go there if you love Harry Potter, if you love gory history and spooky stories, and if you want to see a floating yoda, a giant inflatable panda and the pierced lady from The Guinness Book of Records all on the one street.

F is for… Family Time

We needed this holiday more than ever and the hope was that by spending more time together, we’d learn to like each other again. Because you see as much as you love your family, it doesn’t necessarily mean you like them all of the time and we’d been recently having a few run ins with one another. Our road trip gave us little choice than to spend time with each other, often in small confinement, but most importantly doing things out of the norm and therefore relying on each other and working as a team. My 9 year old son held my hand in public for the first time in I can’t remember when and it’s those precious moments that stay with you as a parent. Simple things like going girly clothes shopping with my 8 year old daughter, co-sleeping with the kids when they didn’t want to sleep on their own, making up our own in family jokes that only we would get, and becoming best friends all over again.

G is for… Glasgow

Not my favourite of places, but an experience none the less and I’m sure it didn’t help that it rained, a LOT! Highlights included the Science Centre where we created capsules for eggs and then dropped them to see if the egg survived (the boys did, the girls didn’t – dammit!), watched the brilliant Pure Random Science show, and queued for half an hour to get some lunch.

Oh and we experienced the best cinema we’ve ever been in before – an Odeon Luxe. The whole cinema has been luxed out so that everyone gets a leather recliner equipped with it’s own table and ALL the leg room. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to go back to a bog standard Odeon again!!!

H is for… Highlands

My absolute favourite place that we visited on our road trip, and I’m sure the rest of the family will agree, was the Scottish Highlands. It is stunning up there. If there’s ever a place that’s guaranteed to make you feel healthy, put a smile on your face, fill your heart with joy and make everything better again, it’s the Highlands. We stayed in a self catering lodge overlooking Loch Lochy and snow capped mountains, where we climbed trees, fed pine martens (see below), drove on gravel roads dotted with sheep and became true adventurers. If it weren’t for the distance I would go there again in a heartbeat and if ever we decided to throw it all in and set up a new life in the country, it would be here. Add it to your bucketlist now!

I is for… Itinerary

You can’t go on a trip like this without lots and lots of planning and yes the planning does take a fair amount of time, but it’s time well spent for an awesome holiday. We started off with the plan that we wanted to reach the Scottish Highlands and then broke it down into manageable chunks of car travel time (3 hours) that tied in with the locations we wanted to stop off on our way up. After locations had been chosen it was then a case of booking accommodation, and variation was key. The mixture of hotels v’s out in the sticks yurt and wooden lodge worked perfectly for us, as it meant luxury after we’d roughed it, and peace and serenity after a city stop.

After the accommodation had been booked we then worked out activities and places of interest that we wanted to visit. Now, obviously some of this can be done when you’re there, but it’s always best to book ahead if you can to ensure there is availability and also to take advantage of cheaper rates. We also booked up a couple of restaurants some nights, as we knew that it would be busy because of Easter, and we are so glad we did. Likewise with activities and key places you want to visit, it’s well worth doing your research beforehand and booking in advance. Whether it’s Windsor Tours from London, surfing in Cornwall, or in our case climbing in the Highlands, if your heart is set on a certain thing then get it booked up to avoid disappointment.

However, it doesn’t matter how well planned out your itinerary is you’ve got to be open to the possibility of change – you are traveling with kids after all! There were a couple of occasions in which our plans needed to change ever so slightly – the Escape Room challenge we’d pre-booked in Edinburgh had an electrical fault and so had to be changed to a different one, the Funyakking we’d booked in the Scottish Highlands was changed to climbing the Via Ferrata due to the water being way too cold for the kids (a change that turned out better than we could have ever hoped) and we were originally supposed to be staying one night in Derby instead of Nottingham, but we changed the hotel booking the night before when we realised we were being crazy stupid traveling over to Nottingham to watch Dancing on Ice to then have to drive back to Derby to sleep. My point is, that you need to plan but you also need to be open and relaxed about change on a trip like this; it’s the only way it’s gonna work.

J is for… Just Do It

If ever you’ve wanted to do something, but have always put if off because you’re worried it won’t work, just do it! In theory taking two kids in the car, with a shed load of luggage that constantly needed packing and repacking, and asking them to do a load of activities that would probably scare the crap out of them, could have been asking for trouble and had I sat down and given it too much thought I probs wouldn’t have booked it. Turns out it’s one of the BEST family holidays we have ever had. Never doubt; just do it!

K is for… Kit

Going on holiday in the UK; especially when there’s been snow in March, it rains a lot, yet could also be relatively warm, requires way, way more stuff than if you’re going away on some beach holiday in the Med. If I had been super organised I would’ve come up with some kind of system where I packed a case for each location we stopped at, but even I’m not that good!

There was a lot of living out of suitcases; it’s never really worth unpacking when you’re only staying somewhere 2 or 3 nights, and the husband got very good at roofbox Tetris. We packed for every eventuality, yet somehow still managed to run out of pants and the boy had a growth spurt meaning all of his trousers transformed into ankle grazers over the course of one night (how exactly!?!). Thank goodness for 24hr Tesco’s and hotel laundry (although my eyes did wince at the cost of getting 2 kids onesies cleaned, fortunately they forgot to charge us – that’ll teach them for leaving a hair in our sausage… yep same hotel!)

L is for… Lakes & Lochs

There’s something so fresh and energising about being near water isn’t there, the air is so much cleaner and it just makes you feel so much more alive. Plus no matter how much your kids think they can’t handle being away from a screen, take them to a stretch of water and they’ll become just like little kids again. Jeez even as adults we can’t help ourselves – skimming stones, pretending to push people in, rock pooling, looking for creatures, plopping rocks (that’s what we call it – it’s basically lobbing rocks into the water, just mind there’s no one stood near them when they do it!) a bit of rock parkour and of course a lovely bit of paddling.

M is for… Memories

Because that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Creating memories of happy times, doing things together, in beautiful places with the people we love the most. And we certainly got our money’s worth of memories!

Some that stick with me include:

  • Baa’ing at sheep to make them baa back.
  • Finding sheep bones at the base of Scafell Pike.
  • Jumping into a waterfall.
  • Traversing across a waterfall to discover the hidden one at the top.
  • Skimming rocks.
  • Feeding pine martens.
  • Hopping across rocks.
  • Bog jumping.
  • Going to the ‘pubbie’.
  • Girly Clothes shopping.

N is for… Newcastle

Why aye man we’re in Newcastle – apologies that’s my really bad attempt at a really bad Geordie accent (literally can’t help myself sometimes!). Newcastle left us with memories of lots of bridges (including the infamous Gateshead Millennium Bridge), kittiwakes (basically mini seagulls that sound like screaming kids), bad coffee (didn’t have a good cuppa the whole time we were there!!), coloured tape (fab interactive exhibition at the Baltic Flour Mills) and our introduction to Treasure Trails (See Quizzes & Questions below).

O is for… Other People’s Kids

Call me a mardy old cow if you like, but I literally cannot stand other people’s kids, it is one of my Room 101 items. Most of the time my own kids do my head in, so the last thing I want is to have to deal with others. Yet in exactly the same way a cat can sense a non-cat lover, I and the rest of my family for some strange reason are complete magnets for other people’s kids.

I’ll give you an example – we were at Muncaster Castle up in the Lake District having a lovely family day out, doing the kids activity trail, looking round the spooky castle and enjoying walking through the grounds. The kids spotted a bouncy castle and pestered us to go on it and because they’d been good and we were on holiday we paid for them to go on it. Now on that bouncy castle, as you would expect, were other people’s kids, I don’t begrudge them that. But what I do begrudge is a child then following us about for the next half hour, because their mum/grandma whoever she was couldn’t be bothered to entertain him and was happier sitting with her cup of coffee. Well that’s bully for you love, but I am not your personal baby sitter!

P is for… Pine Martens

Apparently pine martens were once the second most common carnivores in Britain in years gone by, but just like everything, their numbers have dwindled. So imagine our surprise when we were visited by some when we stayed in our Airbnb lodge in Loch Lochy!

They look a bit like a cross between a weasel and a ferret and, according to our host, love peanut butter – that makes me love them even more! We thought we’d put it to the test one evening and left a little platter of cheese, granola, a raw egg and peanut butter smeared breadsticks and grapes outside to see which one the pine marten liked best.

Answer: It scoffed them all!

Q is for… Quizzes & Questions

I love anything that keeps the old grey matter ticking over, plus if I can get the kids doing activities that are fun yet at the same time sneakily injecting them with a bit of education at the same time then bingo! Obviously travelling is an education full stop, but if you fancy having a go at something a bit different then I would definitely recommend you having a go at one of the escape room games near you. We tried out the Spy Mission Can You Escape Room in Edinburgh and it was so much fun. It’s basically a bit like the Crystal Maze in that you get a series of tasks to complete in a set amount of time or you ‘get locked in the room’, although for obvious health and safety reasons you don’t actually get locked in the room. You’re given a mission, and you have to come up with a team name – ours ‘Who Ate All The Spies’ because we’re hilarious like that 😉 and agent names – we had Agent Unicorn, Agent Fraggle, Agent Ballisticmob84 and Agent Fox Lightening (extra points if you can work out who was who!). I won’t give away the games as that would just ruin it for anyone that intends to try it out, but let’s just say we needed a lot of help, it seriously makes you question your intelligence, and you feel proper stupid when you finally work it out and realise it was staring you in the face all along. We had an hour to escape and as you can see from the photo we got out by the skin of our teeth!

Another activity that I highly recommend, particularly if you have kids who are allergic to walking, are the trail booklets from Treasure Trails. They cost around about £6.99 per trail and you download the booklet as a pdf so that you can then answer a series of questions. The trails are based all over the UK and you can choose which ones are most suitable to you – some are more kiddie friendly than others. We tried one out in Newcastle and it was an hour long and took us all around the Quayside, which meant it was also perfect for snack stops. The questions are centred around you having to find features of certain landmarks, so it’s really interesting for kids and adults alike, and not only means you learn stuff about the area but you also get the kids on a walk without any of the usual moans!

R is for… Ratburger

David Walliams audio books were hands down the saviour of our holiday. I don’t think my kids have ever sat so still for such a long period of time in the car. Literally a miracle. We got through 6 of them and the best bit is that they’re as equally entertaining to adults as they are to kids, so everyone’s happy. If you’re fed up of hearing “Are we nearly there yet?” then you need to get some audio books for your next car trip!

S is for… Simple Life

There’s a lot to be said about going back to basics, shunning technology and appreciating the simple things in life. Swinging on the swings, listening to the birds, washing up outside, running down hills, playing hide and seek, writing a journal, listening to the rain in bed, cuddling up to keep warm, hopping out of the car to open a gate, hunting for shells. Glamping in a field and being on the shoreline of a loch, helped all of us rebalance ourselves and see the good in each other again. It speaks volumes!

T is for… Toilet Stops

Of course I’m gonna mention poo, I’m a parent for Christ’s sake, it’s pretty much written in the rulebook! If you’re going on a road trip it’s inevitable there’s gonna be plenty of loo breaks, what I didn’t anticipate was one of my kids needing a poo at the bottom of Scafell Pike in the Lake District. No sign of a toilet anywhere surprise surprise, and unless said child fancied wiping their bum on one of the millions of grazing sheep, then yep no sign of loo roll nearby either. Fortunately for me, the husband drew the short straw, meaning while he took on the role of surveyor of potential toilet spots, lookout, child supporter and bum wiper, myself and the other child got to watch and giggle from afar.

U is for… Unusual Sights

Sheep bones, a levitating yoda, a museum guide who could’ve been a man could’ve been a woman, the kids making up fitness routines in their onesies in a field, deep fried Mars Bars (don’t worry we didn’t try them!), a cat cafe, flossing on a waterfall and Morris men… enough said.

V is for… Vertical Descents

Just as the name would suggest we went up and we went down. Vertical Descents is an action and adventure sports company based in the Scottish Highlands who took us on the most incredible experience of our lives. I’d booked this in advance as a day’s worth of activities, with Canyoning at Inchree Falls in the morning and originally Funyakking in the afternoon (although we decided to change this on the day to Via Ferrata as the cold water had got too much for the kids). The team were absolutely amazing at guiding us through both activities, and dealt with nerves (children and adults alike) as well as mentally pushing us when they could sense we needed to be pushed (although thankfully not literally!). Having never tried anything like this before it was scary at times, but when you’re stood at the top of a waterfall with your 9 year old son next to you and a guide who asks “so who booked this then?” and you know damn well it’s you and that means you’re going to have to jump first even though you hate going underwater and you’re not overly keen on cold water either… well a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!
Canyoning was freezing, it was exhilarating, it was at times poop your pants scary but so so EPIC too. And climbing Via Ferrata was just one of those amazing lifetime experiences that stays with you forever. The whole day, from start (the warm welcome and help with getting those wetsuits on), through to the end (being given an easter cake each – thanks guys 🙂 ) was a delight and the team were all friendly, knowledgeable and above anything else made us feel 100% safe all of the time. Watching your children cross a ridiculously high chasm across a waterfall on their own with only the faith that they’re not going to do something stupid, when you know at times they can be so stupid, is heart in your mouth scary. But oh the pride when they do it and the little looks on their faces is priceless and worth every single heart flutter. Because of course they can do it, we can all do anything we put our minds too, and they went out and smashed it right to the very top of that 90m waterfall, like true pros.

W is for… Wetsuits

Remember that scene in Friends, the one where Ross wears leather trousers only to go the toilet and then find he’s unable to pull them back up again, and then later to emerge with them scrunched up around his knees covered in sweaty, clumpy talcum powder? That pretty much sums up what it’s like to get a wetsuit on and off. There’s no easy way, nothing you do is gonna make you look remotely attractive, sexy or graceful as you’re putting it on, you’ll grunt a LOT, and when you come to take it off, well let’s just say it’s a bit like giving birth! On the plus, it does a marvellous job at sucking you in in all the places you reckon you might need sucking 😉

X is for… (e)Xperiment

OK come on so I may have cheated ever so slightly with this one 🙂 This whole road trip was a bit of test really, because it could have been a complete and utter disaster. The kids are prone to travel sickness so that could have ruined it. We were stuck in small spaces together for long periods of time so that could have ruined it. The kids could have proper hated all of the activities we’d booked and refused to even attempt the outdoor pursuit stuff so that could have ruined it. But do you know what… unless you try you don’t know. And what we’ve learnt from it is that we’re good at this traveling lark, that the kids are way more capable and resilient than we give them credit for, and this bodes really well for our Summer holiday where we will be taking on our first multi destination trip abroad as a family.

Y is for… Yurt

We’ve been camping in a standard tent before, but have never done the ‘glamping’ thing and oh my goodness it is so the way to go. All the perks of standard camping (being in the great outdoors, hearing owls hoot at night, traipsing across a field at night with a torch to go to the loo…) but you get an actual bed to sleep in, a woodburner, carpet, and a load of quirky cute trinkety bits that make it feel as though you live in a hippy commune. Loved it! TOP TIP – remember those eye masks – no one needs to wake up as soon as the sun rises when you’re on your hols. They were a godsend, so invest!

Z is for… Zoo

Edinburgh zoo is the only zoo in the UK that has giant pandas, so we were really excited about this. Obviously it rained that day (always happens!), which meant most of the animals were in hiding and looking pretty sorry for themselves (standard), but we did get to see a sleeping panda, a moulting penguin, the back of a lion’s head and the tip of a snake’s tail. Oh and we had the pleasure of spending more than the entrance fee on some sub standard sandwiches in the cafe (also standard). It probably all looks way better when the sun’s out 😉


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1 Comment

  1. says: Natalie Boardman

    Wow…sounds like you all had a great adventure! Love a Treasure Trail and an Escape Room challenge!

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