I remember the first time we planned a road trip with our son. I was excited and nervous for days. Some of the thoughts racing through my mind were, how my son would manage a long drive in a car seat. Would the long journey be too much for his tiny body to handle? We have come a long way since that first road trip. I now know exactly what to pack and how to keep my son entertained during long road trips.
So here goes, these are my best tips for a road trip with kids.
HOW TO STAY SANE ON A ROAD TRIP WITH KIDS?
1. Plan ahead
Start by talking to your toddler about the upcoming journey. Create excitement, maybe read books about road trips or car journeys to give him an idea of what is coming up. For older kids, you can gift a kid-friendly road trip planner or kids travel journal.
Books on road trips for kids:
Decide on the route, how much time it will take? How is the weather en route?
Then accordingly decide on the number of breaks you will need on the route. We usually make a pit stop every 2-3 hours. Everyone gets a chance to stretch and eat. Full baby tummies are the best solution to keeping them happy during long car journeys.
2. Best time of the day to drive
Decide on what time is best to travel, is it better to travel in the day around nap times or in the night? I personally like traveling in the day around nap time. This helps my son nap in the car, and we cover a longer distance without a break which means we are relatively less tired on reaching the location.
Babies take multiple naps during the day so long car journeys with a baby is easier compared to children in the toddler age group.
The con with traveling in the night is that in case the child sleeps for the night and is abruptly awoken on arrival, you could be spending a night with no rest.
Again this decision depends on the distance and convenience specific to your road trip.
3. Get the car ready for the long journey
Check that all car papers are updated and present in the car. Stock up on spare parts and some road trip essentials. Some of the things we make sure to always have in the car for long road trips are;
- Paper napkins
- Hand sanitizer
- Throw up bags
- Phone charging wire
- Hand lotion
- Car safety kit: include bandages, motion sickness medicine for adults and kids, baby medicine as needed.
- Portable feeding chair (for babies, 6 months – 18 months)
- Potty seat (depends on your potty training schedule, some kids are only comfortable going in their own potty seat)
Research on roadside assistance and keep all information ready with you for unforeseen events.
Fill up the fuel tank and you are ready to go.
4. Extras for the car journey | Road trip packing list
I always pack an extra set of clothes and diapers for the car journey. In case your child is toilet trained but not yet adept at holding for long periods its best to use pull up diapers just for the road journey. There is nothing worse than having a wet car seat for the rest of the journey. You can take your toilet trained child for loo breaks whenever a toilet is available.
Breastfeeding helps comfort a baby who is not accustomed to the new environment. If not breastfeeding, keep formula/pumping supplies at hand to quickly make a bottle when baby needs to feed.
If you are a mom to a toddler you know by now carrying enough snacks is a must. A road trip with toddlers requires more preparation, but not that stressful when properly planned.
Some of the snacks I carry for a road trip are;
Roasted/Baked sweet potato wedges
Fruit like apples/bananas/pears
Dry fruits like raisins, apricots, and dates
I also carry a few clean eating friendly snacks like,
I personally do not recommend packaged snacks for babies under 1 year of age, (unless you are stuck in some place with no fresh food or homemade food to offer). Check my post on Baby-led weaning on vacation to see how I packed snacks for the car drive on one such road trip.
For toddlers, packaged snacks consumed occasionally like on road trips are okay. Look at ingredient list at the back of the packet, are the ingredients mentioned ones you already know of and not some chemical names. Try to find snacks where sugar content per 100gms is less than 5 gms. The examples I listed above all have less than 5 gms of added sugar.
Research good restaurants where you can make a pit stop at. In India, it is usually safe to choose Udipi restaurants as idli’s and dosas rarely cause tummy upset. If you are unsure about the hygiene maintained, avoid foods that use water like sambhar or gravies. Offer the child foods that are baked or steamed for eg. paratha, bread, idlis, dosas etc.
When traveling abroad look for foods similar to ones your toddler may be used to eating at home – for eg. potato and cheese based dishes are easy to find in most restaurants around the world.
I avoid sugary foods for the road because the last thing I want in the car is a sugar high toddler who has no way to spend his energy and feels trapped in his car seat.
We also look for local vendors selling fresh fruit or coconut water when driving. Such breaks are a blessing when on a long road trip with toddlers. They need this constant change in scene to stay in a good mood.
6. Entertainment for the road
Carry some toys for the road journey. Toys are road trip essentials for kids.
Some toys that worked when our son was a baby;
How to keep a toddler engaged on a long drive?
Here are some of our current favorites that my son loves to play with on car journeys.
Favorite music played on the car stereo
Made up games – spot things on the road eg: Look for red cars and count with me, or count the diggers (when traveling through construction areas) Get him involved with the view outside.
When all else fails we use screens as a distraction
We download his favorite nursery rhymes/or movies on our phones or Ipad.
Usually, a combination of nap time and time spent playing with toys, looking outside, restaurant breaks is enough to get you through a road trip with kids
7. Have fun
The most important tip for a successful road trip with kids is to relax and have fun. Often as parents, all we do around our children is be anxious about the routine and travel plans. Make sure to relax and have some fun. You are enjoying some family time. Be a child sometimes. Sing songs, be goofy and have fun with your kids. These are memories that will last you a long time. Do not stress over tiny details and enjoy the ride.
How do you navigate a road trip with kids? Do you have fun ideas for long road trips that we all should know? Leave me a comment below.