Road Trip Preparation

with Kids

Family vacations are when so many wonderful life-long memories are made! The idea of a road trip with kids can be intimidating. If those kids are toddlers, it is even more daunting. But rest assured, if you are prepared, it can actually be a fun adventure. The actual road trip journey can be just as fun as the destination!

The high costs of plane tickets can hold some people back from taking a trip, especially when they have a family and need to purchase plane tickets for the kids. Choosing to drive can save a lot of money. Driving is also a more practical move because you can load up your car with everything you’ll need when you arrive at your destination.

You can pack so much more and not be limited to one suitcase and carry-on per person.

Set Expectations

A road trip with kids is not as leisurely as one without. You may not be able to listen to your favorite book on tape or podcast.

The road trip will take much longer than you will estimate based on the distance. Adjust your travel accordingly. Kids have smaller bladders and shorter attention spans, so you will need to stop more often and for longer than you would if it were just adults. As a result, expect to arrive at your destination later than you would if you did not have kids with you.

safety first

Safety is most important. Before heading out on the road, have a mechanic check your car’s brakes and lights. An up-to-date oil change is important as well.

This is all key to the safe operation of your car. Your car should be stocked with a first aid kit as well as a car emergency kit.

Make sure your children are in the best car seat for their size and age. You’ll also need to make sure the car seat is correctly and securely installed in your car.

Consider having the car seat inspected by a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.

For a long road trip you’ll want plenty of snacks, drinks, and toys available, but be aware that these can become dangerous projectiles in a car accident.

Organization and Arrangement

in the Car

Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for the road trip. Make checklists and map out your route. Organization is key when it comes to preparing for a road trip with kids. Pack the car strategically so the adult in the passenger seat is not constantly twisting their body to reach back and hand things to the kids.

If you can, leave room for an adult in the back seat. This is especially helpful if you have a child rear-facing who may want to see one of their parents for part of the trip.

Set the car up with the right essentials. People focus so much on packing for their destination, but packing for the drive is just as important.

Prepare a bag of activities for each child and have those within their reach. You do not want to be reaching back and handing things to them their entire car ride.

Pack the car so that all tasks are hassle-free. Are you stopping overnight on the way? If so, keep what everyone needs for that night in a hotel in one small bag, so you don’t have to get all your luggage out of the car for one night.

Get a tote to hold snacks and games so they are easily accessible to the children, or the adult that is riding in the passenger seat. You can purchase a large padded tray that fits on a child’s lap while in a car seat and can hold smaller toys and books.

Activities

Kids get bored and cranky easily when they are confined to one seat for a long period of time. Younger children have no concept of time and very short attention spans. Keep the activities flowing!

Introducing a new toy or activity every hour can help keep boredom at bay. The dollar store is a great place to go to stock up. To add another layer of enjoyment, you could wrap each one.

This will also provide another fun distraction, as kids enjoy unwrapping presents. Start with non-screen activities first and save the screens for a last resort.

Some activities they can do on their own that won’t create a mess are:

  • Activity books

  • Water painting

  • Window clings

  • Magnet drawing

  • Toddlers enjoy simple creative play activities, like sticking pipe cleaners through the holes of a strainer

When your kids start getting antsy or want to play a game with adults:

Try some form of Bingo. You can find travel bingo cards at many stores, or you could make your own game cards with things you will be passing on the road trip: fast food signs, farm animals, or car makes.

In addition to Bingo, you can play many other games that just involve looking out the window. “I Spy” is a popular one for kids of all ages. If your kids are learning their letters you can go through the alphabet and try to find each letter on signs and license plates.

The whole family can play scavenger hunt games, looking for specific animals, cars, signs, or colors that you pass along the way.

If your kids are a little older, get them a paper road map so they can follow along. This is educational and can provide hours of concentrated entertainment.

Try not to go through all the new toys, books and activities on your way to your destination. Save some for the return trip. This way they get to play with something new on your return drive home.

SCREENS

Load up your tablet with kid movies and approved games beforehand. Don’t forget to bring child-friendly headphones for the kids! For toddlers, it’s recommended to have a padded tablet case to prevent damage from dropping or throwing.

You may need something to bribe your kids to happily get back in the car after a fun rest stop. This is the ideal time to play their favorite movie on the DVD player or tablet.

If your car doesn’t have built-in screens with a DVD player, consider purchasing a portable one that can plug into the car. You can even get a dual DVD player so two kids can watch the same movie on their own screen.

A road trip is not the time to worry about your child having too much screen time. A peaceful trip is good for everyone.

Snacks, Snacks, and More Snacks

Here are some smart snack packing tips for kids on road trips:

Pack more snacks than you think you’ll need. Then bring even more. Kids love snacks and they prove to be a necessary distraction when on a long road trip. You will go through way more snacks on the road than you do at home.

Repurposing a divided bead storage box for snacks is a fun way to distract kids on the road. If your kids are forward facing, let them have access to the snacks that are not choking hazards. Give each child their own divided box filled with a variety of snacks.

If your child is rear-facing, you should be aware every time they are eating. Since you will not have a clear line of sight to their faces you need to know when to watch for choking.

Dry snacks are best because crumbs are easy to vacuum. Yogurt or peanut butter smeared into a car seat is a nightmare to cleanup! Dry snacks also don’t need to be refrigerated. Banana chips, crackers, dry cereal, and rice cakes are all good road trip snack options. Cut up apples and string cheese are also great snack options but won’t last for several days at room temperature like dry snacks.

Make sure your car seats have cup holders and bring “no spill” water bottles for the kids.

Hold off giving them the “good snacks,” like chocolate chips and cookies. Save the special treats for meltdown emergencies!

MUSIC

Create a playlist or CD with everyone’s favorite songs before you leave for the trip. Good music that the entire family likes will make the road trip more enjoyable.

Over prepare for everything

and anything!

Prepare for the unexpected. You cannot be too prepared when traveling with children. Set it up so you are prepared for anything in order to minimize meltdowns.

Prepare for Toilet/Potty

Emergencies

Keep a huge supply of bathroom or diaper supplies easily accessible. If your child is recently potty-trained, consider putting them in a diaper for the trip.

  • Bring a portable child’s potty for young children and a huge supply of plastic bags. You can pull off the highway, even if nowhere near a bathroom, and find a safe spot to have your child go to the bathroom in a plastic bag lined travel potty.

  • You can also have your child wear disposable training pants, even if they typically wear underwear, because you don’t want to risk a soiled car seat on a road trip.

Prepare for Messes

Have a generous supply of hand wipes, trash bags, and paper towels on hand so you are prepared for any messes that inevitably happen.

Set-up for Sleep

Plan your trip around toddler naps, if you can. Car sleep will be your best friend. Many people choose to drive overnight so the kids sleep majority of the trip. However, this can pose a safety hazard since driving while tired can be as dangerous as driving intoxicated.

Another disadvantage is that you’ll arrive at your destination sleep-deprived. The best option may be a combination of driving a few hours during the children’s nighttime sleep, and then try to maximize naps during the daytime driving.

Bring things that will help your children sleep on the car ride:

  • A portable white noise machine will help block out distracting sounds that may prevent sleep.

  • Bring blankets.

  • Don’t forget pacifiers or lovies if your children need them to sleep.

  • For daytime sleep, shades for the windows will help block some of the light coming in.

  • Dress your kids in comfortable clothing, like pajamas.

Pit Stops

Map out your trip and find some fun places to stop along the way. Maybe you’ll drive past the World’s Largest Rocking Chair in Illinois, Miles the Monster in Delaware, or the Cabazon Dinosaurs in California. Or you may be driving past a beautiful wildlife park or historical monument.

Road trips can be a great opportunity to teach your kids about different parts of the country. Plan ahead and find what hidden gems you will be driving past! Plan, but be flexible.

Optimize your stops so everyone is entertained and able to release some energy. Your kids will need to move their bodies to burn energy at these stops, and you’ll want to stretch your legs. If the weather isn’t ideal and you have younger children, try to find an indoor playground, or a mall with one. If it is nice out, look for parks to stop to run around and have a picnic.

Bring a ball or frisbee in case you don’t find a park with a playground. Rest stops often have a big green space where kids can run around. Run those kids around as much as possible to tire them out!

Hopefully they will quickly fall asleep when you hit the road again. This is a good time to fill the car up with gas, even if the tank is still half-full. You want to avoid any stops when the kids are sleeping.

If you plan ahead, pack appropriately and organize the car efficiently, a road trip with young kids can be a fun adventure!

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