Road Trip Preparation
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!
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.
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.
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!
Some activities they can do on their own that won’t create a mess are:
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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:
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.
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!