Road trips with kids? No problem–if they sleep the entire time.
Living four hours away from Jon’s family meant we had to learn to travel with kids right away. And that whole thing about putting the baby in the carseat and driving to get them to sleep? Nope, definitely never worked with Dorothy. She just screamed. But we’ve come a long way since our first long trip with her at a month old. I even took my first solo trip with both kids in tow about six months ago.
The key points to remember are to plan and prep wisely, don’t expect to make “good time,” and roll with the bumps along the way.
1. Clean the Car
Prep is key to a long trip in the car, but I’m not just referring to deciding what to bring for the kids. Let’s be real here for a minute, mamas: your car does NOT always stay so orderly. (That’s putting it nice for me: MADNESS EVERYWHERE is more like it…) That’s life as a parent. But if there is ever a time to tidy it up and get things in order, it’s before for your long road trip.
- Get out the stuff you don’t need. Even things you typically like to have in the car. For example, I keep a back-up diaper bag, but when we are packing a bazillion bags—including ones for the kids—it’s really not necessary.
- Vacuum. If you haven’t cleaned it out in awhile… Just do it. You know there are crumbs and O’s everywhere, and when you have a lot of hours to be spent in there, start with a clean slate.
2. Pack wisely
This is in regard to both how you pack your bags and how you pack your car.
- Pack early–as much as you can. There are always things you have to wait on–like all their special sleep items they will need through the night before you leave. But if you want to have a semi-smooth departure, plan to pack the car well in advance of the time you plan to load the kids and actually head out. It really cuts down on stress.
- Keep important bags within arm’s reach. The snack bag and diaper bag come to mind—I keep those close to my seat, as well as any kind of activity bag.
- Make sure not to bury the bags you might need to access even if you don’t plan to need them. You never know when extra clothes, diapers or food may be required!
- Speaking of, pack bags accordingly. Keep items close to the top you are more likely to need in a pinch. Definitely keep some pajamas handy. It’s nice to get those kids in their cozy clothes if you will be rolling in somewhere late.
- I have made sure to keep our travel potty somewhere easy to set up or pull out when stopping.
3. Snacks are Key
I don’t think I’m alone in that my kids LOVE to eat. Food and toddlers usually equate to a mess, but I’ll take a mess of crumbs over whining and crying any day.
- I have ziplock baggies ready to go with snacks along with some that I just buy in individual packets.
- The fruit/veggies squeeze pouches are also handy and make you feel like they are getting something nutritious on the road.
- Bring extra baggies. Whether it ends up being for snacks you brought or something you buy on the drive, it’s handy to have something to put a snack in you weren’t planning.
- Keep a trash bag in the car. A plastic shopping bag will do. It will keep the car from becoming a complete disaster and if you bring a small stash of them, you can throw them out during gas stops to keep the mess somewhat under control.
4. Plan for long stops.
Nobody loves being in a car for extended hours–how can we honestly expect our little ones to be OK with it? Think about how active those little boogers are all day… And now you want them to be OK with being locked in a seat for hours on end? It’s not fair to expect them to understand, so don’t try to make great time where you only stop when required and make it as short as possible. Know your trip is going to have some long stops, and instead enjoy those stops.
- Let the kids run when you make food stops. Yes, everyone needs to eat, but plan to let it be a relaxed meal, not rushing to get back on the road.
- Look for a ‘kid friendly’ place to stop. In bad weather, look for somewhere that has a play place. If the weather is nice, I like to just park somewhere that has a grassy area and less cars/traffic so they can run and get some fresh air.
- If you can afford to, research any fun locations or venues on your route and plan a stop so the kids can look forward to it mid-trip.
5. Pack and plan activities.
No matter what time you leave, the odds of your kids sleeping the entire ride are not high. You will need entertainment in the car. I listed a few of my suggestions, but for a more thorough list try this article or this one.
- Buy a few new toys or activities at a dollar store. Maybe even put them in a “prize” bag for extra excitement when you need to pull one out.
- If you are planning enough in advance, stash away a few car-friendly, but favorite toys or books. Choose a few you know they love, but have kind of fallen to the bottom of the toy box and forgotten. An old toy rediscovered can sometimes bring for better entertainment than a new toy.
- Books and drawing pads are great car toys.
- Kids can survive without screen time. We grew up without it, right? But don’t feel like you’re a bad parent if you use a dvd player or iPad in the car. I still advise limiting how much it is on, only because the novelty of it will wear off if it is expected to be playing nonstop.
- Keep music they enjoy in the car. Sometimes their favorite songs are just as exciting to my kids as movies or tv shows.
6. Pay attention to the signs.
There isn’t a magic equation, because your kids have their own formula. Think about how your children behave on regular drives in the car and at home in general.
- Think about whether your kids will travel better through the day or the night. I initially thought leaving in the evening was best so the kids would sleep, but my kids don’t sleep well in the car–even if it is during their normal sleeping hours. Turns out, it works better to leave in the morning and drive during the day and they get in some extra naps and are less grump when awake.
- Keep their favorite comfort items with them or nearby. For me, that means having pacifiers and they each have a special car blanket.
*BONUS: Items to bring for the stay*
I didn’t want to focus on items to bring for once you arrive at your destination, but there are a few I have to mention.
- Umbrella Stroller: Unless you really need your giant stroller, get a small one that packs well and is easy to bring out on your trip.
- Carrier: If you have a baby and don’t have one of these, they are super handy and worth having. Prices and styles vary drastically so I’ll leave this up to you. I have both an original Baby Bjorn and a Beco Soleil, but there are also cheaper off brands if you are getting one for minimal travel use.
- Pack & Play: Even if your hotel says they have cribs, they may not be available and you don’t know their condition.
- Travel toddler bed: My sister-in-law has one of these we use when we visit and it’s perfect for Dot. Plus it’s inflatable, meaning it takes up little car space. This is great if your tot still isn’t comfortable in a normal bed, but beyond a crib.
- Travel Potty: I mentioned it above, but either a small travel potty that can be set up anywhere or a seat that can be used on regular toilets will help keep a freshly potty-trained youngster on track.
- Hook-on Booster: My mom has an ancient version of this and I cannot tell you how much I have used it. Never worry about having a high chair or booster seat in a restaurant. You don’t even have to worry about where you are eating for that matter. It can be handy for eating in a hotel room or elsewhere.
- Tip: DON’T feel like you have to buy enough diapers for your entire trip if it is a long one. It’s a lot of car space. More than likely you are going somewhere you can stock up on more as needed.
Traveling by air instead? No problem. Jo is the expert there! She’s got airport and airplane experience with two little ones and she can fill you in on the way to survive on the vlog.
Safe and happy travels to you all this year! Make lots of wonderful family memories!