Traveling with kids can be a daunting task. New parents or once-avid travelers are often overwhelmed by the idea of road-tripping with their little one. For mamas and dads, it’s really more about experiencing the beauty and fun of a family road trip that will become a cherished memory. But great music, rotating selfies, and all the wind you can stomach won’t be enough to keep kids satisfied; being ahead of the game is a major key to road-trip success with your babe. Here are a few tips to make the first—or next—road trip with your child a breeze.
Keep it close
Your first attempt at road-tripping should probably not be cross-country unless you plan on making several overnight stops with your little one. To start, try planning road trips that are a maximum of about two to eight hours. Getting your child acquainted with shorter drives can help both of you get familiar with all of the possibilities, situations, and needs that can arise on the road. I took my son on a two-and-a-half-hour trip to Columbus, Ohio, when he was just three months old. I found the shorter trips required fewer pit stops for diaper changes and provided the perfect allotment of time between baby feedings, and that my son was less cranky throughout the duration of the ride.
For example, a few of our first short road trips helped me learn the importance of making sure your child is within arm’s reach so you or your passenger can easily hand over a bottle or sippy cups, pass crayons, and more. If driving is your thing, try rotating driving duties with a friend or family member so that you are able to provide your little one with some much needed attention.
Plan for cravings
Let’s face it: children and babies love a good snack! Most toddlers and babies can eat multiple times throughout the duration of a single road trip. It is wise to pack snacks and foods that are car friendly, like single-serve chip packs, crackers, dipping cups, and more. If there is room for a small cooler, you won’t regret bringing it along for the ride. Try grabbing a few Ziploc bags pre-trip and filling them with delicious foods like grapes, apples, sliced bananas, or any favorites your child will enjoy. Cheese sticks and lunch meats are cooler-friendly foods that are filling and easily stored. Try to avoid sugary treats that might amp up your child, and opt for healthier options. Try to steer clear of small or risky foods like M&M’s, suckers, or nuts that toddlers can choke on if you hit a bump in the road or if they doze off!
Short stops are a must for children to rest and enjoy a bit of downtime during a road trip. Take advantage of the rest stops and commercial plazas when you can. Making semi-frequent pit stops can ward off road-trip mishaps like nausea or vomiting, accidents, overly stinky diaper buildup . . . and the list goes on. Make sure your child tinkles at every rest stop, even if they say “I don’t have to go”—this makes for a less cranky toddler and can prevent having to stop for cleanup in the wake of an accident. Some of my favorite places for kid-friendly pit stops are playgrounds to release energy—be sure to use the restroom if there is one available—and unique or small town eateries. If you’re not too crunched for time, stopping at a beach off of the freeway is always fun.
Your baby or toddler will get restless after a couple of hours in the car, and that is totally OK! Be prepared with blankets and small pillows to cushion car seats and provide your little one a little sleep. Bringing along a familiar sleeping buddy like a teddy bear or doll can help send your little one right into a comfortable slumber.
Even the smallest of children needs entertainment during road trips, and some of the best parts of travel are singing along or watching your little one partake in fun activities. Compiling kids’ playlists with some of their favorite tunes or soundtracks will take their mind off of the trip ahead while providing a little entertainment. Tablets are also a lifesaver: if your car isn’t Wi-Fi accessible, be sure to load up your child’s tablet with games, movies, and content that doesn’t require connectivity. There are a ton of entertaining things to do, from packing coloring tools for creating art to utilizing van TVs or playing tic-tac-toe; putting together a short list of entertainment options will turn out to be one of the most important parts of road-tripping with your little one.
For babies, it is ideal to ensure that siblings, friends, or family members who are traveling can assist in providing playtime whenever your babe gets the playful urge. When road-tripping, having learning components tied into games that connect with your trip can be a great way to open and expand your child’s mind. Some great learning tools include coloring printouts of your locations map, drawing and creating stories about your destination, or playing I Spy and spotting new things like animals or landmarks your child is unfamiliar with and explaining a bit about each one.
There are so many ways to travel and so much to see. Getting your little one acquainted with road-tripping can be a wonderful payoff for your happiness and familial bonding. Road trips are one of the most memorable forms of traveling with your little one, and some preparation can make the journey a breeze. Be sure to take it all in when traveling with your little one, and stop along the way to take pictures. Though your child might not remember their next or very first road trip, they’ll always enjoy seeing the pictures and hearing the stories, and you will love sharing them. Get going!