There’s still some summer left and that means there’s still time for a road trip! Maybe you’re excited about the adventure, but not so excited about the trip with young children. Road tripping with babies, toddlers, and even preschoolers can be challenging. They get hungry, tired, cranky, and they just don’t know how to deal. Whether you’re going north or south, these tips are sure to come in handy if you’re planning a road trip with your young children.
When it comes to road trips with kids, of course safety comes first. Now is the time to check fluid levels and air pressure, complete any scheduled vehicle maintenance, replace your windshield wipers, and ensure car seats are installed correctly. Remember, rear facing is the safest configuration for babies, toddlers, and young children.
It’s a given that you’ll have crumbs and spills in the back seat, but you can reduce your clean up by packing cups with no-spill valves and keeping snacks minimally messy. I’m careful with foods that are choking hazards (no grapes or carrot sticks), but finger foods like fish crackers, homemade granola, Cheerios, apple chips, fruit leather, and banana bread are good options. Limit drinks to water, not juice or milk, to avoid sticky or spoiled milk spills.
Keep frequently used items where you can easily reach them, either in the seat back pockets or in a separate bag on the floor instead of in the trunk. You’ll want easy access to diapers, wet bags, wipes, snacks, jackets, hats, and sunscreen along the road. Don’t forget an extra change of clothes in case of an accident or diaper blowout, and keep that package of wet wipes out and accessible for messy faces, sticky hands, and all the other messes you’ll run into.
Limit Your Hours in the Car
Adults can barely stand to be in a car for a whole day, so imagine how your kids feel. When it comes to road tripping with young children, make sure you limit the number of hours per day. If your child has the rare gift of being able to sit in a car for hours, lucky you! For the rest of us, building in frequent breaks and limiting the amount of time sitting in the car is a smart move.
Take Advantage of Your Child’s Schedule
Be smart about your driving schedule. You can take advantage of your child’s nap schedule to get in a couple of extra driving hours in the afternoon. Consider getting the kids in their pyjamas and teeth brushed in the evening, then squeezing in an hour or two of driving after they fall asleep (only if you’re not too tired to drive safely of course).
Plan Fun Stops Along the Way
You’ve heard the saying, “It’s about the journey and not the destination.” Of course, your final destination will be fun, but what about the journey to get there? Don’t just rush the journey; create fun memories along the way! Make sure you budget time for spontaneous stops to watch a sunset or pick wild flowers along the road.
When you’re planning your route, look for any fun points of interest along the way. Road trips are the perfect opportunity to really see the country in a way that planes, trains, or cruise ships just won’t allow. Now’s your chance to visit the world’s biggest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas, or take a picture in front of a replica of the Starship Enterprise in Vulcan, Alberta. Take the time to see all the fun stops. It’ll give the kids time to get the wiggles out and something to look forward to as your family forges ahead on the journey.
Things to Do While Road Tripping with Young Children
Now here comes the fun. You know you want to do some fun things with your kids while road tripping, but don’t know where to start. There are TONS of things to do while you’re on the road with those little ones. Here are just a few ideas.
- Have a picnic. There is so much fun to be had with a picnic while traveling. You don’t have to pack the picnic either, you can get food to go and sit out on a blanket. Kids love picnics, especially as they’re not forced to sit still at a table trying to behave themselves.
- Play ball at a rest stop. If you need to allow the kids to burn off some energy, then playing ball is the perfect thing to do. I always keep a few different balls in the car for these occasions! Even babies will enjoy batting around a small, colourful ball on a blanket.
- Play car games and sing. There’s a reason generation after generation of road tripping kids have enjoyed these games and songs. Introduce your preschooler to classic car games like Car BINGO or 20 Questions, and dust off your best rendition of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”.
- Pack a busy bag. Put together a bag or back pack bag full of small toys and activities that kids can carry with them. The dollar store is a great place to pick up stickers, pipe cleaners, sensory or lacing toys, crayons with a mini colouring book, and anything else your kids will enjoy. This is a good time to give them one or two brand new toys that will hold their interest during your road trip.
- Watch a movie. It’s traditional to watch a fun movie while road tripping. If you’re the one driving, you’ll want to set this up before you leave for the trip. However, you can also have the oldest child in your family be in charge of the movie.
- Talk to your kids! You don’t always need to have these fancy activities lined up when road tripping. Have a real conversation with your kids as you travel. You might be surprised by how much your kids have to say. Even if your child isn’t talking yet and you’re having a one-sided conversation, that’s okay. Talking to babies from birth boosts brain power and helps set them up for success in school down the road.
I’d love to hear your tips for road tripping with young children. I do have to say that as kids get older, they are much easier to travel with. What tips can you offer the rest of us?