Tips for no-tears trips in the car.
“I started them early!” I say when asked how I managed to teach my little ones to handle long drives. Road trips with two kids under four requires planning. But as with anything in life practice makes perfect….well almost!
Traveling with young kids is a continuous learning experience. It evolves as they transition from the baby stage of constant feeding and napping, to toddlers with demanding personalities.
That means we have to be more creative and come up with new strategies to make the car rides a fun experience for everyone involved. Here are my top tips for a happy road trip with young kids.
1. For road trip success, be prepared
When traveling with kids things will very seldom go as planned. But being prepared will help you navigate mishaps a little bit easier. For example, throwing up during car rides can happen even if the kids are in the best of health. Having cleaning supplies and an extra change of clothes within reach can help you deal with it much better.
When we plan a road trip with the kids, we try to anticipate their typical requests depending on the daily schedule as well as some common emergencies. Plenty of food, water and a first aid kit are must haves for us.
2. Toddlers need to be entertained
As babies transition to the toddler stage it gets more interesting – as well as challenging – to keep them entertained. If you’re on a constant mission to limit screen time, long drives can serve as a time to introduce other forms of entertainment for the little ones.
My four year old son continues to be amused by vehicles. The games we play have evolved from spot a bus/truck/van to license plate tracking. We also encourage our kids to appreciate the changing scenery by pointing out things they can identify such as trees, mountains and rivers. This is also an ideal time to have quality one on one time without other distractions.
Consider changing activities regularly to keep kids from being bored or restless. Since most young children like routine, don’t introduce too many new games or toys at once. I sneak in something new among my kids’ tried and tested favorite toys to add a little bit of excitement.
No matter how much we plan, there may be a part of the trip where no amount of games or sing alongs can keep the kids pacified. That’s when we relax our electronics rule and indulge them with a few of their favorite videos. Car tech and apps have really made the final stretches of a long trip more bearable.
3. Take breaks to keep the kids happy
When traveling with small children, it’s as much about the journey as it is about the destination. If you start the trip with an exhausting drive, parents don’t have much recovery time before they have to be back on their feet exploring a new location. The time you saved by driving long stretches may be lost in time required to recover. And that will cut into precious sightseeing time.
Retro TravelingMom Mary added off beat roadside attractions to keep her kids amused during her drive from Florida to Michigan. One of my favorite breaks is to make it a culinary adventure by tasting a local specialty or trying out a farm to table restaurant along the way. Travel Hack TravelingMom Dia deals with long trips by making pit stops for her favorite roadside snacks along the I-95 drive to Florida.
When we don’t want to spend much time finding things to do along the way, we settle on a mall that has a child friendly play area. Getting the kids to run about in a children’s play area will help them nap and be refreshed for the second leg. Any way you can break up the journey to give everyone (including the driver) sufficient rest helps you have a more enjoyable road trip.
4. Being comfortable is key
Hopefully you have a vehicle that will fit your luggage, activity gear and all the passengers with ease. If you don’t, consider renting one for the trip. Struggling to pack the car at each stop will get frustrating really fast.
Amenities such as dual zone temperature controls, heated steering wheels and a sun roof will ensure that both parents and kids have a comfortable ride. After testing out the Ford Explorer during the TravelingMom writers’ retreat in Orlando, I’m really looking forward to massaging front seats on my next road trip.
5. Give them something to look forward to
Parting with their toys temporarily to be confined to the car seat will be a tough sell for the little ones. But once they hear that we will be going to a park, zoo or beach, it will get them more excited for the adventure.
Road trips are a way for us to teach our little ones that traveling doesn’t deliver instant gratification. Even at a young age they can start to learn that good things come to those who wait – with minimal complaining! The typically short attention span of a toddler will require you to keep talking about the thrills that lie ahead and keep them excited.
6. Teach them about safety
Toddler age is the right time to start talking to kids about road safety. To help our son understand the importance of safety, we try to be very clear and concise with our instructions. We started with simple concepts like holding on to an adult’s hand when walking on the road and the importance of buckling up the car seat.
We try to lead by example by telling him how stopping at a red light and always wearing a seat belt are important steps in protecting against accidents. As our four year old has learned to count we have been able to educate him about 911 and first responders. Constant reminders will help them internalize these ideas and be confident to handle tough situations if needed.
Road trips are such an integral part of American culture and a truly special way to make memories for your family. Don’t let a few backseat tears stop you from taking your family on adventures that will create memories that last for a lifetime.
Disclosure: Ford was a sponsor at the TravelingMom retreat where I was allowed to explore the vehicles featured in this story. Opinions and ideas expressed here are all my own.