Road-Tested: Tips for Stress-Free Road Trips with Young Kids
Written by Tracy Brennan
With summer on the horizon, vacation planning is top of mind for many families. This is especially true if a road trip in the family car is the choice of transportation. If the thought of a long car trip with your young child makes you apprehensive, take heart: With a bit of planning, every parent can effectively handle those common backseat complaints that can turn a family road trip into a nightmare before you even leave the city limits.
The key to happily mollified junior road-trippers is to keep them entertained. Besides the usual stash of DVDs to feed the portable player (don't forget to invest in some wireless headphones for the kids to wear — ah, the sweet sound of silence!), there is a myriad of portable entertainment options to keep the kids occupied that don't hinge on zombie-like staring at a video screen for hours on end.
How Stuff Works offers a great list of games and ideas for family road trips, including the suggestion of bringing along chunky magnetic letters and a whiteboard (most whiteboards double as magnetic surfaces). Youngsters learning their ABCs will have a ball identifying letters and spelling short words. Include a set of wooden magnetic animals from Melissa & Doug for creating pictures, telling stories, and practicing animal sounds. For the older kids, include a box of magnetic poetry and hold a silliest verse contest.
Travel Kiddy, an online shop specializing in family road trip products, features loads of portable games for kids of all ages. The myPhone is a great option for that little chatterbox who enjoys pretending to call Grandma on the phone. Travel flash cards provide endless entertainment for preschoolers, and a rousing game of Travel Bingo can engage the whole family in the exciting pursuit of spotting items along the roadside. Travel Kiddy also showcases hoards of traditional games in magnetic and travel-size forms, including traditional crowd-pleasers like Sudoku, backgammon, hangman, checkers, and chess.
Save yourself the hassle of contorting your body into the backseat to retrieve lost and dropped items by investing in a car seat/booster seat table. The One Step Ahead Go Anywhere Table and Footrest, available for about $49,
is a fantastic option for its versatility.
I have to go!
If you have a toddler-in-training, make sure to cart along his familiar potty — pit stops at rest areas will be a cinch for those kids not yet ready to use unfamiliar adult-sized potties. Alex Iwashyna, mom of two, also suggests bringing diapers or pull-ups for the car ride if your child struggles to remember to go.
Seasoned road-tripper Alicia Higgison, mom to three little ladies, says it is best to not even ask if your children have to go, because they will ALWAYS say yes. Suggest early — as you approach a convenient stop — and suggest often.
Are we there yet?
Even the best laid plans to keep the kids occupied in the back seat will begin to wear thin. Iwashyna suggests checking out the route ahead of time to plot visits to kid-friendly tourist attractions along the way. Your trip may take longer, but periodic breaks from driving will go far to relieve the crankiness emanating from those seats behind you.
And when these immortal and dreaded words inevitably are spoken, Higgison suggests veering off the highway at the next rest stop for some impromptu rest-stop athletics. Pack jump ropes, balls, and a Frisbee, or stage relay races. Let the kids leave their mark along your route with a box of sidewalk chalk.
Of course one way to keep this question from intruding too regularly is to plan trips around nap schedules, or even choose to do some nighttime trekking to cover longer stretches in peace.
As important as regular potty breaks and timeouts to let the kids stretch their legs is creative planning for in-car snacking. Stock a cooler with yogurt pops, juice boxes, and string cheese to fortify the troops. Pureed fruit pouches are also a great option, as they don’t require refrigeration.
To save on space, pack gallon-sized Ziplock bags with a mix-up of favorite treats like cheerios, goldfish crackers, pretzels, and dried fruit. For infant road-trippers, you'll want to bring along a mesh feeder that will assure they can eat their banana safely and without creating too much mess.
Instead of packing along disposable bottles of water, invest in Nalgene bottles. The large size contains 32 ounces of water, enough to keep the littles hydrated (make sure to pack those sippy cups that don’t spill) and to make a quick bottle on the move.
For those times when you do stop to eat, assemble a portable restaurant "fun box" filled with coloring supplies and small toys.
I don’t feel so good...
Have a little one who is prone to getting carsick? Don't leave home without stocking a Ziploc bag with items to combat that crummy tummy. Sea-Bands are a great non-drug option that help quell motion sickness by applying acupressure to points on the wrists. Having crackers and peppermint candies at the ready could be the way to go once those little stomachs begin to get yutzy. Queasy Drops and Pops work like magic for some kids, and have the benefit of seeming like candy. Moms Minivan shares another tip: Apply an icepack on the back of your child’s neck, 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off, to dispel motion sickness.
If you know that your older child just doesn’t do well in the car, pick up some Dramamine (with your doctor’s approval) and administer a dose before hitting the road. And just in case the situation progresses and you can't pull the car over in time, you'll want to have close at hand some sick bags or plastic containers with lids.
I want to go home!
If motion sickness isn't an issue, homesickness can often be. Think of your child's comfort needs ahead of time: Bring along his favorite blanket, stuffed pal, and pillow. Driving in the dark is also much less anxiety-inducing if you provide a nightlight or flashlight and soothing bedtime music. There's nothing like the familiar comforts and reminders of home to prevent your happy trip from going south.