Road trips are one of the most common choices for family vacations. Of course, that involves spending more than a few hours in close quarters with your kids. Before you hit the road with your children, take a moment to plan out how to get to your destination without losing your mind along the way.
It might not be the way you first imagine a road trip with the kids – your thoughts probably turn to backseat shenanigans and endless questions along the lines of “are we there yet” – but it’s entirely possible to leave the stress behind when you take your children on a road trip. The secret to smooth sailing on a family road trip is to keep your expectations reasonable and do as much advanced planning as possible. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Confirm Your Vehicle’s Readiness
Suffering a breakdown on the road is always irritating, but it can turn into a real disaster when you have a pair of rambunctious toddlers in the backseat. Pay a visit to your favorite car mechanic before you hit the road. Have him check the air pressure and condition of all of your tires, including the spare, as well as check your mechanical systems (including the air conditioner and / or heater, and fluid levels) in advance, too.
Consider Signing Up For Roadside Assistance
AAA is still the gold standard when it comes to nationwide roadside assistance services, but there are other options in the same vein as well. If you aren’t already a member of a similar service, you should strongly consider signing up before your trip. It may be handy to download an app like EmergenSee, too. This turns your smartphone into a live recording device (capturing video, audio, and GPS data) and sends it to chosen contacts or law enforcement officials when you’re in trouble. Also, check with your car insurance to see if they offer roadside assistance.
Make Your Kids Safe
Familiarize yourself thoroughly with the car and/or booster seats your kids need before you set off. Confirm they’re installed properly. You can find a local authority for this service by visiting SeatCheck.org. Alternatively, just inquire with your nearest fire station – most of them handle this safety check for free.
Bear in mind that the latest advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics is to use rear-facing car seats for children under the age of two. Kids should always be strapped in when the car is moving. If your children need a break from their seats, plan these kind of stops into your travel plans to give everyone a break from the car.
Always Have A First Aid Kit
Bring along all the usual items you might need to deal with minor ailments: Band-Aids, antiseptic, fever reducers, medications used by your family members, and perhaps even a little extra toilet paper for unplanned bathroom breaks.
Schedule Your Departure Wisely
If your kids are experienced backseat sleepers, think about kicking your trip off at either bedtime or in the early morning. Feel free to leave them in their PJs and enjoy a restful, quiet start to your road trip. Also, consider travel plans of others. Are you traveling during a busy holiday time? You may want to avoid heavy traffic by leaving at a time when you’ll hit big cities at their least busy times. Sitting in a traffic jam while on a road trip with kids is NOT fun!
Comfort Is A Priority
Make sure your children are dressed in clothes they like for the trip. Wearing PJs or other comfy clothes is always recommended. Shoes that are easy for your child to get on and off by themselves is another good tip. This makes stops easier on mom and dad. You should also bring along any familiar items that will help the kids feel at home (stuffed animals, blankets, and even favorite pillows) to encourage sleeping in the car.
If you’re hauling a large family in a large vehicle, keep your family dynamics in mind when placing people in their seats. Break up fractious siblings by putting them into separate rows. This will be appreciated by both the youngsters and the adults who are driving. You’ll also want to consider keeping smaller children who frequently need help close to the front or near someone capable of helping the younger passengers.
Bring along as many healthy snacks as you can comfortably manage. Stay away from sugary, high-energy foods; your kids don’t need any surplus pep for a long car trip. Perfect road trip foods include raisins, bananas, rice cakes, Cheerios, and crackers. Try to avoid snacks that are messy or crumbly and that don’t require utensils to eat. But be prepared for messes, pack wipes and a small car trash can.
Plan Some Welcome Surprises
Kids love a surprise, and a road trip gives you ample opportunities to cook up some unexpected delights. Look for fun stops your family can make on your way to your destination. If you can spring something like a trip to a candy store or a water park on your kids they’re less likely to get bored and grumpy afterward.
Visit the dollar store to buy up a supply of small toys and treats. To keep everybody amused on the trip, let each child pick out something new for each hour you spend on the road. This stash of goodies also makes a great incentive and encourages good behavior! If you’ve got enough time, try wrapping up the treats in advance to make each pick more exciting – and time-consuming – for your kids.
Bring As Much Entertainment As Possible
While too much screen time is a bad thing for your kids, that rule goes out the window when you’ve got a long road trip to get through. Feel free to bring along smartphones, tablets, and portable DVD players to keep the children amused. Make sure you load your devices up with apps, songs, and videos you know your kids will enjoy. And bring headphones for each person!
Don’t Challenge Your Kids’ Endurance
The grownups might be ready to handle six hours of uninterrupted drive time, but that’s not going to fly with youngsters. Plan on stopping at least every two hours, if not more frequently. A clean rest stop can be a life-saver – the first time you pull into one. After the first half-dozen, your family is going to get bored. Plan out stops at local parks (the sort with slides, swings, and other kid-friendly equipment) as a refreshing alternative.
Preserve Bedtime Rituals
Although you’ll probably be tempted to jump right into bed after a long day on the road, try to keep up as many of your standard bedtime routines as you can. Bathe, read, nurse, and do whatever else you normally do at home to get your kids ready for a good night’s sleep. Bring the pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals in from the car to make the kids’ vacation room feel as homelike as possible.
Follow these simple tips to get your family vacation off to the right start!