My kids, aged 4 months and 2.5 years, are no strangers to being in the car. We live 2 hours from our closest family members, so it’s a regular occurrence to load everyone up for a day trip, especially when holidays or special occasions come calling. We also enjoy camping in our travel trailer and take several 1-2 hour trips into the Smoky Mountains per year. Later this month, however, we will be taking our camper on a more ambitious trip which will require a 5-hour drive each way. That’s a trip that’s going to require a little extra planning to keep the kiddos happy and Mama and Daddy sane. While making my own plans, I thought I’d share some helpful tips I’ve already used during our shorter trips and ones that I plan to use for this upcoming one as well.
Keeping your kids’ sleep and meal schedules in mind can help keep them comfortable when they are stuck in the car for long stretches of time. If your child is happiest and most agreeable when he/she is well-rested and alert, then plan your departure time accordingly. If you’d rather your little one be tired and dozing off so that he/she (hopefully) sleeps through much of the trip, then plan to leave closer to nap times. If you don’t mind sacrificing your own sleep, leave at bedtime and drive into the night while your kids sleep, as long as you are sure you can stay fully awake and alert while behind the wheel. Do your research in advance and mark off several comfortable and safe stopping areas along your route in case things get hairy and you need to make unscheduled stops to give everyone a chance to stretch their legs and chill for a bit. This is especially helpful if you are breastfeeding and need to make several nursing stops along the way.
When you’re stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway, the last thing you want to hear is whining from the back seat because a button is poking into a tummy or a zipper is rubbing against a neck. Choose the most comfortable outfits you can find with few fasteners like buttons, snaps, and zippers. Dress them lightly in soft cotton and have blankets available if needed, with coats stashed away if it’s cold outside when you make pit stops. Heck, go ahead and dress them in pajamas and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks when you’re parked at a rest stop for a break. If you are headed to an event where your child needs to wear something nice, waiting until you arrive to dress them not only lets them be more comfortable on the ride, but also cuts down on the likelihood that an outfit will get covered in food (or worse) on the way there.
Meals & Snacks
I don’t know about you guys, but my two year-old becomes a bottomless pit of hunger when we are out of the house. When we’re at home we have to coax – okay, beg – him to take each bite of his meals (unless it’s something he really loves) but as soon as we’re out of the house he starts asking for every kind of food that pops into his mind. We’ve learned from experience and always have a variety of easy-grab snacks that won’t make a mess whether we are in the car or out somewhere. Crumbs from crunchy snacks are inevitable but are much easier to clean up than sticky or gooey foods, so keep that in mind when packing your snack bag. Most chocolate is a nightmare in the car, though crunchy chocolate cookies that can’t melt, like Annie’s Cocoa Bunny Cookies, are great. Snack cups with flexible tops are invaluable for being able to hand over the snack without worrying about more of it getting on the floor than in his/her mouth. Keep the snacks tucked away in a diaper bag or backpack and don’t let him/her see what you have so you can pull them out at strategic times during the trip. If you want to keep drinks cold or need to bring along perishable food, a lined thermal bag or cheap styrofoam cooler will get the job done (or go ahead and bring the full size one if you have the room and save yourself from having to buy drinks at every gas stop!) Oh, and don’t forget to pack more than you think you will need. As for meals, plan your stops so that you stick as closely to your child’s regular schedule as possible so that they don’t get too hungry – or should I say hangry – before you start looking for a place to eat.
My favorite road snacks: Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies, Annie’s Cocoa & Vanilla Bunny Cookies, Full Circle Organic Honey Graham Teddy Cookies, Pirate’s Booty, peanut butter crackers (the packaged kind, while less healthy, is also less messy than homemade), Cheerios, Trader Joes Raises the Bar granola bars, healthy trail mix (watch for choking hazards), popcorn, fresh apple slices or grapes (watch for choking hazards)
Forgetting a special toy or security blanket can cause meltdowns of epic proportions, so make it a priority to add those things to the packing list and help your child keep track of them throughout the trip. Currently, my son has to have one of his Hot Wheels cars in his hand at all times and makes it a point to grab one whenever I tell him we’re going for a ride in the car. I’ve started tossing a few extra into the diaper bag just in case one falls into the floor during the ride and can’t be reached until we get to the next stopping point.
I get it, we all want to control the amount of time our little ones spend being techno zombies, but when you’re staring down the barrel of a long haul car ride a few extra episodes of Peppa Pig aren’t going to hurt anybody and could save a lot of headache, especially if you have a sleeping baby – and you’re desperate for him/her to stay asleep – and need to keep the older children quiet. Make sure phones and tablets are fully charged before you leave and consider investing in an AC adapter for your car so you can charge it up along the way if the battery gets low. We have a Kindle Fire Kids that has been wonderful. It has a huge library of ad-free apps, many educational, and is easy enough for my two year-old to navigate himself. Since it’s unlikely you’ll have access to wi-fi while on the move, make sure the tablet is loaded up with apps, movies, games, and/or TV shows before you leave.
Try Something New
I like to have a few brand new toys or activities that I can pull out as a trump card if patience is running thin and I’ve exhausted other attempts at keeping everyone happy. Before the trip, pick up some inexpensive things like coloring/activity books, handheld puzzle games – you can find things like this in the party favor aisles of stores like Target – or other small travel toys. Don’t show these items to your child before the trip so that they are a fun surprise when you pull them out in the car. You could even wrap them up like a present (go ahead and use newspaper or aluminum foil if you don’t already have extra wrapping paper – no need to get fancy) so that it’s extra special for them. Avoid toys with multiple loose parts that can fall into the floorboard, or items that can make a mess like Silly Putty or Play-Doh.
Find other great road trip games and activity books right here (because license plate bingo and interstate scavenger hunts never get old!)
Easy Essentials To Pack
I’m sure you have the obvious basics covered like diapers, wipes, bibs, and medical/first-aid supplies, but here are a couple of things you may not think of that can make your life easier on the road:
Used plastic grocery bags – I have one of those jumbo black garbage bags in the corner of my pantry absolutely stuffed with old grocery bags that we have amassed over the years. Most of the time I use them for doggie pick-up bags or for scooping the cats’ litter box, but I also like stuffing a wad into our diaper bag for tying up dirty diapers if no trash can is immediately available, using them as trash bags to keep car mess to a minimum, or separating cardboard juice boxes and the like from making contact with the ice in coolers so that they don’t get soggy. Oh, and if you have a child that tends to get carsick… nuff said.
Hand sanitizer – A quick way to clean up those hands before eating when no bathroom is readily available. There’s all kinds of different formulas available now that are safe and more natural for the kiddos and babies.
About The Baby Cubby: Several of the shopping links above will take you to The Baby Cubby, an online shop of curated goodies for baby, toddler, and mama based on the most highly-rated products out there. If you live near their retail location in Lindon, Utah, you can enjoy some neat services like drive-up purchasing – drive up, place your order, and have it delivered right to your vehicle without having to leave your car. The Baby Cubby will price-match (including Amazon!!) to make sure you’re getting the best price every day. And with every purchae over $49 you can receive a free 10-minute massage in their full-body massage chair (scuse me, moving to Utah now…) If you’re ordering online, enjoy free shipping for every order over $49.