Road trips are a constant in my life – the majority of our trips are taken in the minivan! Tanya from Traveling Tanya has some excellent tips for your next road trip with young kids. If you have a trip planned in the near future, be sure to take in her words of wisdom …
For some, the thought of loading the family into the minivan for a cross country adventure sounds like the trip of a lifetime. Yet others dread the thought of a long road trip. No matter which camp you are in on this issue, an extended amount of time in the car with young children can test even the most patient person!
As a mother of teenagers, I’ll admit I’m happy to be beyond the toddler stage. Although raising teenagers creates its own unique challenges! But I can still clearly recall the struggles I experienced in the car when my girls were little.
I do have a few tricks up my sleeve (and in the diaper bag) that I am now happy to pass along to other moms with wee ones in tow. My best advice for traveling with young kids: Be prepared and have reasonable expectations.
While every child is different and their needs may vary, here are some practical strategies to try on your next road trip with toddlers, preschoolers and beyond.
Even though you may want to get to your final destination so your vacation can really begin, kids require frequent stops.
Be prepared to stop at least every 2-3 hours.
Regular potty breaks and diaper changes are a must to keep all your passengers in a good mood. If you have a potty trainer in tow, even more frequent stops may be necessary.
Energetic toddlers also need this time to expend their pent-up energy. Being constricted in a car seat for hours on end does not make for a happy camper!
Official Rest Stops along the highway are a great option for a 15-20 minute break. You won’t need to veer too far off your route to access a rest stop, and you won’t have the temptation of numerous fast food joints if it isn’t mealtime.
Some rest stops offer playgrounds or at least some outdoor space where kids can safely run around. Bonus points if you can wear the kids out and they are ready for a nap when they buckle back up!
Don’t think of these pit stops as slowing down your travel time. Instead, view them as absolute necessities to ensure all passengers get to your destination safe and happy!
Even as an adult, snacking is one of my favorite things to do on a road trip. And it can help pass the time. Of course with young kids, you want to keep health and safety in mind, not to mention cleanliness!
Don’t make snack time a free for all where everyone digs into the snack bag and starts gorging. Instead, pack several age appropriate, pre-portioned snacks that you know your children like. And don’t deviate too far from healthy fare.
A little splurging is fine, this is vacation after all. But the last thing you want in the minivan is a toddler on a sugar high! Crackers, fruit slices, cheese sticks, and cereal bars are some good options.
Consider setting a snack timer. When the timer goes off, it’s snack time!
This is a fun way to build up the excitement for the next road trip treat. And you have some built in back-up when the inevitable questions come requesting something to eat.
“Let’s check the snack timer. Just 23 minutes until the next snack time!”
Children who are bored don’t generally make the best travel companions.
Portable electronic devices with games or streaming videos are one option to pass the time. But most parents don’t like the idea of 10 solid hours of screen time for their young kiddos, and I agree! Put some reasonable limits on electronic devices for your wee ones, and be prepared with other fun activities.
Before your trip, make a visit to the dollar store to pick up several inexpensive, age-appropriate toys or activities your children will enjoy. Again, it’s best not to allow the toy bag to be a free-for-all.
Create a bit of suspense by bringing out a new toy or activity each hour. For even more fun, wrap your dollar store finds in festive wrapping paper.
Reading is another great way to pass the time on your road trip. Gather several new titles at the library before you hit the road. Make it fun and educational by choosing books related to your vacation destination. Books about ocean life are perfect for a trip to the beach. Stories about camping, visiting grandparents, or playing in the snow might be right for your anxiously awaited vacation.
With a simple lap board, even arts and craft time can be done in the car. Leave the messy glitter and sharp scissors at home, but be prepared with crayons and paper for some creative expression.
You can even build up your child’s curiosity of the world and excitement about travel with Letters Around the World. Created by fellow travel blogger Molly at exploringthroughlife.com, Letters Around the World is a 57-page downloadable curriculum.
For each letter of the alphabet, your child will learn about a different country. They can also color the country’s flag and trace their letters. Introduce a new letter and the corresponding country periodically throughout your road trip.
Before long your little ones will know a whole lot more about this big wide world…and you will be closer and closer to your vacation destination!
Naps and Schedules
Everybody knows that a sleepy child is a cranky child. And cranky children do not make for good passengers.
Do your best to ensure naptime and bedtime routines stay as intact as possible, even when you are on the road.
Children of all ages need quiet time, even if they are beyond the napping stage. And parents definitely need quiet time! So be clear about when quiet time starts and create an environment inside your vehicle that gets everyone in a state of calm.
If your kids sleep well in the car, consider the option of some nighttime driving.
Be sure to bring along naptime comfort items such as a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or pacifier. Have some sleepy time music cued up on your play list, and consider investing in window shades to black out the sun.
With a bit of patience, preparation, and realistic expectations you CAN survive a road trip with small children! And the whole family will arrive at your destination happy and ready to create Instagram worthy vacation memories.
Did you find these tips helpful? I’m past the young kids’ stage myself so I have some different tactics for our road trips. Be sure to check out the post Make the Journey as Fun as the Destination to learn how we don’t just take road trips, but enjoy them!
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