Road Trip Tips for Young Families
If getting there is half the fun, then road-tripping with a young child makes your journey an adventure! While traveling with kids can be a challenge, taking vacations shouldn't become a thing of the past for your family.
Planning Your Trip
- If you’re visiting family or friends, find out what baby equipment they have or can borrow, so you don’t have to pack everything. Contact rental centers that may carry big-ticket or bulky baby items such as cribs and high chairs.
- Reserve a crib at your hotel. Many hotel cribs are smaller than standard, in order for them to fold to fit through the doorway, and may not include a baby bumper. You may be more comfortable bringing your own portable playpen or crib.
- Schedule an oil change, tune up, and other vehicle repairs/maintenance at least a week before your trip. Don’t forget to check the condition of your tires.
- If you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to get a free child safety seat inspection. For locations and helpful safety information, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website.
- Install a mirror so you can see your baby sitting in a rear-facing car seat.
- If possible, plan your trip around feeding and nap schedules. Avoid rush hour and heavy traffic times. Consider driving at night if your baby sleeps well in the car.
- Allow extra time for your trip because no doubt you’ll be making more frequent stops along the way. Babies need to stretch and move about, especially after being confined in a car seat for a while. Stops will help relieve boredom and allow for more personal interaction.
- Don’t get lost! Plan your route down to the last detail.
Packing the Car
- Don’t pack to the gills. It always happens that you bring more stuff home, especially on vacations and trips to the grandparents.
- If you don’t already have one, create an emergency kit filled with first aid kit, flashlight, tools, water, etc. If you’re traveling in hazardous winter weather, pack warm blankets in case you’re stalled or stuck somewhere.
- Make a list of things to bring and keep it in your suitcase. On the return trip, you can check that you’ve packed everything (including the beloved blanket or stuffed animal that was hiding under a bed). Update the list right before your next trip.
- Pack a small diaper bag with just the necessities for diaper changes. It’s hard enough changing a diaper on a cold, unfamiliar table without having sippy cups and bibs falling to the floor.
- Bring outlet plug covers, elastic bands for cabinet knobs, portable mesh baby gates, and other safety items to your destination.
- Pack carefully and beware of flying objects. Stash all your gear in the trunk, under a tarp, or tie it down. Water bottles, diaper bags, even toys can become projectiles during a crash.
- Hang a mobile or an unbreakable mirror for your child to see.
- Leave space to sit next to your child’s car seat. Long trips can be boring to infants and children, so you may have to act as entertainer, puppeteer, tour guide, or reader.
- Put together a special trip bag, with a few toys, books, homemade sing-along tapes, and treats.
- Bring a variety of recorded music from the Beatles to classical music to kids’ tunes.
- Don’t use a portable TV with a car adapter. Sure, it works, but it’s also a dangerous projectile in an accident.
- Keep napkins in your glove compartment.
- Put the sippy cups, snacks, and diapers in an easy-to-reach location in the car.
- Consider bringing your own meals in a cooler. Fast-food restaurants rarely offer balanced kids’ meals with fruit and vegetables.
- Put a few lollipops with safety handles in your glove compartment.
- Keep change and tokens in a sealable container (such as a plastic spice jar) so a curious child won’t decide to swallow them.
- Don’t pack a case of diapers, buy them later.
- Remember, if you forget something, you can purchase it along the way or at your destination. (Unless it’s the irreplaceable stuffed animal or blanket!)
On the Road
- Dress everyone in layers. Car seats, especially ones with the head rest ring, tend to be a little hotter than the rest of the car, so continually check on your baby’s comfort.
- Don’t have a car with air conditioning? Consider renting one for long trips during the summer.
- Use suntan lotion or sunblock, because sun shades in cars don’t protect you or your child from every angle. (Children under six months should not use sunscreen.)
- Lock your doors. That way no one can get in and–if you’ve turned the child safety lock feature on–no one in the back seat can get out.
- If you breastfeed, purchase a lighter adapter for the breast pump, and pump in the car. That way, you won’t have to stop every few hours. Plan burping and diaper changing rest stops.
- Don’t let your baby sleep the entire way, unless you’re traveling at night just for that reason. Keep your child on the regular schedule, from naps to feeding.
- To keep your baby awake, play peek-a-boo, point out the sights, sing silly songs, and read books together.
- Before you stop, plan what needs to be accomplished: bathroom breaks, diaper changes, gas fill up, eat-in or eat-out, etc.
- Don’t ignore all the safety lessons you learned from your mother. Thieves, kidnappers, and rapists travel too. Be on the lookout. If you’re suspicious of another driver or vehicle, either drive away or park in another location. If you’re headed back to the car after a rest stop, look around before you step into the parking lot and check the cars next to yours for suspicious looking people. Walk in a group (of strangers, if necessary) and keep your cell phone in hand. If you get into a threatening situation, do not hand over your handbag. Throw it in one direction, grab your child, and run in the other.
- Instead of a fast-food restaurant, stop at a supermarket salad bar. Usually, salad bars offer soups, salads, fruit, cottage cheese, pasta, breads, and other kid-friendly—and healthy—foods.
- Not all rest areas (if you’re lucky to find one exactly when you need it!) have diaper changing tables. Instead, make do with a relatively level back seat, the back of the station wagon (if you don’t need to remove everything first!), or a picnic table.
- Have some fun. Have a picnic. Bring bubbles or a ball to play with at the rest area.
7 Things to Make Your Journey Easier
- Diaper disposal bags
- Disposable paper bibs
- Disposable placemats
- Inexpensive plasticware
- Drinks and foods that aren’t too messy, such as white grape juice instead of purple
- Portable mini fridge that plugs into car adapter
- Portable table chair or booster seat
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