“Road trip” always brings to mind things like “freedom” or “adventure” or “fun.” Having kids might lead you to believe that road trips will never mean these things again. Think again! Road trips might require a little extra planning and a lot more stuff now, but they can still be lots of fun and perhaps even better than before! Just think, you get to share some of the coolest experiences with your favorite little people!
Alright now. Truth time. I am not big on planning. It kind of makes my skin crawl. Spontaneity is more my thing. Now that I am a mom, I find that a *little* extra planning helps things go more smoothly. I am still not about to set a schedule for my entire trip (…at 11:52 we will stop at blah blah rest stop for exactly 46 minutes…gross.), but some planning is definitely necessary.
These are my tips for making sure your road trip goes smoothly and everyone has fun!
1. Plan your route. Smart phones and GPS navigators could be helpful, but at least have a basic idea of where you are going and how long it is going to take to get there!
Google is my BFF here! I type in where I am starting and where I am going (For example: Roanoke, VA to Niagara Falls, NY – ahh…someday…) and Google will give me an estimated driving time, a map with the route drawn out, and even driving directions if I want them! I love Google! Knowing your route can even give you a general idea of stopping points, so you can research places to stop before you go!
2. Be Flexible. (With your timeline, your route, your activities, etc.) Construction, accidents, weather, not to mention the fact that you are traveling with a kid. Things are going to happen that even the best planning could not predict. You’re a parent though – flexibility should be second nature by now! Again smart phones and GPS navigators could help you detour and maybe predict traffic patterns. Really you just never know what you might run into!
3. Bring a road atlas. Like the old-school paper version. You know how I keep saying smart phones and GPS navigators could be helpful? Let’s face it, technology can be unreliable…at the most inconvenient times. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with a screaming child and unreliable technology. An atlas can also help you see the big picture. Have you ever tried to see your whole route in detail on a tiny screen? Scanning, zooming in, zooming out, getting lost on the map…ugh…what a pain.
4. Plan to stop at least every 2 hours. Each stop should probably be at least 1 hour. This is for your child’s (and your own) sanity. This guideline will help keep everyone happy! The only time I break this rule is when Boo has been sleeping since the last stop. “Don’t wake a sleeping baby” and all that goodness. I will even wake her up if she falls asleep when we are looking for a place to stop. If you choose to let your precious little one keep sleeping, be prepared to stop as soon as he wakes up.
5. Make sure your rest-stops are age-appropriate, quality stops. Think about what your little one likes to do when you are home and do that during your stop! Here is how we deal with stops (keep in mind Boo is only 17 months old right now):
- Up until about 4 months old, Boo was happy nursing and snuggling. Any safe parking lot was sufficient.
- From 4 to 6 months, she needed to get out of the car and see things, so we would walk around the highway rest stop or walk the aisles in a convenience store.
- From 6 to 8 months, she wanted to see more things and eat, so Target became my favorite roadside stop. We could walk (a lot!) AND buy snacks like fresh berries or cheese sticks to munch on!
- From 9 to 12 months, Boo became super mobile (crawling everywhere and trying to walk), so rest stops were a big hit again! Another great place to stop at this age is a mall. Many malls now have a kiddie play area with lots of stuff to crawl all over. Unless you have a smart phone (which I don’t), finding a mall with a play area is probably hit or miss, but just walking the mall can help to burn off a little extra energy. Playgrounds also start to be appealing for babies around this age.
- From 13 months to 17 months (present), Boo can walk, run, climb, etc. She needs lots of exercise to appease her during a road trip. She also spends a lot of time working on her fine motor skills and practicing independence. Pushing shopping carts is a huge hit, but she also likes to ride in the them and practice buckling the straps. Fast food stops also seem to keep her happy.
6. Bring lots of age-appropriate entertainment. Again, think about where your child is developmentally right now and pack lots of activities that will keep your child busy. Boo probably has a 15 minute maximum for any one activity (and that is a stretch for some activities…with the exception of eating), so that is about 8 different activities for every leg of the journey. You can rotate these toys a bit, but for a lengthy road trip, you are going to want a LOT of different toys. Keyword here is different. The idea is to keep them busy as long as possible. A busy child is a happy child and a happy child on a road trip makes a happy parent.
7. Make sure you pack the essentials. I know this sounds obvious, but who hasn’t had to do some shopping on vacation for some accidentally forgotten item? Packing for kids means a lot more stuff to remember. Make a list if it helps! And don’t forget transportation options for the little one (stroller, carrier, etc.)!
8. Pack plenty of snacks. Kids eat a lot, so make sure you are prepared. Sure you can buy food on the road, but packing snacks from home will probably give you better options.
9. Keep your car organized. Things can get really messy really quickly with a child around. More children means more mess. Imagine having to dig through toys and clothes and who-knows-what to find a diaper and some wipes. Not how I want to spend my vacation! Do yourself (and your sanity) a favor and re-organize the car at every stop.
10. If you are only traveling with one child, leave the seat next to them empty. This seat is for you (assuming you are not traveling solo). I know packing space is precious, but sometimes it just gets lonely in the backseat – especially if your child is rear-facing. It doesn’t matter how many activities you have, sometimes they just need a friend. Truth be told, I do not leave this seat completely empty. The diaper bag sits on the seat and we keep snacks in the floor area. This is all easy to move when we are stopped on the side of the road because the baby won’t stop crying.
11. Learn how to do a standing diaper change. While not necessary, this one is helpful for babies and toddlers who are able to hold themselves upright in a standing position. If you don’t have a big enough flat space in your car, or it is raining outside, or your rest stop doesn’t have a changing station, the standing diaper change can save the day! I found this website to be super helpful when I was first learning. It takes a little practice, but I find it easier if you flip the diaper inside out so the crotch pocket is kind of inverted (I can’t remember where I first read that tip). Once the diaper is tentatively in place, I quickly adhere one side of the diaper just so it stays in place. Then I adhere the other side correctly before going back to fix the first side.
So, there you go. You can road trip with the little ones and live to tell the tale (and there will be plenty of tales to tell)! Stay tuned for more awesome adventure tips!