The holidays are upon us, which means many people will be driving to spend time with family. And many of these people will be on a road trip with toddlers. On Friday, we left Houston and headed to Missouri to visit with some of Justin’s family for the holidays. Last time we were here, Tyler was Ryan’s age and I was pregnant with Ryan. So this was Tyler’s fourth time on a long car ride, and Ryan’s second. Tyler has now made three 12 hour drives and a 17 hour drive, and Ryan one of each…. and we still have the 12 hour drive home to do in a few days.
Over the course of these few drives, we have learned a few things to help make the trip go smoother, and wanted to share for any others who are about to embark on a long road trip with their little ones. We hardly go anywhere, so anything over 30 minutes is considered long to our boys!
Most important, check your child’s car seats. Car seats should be installed in the vehicle properly. You can check with a car seat installer, or your local sheriff’s office if you are unsure. The manual for the car seat is a good place to start as well. Next, your child should be secured in their car seat properly. Is the chest clip in the right place? Are the shoulder straps where they need to be? Is it tight enough? And most important, if they can still rear-face, please do that! Don’t turn them around for convenience over safety!
For our youngest, food is essential. If Ryan has food, he is good. We packed a lunchbox full of snacks for all of us, and tried to get snacks that don’t create too many crumbs. I brought the boys water cups that are (almost) leakproof to try to keep the spilling to a minimum. Snacks are also helpful to keep yourself awake. If I am starting to feel drowsy, I can grab a snack and focus on the food to help keep me awake.
Pack the things you definitely won’t need until you get to your destination first so they are buried. I know this seems obvious, but sometimes we are just trying to make everything fit and forget to keep essentials at the front. I pack a backpack with the things I know we will need along the way such as diapers and wipes, toys for the kids, a change of clothes (just in case), a towel (also in case of spills/accidents), and other essentials. Things such as the playpen and our clothes all get buried since we don’t need those until we get there.
Prepare For Extra Stops
With kids, extra stops are necessary. We usually don’t like to go in somewhere for food along the way, but have made that part of the routine with the boys. It gives them a chance to get out of their car seats and stretch their legs and burn some energy. We make Tyler try to go potty while we are there to try to avoid any other extra stops, but that doesn’t always happen. For now, we do put him in a pull-up for those times he needs to go potty and we are miles from another exit. (I do the same when we fly because he inevitably needs to go right as we are taking off or landing)
Make sure the kids have plenty to do while in the car. We turn the time restrictions off Tyler’s Kindle Fire and he plays with that most of the time. We put the ipad in a kids case and let Ryan play on that. The boys keep a couple of matchbox cars in the Jeep, so they will play with those too. We let them both choose a small toy to bring with us. The more they are entertained, the less they are screaming!
Prepare For Messes
I try to bring the least crumby foods we can. But it doesn’t matter. The vehicle WILL get messy. No way around it. We usually don’t allow food in the car, but obviously long trips are an exception. Last time, I vacuumed the car a couple days later and couldn’t believe the amount of crumbs under Ryan’s car seat! And I’m sure once we get home and do the same it will be just as bad this time too. I also pack an old towel in the back seat for any other spills or messes that come up. I take an old towel so if it gets really bad, I can just throw the towel out.
Travel On Their Schedule
When you are on a long trip, you can’t always plan around naps. But you can plan to drive during the day or through the night. The first long trip we went on with Tyler, we tried the night thing. He’ll sleep, right? Wrong! Neither of our boys sleep in the car much at all, and even going during the night. Since then we travel during the day. Both boys will sleep here and there and nap in the car, but never long enough to make it better to drive at night. If your child sleeps well in the car, then driving through the night might be better for you. We get up around 5am and leave so we get a good nights sleep, and so do the boys.