Traveling with children means balancing safety with sanity. You might want to crawl into the backseat to prove how serious you are about that “drop you on the side of the road if you do that one more time” threat. But then, you’re driving, so… maybe that’s not such a great idea.
Here are a few great ideas that will help you keep yourself calm and keep your car safely on the road.
1. Customize your emergency car kit with kid-friendly items.
This is a safety matter, of course; you should always have an emergency car kit in your car, especially on trips out of town. Purchase one pre-made or create your own emergency kit with supplies like jumper cables, a first aid kit, and some non-perishable food items and bottled water.
If you’re traveling with kids, add in a few extras to keep your kids happy and safe: diapers and wet wipes, an extra of a favorite stuffed animal or blanket, a change of clothes, important medications.
2. Keep a snack bag in the car.
There are two keys to a successful travel snack bag: first, choose your snacks carefully. Think car-friendly, non-messy items. As a general rule, avoid chocolate, crumbly items, and anything with filling. The second key is to dole the snacks out over time. Wait until boredom starts to set in. It’s not healthy to use food as a distraction most of the time, but when you’re all stuck in the car, it’s a tool in your sanity saver toolbox.
3. Keep a toy bag in the car.
Follow the same concept as the travel snack bag by stocking up on and doling out new toys as you hit points of boredom and fussiness. Shop the dollar store or any clearance sales, forget small stuff, nothing that requires assembly or batteries or help from Mom. Pass them out as needed, one at a time.
4. Make sure your car seats are installed properly.
Check cables, buckles, and car seat installation before you load up the kids and pull out of the driveway. This is a matter of both safety and sanity, as a toddler free to roam around the backseat is definitely a danger.
5. Plan stops along the way.
For trips over a couple of hours, take a little time to do some research online about state parks, landmarks, and towns you’ll be passing through. Plan to stop somewhere every couple of hours or so; it will do the kids good to get out and stretch their legs, and you’ll be refreshed and ready to drive again after a break.
6. Get the kids involved.
Even very small children can be on the look-out for big trucks or green cars. Give kids something to look for and let them earn a point for each item they find; reward them with a snack or a new toy when they earn 5 or 10 points.
For older kids, having a map and a guidebook handy helps them to get involved with what they’re seeing along the way.
7. Take kid-friendly music and books on cd for the ride.
When the games get old and everyone is getting a little tired, put in a cd of kid-friendly music; make it something they can enjoy singing along with, or opt for a book on cd instead. Everyone can get caught up in a good story and it makes the miles pass quickly. If you think it through ahead of time, your kids can pick out music and books on cd from the library and look forward to getting to hear their own choices.
8. Create a “travel kid kit” for each child.
A travel kid kit should have some special toys and activities, not necessarily new but something they enjoy. Kids can help put these together the day before you leave. Add in a few extras, such as a couple of books to look at, and include a sturdy surface (such as a lap desk) and some drawing supplies.
9. Be non-negotiable on car rules.
Seat belts stay buckled, no one plays with the door handles or locks, no yelling or screaming: set some rules in stone for your car trips and be non-negotiable. It’s not a matter of preference, it’s a matter of safety. Be very clear on the consequences and follow through if needed.
10. Get your car maintained & tuned up before you leave.
Don’t start off on an anticipated trip just to end up on the side of the road, or stranded in a little town halfway to your destination. Plan for travel success by taking your car in for an oil change, inspection, and tune-up a couple of weeks before you plan to leave. Be sure to have the mechanics check the tires, alignment, brakes, and battery so you won’t have any unpleasant surprises while you travel.
Traveling with kids is still a challenge, but it can be much better with a little preparation and a few tricks up your sleeve.