Road tripping with kids is something of a challenge. Doing it on your own is even more difficult than having someone to help you. No matter the age of your children, you can find it a struggle to make it through with your sanity intact. Babies pose the risk of a whole car ride filled with crying, while older children can result in anything from constant questions and complaints to fighting between siblings. It’s hard to keep everything from descending into chaos when you’re all trapped in a moving metal box for hours. But you can make everything a little easier if you take the right approach and make sure you’re prepared.
Start with Safety
Whenever you’re taking a car journey with your kids, safety has to come first. It might not be particularly exciting, but car accidents are extremely common, and you need to protect your kids. The problem is that recommendations for keeping your children safe in the car seem to change regularly. Keeping up can be difficult and a bit confusing. The most important thing you need to know is that your child needs to be in a car seat until they are tall enough for the seatbelt to work effectively and old enough to be responsible in their seat. The law varies though, so it’s important to check before you go anywhere. You might also want to go beyond what the local law recommends if safety experts recommend it.
Another safety issue to consider is whether kids should sit facing the front of the vehicle or the back, and how long they should be rear-facing for. It’s now generally recommended that babies and infants need to face towards the back of the car, which is why most of the best infant car seat reviews recommend rear-facing seats. But it could be wise to keep your child in a rear-facing seat longer than you might think. Recommendations from different safety organizations and governments vary. However, many experts agree that children need to be rear-facing until they’re at least two or three years old, if not until they’re four.
How else can you improve safety in the car for your kids? One thing you can do is try to avoid putting a child in the front passenger seat, unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you do place a car seat in the front of the vehicle, you need to deactivate the airbag. Another important aspect of safety to think about is your driving. You need to be concentrating fully on the road, which is why keeping the kids entertained and being able to filter out distractions are both essential. It’s also helpful to teach older children about safety in the car to help them start to take responsibility.
Make the Trip Comfortable
Making the kids safe in the car is for your comfort and peace of mind. Now you can make sure the kids feel comfortable, so they’ll hopefully drop off to sleep. There’ll be less complaining if they can take a nap, snuggle under a blanket, or keep cool on a hot day. Firstly, you can make sure their car seats are comfortable, in addition to being safe. If they’re strapped in safely, they should feel fairly comfortable. But you might want to consider the comfort factor when you’re deciding which seat to buy. Additional items can help to make the car ride more comfortable, including pillows and blankets.
On hot days, staying cool is the priority. While turning the air conditioning on is a good start, it doesn’t stop the sun shining through the windows. Shades on the windows will keep the sun away and help to prevent the car from getting too hot. It’s also a good idea to make sure your kids have sunscreen on as a precaution. They might be in the car, but they can still end up sunburnt if you’re not careful. Dressing sensibly for the trip is important too. If it’s cold, it makes sense to dress warmly, even if the car’s heating is on. If it’s warm, the kids don’t want to be in too many layers.
Arm Yourself with Traditional Car Games
There are many ways to entertain the kids in the car. When it comes down to it, you often can’t beat traditional games. You might not want them to be absorbed in a screen for the whole journey, and perhaps it’s a rare chance to get some family bonding time. There are lots of great games that are still fun that everyone can join in with. You can play I-Spy or look for certain things out the window, like certain colored cars. You can try memory games or imaginative games, where everyone takes turns thinking of something to say. If your car journeys work best when you can keep the conversation going, these games are great to get everyone talking.
Toys and Activities
If you would prefer the kids to quietly get on with something, you can give them things to do. This is also useful for younger children who can’t yet join in with games. They can at least have a toy to play with, so they don’t get bored. You can take along standard toys, from favorite teddy bears to toy cars. It’s also worth looking into travel games that kids can play alone or with each other. It’s a good idea to look into getting lap tables, which are useful both for playing and for enjoying drinks and snacks. They allow activities like coloring in or playing board games.
Set Up Screens
If you’re looking for total silence in the car, personal screens for your kids will keep them entertained. You can set up a DVD player or a mobile device (e.g. phone or tablet) to play them movies or their favorite TV shows. Of course, providing them with headphones will help to make the journey just a little more peaceful for you. You can mount screens on the back of car headrests, or simply hand your child a tablet. They can also have a portable DVD player on their lap.
Let The Kids Choose the Playlist
Music is a car journey essential for many families. While the idea of listening to One Direction for hours on end might not appeal to you, it can keep the kids happy. If you want a bit of variety, perhaps help them build a playlist of their favorite songs before your trip. That way, you won’t have to listen to the same album or artist all the time (hopefully). If it helps you keep your sanity, alternate their music with your own. You can probably pick something that they like too.
Always Bring Snacks
Long car journeys will mean that someone gets hungry or thirsty along the way. Even if you’re planning to stop (and it’s a good idea to plan at least one toilet break), you should still make sure to have snacks for the trip. However, you need to make sure you have car-friendly snacks that the kids can handle on their own. It’s much more convenient if they don’t need someone to open anything for them, especially if you’re the only one there to help. Pack easily-open zip lock bags of snacks and travel bottles with drinks. As well as making it easy for the kids to enjoy their snacks, it will also keep your car clean.
Pack Them a Bag
All of this stuff can easily take over the backseat of your car, and perhaps even lead to squabbling between siblings. It’s a good idea to pack each child a bag of their own that they can be responsible for if they’re old enough. Let them choose some toys they want to take, and pack them individual snacks to enjoy during the journey. Even babies need their own bag, but it’s more likely to be full of the things you need, like diapers and wipes. Organizers you can hang over the back of the front passenger seats are also useful.
Take a Potty for Toddlers
Potty training is hard work, and your first long road trip with a toddler just out of diapers can be frightening. Even older children can have a hard time waiting to go to the toilet, so planning to stop often is important. But if you can take a portable potty along with you, it can make things a little easier. If you’re able to pull over for a potty break, it’s easier to use a portable potty than to encourage a toddler to simply pull their pants down and go without causing a huge mess. It often involves having to take off shoes, socks, pants and underwear just to avoid an accident. Don’t forget to pack wipes or toilet paper too, as well as a trash bag. Hand sanitizer means you can clean your hands afterwards too.
Family road trips can be a lot of fun, but they’re also often stressful. If you prepare as much as possible, they’re much easier to handle.