Road trips can be a flexible way to get the family from one point to another with the option to make stops along the way and pack more gear without paying baggage penalties. But road trips with kids are also not usually associated with care-free adventures and many parents would rather face the chaos of an airport to avoid spending hours in a car with screaming children.
Hitting the road with your children does not need to be stressful for your or the children, and can indeed be a fun adventure for the whole family if you are prepared and organised with a few simple tips and tricks.
Time your trip correctly
Timing is everything, especially with younger children. One of the best solutions to unhappy children on a road trip is to make sure the drive coincides with your child’s nap time or bedtime if you are happy to drive at night time. Motion often has a soothing effect on children and can lull them to sleep.
Try to maintain bedtime rituals like reading before bed, even in the car. Children respond to rituals and routines and your child will be more likely to nod off if he/she feels comfortable and safe. One of the most important items on your packing list must be the favourite toy or blanket for bedtime. Leaving this treasure at home can make the journey a nightmare, if not the whole holiday.
If you are not keen to drive at night and your child is too old for nap time, consider making the road trip a little longer with some interesting stops along the way. This will give everyone a chance to stretch their legs and add some excitement to the journey. Try marking out the attractions on a map and let your child follow the map as you travel to give them a sense of adventure.
Be prepared and be organised
Pack snacks, drinks, wipes and at least one change of clothes in a bag within easy reach in the car. For younger children who require a bottle, consider buying a portable bottle warmer that plugs into the cigarette lighter so you have a warm bottle on hand when needed.
Make sure you have wipes and a towel on hand. Accidents happen and a messy, sticky child can be a miserable one. Make sure to keep fresh food and drinks in a cooler to prevent spoiling and include some fun foods too.
When it comes to toys, make sure to pack some of the favourites along with some that are new or are rotated and make sure there are stimulating toys mixed in with calm ones. You don’t want to over-stimulate your child in a confined space. A good idea is to make a travel pack with some new toys and activities in it. You can buy cheap toys from wholesalers to keep the price down as these toys don’t need to last for months – only hours. Having a -goody bag will add excitement to the journey for your child and give you a little peace.
Being Tech Generation kids, it’s often difficult to keep them away from the screen and technology, but try to keep the DVDs and handhelds as a last resort to prevent a meltdown. Try to encourage games and play in the car before bringing out the technology to make sure they are not bored and frustrated early in the journey. Feel free to play the child’s favourite music or sing-a-long songs for the younger ones – if you can handle driving with it.
Manage your own expectations
Make sure you plan the trip properly and know the times and distances you will be travelling and where to stop, but always add in some additional time for eventualities. If you are including stops at attractions, give the family time to enjoy it. Bad timing and distance calculations can leave you feeling frustrated and annoyed.
Plan your trip with a 10 minute stop for every hour that your children are awake, to prevent a potential meltdown from younger children, older children may be able to wait until the scheduled stop, but it doesn’t hurt to check in with them every now and then.
Be prepared to clean the car when you arrive – even if you cleaned it before you left. Road trips can get messy with children in confined spaces, and expecting it will make it easier to deal with.
The key to help you look forward to hitting the road with children is to take it slow and have fun.