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Road trips are a wonderful and economical mode of travel for families. They allow you to see and do things on the way to your final destination while also spending some quality time making memories together. But, if you have a baby or toddler, you may think twice before hitting the road for your family vacation. While road trips with babies and toddlers do present some unique challenges, they aren’t impossible! We took our son on his first road trip when he was only two weeks old! And, by the time he was 4, he had logged more than ten 6+ hour long road trips! With some advance planning and the right perspective, road trips with babies and toddlers are actually easier than traveling with older kids. Here are some tips to make your next road trip with your little one easier than ever!
Tip #1: Drive While Sleeping
The beauty of babies and toddlers as opposed to older kids is that they sleep a lot more. Take advantage of this and get as much driving done as you can while they are sleeping. This will allow you to concentrate on driving without worrying if your little one needs something. It will also allow you to make progress towards your destination without any screaming or crying. Consider driving during the over night hours when your kids are more likely to sleep for big chunks of time to get the full benefit out of this tip.
Tip #2: Let Baby Schedule Stops
The best tip for smooth road trips with babies and toddlers is to schedule your stops around their needs. When your little one gets hungry or cranky, then stop. Take this time to feed them, change them, and let them burn off some energy, while you take a break yourself. This will eliminate the need for extra stops and make your trip more efficient. Additionally, this will prevent a temper tantrum from your unhappy child, which will make the entire trip more pleasant for all of you. It will also help your child to learn that being in the car seat is a happy experience, which will make road trips in the future easier for you too.
When my son was 13 months old, we took him on a 20 hour road trip from Texas to California. We would drive until he started to fuss and then stop at the next available place. He would get out of the car seat and move around a little before getting a fresh diaper and a snack. After about 20 minutes, he was ready to get back in his seat and ride for another two hours or so without any problems.
Tip #3: Make It Count
As mentioned above, whenever you stop, make it count. Do as much as you can in each stop to prevent stopping more than you have to. When your child needs a break, stop. Then use that time to top off your gas tank and get some food for everyone. Have every one in the car go to the restroom during this stop so you won’t need to stop again for a few hours. This will hep you get to your destination faster and will keep everyone in the car fresh and happy.
Tip #4: Stretch Little Legs
Being in the car for long periods of time will make you stiff. It’s important to get out, walk around, and stretch your legs every once in a while. Remember that when you are taking road trips with babies and toddlers that they also need to stretch their legs. Whenever you stop, unless they are sleeping, get them out of the car seat to stretch and move around a bit. This is true whether they are old enough to walk or not. Even newborns need to stretch and move. When my son was a baby, every time we got him out of his car seat, he would stretch his whole body. Whenever we were on road trips, his stretches would last for several minutes. Allowing little legs to stretch is just another way to make the road trip experience a happy one for your little ones.
Tip #5: Let Them Walk
As we talked about above, it’s important to let your babies and toddlers stretch and move around when you have a pit stop. If your little ones are able to walk, let them get down and walk during your breaks. This will allow them to burn some of that neverending energy they seem to have. If you can, find a playground or grassy spot away from traffic to let them jump, run, and wiggle. If that is not possible, at least let them walk beside you while in a store or restaurant.
Tip #6: Dress For Comfort
Another tip for road trips with babies and toddlers is to dress them comfortably for the trip. I understand the desire to want your baby to look cute at all times. But, being in the car for hours is one of those times where comfort trumps cuteness. They will be happier and more cooperative, the more comfortable they are. If you need your child to be dressed up when you arrive at your destination, you can always change them once you arrive. But, for the drive, consider putting your little one in pajamas, a onesie or something that will keep them comfortable while in their car seat. And, think about letting them go without shoes while in the car too.
Tip #7: Have Snacks & Toys Handy
Just like when you are at home, you should always have snacks and toys in the car to keep your babies and toddlers happy during your trip. These can keep your child entertained while you are on the road. Additionally, having some surprise snacks and toys can keep your precious one distracted until you can get to a place to stop if necessary. I recommend packing snacks that are easy to eat and not messy. Check out my list of the best snacks for road trips for some ideas. (Want a printable snack list? See the box at the bottom of the page for how to get one for FREE!)
As far as toys go, choose ones that your kids love, but that don’t make a lot of noise (for the sake of your own sanity). And remember to put them within easy reach so you can get to them when you need them. For ideas on how to best pack your car for your road trip, see my tips on packing the car like a pro.
Tip #8: Find the Reason Behind the Meltdown
This last tip may be the most important tip for road trips with babies and toddlers. If your child hates his car seat and throws epic fits when he’s in it, you need to find out the true reason behind the meltdown. Chances are, the car seat itself is not the actual problem. When my son was a baby, he would scream if he was in the car seat at night. It wasn’t that he disliked the car seat. The real problem was that he was scared of the dark. He only cried when it was dark and no one was in the backseat with him. We corrected the problem by clipping a book light to his seat and making sure someone was in the back with him after dark. After that, he had no further problems. Likewise, my 2-year-old niece hates wearing her shoes in the car. It is just not comfortable for her. By taking her shoes off when she gets in the car, the problem is solved before the trip even begins.
So, if your child screams and fights the car seat, find the real problem. You will probably find that there is a simple solution that will make your little one happier and make road trips more enjoyable for the entire family. For more ideas on why your baby may hate the car seat and how to help, see this article by Motherly.
Road trips are wonderful ways for families to travel. But, they can be especially challenging if you have a baby or toddler. The above tips can help you improve your road trips with babies and toddlers for your future vacations. For more tips on road trips with kids, see kids and car sickness and essential items for road trips with kids. Happy travels!
P.S. Want your FREE printable list of the best road trip snacks for kids? You can find it and much more in our Travel Resource Library! See the box below for details on how to get the password to the library.