As parents, we spend a lot of time in our car. A LOT. And so does our child! We go back and forth to work, to school, and our free time is often spent shopping for the many necessities little ones require and of course, on playdates! If your backseat is filled with crumbs, sippy cup spills and spare toys, you relish the thirty minutes following a car wash when you can breathe in the citrus air and the sea of clutter has departed -- until your family gets in the car next, that is. And so you do what any logical and hard-working parent does: you schedule a road trip with your kids!
But while you may want to do it, you could use a hand overcoming some of the challenges. I can’t say I have all the answers, or that things won’t still feel out of control at times but I have some tips. The checklist below will help you control what you can control and create some long-lasting happy memories along the way:
1. Keep Your Expectations in Check
Our kids are amazing, wonderful and magical. Going on a “vacation” with a child can sometimes be more like an “adventure.” This is especially true if you have a very young child and this road trip is one of your first. Take the pressure off and start with this expectation in mind: it’s an adventure. Adventures are filled with the unexpected and if naptimes work out….hopefully it will turn into a vacation! It may take time, though, to understand how far off schedule you can push your child, not every child is the same. Understanding your child’s unique capacities will help turn your adventure into a vacation…even for mom and dad.
2. Consider the Length of your Road Trip
How old are your children? How long would it normally take in your “pre-child” life to get to your destination? Take that time and double it! The trip starts when the car pulls out of the driveway. Slow down, relax and make plenty of stops along the way. The longer the trip, the more your child is inclined to feel restless, off-schedule and tired. We all know the outcome of that!
Although getting to the destination is the goal, the stops along the way will make it an enjoyable trip for the entire family. Your child will need it, and so will you. Go back to keeping your expectations in check by keeping the length of the trip appropriate. It will give you a break and recharge the patience needed to understand and meet the needs of your child.
3. Set Age-Appropriate Expectations
Traveling with a young child entails traveling with someone who hasn’t yet fully developed his or her fine and gross motor skills. Spill-proof cups and snack holders will help curtail some of the food chaos but not all of it. Prepare in advance for the messes you know will be made. Have some extra clothes handy and get covers for your seats to capture some of the mess and relax… there are car washes all across the country!
4. Simple Treasures
Time in a small space together, away from home, can create wonderful magical moments. You can have lots of interesting conversations on what you see along the way and may even learn a new song from your child… and sing it together at the top of your lungs! There will be so many “first-time” events that you will get to experience with your child... seeing the ocean, a mountain or even Mickey Mouse for the first time. Treasure those moments. There is only ONE “first-time”.
5. What to Pack
It is said that the smaller the child, the more you need to pack! Have no fear, preparation is the key to success on a trip with young children. The amount and type depends on the duration or destination. Despite those, here are some items that always come in handy:
- First Aid Supplies: First-aid kit, sunscreen, a boo-boo ice pack, insect repellent, thermometer itch and pain medication
- Extra Clothes: Depending on your child’s age, you may need two extra sets of clothes nearby for quick changes! Kids on the sunny side of the car get warm and the kids in the shade may be cool, so a small blanket can be great to have around.
- Comfort Stuff: Your child’s lovey (and it’s not a bad idea to have an extra lovey of the same exact make as a secret spare, road trip or not!). Pillows and blankets take up a lot of room, so think hard about what you bring in this category.
- Food and Snacks: With kids and travel, it almost feels like you can never have enough! Take more than you think you need, especially if you’re not a well-seasoned traveler.
- Toys: Think about which ones will hold up in the car and the ones that will be useful at your destination. It can be an exciting treat for your child to receive a special toy on the road to keep them occupied and happy!
- In-the-Car Entertainment: This category is ripe with strong personal preference. If it’s acceptable to you and your family, and keeps the kids entertained, bring it!
- Clean-up Supplies: A roll of paper towels, lots of wipes (your diaper wipes can probably do double duty), plastic grocery bags for dirty clothes and garbage, disinfectant spray, hand sanitizer and a roll of toilet paper may become your best friend at some point. If your kids are in diapers of any type, it’s important to have enough - a road trip does not make for the best environment for potty training! It may also help to add a really sturdy plastic bag capable of keeping diaper change smells out of your car.
Traveling with children takes longer and requires more patience than the average road trip. Your sanity is the foundation for great memories for your child. Don’t miss out on celebrating all of the “firsts” with your child and treasure this time, with all its chaos! You can do it…go for it!
Gigi Schweikert is the president and COO of Lightbridge Academy and an expert in the field of early childhood education. She has managed corporate childcare centers and their educational programs for more than 30 years. Schweikert was the host of Today’s Family and is a bestselling author of eighteen books. Follow 1851 Franchise as she shares her tips on parenting and childcare.