Tomorrow we shall embark on yet another trek north to the homelands of Maine. We’ve done it a couple times since Garrett was born, and each time gets simultaneously easier and more challenging. We’re learning which exits have the best bathrooms and convenience stores, and now that he’s weaned, I don’t have to coordinate pumping and/or nursing, storing milk, and cleaning bottles. But the older he gets, the more active he gets. We can’t bank on him napping most of the trip, and we actually have to bring real food for him to eat.
If you are also traveling with toddlers, babies, or young children this holiday season, here’s a list of tips I’ve complied to help make your car trip smoother.
- Be sure that your car seat is secured properly! If you need help making sure of this, check out this article from healthychildren.org or visit your local police or fire station for assistance.
- It may be tempting to switch your young toddler’s car seat to forward facing in order to more easily interact with them, but please, don’t do it. Children should be rear facing until 2 years of age or until they’ve outgrown the height and weight limits for their car seat in the rear facing position. Consider a mirror that attaches to the backseat for better visibility while traveling.
- Pack plenty of water, a first-aid kit, blankets, and a flashlight in case you break down at night. Have the number for AAA or another road assistance service handy. Your car insurance company may provide this service as well. Also keep your cellphones fully charged.
- Scope out family bathrooms. It’s much easier if everyone can stay together and help each other out. Walmarts and Targets are good bets for having family bathrooms.
- Play interactive games with your toddler throughout the ride to keep them entertained. Songs and fingerplays are great choices, as well as iSpy, Bingo, and other games for older children. Talk to them constantly and encourage them to look around and enjoy the scenery.
- Start engaging your toddler as soon as you hit the road. This way, he won’t mind taking a break and quietly looking at some books on his own after a while.
- Take a break before your child gets fussy, this way he doesn’t associate throwing a fit to stopping and getting to be free for a bit.
- If you’re traveling with more than one adult, consider having someone ride in the backseat to hang out with the little ones. It gets lonely back there!
- Leave early and assume you’ll get there late. You never know how long pit stops will take and how many you’ll need. I always add at least an hour, if not two to my planned trip time.
- If you can, plan for at least part of the trip to take place during nap time.
- Whatever you do, do not stop while your child is asleep! This will almost certainly wake them up!
- Pack plenty of drinks and snacks, particularly favorites that you know your child will enjoy.
- Pack snacks that you know your child can eat safely, independently, and relatively mess free. Use snack traps, pouches, and sippy cups.
- Bring along your child’s favorite toys to keep them happy and stimulated. If your child has a very special lovey, it’s a smart idea to have multiple copies of the same or similar item that are rotated frequently so you’re child loves them all equally. That way, if you lose on a trip, your child is less likely to be devastated.
- Consider getting some new toys, or bringing along some toys your child hasn’t played with in awhile to keep things fresh and exciting.
- Pack books and playthings that your little one can use on his own, like Magna Doodle and lacing and buckle toys that don’t have a whole lot of pieces.
- For toys with small pieces, grab a cheap 9-by-12-inch baking sheet for each child to use as a playing surface so crayons, cars, legos and such don’t roll away and get lost. Magnets are also great for playing with on baking sheets.
- Keep the toys in a box or bag in the front seat, and toss them back when your child loses or gets bored with their current toy.
- Pacifier clips and linking chains can keep toys attached to the car seat so they don’t get lost.
Things to pack
- If your child is potty training, bring a portable potty and toilet paper. Consider training pants or lining the car seat in case of accidents. If still in diapers, be sure to pack diaper cream in case of rashes. A long ride in a seat with a sore bottom will be quite miserable.
- Pillows and blankets to help stay comfortable.
- A plastic bucket for car sickness emergencies.
- A ball or bubbles to encourage your child to be active during rest stops. Bubbles can also be used in the car if your stuck in traffic.
- Plastic zip top bags and trash bags. You just never know what you might need them for! The possibilities are endless.
- Any sort of child accommodation that you think you might not have access to when traveling or staying at someone else’s house, like a portable bed, travel high chair/booster seat, potty chair, etc.