Having a road trip with kids is a challenge.
Learning how to travel with kids is like training a sport. In the beginning you stink but at the end you’re a master.
When you start a family, lots of things drastically change. The way you drive and travel is one of them.
You see, kids are like little people. They have their own needs, habits and what they like or dislike while traveling.
Problems lie in the misalignment of their and your needs.
Finding the middle between these needs will make a road trip with kids a pleasant experience. Trying to indulge only yourself will only cause problems.
This article comes from my own experience as both a driver and father of two little girls.
For those that have just started a family I hope these tips will help through the transition from a lone rider to a good parent driver.
If you already have a family and some experience, hope you’ll find something new that will spare you some nerves, tooth crunching and headaches when having a road trip with kids.
Tip.1 Be a good and careful driver
This is definitely the most important tip you need to know.
Yes, your kids safety is in good car seats, having a car in good condition and so on, but nothing in the world can protect your kids if you’re an irresponsible driver.
Risky or hazardous driving is not an option in any case, much less with children.
Some driving tips that will help:
Evaluate every traffic situation twice; getting into a tight spot is out of the question.
Don’t make risky takeovers; what you would MAYBE do on your own is usually out of the question when kids are on board.
Keep the speed down; high speed is an enemy in any case. It shortens reacting time drastically thus increasing the risk of an accident
Keep your eyes wide open; any remote possibility of trouble (straying pedestrians, other people’s irresponsible driving etc) has to be noticed on time. Noticing means more time to avoid trouble.
Defensive driving is probably one of the best options when having a road trip with kids.
Tip 2. Patience is the key
Patience is a skill that you’ll need for sure when traveling with kids. The main problem with patience is that it’s hard to learn.
When having a road trip with kids, you’ll need all the patience in the world.
You’ll have to deal with screaming, talking all time, throwing up, child’s legs pushing you’re seat, never-ending questions…… the torment list goes on.
Well, just embrace this as a fact of life. Losing your temper, yelling or being a drama queen will not solve anything and is, at best, short-term help. It will just make things worse. Spoken from experience.
Every driver has a method of their own for dealing with this. What worked best for me is focusing on driving and ignoring all of the mentioned distractions.
I’d take care of the driving and my wife would take care of the kids. On a long trip we would change places. If the kids got impossible to deal with, we would make a stop and let them out a bit.
The point is that two of the most important things are taken care of : the kids and the driving.
Remember, losing your temper and patience will not solve anything. It will only cause trouble, trust me.
Tip 3. Check the children’s car seat
Children car seats are, of course a must have. I would recommend quality ones (don’t have to be the most expensive) that have all of the safety certifications.
Equally important is fixing them in place properly.
Almost all cars in the world have the rear seats adjusted to this purpose (ISOFIX system). If you buy a quality children’s seat, it will have all the anchors needed to make a quick,simple and strong connection.
Follow the instructions to the letter and everything will be OK. Any kind of improvisation is out of the question and is very dangerous.
Have in mind that the main goal is child protection in case of a collision so do it by the book.
Tip 4. Keep the kids entertained
As with many things in parenthood, having a road trip with kids also demands compromise.
If you and your spouse both want to enjoy the trip and make the kids happy you’ll have to use the entertaining “strategy”.
There are lots of ways to do this starting from food and drinks to Smartphones and tablets.
Give the kids some of their favourite food-try to avoid greasy or intense food as this can lead to vomiting.
Bring their favorite toys. You’ll se that this is a huge a help and the kids will be happy. Although it makes a mess in the car, the point is to keep them occupied.
Interact with the kids as much as possible; so long as you drive safely, some talk, joking,a sing-along with their favorite music is great. One more benefit of this tip is that you’ll also be a good parent.
Use the smart phone or tablet. This works like magic and the kids will be happy for hours. To tell you the truth, it’s not my favorite method as I get the feeling that the kids are neglected.Just don’t overdo it as long watching can cause nausea. Also don’t forget to bring all of the accessories that go with them (chargers, holders etc.)
The list goes on and is limited only by your imagination.
If you have a toddler; they are perhaps the least needy. They tend to sleep a lot during a road trip and need less attention:to get fed or change the diaper.
Tha main goal is to have a safe drive and that is much easier with less distraction. But have in mind that the kids aren’t the distraction, their childish behavior is.
Tip 5. Be well prepared-bring everything you might need for a road trip with kids
Don’t think about having a road trip with kids without enough food and beverages.
These two are the most important; everything else can be more or less replaced.
Bring the kids favorite foods and drinks. Try to avoid soft drinks that have a lot of sugar and food that is heavy on the child’s stomach. This is to avoid nausea and vomiting.
Always have at hand wet tissues, towels, plastic bags, cooler etc. Whatever you MIGHT think you’ll need, carry it with you. Better safe than sorry.
If you’re driving a toddler, have enough diapers, tissues, baby food etc.
For winter trips have some extra blankets, for additional warming up if needed. In the summer, put some sun shields on the back windows.
Most of us get annoyed by all the packing and start questioning ourselves and spouse is all this necessary. Just think about the consequences and if something is missing.
You don’t need a better example than getting stuck in traffic in summer or in a blizzard with low temperatures with kids that want water or food that you don’t have.
Been in that situation and it isn’t pleasant at all.
Tip 6. Inspect the car before having a road trip with kids
Safety lies in a properly maintained car.
Any faults that you may notice have to be inspected before the trip. Don’t gamble with this as you may end up stranded in the middle of nowhere with your family.
You can do this on your own or perhaps find a good mechanic to do it for you.
Breakdowns happen even despite this and to the newest of cars. I’m saying just do your best to prevent one.
Tip 7. Have enough gas (petrol) in the tank
Experienced drivers will probably laugh at this one. How is it possible to run out of gas?
You’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t notice the fuel gauge while driving.
So, if you’re going for a long trip, fill up to the brim, especially in winter conditions. Check the navigation maps. If you have a route that is isolated or doesn’t have any gas stations, fill up again before you start that route.
Again, better safe than sorry. As soon as the gas tank is half empty, pay attention to make a refill as soon as possible.
A breakdown can be seen as bad fortune, but running out of gas (petrol) is just pure negligence.
Tip 8. Make a realistic time table-be prepared to make frequent stops
Any trip (especially a longer one) demands some planning. Departure, arrival, where and when to make stops, traffic situation…. all of these have to be considered.
But, as you’ll see, having a road trip with kids will demand changes all the time.
You have to take into consideration thing like:going to the bathroom, possible nausea, kids anxiety and the fact that kids, by their nature don’t put up well with staying in one place for a long time.
Having that in mind, take that plan of yours and stretch it out a bit. Know, in advance, that you’ll simply need more time. This is a fact.
The problem that you should be aware of lies not in the time-table but in your patience and awareness. If you’ve a set a time-table that you think (or have) to make possible, and you don’t, this will cause disappointment which leads to nervousness.
We all know how bad this affects driving.
Tip 9. Have a backup plan if the car breaks down
We’ve mentioned breakdowns and how sudden they may happen. This is just a fact when having a road trip with kids or otherwise.
The best thing you can do, as a driver, is to be prepared.
Have some basic tools in the car
A few wrenches, screwdrivers and pliers won’t take much space but mean the difference between being stranded and continuing the road trip.
Check the spare tire and tool kit
Lots of drivers don’t check until they have to change a spare tire. Not having a good spare tire and the proper tools also means getting stranded on the side of the road.
Emergency phone numbers
Have them all. If you’re a member of a road assistance make sure that the number is up to date and that they’ll be able to help you. Refresh all family, relatives and friends numbers, especially those that may live near your travel route.
Check that you have a phone charger
This is, perhaps the most forgotten item on a trip but causes the most headaches. A flat phone battery with the combination of a breakdown will, if in a remote place, leave you stranded for hours. Just always have that scene in your head and you won’t forget it, trust me.
Have enough cash with you
Having a credit card is OK, of course. But in the middle of nowhere, it’s pretty useless. Some road assistance companies will take only cash to repair the car. Maybe you’ll be in a situation where local people will have to use their machinery to help you (tractors, trucks etc). I doubt they have a credit card machine in their household, if you know what I mean.Been in that kind of situation and it is only fair to reward the people who got you and your family out of trouble.
Tip 10. If you’re a car puritan, get rid of it
If you really take care of your car interior and like everything to be tidy, then you’re in for a disappointment.
Having a road trip with kids means stains, food remains, crumbs and papers all over the back seats and floor.
As you’ll see, eating in the car is something kids enjoy the most.
The end result is spilled drinks, papers and tissues all over the place, food stains and else.
Many drivers who take care of their car will understand what I mean. Any driver who wants keeps the car interior in good shape will get a minor nervous breakdown. Your beloved car will temporarily become somewhat of chicken coop.
Well, in order to avoid getting aggravated, mad and nervous the most useful thing to do : change your attitude as soon as possible.
This is just the way it is when traveling with your kids. If you forbid this you’ll only make more problems.
Think of the benefits as children tend to be calm and silent while enjoying their snacks.
The whole point is to stay calm as a driver and get rid of nervousness. Being nervous only leads to lack of attention while driving and this leads to trouble. Not to mention the fact that you’ll ruin the trip.
Best thing to do, if the mess starts making you nervous, make a stop at a gas station or rest area as soon as possible.
This has double benefit: you can both clean and vacuum the car (which will surely calm you down) and let the kids out for some fresh air.
Most important thing is to preserve patience, nerves and have a cool attitude.
After this, you can continue the road trip to everyone’s joy and have a good time.