With our family vacation looming nearer, I got more and more anxious about having such a long drive with two littles. I have a sensitive, active three-year-old; I also have a feisty, demanding nine-month-old who still breast-feeds. We were going to have a 5 hour drive ahead of us, and I did not want to turn it into an excursion full of stops and screaming.
Read on for my best suggestions and gear when going on a road trip with kids!
I do have affiliate links in this article – that means that I could get a small commission if you buy these items, at no extra cost to you. I have purchased all of these things with my own money, and only recommend the ones I actually like!
First, let’s talk routines. A little planning and preparation go a long way when it comes to your kids, especially if something new or different is involved. I highly recommend that you have dialogue with your child about what’s going to happen: “Ok in four more days, we are going to a new place! You’ll nap in the car while I drive us there.” Your child will already be warned of a serious change in their day-to-day life, and won’t be caught by surprise. If they ask follow-up questions, even better!
On that note, try to travel just before your child usually goes to sleep. We usually feed our kids an early lunch, and then hit the road. No playing after eating! I find that it winds my kids back up. Nope, we go straight from the dinner table to the car. (You could also travel right after dinner, but that would have put us at my in-laws’ at about 2am, and we didn’t want to drive while tired). It helps to have the car already loaded, full of gas.
Look at your route via your GPS, and talk about logical places to stop along the way. Even just having an idea of where the closest gas station is, or a rest stop, will help you decide when you’ll take breaks. It’s also good to have this knowledge in the back of your mind if you need to make an extra, not scheduled stop. Like for car seat blowouts… yaaaay.
As someone who’s also dealt with severe motion sickness, I implore you to be aware of how you’re driving. Whether your child is still rear-facing, or you’ve switched them to a front-facing seat, they’re susceptible to getting carsick. So no slamming on the brakes, or quick sudden lane changes, please. Motion sickness can be exacerbated if there’s not enough good air circulation in the backseat. My vehicle, a 2010 Honda CRV, is fairly small but doesn’t have vents in the backseat, so I need to pay special attention to ensure that my kids get cool air. To put it bluntly, if your child gets too hot they’ll probably throw up. With or without warning you first.
Keep extras of snacks and drinks, and maybe a small toy or two, with you in the front seat. I’ve pulled over so many times because my kid tossed his snack cup across the backseat, or ran out of water. It really helps if you have a spare (or five) within reach.
One final recommendation before I jump into the gear itself: keep some extra special toys and snacks handy which are just for car rides. We let our three year old have Goldfish crackers, only when we will be in the car for a while. So that’s a perk for him to look forward to. This could also be true of a special app on a device, a particular toy or book, whatever. Keep something sacred, just for when you’re driving.
Ok so if this seems a bit excessive, that’s because it is. Just pick and choose what works for your family (a lot will depend on the age of your kids: like I said, I have a toddler and a baby so I need a lot). Plus, it’s cool to feel like Mary Poppins sometimes.
There are a lot of affiliate links ahead. No worries, it’s no extra cost to you!
To keep the kids safe and comfortable:
- Mirror so you can see them from the front seat gives you peace of mind when glancing to the back!
- Window screens for the sun will keep the glare out of your baby’s face, and helps with privacy too.
- Frogg Togg cool towel on hot days is a nice way to keep your kids cool and refreshed.
- The Bambringo is a simple device which reminds you to not leave your child in the car. No judgment here – it happens, and there’s no need for kids to die in the car. What a cool little idea – which can save lives!
- And of course, the ever-famous Baby On Board signs – in the case of an accident, these yellow signs alert emergency teams that there’s a child in the car who needs to be saved.
For snacks and drinks:
- A bungee holder is brilliant to hook a snack cup, sippy cup, or even a toy to a car seat or seatbelt. (We have these all over the place, and use them on shopping carts and strollers too!).
- A snack cup which is (more or less) spillproof, and easy to clean or refill.
- A leakproof sippy/drink cup – we honestly just use these everywhere.
- A car seat cup holder can also really help – we use one of these and a bungee, just in case!
Remember to avoid foods which could be choking hazards, like nuts or grapes.
For music and entertainment:
- This Take Along Tunes has been a part of our travels for over 3 years – still works (just change the batteries every once in a while), easy to clean, and love the selection and quality of the music! (This is coming from a professional music educator). It’s also really inexpensive.
- For more ambient sounds (heartbeat, white noise, etc), this works great too.
- If you’ve got a device for your child to use in the car, be sure you get a nice waterproof kid case. This is what we have for our (old school) iPad.
I would be careful with device usage in the car, as the child will likely have neck soreness
and/or motion sickness with prolonged usage.
- I personally hate giving my baby a pacifier normally, but I couldn’t comfort nurse her for 5 hours straight so I opted for these.
- A pacifier clip keeps the paci from disappearing every 5 seconds.
- Shoulder pads help the car seat straps not scrape up Baby’s sweet little neck.
- These Sassy Go Go Bugs are one of the cutest things I’ve ever gotten. We’ve had these for a looong time, and I still love them! Each one does something different – the little bell in the butterfly has the sweetest sound, and the color contrast is enticing to young babies.
I hope that this exhaustive list can help you feel confident going into any excursion in the car with your littles. Safe travels from my munchkins to yours!