When my son was four months old, my husband and I decided to journey by car to a city some 12 hours away. By the end of that trip, I’m not sure who was crying harder, us or our son. We were completely unprepared for the rigors of traveling with an infant, and we failed to plan for things that would have made the trip more tolerable, such as longer nursing breaks and time to get him out of the car to look around.
Since then we’ve taken dozens of long-distance trips, and we’ve never had problems like that again. Here are some tips for traveling with your young children, whether you’re going to Disney World or visiting a cousin at a faraway rehab center.
Plan for Breaks
I cannot emphasize this point enough. It’s tempting to want to travel quickly, stopping for nothing but the necessary bathroom break, in order to get the trip over with faster. But it’s simply not realistic to do so with a young child. Your son or daughter needs time out of the car, looking at stimuli other than the backseat of the car, even if he or she is very young and can’t yet comprehend what he or she is seeing.
Plan to stop at least once every 90 minutes. Look at a map beforehand and see if you can tie your stops in with some fun sightseeing, so that at least you’re not bored while you’re taking your breaks.
Bring More Snacks Than You Think Necessary
Lay out all the snacks you think you could possibly need for a road trip. Then double it. You will not believe how many snacks a small child can go through during a two-hour car ride, let alone five or more hours. Be sure to bring drinks as well as snacks, as it’s important to keep your kids hydrated during long rides.
If you have an infant who is still breast or formula feeding, schedule feedings for when you are out of the car. Even if your baby regularly holds his own bottle, don’t let him do it in the car. You won’t be able to see if he is choking on the bottle, and that is a big safety concern.
Pack Lots of Toys
For slightly older toddlers, you might be able to bring a portable DVD player to keep them amused. But for smaller kids, toys are key. You may end up packing half of your toybox, but that is okay. Whatever helps you get through the trip is a good investment in car space. Buy a few cheap new toys for the trip, too, so your child doesn’t get bored with the same old thing.