Ask Patty’s Tips for Long-Distance Car Travel with Toddlers
Over the last couple years, we've gathered up lots of answers to questions about everything from car maintenance to surviving long-distance car travel with children. We get A LOT of questions about how to survive long-distance car travel with young children! So, here are a few of our favorite tips for traveling safe and having fun on longer road trips with young kids.
Before you depart, double check your child’s safety seat to ensure it is installed properly. And if you haven’t changed the seat lately, make sure it is still the correct model for your child’s height and weight. The NHTSA has created an easy to use chart on general child seat usage. You should also consider purchasing a child sunshade. A nap will not last nearly as long if your children are hot and the sun is shining in their faces. And don't forget to bring along some carsick bags! Building happy memories and avoiding hours of tears is all about anticipating your child's needs.
At home, most children have a set routine with a fixed time for meals and naps. On the road, this can be easily upset, and little ones may not respond well to the change. If possible, keep to your child’s routine. Take a break for a nap or a meal before they are hysterical.While it may be more comfortable for an adult to begin a six-hour road trip first thing in the morning and drive while fresh, it is the worst time to strap a young child in the car.
Spend the morning in active play and finalizing the preparation for your journey. Most toddlers take one long afternoon nap. If this is true of your child, plan to depart just after lunch (so that no one is hungry), which will probably be about an hour before normal nap time. Be sure everyone has used the restroom before getting into the car. Stopping a moving car is akin to asking a child to be awake and alert. Most toddlers will play happily in a car seat for about a half an hour -- only five to go! When your two-year-old starts to get fussy, it's time to start your nap time routine, even if it is a little early. This may include a sippy cup of juice, cuddling a blanket, or holding a favorite toy. The motion of a moving vehicle will most likely do the rest.
About three hours into your trip, your two-year-old will probably wake up refreshed and ready to play. This is an excellent time for a park-and-potty break. If possible, plan your break for a rest stop or play area and let your toddler run! Advanced planning will ensure you know where all of the options are located along the way. After a good break you and your kids will be ready for the final push to your destination. The key to surviving this leg of the road trip is distraction, distraction, distraction!
Pack plenty of travel games and rather than giving them to your child all at once, hand them out one at a time. When toys no longer suffice, it’s time to turn on the audio. When their favorite cd, audiobook, or dvd is finished, go back to the toys or travel games and so on. Don’t forget to get involved in their play. Sing along with the music, engage in their activity, and make funny faces (this also helps keep the driver awake!).
Snack time! Pack food that is fun and healthy such as crackers, fruit and cheese. Finally, don’t fret if a journey that takes six hours without kids, now takes eight or nine. Take that 10-minute break every hour your child is awake and you will arrive at your destination safe, sound and happy!
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