Tips and Tricks for Traveling with Children (part 2)

Thanks for joining us in this series of traveling with children. To start from the beginning, read Our First Family Road Trip

Now for part 2 of the list of helpful hints when traveling with children...

11. Pre-pack Snacks in Zip-loc Bags and Press Out the Extra Air.

Do you ever get annoyed when you open a big bag of chips or crackers and find that air accounted for 75% of the volume? Pre-packing snacks makes it easy to hand out/throw snacks to the back seat, they don't take up as much space in your snack cooler/bag, and the baggie can double as a trash bag when empty. Also, a few zip locks that end up on the floor is not as space-consuming as a bunch of tupperware containers. If you're planning to eat at restaurants, stash some disposable placemats and bibs in your purse. No washing involved, just throw them away when you're done. We like these placemats and these bibs.

12. Play With Your Food.

Give your child a cutie and let them peel it - this will give them an activity, as well as make your car smell amazing! Practice spelling words with alphabet pretzels (HEB) or alphabet cookies (Trader Joes). String cheerios on a pipe cleaner or string before eating them. Arrange your carrot sticks longest to shortest. Sort your trail mix, veggie straws, and cereal by shape or color. Play tic-tac-toe with waffle pretzels and popcorn.

13. Don't Lose Your Cups!

Use a cup strap to fasten sippy cups to carseats. This will keep them in your child's reach and out of the floor boards.

14. Pack a Trash Can or Trash Bags.

Some moms have made trash cans for their car by putting a bag inside plastic cereal containers with lids (like this). This keeps the trash in the bin and the odors out of the car. You could probably find these at the dollar store when you're buying your activities.

15. If You Don't Have Sun Shades, Make Some!

Pack some wrapping paper (doesn't take much space, can easily fit under the seats) and painters tape. Use this to wrap a window if a child is getting to much sun.

16. If You Have a Newborn or Young, Rear-facing Child, Hang a Plastic (not glass!) Mirror on the Seat Back.

This will give them something other than a blank canvas seat to stare at, and may help them to see you're still there. We used and liked this Brilliant Beginnings Car Activity Center. The top, center square has a small mirror.

17. Map it.

If you have time before you leave, research your route and options for stops along the way. States typically have a site with information and locations for rest stops. USA Rest Stops app includes amenities in their rest stop listings. We have been to some beautiful rest stops with playgrounds and covered picnic areas. Chick-fil-A makes a good playground stop (and snack and restroom break) on a rainy day. Any opportunity to stretch your legs, run around, and burn off energy is always a good thing.

18. There's an App for That!

Seriously, there's an app for everything. Looking for a clean restroom? Check out Sit or Squat. Curious to know what's nearby? Iexit Interstate Exit Guide lists gas, restaurants, lodging, and shopping at each highway exit. Want to avoid traffic, construction delays, or speed traps? Check out Waze. Looking for the closest diaper changing station or kid-friendly restaurant? Download KidzOut or Mom Maps. Who remembers playing car bingo with the cards that had plastic flaps to cover words when you found an item? Now there are apps for bingo! Check out Road Trip Bingo or Road Trip Scavenger Hunt. Don't forget to download the app compatible with your local library – that's a great way to get storybooks and movies on demand for FREE.

19. Lay Down the Law Ahead of Time.

Let children know what is expected during the trip and review at each stop. Can they take their shoes AND socks off? Is there a designated spot for trash? How will screen time be earned? What is the procedure for restroom stops – does everyone need to get out and try? Will you be making any purchases? How long can they play on the playground? How will incentives be earned? Discussing this ahead of time will provide boundaries and order, and hopefully will help stave off tantrums (from parents or children!).

20. Be Flexible and Have Fun!

Not everything will go as planned all the time. Traveling with children can be unpredictable. Blow outs (diapers or tires), illnesses, traffic, road closures, bad weather, and other things out of your control may sneak up on you. Having a bad day doesn't mean you're a bad parent. Be flexible when plans change and make the most of it. Remember that you are making memories along the way, and these memories will last a lifetime. 

What are some of your tips for road-tripping with children? I'd love to hear what you have found that works well.

Happy Trails!

Road Trips With Little Ones: Tips and Tricks for Traveling with Children

Road tripping with little ones can be fun and enjoyable for all. 
Disclaimer: Not ALL road trips with children will be fun and enjoyable.
I shared a little about this in my story about Our First Family Road Trip. Here are some tips, tricks, and essentials that have made car travel more pleasant for our family.

1. Borrow What You Can and Buy the Rest (cheaply).

When traveling to visit friends or family, chances are good that they may have or know someone who has some of the bigger items you may need that they could loan you– strollers, pack-n-plays, bikes, scooters, etc. When the three of us were headed to Destin, Florida in our Prius with our cooler, all of our camping gear, and three bikes, there was very little room to pack beach chairs or umbrellas. Purchasing them on arrival was an option, but bringing them home would not be an option. That was a high price to pay for 5 days. So, we checked out Craig's List. Do you know how many people in Destin, Florida are selling beach chairs and umbrellas? A LOT! Problem solved! Also, baby carriers and wraps are a great alternative to strollers, take up very little space, and provide special bonding and snuggle time while out of the car.

2. Less is More!

I thought I needed to pack the whole nursery for Our First Family Road Trip. As it turns out, we didn't need or even use most of those things. Part of that may have been due to the fact that there are new places to explore and people to visit in the new environment. Uncle Andy's lap or Grandma's shiny watch can often provide more entertainment than the most expensive rubber giraffe.

3. Designate a Changing Station and Pack it in the Car Last.

Pack diapers, wipes, and extra sets of clothes individually wrapped in zip-locs with each child's name on them in one big "changing station" bag. Pack this bag in the car last so it will be easy to access in a hurry. This will make diaper and outfit changes quick and painless without having to search through multiple bags. Pull-ups for potty trainers is an amazing back-up in case you get stuck in traffic in the far left lane at rush hour. (edited to add: We have a small toilet-training potty that we used for our daughter when she was little. We still NEVER leave home without it. We line the removable bowl with a diaper sack ($1 for 50 at HEB) and stash a pack of wipes inside. It has come in handy so many times - especially in the middle of nowhere, late at night, and when the bathroom is dirtier than the bottom of your trash bin.)

4. Keep Your Bed Time Routine.

If you have a routine in the evenings, try to stick to it. Consider adding pajamas to the changing station (see #3) if you'll be arriving late. A sponge bath, changing into pajamas, and brushing teeth after dinner can help children wind down for the evening and makes the transition from carseats to beds much easier. If you have room, hop in the back seat for a bit to read a bed time story.

5. Light the Night.

For the older children (or sleep protestors), pack some glow sticks or glow necklaces for after dark. This may prevent them from turning overhead lights on and off.

6. Invest in a seat organizer (or if you're super handy with the sewing machine, make one!).

These are great for storing things like Thieves wipes or hand sanitizer, kleenex, remotes, and extra cables. A lovey or blanket can be hung over the straps until it is requested.

7. Use a Car Charger that has Multiple Ports.

This enables multiple devices to be charged simultaneously and the iPad will always be juiced when you need it. We have one like this.

8. Stop at the Library a Day or Two Before Your Departure.

Load up on audiobooks and DVDs. Our library has these really fun MP3 players that you can check out, pre-loaded with an audio book recording. All they require is batteries and your own headset.

9. Shop the Dollar Store.

We have loaded up a backpack with puzzles, legos, stickers, notepads, note cards, activity books, and small toys from the Dollar Store. It's amazing what can become a “toy” in the car. My sister-in-law found these really fun roll-up chalk mats and sticker books for a road trip recently.  My niece and nephew figured out the stickers stick on the windows too! 

Road Trip Fun

10. Pack Surprises or Incentives for Good Behavior.

These are often an extension of Dollar Store finds, but may also include a sucker, piece of gum, or other sweet treat. A friend of mine wraps little goodies in bags and writes a colorful affirmation on them. I have never gift-wrapped my good behavior rewards, but I have kept them a surprise and out of sight. We enjoy the Trader Joe's Pops and YumEarth Organic Lollipops.

The road trip "hacks" and ideas list doesn't end here! Click on over here for the second part of the series.

Happy Trails to you...till we meet again (next week)! 




Our First Family Road Trip

My husband and I both come from traveling families. Our idea of travel changed dramatically when our daughter was born. I had packed one of everything she could possibly need. We had everything planned and timed just right. I would nurse our daughter right before leaving, and we'd stop once on the way if she got hungry before the 3 hour mark. Google Maps quoted us a three hour and fifteen minute trip. Just past Brenham, a little over one hour into our trip, the crying started. Noooooooo! This was not in the plan. How could it be? She just ate. There was no way she could be hungry. We pulled over to change her diaper. Nothing. We burped her. We rocked, shushed, patted. Nothing. I stripped off a layer of clothes – maybe she was hot. Nope. I checked her feet – maybe she had something in her sock poking her. Nothing. I tried to nurse her again. She wasn't interested. The crying continued. We racked our brains trying to figure out what we were missing. We had tried everything we knew to try so we got buckled and set off again. This time I sat in the back seat. I informed our hosts we would be arriving a little later than planned and to go ahead and eat dinner without us.

The crying continued, but louder. We were not prepared for, nor had we experienced this level of sound in our little Honda sedan. We pulled over again and went through the list: diaper check, burping, shushing, patting, bottle, pacifier. Nothing soothed our crying baby. We repeated this several times, driving for about 15-20 minutes each time before stopping again. By the time we could see Austin (around 10:00pm), we were no longer speaking to each other (because of the screaming, but also because of the stress). When we finally pulled into our destination 3 ½ hours later than anticipated we were wiped! We were emotionally spent and trying to process what on earth just happened. We were also dreading Sunday because we were terrified of getting back in the car for our return trip. Our daughter did end up nursing well and calming down that night. And by God's grace, she even gave us her longest stretch of sleep. We enjoyed the conference and the drive home was not great, but much quieter.

I don't share this to scare you out of traveling with young ones. Traveling has much improved since that day. I share this story because traveling with children cannot always be planned to a T and requires flexibility. Sometimes there will be tears. Sometimes your children will cry too. Sometimes you'll swerve across 4 lanes of traffic to exit for a potty-training toddler who swears they cannot wait another minute, only to find out it was a false alarm. Sometimes you'll repeat this 2 more times, and then discover a wet carseat 5 minutes after leaving the restroom (still a mystery to me). Sometimes your child will defy all odds and stay awake until 3am, requesting restroom stops in the middle of very dark, nowhere, No Buc-ee's, Texas. Other times, it will be so quiet and peaceful, you may forget you even have a child...until you feel their little feet kicking your seat or hear the ever popular, "I'm huuuuuuuungry!".

As it turns out, my daughter hated all car trips until she was old enough and we turned her carseat to forward facing. Looking back, I wonder if maybe she got car sick. If so, she definitely gets that from me. I can get car sick before we've even left our neighborhood. As far as road trips go, we've learned a few tips and tricks for Road Trips with Little Ones. Click here to read about my family road trip essentials.

Wishing you safe a happy travels!