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.