Let’s face it – traveling with little ones can be intimidating. Especially the first time, when you have no idea how they will react to the long hours in the car (and when you’ve gone from a backpack of essentials to a packed-out car with a bag for every category of your life [plus extras] ). A weekend road-trip by yourself or with your significant other was no big deal. But throw a child into the mix and it gets a lot more complicated.
However, I don’t think that is any excuse to stop going on adventures. Your child isn’t a hindrance; he is just an added layer to the experience. More work may be involved, but the reward will be just as sweet. The memories are worth it.
We have gone on quite a few road-trips with Vivian, and while I am certainly no expert on the subject, I wanted to share some helpful tips we’ve picked up along the way.
Start them young.
Vivian went on her first road-trip when she was five weeks old. We have friends and family in the Portland/Vancouver area, which is a four and a half hour drive from where we live. Because we have so many connections there, it is a trip we take every few months (probably eight or so times since Viv was born).
I feel like the younger you introduce road trips, the more ‘normal’ they are to the child. Growing up, all of my extended family lived in Southern California, and taking the monstrous sixteen-hour car drive once a year was anticipated; after all, we had done it for as long as I could remember. Now, a road trip of that magnitude is never going to be quite easy with children in tow, but if trips are a normal part of life, and appropriate behaviors instilled, it makes it that much easier.
Drive at night.
When possible, I highly recommend driving at night. I know that it isn’t always ideal, but it can be a life-saver when traveling with littles. The drive is much smoother when your child is asleep (not crying or asking “are we there yet?”), and it goes faster when you aren’t having to make frequent stops.
I know that nighttime doesn’t work for everyone, whether because of visibility issues, the distance being traveled, or simply because you don’t do late nights. But even if this is the case, you can still be smart about how you schedule your departure time and when you make fuel stops. Always take advantage of nap time! Trust me, it’s all so much easier when they are asleep.
Tip: Have them travel in their pjs. Not only are pajamas comfy, but then they are ready for bed when you arrive at your destination.
Bring a new / interesting toy.
This is a great tip for kids of all ages. Having a new toy or book to enjoy on the drive will provide fresh entertainment. Don’t give it to them right away; save it for when you need it (after you’ve cycled through the usual stories, toys, and snacks). It doesn’t even have to be a new purchase – maybe just something they haven’t experienced before! Keep in mind that kids enjoy a lot of simple (and strange…) things. Andrew and I went out to dinner recently, and Vivian spent a solid thirty minutes putting crayons into a cup, dumping them out, and repeating the process over again.
Thirty minutes, y’all.
Keeping little ones entertained doesn’t have to cost a lot of money; you just have to be creative with your resources.
Keep them company.
Sometimes they just don’t want to be alone, and who can blame them? It may feel a bit like a sacrifice, but sitting in the back and playing with them is such an easy thing to do. We recently took a weekend trip to Lake Tahoe, and I spent much of the 7-hour drive home in the backseat keeping Vivian company. This wasn’t ideal, especially as I tend to feel a bit queasy sitting in the back, but having me right next to her kept Viv happy and we make fantastic time getting home.
At some ages, this doesn’t work as well – sometimes having you so close yet so far away can be harder for them because they don’t understand. You’ll have to read where your child is at developmentally to know whether or not this would be beneficial.
At the end of the day, traveling with a baby or toddler (or kids of any age, really) is going to be more work. That’s just how it is. Some children do really well in the car, some don’t. You’ll need to figure out what works for your little one and not push them too far. But there are definitely things we can do to make the ride go a little smoother, and I hope that you found these suggestions helpful.