Let me start off by saying that I don’t claim to be an expert on many things, but when it comes to long road trips with small children, I’ve banked more experience in the last few years than I ever thought I would in a lifetime.
In 2017, when my daughter was 20 months old and my son was 9 months old, we received the news that my husband would have the opportunity to take on a new project at work. The catch? It would be nearly 300 miles away. We were fortunate to be able to rent an apartment over there, meaning that every two weeks for almost two years, we drove back and forth between Omaha and Cedar Rapids. We lived two weeks in one city, then two weeks in the other, back and forth!
Because of those two years, coupled with the fact that my parents live across the state, I have made dozens of road trips with my now three young children over the past five years, most of them with me as the only adult in the car.
I’ve learned a lot in that time period, so I’m going to share with you my best road trip tips for “seamless” long-distance traveling in the car with young children.
1. Plan what time you will leave the day beforehand and do your best to schedule travel time during kids’ naptimes.
Avoid mealtimes, and try to avoid drinking any liquids in the hour or two before you leave! This might sound silly, but the best trips we have are when we drive straight through with no stops. Less liquids = fewer bathroom breaks. There is no worse feeling than the urge to urinate five minutes after the baby finally falls asleep in the car.
2. Bring a portable potty chair with you to avoid gas stations.
I don’t know about you, but nothing seems like more of a nightmare to me than trying to bring a couple of toddlers and a baby into a gas station bathroom by myself. This tip is probably even better during COVID-19 times, as many of us limit stops to avoid unnecessary contact. The route I take to my hometown has 90 straight minutes of no gas stations or rest stops off the main highway; bringing the potty chair with us ensured that my toddlers could do their business in the car rather than the side of the road.
3. ALWAYS have these essentials in the trunk or glove compartment:
Plastic grocery bags, disposable bibs and placemats, a package of wet wipes, and a change of clothes for each kid. The plastic bags come in handy all the time. Whether it’s dirty diapers, soiled clothes, dirty wipes if someone used the potty chair, or worst-case scenario, a barf bag, they help keep the inevitable bodily functions contained until you’re near a garbage bin or washing machine again! Disposable bibs and placemats are great if kids are eating in the car and you want to contain at least some of the mess. Wet wipes are perfect for cleaning just about any mess and are 100x more effective than a regular dry napkin. The extra clothes are usually not needed, but it’s nice having these in the vehicle at all times so you don’t always have to pack an extra outfit in the diaper bag. I change the outfits out once a year as my kids grow to make sure it’s the right size. I include a Pull-Up, long pants, and a short-sleeved shirt, as that combination is pretty much always weather appropriate.
4. Choose soundtracks over screen time.
The best twelve dollars I ever spent in my life was the Mother Goose soundtrack on iTunes. I have listened to every one of those songs at least a thousand times now. To some, that might sound like torture. But I will take the sound of children’s’ music over whining, crying, countless “are we there yet” questions any day. When I could sense my kids were getting antsy, the soundtrack went on and it almost always entertained them for a solid hour of the trip, sometimes more. I personally like my kids’ eyes on the scenery around us rather than a screen in the car, and I never have to attempt to help someone with their tablet while also trying to focus on driving. It’s a fun way to be “together” in the car rather than everyone zoned in on their own device. Music for the win!
5. Last but not least, bring travel cups and snacks.
I choose simple snacks like Cheerios and fruit snacks that don’t have as big of a mess potential as something like Pop-Tarts (crumbs for days) or anything greasy. I bring cups that are spillproof because I just don’t trust kids with straws or open cups in my vehicle. If we stop for fast food, I pour the drink into the spillproof cup. It gives me peace of mind and we haven’t had a spilled drink in the car yet, which feels like a big win in the world of parenting young children.
Perhaps some of these tips just seem like common sense to you, but hopefully, there are at least one or two that might help you in future road trips.
Traveling is stressful, and anything you can do to dial that stress back is a great choice. Share your favorite road trip tips below, and happy traveling!
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