Summer is officially here. Whether you’re planning to road trip to the great waters of the Gulf of Mexico or make the haul to The Happiest Place on Earth (Disney World, obviously), a little preparation for the drive goes a long way.
With help from moms who have been in the trenches, we have the lowdown on summer road trips with kids in tow.
1. Technology is your friend. “Having something to keep them entertained in the car is a must,” says Dr. Christina Holmes, a pediatrician at the Baton Rouge Clinic. “While it’s best to try and avoid technology on a regular basis, when you’re in the car, you do what you gotta do.”
As such, Dr. Holmes recommends balancing technology (tablets, phones, etc.) with human interaction. A good old-fashioned game of I-Spy not only helps to kill the time, but it also helps younger ones practice their colors. When technology is being used, Dr. Holmes suggests educational videos and games.
Local mom Amy Foreman also recommends hitting up the $5 bin at Walmart to stack up on DVDs before your trip. The movies will be brand new, and you can monitor what they will be watching as you drive.
However, don’t forget to bring along some headphones so the movie won’t bother everyone. “Having headphones for the kids really helps save my husband and I’s sanity,” she says. “The kids can get really loud with their movies.”
2. Purchase a travel tray. Coloring books in the car are a no-brainer. Foreman says she uses large ziplock bags to hold both coloring pages and crayons. But how’s a three year old to color in her lap? A lap desk, or kids travel tray, not only helps provide a surface for coloring (and fits nicely over the car seat), but can also come in handy during snack time. Trays run under $20 online. For a cheaper version, Foreman recommends a plastic craft caddie, available at the Dollar Tree.
3. Plan an exit strategy. Dr. Holmes recommends leaving for your trip around nap time. “If you leave around nap time, the children can at least get a couple of hours of sleep,” she says. “When they wake up, hopefully you’ll be able to stop for a meal.”
Stopping for a meal will allow everyone to stretch their legs and get their bellies full. When on a budget, prep to-go meals ahead of time and utilize a rest area with picnic tables and green spaces.
“Hopefully on the rest of the trip, everyone will be well fed and happier,” Dr. Holmes says.
However, if it makes sense to break the trip up and not drive straight through to your location, by all means, go for it. Are you driving to Orlando? Tallahassee is the perfect pit spot to grab some food and stretch your legs. Lastly, for those who are comfortable driving at night, driving through the night is always an option as well.
4. Food: pack it. Stocking up on snacks before hitting the road is a must. If possible, prepare homemade treats like muffins, trail mix, and brownies. If time is of the essence, grab treats like raisins, fruit snacks, dried fruit, Goldfish, or Cheerios. The best bet, Dr. Holmes says, is anything that can be vacuumed up easily (meaning nothing sticky). Steer clear of suckers and hard candy. Not only do they pose as choking hazards, they’re also a lot messier to clean up.
“If your child is under two years of age, you don’t want them to swallow anything accidentally since you won’t be able to get to them easily,” Dr. Holmes says. “Especially if they are facing backwards or they are by themselves. It can be helpful if a parent or older sibling can sit next to them [during the trip], so they can monitor snacks.”
5. Consider the summer sun. Summer in south Louisiana can be brutal. Agreeing on an internal car temperature can be tricky when the sun is beating down on one side of the car and not the other. For any road trip, car shades are a must. A three-pack is available on Amazon for under $10. And, on the other end of the spectrum, it’s possible the internal temperature at some point could be too cold for your little one. That’s when a blanket can be a godsend.
6. Pack for the trip, then pack for the car. Putting a few waters and drinks for the kids in a cooler will not only save money from costly gas station prices, but will also keep everyone hydrated. When those juice boxes and water bottles are empty, have a trash bag to make clean up a breeze.
7. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Road trips are unpredictable. That’s no reason to be unprepared. No one plans to be stopped on the interstate for hours, but it happens. What’s a mama to do when her four year old has to pee and there’s nowhere to go? Whip out the to-go toilet paper wipes and pull over. “Tissue to-go” runs about $2. It’s not ideal, but may be the only option.
8. Keep the destination in mind. Going somewhere with an elevation change? Packing gum and fruit snacks to chew on when entering the new climate can help relieve pressure in ears. Dr. Holmes says anything that helps to keep the jaw moving will work. For nursing moms, Dr. Holmes recommends nursing, or giving a bottle.
9. Prepare an emergency kit. “I tell parents and caregivers to bring a kit with them packed with fever reducers, a thermometer, Neosporin, band-aids and the like,” Dr. Holmes says. She also recommends sunscreen (yes, even if you’re not going to the beach) and bug spray. For children who take medicine or vitamins, Dr. Holmes suggests purchasing a daily pill box. “Separating the pills into days is easier than bringing the full bottle,” she says.
10. Have fun! Dr. Holmes, whose children are nine and seven, says her family makes a few trips throughout the year, including a big summer trip. “It’s fun to get their perspectives on other places,” she says. “It’s really neat to get them to experience as much as they can at a young age.”
With that said, don’t let the fear of a road trip prevent you from taking a vacation with your family. With a little preparation, you will be able to make memories that will last a lifetime. Besides, the journey is half the fun. ■