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Challenge: Traveling with Kids

How to survive road trips with kiddos onboard

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There’s nothing like a good road trip - but with children in tow, especially during a global pandemic, the task can be quite challenging. Here are some tips from moms on the move

Just like celebrating the Fourth of July and eating a darn good hot dog at a baseball game, road trips are part of the American way of life. Most of us remember childhood road trips and some memories are certainly better than others!

Families often have to get from point A to point B whether it is for a job change, family event or for pleasure. The key to road trippin’ is preparation so be sure to plan... and pack some patience.

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I asked a few of my friends to share their go-to road trip travel techniques so I've put together a combination of all of ours.

Before you go anywhere, it is a good idea to discuss the trip with your family physician, check out the CDC's latest travel guidelines, and be sure to research safety tips and local guidelines.

KEEP IT UP FRONT

• Keep masks, hand sanitzer, car chargers, plastic bags, wipes and an umbrella up front and handy.

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SUV or MINIVAN

• If you don’t have an SUV or minivan, consider renting one.

“Renting a minivan was the BEST thing we could have done. We were able to fit everything we wanted for our 5 week trip and still have space.” ~ Theresa

LUGGAGE

• I have each child pack their own backpack of small toys, coloring items and stuffed animals (I weed through it before we go). Each backpack sits at their feet in the car. One of my twin boys wanted to bring a huge toy truck – I vetoed that and we exchanged it for a similar style of truck that was much smaller. It’s also a good idea to not have your child bring their favorite stuffed animal in case it gets lost along the way. Be sure to include a jacket in each child’s bag (for rain, cooler weather, cooler car temps) and a small blanket too.

“I packed an overnight bag for us so we wouldn’t have to take all of our luggage out to do an overnight stop.” ~ Theresa

BREAK IT UP

• Find safe places to stop along the way. Quick breaks are important - either gas stations with some safe areas nearby, rest stops or local parks where you can let the kids run and stretch their legs without interacting/having to be close to other people. Overnight stops can help make longer road trips more manageable. Coronavirus makes overnight stops a bit trickier so choose your stops wisely. For our summer road trip, we had empty homes or apartments to stay and rest our heads so we avoided hotel stays. Some friends have rented homes or condos and asked that there are several days between each rental to "clear the air" prior to arrival.

“We had a 5-hour trip followed by two 6-hour trips (the following days). Those short spurts have been totally doable.” ~ Marilyn

BATHROOM BREAKS

• Don't leave home without a car potty. No matter what the age, travel car potties come in handy. Friends of mine have used the plastic training potties we all keep in our home and then clean out the tub in the car as they go (bring Lysol wipes, plastic bags and baby wipes).

• I prefer the fold up travel potties with travel bags. Be sure to purchase extra bags. Little side holes keep the disposable bags in place. Believe it or not, small grownups could even use these car potties in a pinch - especially during coronavirus. It doesn't do well with lots of weight though, so you could transition to a more stable training-type potty when your kids reach 55/60 pounds.

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• Always encourage all children onboard go to the bathroom during each stop.

• If you must, try hotel lobby or nicer restaurant bathrooms versus rest stops, fast food restaurants or gas stations. Walk in like you own the place and they usually are okay with it!

• Regarding babies, I always dressed my babes in two-piece outfits or onesies that button or zip down. Over the head outfits are a no-no when traveling because if there’s a diaper blowout or even a simple change, over-the-head outfits can create a huge mess! I also brought extra towels or changing mats to change my babies on the floor of the car or out of the trunk so I wouldn’t have to take them inside rest stop bathrooms.

FOOD & DRINK

• Pack a big bag of snacks – and be sure to include some special ones! My kids thought it was really fun to have packaged muffins and lollipops along for the ride this go ‘round because we don’t eat those at home. I don’t show the kids the special snacks - I just pull those out on an as-needed basis. Some moms suggest limiting the sugar on long road trips so that’s an option too.

• Pack meals like sandwiches and easy lunch/dinner foods to avoid having to find food on the road.

• Tangerines, cheese sticks, packaged snacks, baggies of cereal, and apple slices are all minimal-mess winners.

• Drink cooler: fill kiddo water bottles to start. I suggest reminding the kids to take small sips along the way to cut down on the need for stops. I also bring larger water bottles to fill the smaller ones as we go.

• Coffee – one fun item to bring for Mom and Dad, especially during coronavirus, is premade coffee drinks for when the caffeine kick is needed (these contain lots of sugar - but when on the road, who's counting?).

ENTERTAINMENT

• iPads – We managed to recently drive across the country without having to pull out the iPads. However we did use the car DVD player the entire trip. iPads are amazing and are the obvious source of entertainment for those who have them. If you don't have an iPad, consider asking a good friend or grandparent if you can borrow one for the trip.

• Wifi is an added bonus if your vehicle is compatible (several devices can be powered for a monthly fee).

• Laptop or car-installed DVD player – bring DVD discs for movies and videos. My kiddos love movies and storybooks on tape. If you don’t have a DVD player installed in your vehicle, bring a fully-charged laptop with downloaded movies ready to go and place it where all kiddos can view it. You can also check out DVD shows, movies and music from your local library.

• Travel games – “I Spy with my Little Eye” (find an object and everyone else must find it) or the ABC game (you have to find objects inside or outside of the car that begin with a certain letter) or the License Plate game (find license plates from each state)

• Travel bingo cards – remember these from when we were little?

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• Doodle pads, drawing boards, books – age appropriate from toddler books to chapter books

• Surprise toys & treats – when the kiddos get restless, sugar-free lollipops and gummies often help and surprise toys do too.

“I really appreciated my mother-in-law’s bag of wrapped educational yet inexpensive goodies to open when the kids were getting unmanageable.” ~ Valarie

Bring these out in the car or on the airplane as needed – and not all at once!

• Podcasts and airpods are key for the grownups onboard

• Music playlist – we keep running music playlists (kids list, family list, beach list, etc)

• “Educational apps and a ton of books!” ~ Morgan

APPS

• Ask your friends and your child’s teachers for educational app suggestions.

Here are some of our favorites (some require a subscription):

ABC Mouse & Mastering Math, Sumdog, Epic, BrainPop Jr., Zearn, Quizizz, MooseMath, ABCYA & Tangram, Quiver, Popmath, Sora, Adventure Academy, Libby

• Netflix is also very handy (try the show ‘Brainchild’)

CAR SICKNESS

• My kids get carsick so motion sickness relief products are extremely helpful for us in the mountains – always consult your pediatrician and doctors before use. When in mountainous terrain, we also turn off all electronics and encourage the kiddos to look out the window (have them find animals, look for certain types of cars, etc). Our pediatric nurse also recommends easy foods the morning of a road trip – limited/no dairy or greasy foods.

"It was fun looking out the window. You get to see cows, horses and cantaloupe (antelope)." ~ my son, Cody

CHECK LIST

Masks

Hand sanitizer

Snacks

Non-spill water bottles

Water bottles (to fill kid water bottles)

Lysol wipes

Baby wipes

Plastic bags – for trash, dirty diapers or nauseous kiddos to hold (make sure the bags don’t have holes in the bottom if you’re recycling grocery store plastic bags)

Towels

Car potty

First Aid Kit

Books, travel games, music, DVDs, iPads

Blankets, pillows and jackets

Patience!

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