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Summer is here — and what a ride it’s been to get here. If you are planning a family road trip this summer — and many are to avoid air travel — we have a checklist and tips for you.
Some people can sit in the car for ages, taking in the fresh air and passing scenery with good music in the background. Some people, especially children, dread road trips. All that sitting still in the car. Boring.
If done right though road trips can be part of the adventure of your vacation.
Several years back I was looking at a summer devoid of plans for my three kids. I wanted to give them something to tell their class about when school started up. I wanted to give them memory-making fun. And I had a mom who lived a mile from the ocean across the country. But money was tight and road tripping alone with three kids seemed daunting. I’ll admit I was petrified when I finally decided to do it.
My work could go on the road. My mom would help keep the kids busy while I was there. And we’re talking BEACH! So I planned our first epic family road trip (minus Dad who had to stay to work).
I used the Roadtrippers website to plan our trip with stops every 2 to 3 hours to at least get out of the car and stretch. I highly recommend using Roadtrippers. The site makes it so easy to plan where to eat, where to sleep, sights to see along the way all with how many miles and estimated drive time in between.
Then all the was left was loading the car and the kids and taking to the road.
What to load in the car
First and foremost, Car Seats.
Of course this is an every day item when you drive with kids so this is no surprise. But for being in the car that much longer, you want to make sure every is correct. And although 96% of parents feel like their car seat is correct, the reality is 3 out of 4 car seats are being used incorrectly, making this information important. Sometimes the mistake is something minor and sometimes it is a much more serious misuse. We recommend visiting with a certified child passenger safety technician prior to your family road trip.
One other thing to remember when traveling this summer is that different states have different child restraint laws. You can review the state car seat laws for the states you’ll be passing through here. Remember laws do not always reflect what is considered safest and best practice for car seats.
Quick car seat checklist:
1. Make sure your car seat is secured snugly
2. Make sure your harness straps are in the correct position
3. Make sure your chest clip is in the correct position
4. Make sure your harness is snug enough
5. Make sure you don’t have a heavy coat on the child if you are going somewhere cold. Basically dress your child comfortably for being in the car.
6. Make sure you aren’t using any accessories that haven’t been tested with your seat
7. Make sure your car seat hasn’t expired.
For those with children 3 years old and up, the RideSafer vest can be a safe and comfortable way to travel with your kids. Traditional car seats take up a lot of space and are generally a pain to travel with, but with RideSafer car seat vest that can easily be stored in your child’s backpack, you no longer have to worry about extra bulk. This gives the kids more room at the back to sit comfortably while still having the optimum protection they need for riding vehicles.
For older kids or even the passenger, you may want to look at a Cardiff Headrest. It connects to the vehicle head rest and pulls down to create a place to lean your head. Great for adults, taller children (in a seat belt or RideSafer) or children in booster seats.
Bringing snacks is essential. You don’t want to have to deal with any hangry children. (And they don’t want to deal with a hangry parent.) Plus it’s not always easy to find healthy snacks on the road.
On our road trip I just had dried food and fruit that didn’t need to be refrigerated. I filled up a crate with single serve bags of pretzels and chips, nuts, dried fruit and organic pop tart things (what are they called if they aren’t actually Pop Tarts?). And I presorted candy bags — one per day per child — with candy that won’t melt in a hot car. I kept the crate seat belted in the passenger seat so I had easy access to pass out snacks as needed.
But you could also put a small cooler filled with fruit and cheese and drinks in close reach. We don’t usually drink many sweet or caffeinated drinks but especially not during road trips. The kids don’t need any extra energy. I had jugs filled with filtered water so we could refill our water bottles as we went.
Along with snacks, you know you need wipes. Especially these days, keep those hands clean. Napkins and tissues are good for some things but wipes are the bomb for messy, dirty hands.
Remember to have a place to keep all the trash. A small travel trash can is easy to empty at the gas station while you’re filling up. We used a old cracked cereal container with a plastic grocery bag inside and the lid on so if it fell over not too much would fall out.
3. Things to do
Road trips are one time when mobile devices and in-vehicle DVD players can be a saving grace. So be sure to have charge cords or portable chargers at the ready. And if they are all watching/playing something different, kid headphones are a must.
To reduce electronics and encourage driving games I charged up devices during the night and when they died that was it. It went pretty well. They took breaks to spread the use through the day.
If they can read, and can stand it while driving, books are great to have on hand. Or download some audio books that you can all enjoy. Of course travel board games can be fun for backseat passengers. Coloring books and crayons or colored pencils can be a hit.
Whatever you bring remember it will become a projectile in the car if there is a crash. We of course can’t keep our cars free of all clutter and items during a family road trip. Just try to keep things buckled in or strapped in when possible and do what you can to have small items be lightweight.
Stuffies, pillows and blankets are good for cuddles and sleeping on the road. A ball or frisbee will be good to have for some movement at stops.
4. First aid and emergencies
It’s always smart to have a first aid kit on hand with little ones. Now you won’t likely get hurt just riding in a car but you never know. And when you make a fun stop to climb around at a park and let out some energy, scratches and things can happen. So be prepared with a first aid kit.
Along with car maintenance to check before going on a road trip, make sure your emergency kit has all the supplies in it and ready to go.
During our road trip, I packed a hotel bag with clothes for each night we’d be staying at a hotel so I could leave the trip suitcases packed in the car and just bring in one bag for the four of us to the hotel.
Keep your clothing comfortable for sitting for long periods of time and in layers so you can remain comfortable as the temperature changes with the sun or air conditioning. I brought little blankets along for the kids in case they got cold, particularly if we drove into the night a little and they wanted to sleep.
Flip flops are the best for road trips when jumping in and out of the car at quick stops but keep tennis shoes handy for longer stops especially if you bring out the frisbee to run around a bit or do a little hike.
6. Your phone
Of course, this is not for you to drive distracted. This is for emergencies. And if your car doesn’t have GPS, you can use your phone for directions. While a lot of driving on road trips is on the highway, you may need directions for your planned stops or in towns where you need to switch highways.
If you are using Roadtrippers, they have an app on the phone so you can just click the next destination on the list and it will pull it into your map app. I found that the Waze app actually gave better directions than Maps so I would enter in the next destination in that. Plus Waze gives you speed limits in case you miss the signs. The speed limit goes up and down and up and down in the mountains of North Carolina and sometimes you turn a bend and miss the sign. I learned that the hard way.
Again remember those charge cords and keep a portable charger available in case.
Some other tips for your family road trip
Ride in the backseat with your kids
If there’s space for one more in the back and multiple drivers, forgo the passenger seat and sit with your toddlers. Having both parents sit in the front does tend to create a disconnect between the adults and children, but having one parent join the kids will distract the little ones to prevent cranky moods and boredom. Parents Magazine says that simple road trip games like patty-cake or tickling games can go a long way in these situations.
Don’t drive drowsy
Driving drowsy is akin to driving intoxicated. On long road trips you are bound to get tired. If you don’t have another driver to switch with use your stops to get your energy moving to help you stay awake and plan on stopping overnight instead of attempting to drive through the night.
Three days to South Carolina, two to south Florida and four back to Denver; nine days on the road to visit family in two states for six weeks. It was epic. We had so much fun, we did two more epic family road trips the next two summers before our eldest got to a point he couldn’t take so much time off of gymnastics training.
Of course there are different considerations to make if you are road tripping by RV. In either case, stay safe and have fun during your family road trip this summer.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
Copyright 2020 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.
We originally published part of this post in May 2016. We updated the article with a bunch more information. Seriously, tripled it’s length.