During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us missed out on in-person quality time with family and friends; but now that nearly half of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated and travel restrictions are being lifted, countless families are planning to travel for the holidays. Many of these families are choosing to forego crowded, overbooked airports in favor of road trips.
Road trips can be difficult, especially if you’re bringing your children along for the ride. However, certain precautions can help make these trips safe, pleasant and painless for the whole family.
Getting on the road
Planning the logistics of your road trip ahead of time can help you stay out of traffic and make great time to your destination. In addition, planning several stops along your route helps you to know exactly where you’ll get gas, eat and use the restroom, without having to scramble when your tank hits empty.
Plan your route
Planning your route ahead of time can help you account for anything that might slow you down, such as road construction, detours and strange traffic patterns. Apps like Maps and Waze factor in the expected traffic on the day and time you intend to leave, and will predict how long your trip will take accordingly. To make sure your journey is easy and quick, you may want to opt for the simplest route available, rather than taking convoluted backroads. You’ll likely want to hit the road in the early morning or late evening to ensure you don’t get stuck in rush hour traffic.
You may also want to plan out where you’ll stop to get gas, use the restroom and stretch. By planning these stops and factoring them into your journey, you’ll avoid having to hunt around for gas stations while on the road.
Holiday travelers are often restless to reach their destination, and you may be tempted to drive for long stretches without stopping. However, making several stops may help you in the long run. First, frequent breaks can help the driver stay focused. Second, children are prone to getting restless on long car rides, and pulling over at rest stops to allow your family to stretch their legs may help keep your backseat travelers happy. Importantly, many car seat manufacturers advise that babies should not be left in a car seat for longer than two hours at a time since car seats can restrict air flow, especially if the child falls asleep with their head leaning forward.
By factoring in stops, you won’t feel like you’re losing time on the road. Instead, you’ll see the stops as a valuable opportunity for you and your travel companions to stretch your legs and get a break from driving.
Prepare for weather
You may be able to make minor adjustments to your travel timeline to avoid inclement weather, but sometimes, it catches you by surprise. If you run into rain, snow and/or ice along your trip, these tips can help you deal with potential threats to keep your family safe on the road.
To stay safe in a rainstorm, make sure you have good windshield wipers on your car and consider adding rain repellant to your windshield which can help clear your windshield amid heavy rain. You’ll also want to get your vehicle’s tires checked before a road trip. If your tires are worn down, your vehicle may be more likely to lose traction on slick roads. While driving in the rain, make sure to travel at a safe speed and avoid braking suddenly. If you slam on the brakes, your vehicle could hydroplane and slide off the road or strike another vehicle.
If it starts snowing on your drive, make sure you’re maintaining a safe following distance behind the vehicles in front of you. If you have to brake, pump the brakes slowly rather than slamming down on them. Hard braking can cause your brakes to lock and may cause your vehicle to skid. Holding the steering wheel with two steady hands can help you stay prepared to navigate around any debris or ice on the road.
Certain car safety features can help you drive in the snow. Electronic stability control systems can warn you when your wheels are slipping. If your vehicle loses traction, you’ll likely want to ease up on the gas so that your tires can regain traction. Anti-lock brakes can also prevent your wheels from locking up during a skid. If you brake and your vehicle begins to slide, anti-lock brakes will automatically pump the brakes for you.
Black ice isn’t actually black; it’s transparent, and it forms without creating bubbles which allows it to blend in with most surfaces. As a result, it can be extremely difficult for a driver to spot. Black ice often forms when the weather is around the freezing point, and often forms at night or in the early morning on shady parts of the road, in tunnels and on bridges. If you do drive over black ice, your vehicle may slide suddenly. Try to remain calm.
If you feel your vehicle sliding to one side, try to gently turn your wheel in the same direction. If you jerk the wheel in the opposite direction, your vehicle could spin out. Rather than slamming on the brakes, you may want to simply lift your foot off the accelerator while keeping your wheel fixed in whatever position it’s in. If your car begins to skid and you don’t have anti-lock brakes, you may want to try pumping the brakes gently. Black ice often forms in patches, so if you spin out, remain calm. Your tires may gain traction again quickly.
What to bring on a road trip
- Washable changing pad
- Burp cloths
- Bottles/baby food
- Change of clothes
- Car seat mirror to see baby
- Mini cooler to store milk
- Drinks and snacks
- Favorite toys
- Tablet and headphones
- Activity books and crayons
- Change of clothes
- Napkins and washcloths
- Plastic bags for trash or dirty clothes
- Antibiotic ointment
- Antiseptic wipes
- Surgical tape/scissors
- Hand sanitizer
- Any prescription medications
- Jumper cables
- Car jack and spare tire
- Portable battery charger and air pump
- Number for roadside assistance
- Valid insurance and registration
Advice from real moms
“My go-to hack for occupying kids on road trips–and reducing whining!— is having a bag of tricks, literally. I’ll hit the dollar store and buy about ten different things. Think of things like a small ball, coloring and activity books, mini toys, puzzles, string, beads, stickers, you name it. I also get a few packages of snacks. Once we’re in the car or on the plane, I’ll let our little guy reach in and take one item out of the bag at intervals. You can wrap items individually if you want to go full-on Mary Poppins.”
-Ellen Seidman, Love That Max
“For babies taking at least two naps a day, it is ideal to leave on a road trip after their first nap. For toddlers taking a single nap in the day, unless you know your child is prone to falling asleep in the car, I recommend you leave at least an hour before your toddler’s scheduled nap time so they have some time to be excited and then bored enough to fall asleep. If you know your child is unlikely to fall asleep in the car at all no matter how tired they are, then I recommend leaving first thing in the morning so you can get to your destination early enough for a nap OR an early bedtime. “
-Nicole Johnson, Baby Sleep Site
“A portable DVD player was a life-saver when we made the move from Florida to Charlotte with our two-year-old. We stocked up on Disney and PBS DVDs and were able to keep him entertained and happy pretty much the whole drive.”
– Catherine D
“If [we are traveling] by car, we try to start driving at least three hours before they normally wake up. This usually means that they spend the first half of the trip sleeping. It’s a bit harder on us but SO much easier as a whole. Once they are up, a quick easy snack (no lactose, no sugary juice). Depending on age, I make sure iPads are charged or I make a travel kit (notebook with paper, crayones, stickers) or Lego box. We also work in a game or two. I spy, or take turns telling jokes/riddles. We can do six to 10 hour car trips with no problem (We haven’t tried longer than that.).”
– Nathalia L
“My hot tip is travel is never as easy as it is during the first six months. They sleep all the time and will sleep anywhere, so that long road trip is no big deal to them. After that, they don’t like being restrained and want to move around, which means it gets harder to keep them happy.”
– Jessica F
“Two words: barf bags.”
– Kerri M
“One of the things that helped us was having an organizer that held everything we needed handy in one place- diapers, wipes, burp cloths, a change of clothes (a set for all of us so you do not have to dig into luggage), breast pump/supplies, bags to dispose of diapers, changing pad, antibacterial wipes, etc. Also, when planning your trip, add on two to three hours more than you think it will take. On our first trip, we stopped halfway to sleep and it should have taken six hours to get there but it took us nine with stops (we could not get our bathroom breaks synced with her needed diaper changes and my pumping schedule.).”
– Lisa M
“ When traveling with a new baby, it’s most important to stay flexible. Remember that the baby’s needs are most important and everyone else will (or should) agree with that. When emotions run high, remember how long babies have thrived (and probably under worse circumstances). Lastly, rest assured that everyone will be ok and try to enjoy your trip, your family and your new baby!”