10 Tips for Road-tripping with Young Children

As much as we love traveling and do it well, my husband and I are certainly no experts on traveling with young children (it’s a learn-as-you-go-crash-and-burn kinda thing). Just ask our friend we visited in Denmark last week as he jovially got to watch us try and manage our two tornados as they ran into traffic, gave us newly found attitudes and decided to throw a dance party while strapped into a Danish cargo bike, all while cruising around Copenhagen. We didn’t feel a big difference with our first who simply came along on our travels; and after an amazing road trip to Italy last year with both of them, we even got cocky in thinking this was too easy…. but after this week, with a 20 month and a 4 year old…and 30 + hours in the car… it was an entirely different ball game!

So no expert advice from us today, but just a few useful pointers we’ve picked up along the way.

1. Be flexible with your expectations
We learned very early on that we could not have the same holiday expectations as we did pre-offspring. No more sleep-ins, hotel room naughty time, late night dinners and long visits to the museum. That doesn’t mean you have to expect the worst either, travelling with kids is different yes, but can still be a lot of fun. It’s better to have a rough plan of what you’d like to see and just ‘wing it’ from there…

2. Adjust your plans around them
I don’t entirely agree with the notion that our children can rule all and dictate our entire lives, nor do I endorse the ‘kids are best seen and not heard’ philosophy either. When travelling, it is better for everyone if compromises are made. We adjust our plans around them and not to them. Do you have a bit of a drive between locations? Aim to do it during nape time. Want to climb the steps of the cathedral? Do it first thing in the morning and be prepared to carry them for most of it. Sharing a tiny hotel room? Forget the TV and bring a tablet if you want to watch a show after they’ve fallen asleep. Want to dine out? Bring something for them to read/draw/watch.

3. Let go of healthy, balanced meals for a while 
Of course we’ll always do our best, but road tripping (especially on German highways) often provides you with a very limited selection of places to eat. Prepping things from home sounds good in theory, but unfortunately, might not always be a viable option. It was pretty hard to get in their regular serving of fruit and veggies last week. With little babies, it’s easier to prep or buy pureed meals that stay fresher for longer in a cooler bag. With toddlers and preschoolers you might have to succumb to the extra bowl of fries this week or the added ice cream. It goes back to being flexible and working with what you’ve got. They still pooped normally, so I’m not too worried.

4. Moderate screen time
It’s not a blog post on parenting without bringing up those screens 😉 We gave into temptation and allowed our eldest to watch cartoons during the majority of the road trip, while her younger sister slept or played with her shoe laces. However, as our feisty preschooler quickly demonstrated last week, too much of it can indeed affect their attitude and disrupt optional rest time. Allow for some screen time here and there, but don’t rely on it too much either (much like at home really).

5. Be creative in the car
The age old favorite “I spy” game worked for us and still works for our little ones. So does singing along to their favorite playlist (side note: add lots of songs for variety- because you know they don’t get sick of them as easily as you do), inventing games, drawing and reading (granted they don’t get car sick). All of the things our pre-millennial generation had to content with during our road trips… our screen was called ‘the window’.

6. Include them in site visits
This is probably more fun with older children where they answer a fun quiz about the museum you just visited or an old story whereas the younger ones are probably more interested in whether they’re getting an ice cream after or not. Still, don’t underestimate their curiosity and share some history/fun facts in an age appropriate manner (a fun story, show-and-tell etc). We don’t know how much they’ll take in, but it can’t hurt to give it a go …

7. Don’t plan too much in advance- kids change fast
We did a road trip to Italy last year when the little one was only 8 months old, so she was pretty easy being carried around and slept a lot in the car. Fast forward another year, and this little toddler now wants to walk everywhere, won’t sleep out unless she’s exhausted and takes up a lot more energy than the last big road trip. When planning our little get-away more than 6 months ago, we references back to our previous trip and didn’t take into account that the toddler would be faster and the preschooler would be sassier 🙂

8. Stay organised
If you’re a bit of an ‘organisational enthusiast’ like myself (which I don’t see as a bad thing, but each to their own) being organised is a given. Even if you’re not though, staying somewhat organised can help reduce any extra stress that might pop up during a morning check-out, late arrival or traffic block. Keeping your suitcases fairly neat and avoid rummaging through a pile, trying to find your pj’s in a dark hotel room. Dirty clothes in a separate bag will stop you from accidentally smelling like someone who just spent 8 hours in a car (wait.. you probably already do..). My husband likes to print out all the bookings for each hotel en route/amusement park tickets/ car parking, etc and place them in a little folder (in chronological order) so he has the next location ready for the GPS along with accompanying documents. People call me the neat freak, but when it comes to our travels, he takes over and becomes Dr Efficient … it’s quite the turn on actually 😀

9. Do it like a boy scout – and always be prepared
Much like being flexible and organised, being prepared is always good for any unplanned events. We had to learn this the hard way as we drove 10 + hours on a Sunday where my sciatica decided to flair up and no pharmacies were open for any pain relief. Another previous incident involved someone’s bowel movements, and without too many details, let’s just say that ‘Immodium/Smecta” are now always packed as a ‘just in case’. It’s good to have some basics handy like: painkillers, fever medicine, diarrhea medicine, and strepsils (the air conditioning in the car/hotel is no friend to the nose and throat). It’s always useful to have a little travel-sized First Aid kit with you.

10. Be wary of the “post-road-trip backlash”!
Our girls love their routine, and although an occasional break in that doesn’t usually phase them too much; a week or more of irregular sleeping hours/eating times and different locations does turn them a bit loopy. We were all very happy to be back home after a great trip, but our eldest (or let’s call her Satan for the purpose of this example) gave us a good day and half in purgatory before settling back into being her wonderful, slightly loopy, self again. Just like it takes them time to adjust to new surroundings, it takes time to settle back in at home as well …

We hope some of these tips will help you when travelling with younglings so good luck, godspeed and bon voyage !!

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