Things to Pack for the Kids on a Long Holiday Road Trip

Family Road Trip

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So You've Decided To Drive?

Planning to head out of town for the upcoming holidays? Thanksgiving is just a few months away, and it’s never too soon to evaluate your travel plans; especially when you factor in the kids.

As my family expanded from two to four with the addition of two little girls, I realized my travel options diminished somewhat. Flying was hard enough with one child but add a second and you now have twice the carry-on bags, twice the check on luggage, and baby car seats and strollers to manage through a crowded airport as well. Add to that the fact that airlines nickel-and-dime you for everything now, flying has become the last option of travel for relatively shorter trips (Los Angeles to Sacramento, for example).

The train is a great option, especially if you don’t want to worry about driving, as well as the wear and tear on your vehicle and your posture. Our first trip on Amtrak was very successful, but you do leave yourself at the mercy of the train’s schedule rather than your own.

In some cases, driving is the best option. But to ensure your sanity remains intact, here are some things you may want to consider for the kids.

Dress for Success

First, you should always dress comfortably for a road trip. This goes for adults and children alike. Spending six to eight hours on the road can be uncomfortable if you don’t strategically plan what to wear. I personally like to wear my pair of loose fitting jeans; the ones with holes in them. It makes me feel a little like Sal Paradise from “On the Road.”

But I digress.

For the kids, make sure their clothing isn’t too bulky where the car seat straps are going to make sitting uncomfortable. Stay away from thick jeans, and go with cotton pants and a comfortable shirt instead.

Leave the sweatshirt and jackets off but on the back seat where they are easily accessible. Trying to remove a jacket from the front passenger seat while your child is buckled into their car seat is a hassle and can be a safety hazard as well. Don’t worry about your child getting cold, there is an alternative as outlined in “Remember the Creature Comforts.”

Socks are a must, especially when traveling in cold weather. You don’t want their feet cold, and wearing shoes for the full trip is sometimes not an option. Instead of lace up shoes, bring slip-ons or sandals. This allows your children to kick off the shoes to maintain foot comfort, but in case you need to make a quick stop, putting the shoes back on won’t be a hassle.

Remember the Creature Comforts

You should always bring a blanket. As outlined above, you don’t want your children wearing the bulking sweater or jacket in their car seat. The blanket will allow your child to remain warm without having to be strapped to it. My children like to share one large down blanket but for individual comfort small individual ones work just as well.

Don’t forget the favorite stuffed animal, blankie or pillow. My children average about two to three hours of sleep on a six to eight hour drive. The sleep rate is more successful when you have the creature comforts they are used to sleeping with on an everyday basis.

That’s Not My Bag, Baby!

When planning for a long road trip my wife and I used to maintain a large grocery bag (Paper not plastic) filled with chips, fruit, crackers, cereal and other assorted snacks for our children. It was hard to manage, and also we found food would be everywhere three quarters of the way into the trip. We decided that the snacking process would need to have some sort of regulation. And we’d try to make it fun.

The night before our trip my wife and I would gather up the snacks and separate them into equal portions for both children. For chips and other snacks that usually come in the large sized bags, we would fill ziplock bags or buy the snack sized variety pack. We would then choose two of the small sized gift bags left over from birthday or Christmas gifts and labeled each with our child’s names. We would then add the snacks to each bag and place them next to their car seats.

The purpose of the bags was two fold:

  1. Proportion their snacks so that they are not over-eating the wrong types of food.
  2. Provide them with the freedom to choose what they would like to eat instead of having to eat what the other eats.

I’d like to also think that this process teaches them self-control. Once the food is gone, there is no more for the duration of the trip. Therefore, it’s best to ration what you have. Of course, these are children we are talking about.

Portable DVD video player
Portable DVD video player | Source

That’s Entertainment!

I know it may sound cynical, but the days of, “The wheels on the bus go round and round….” are numbered; on long drives at least. Sure, engaging your children in this type of educational interaction is good to do in the car, but not for six to eight hours. Not even for three hours.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for popping in the educational CD into the player, but even children will grow weary of these songs.

Let’s face it. Technology is a helper on long drives.

My wife and I have invested in a portable DVD player and the many accessories needed to keep a child entertained on a long drive. We obviously limit the amount of movies we play as we don’t want to expose them to too much video watching in general. But to divert their attention for a few hours is priceless.

If you have an iPad, that works just as well. But be warned, the iPad has addictive properties that has the potential to steal your child away for the duration of the holiday trip.

“Maybe You Should Stop and Ask For Directions”

Aside from an in-law who insisted on calling us for directions to the nearest Arby's while driving, I never really thought navigation systems were a big deal.

To me it seemed like an added expense for something you’ll rarely use. If you need directions, map them out on Google or Mapquest before leaving the house or office.

It wasn’t until my oldest daughter became potty trained that I realized the value.

A navigation system is a great thing to have on a long trip. It provides you with various routes you can take in case you are stuck in traffic, and also places nearest to your location so that you can find what you need, and fast. We have a Tom Tom that will show us where the nearest fast food restaurant, gas station or bathroom is. This is a great resource to have when your child tells you they need to use the bathroom, and you have five minutes to comply. Many cars come with the navi- system, but you can also find individual units at Best Buy for fairly cheap these days.

Keep It Clean

Lastly, no matter how much preparation you put into a long trip, you should always plan on a mishap or two. For this reason, it’s good to pack a roll of paper towels. You probably already have baby wipes and tissue in your car, but for big spills, they do not compare to a two-ply Brawny towel.

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