Having 11 kids, ages 1 to 21 (with another on the way), and having traveled over 40k miles in the last 2 years, AND having spent quite a bit of time doing short road trips before we became full-time RVers, we have a little bit of experience in the field of traveling with kids. Over the years, we have picked up a few tips that make on the road more enjoyable, and hopefully easier, when traveling with children. I am planning on doing a series of posts, focusing on traveling with kids, and will address each age separately. We’ll start with the littlest, so here are my tips for traveling with an infant:
Clothing – we always try to dress our babies for comfort when they will be spending any amount of time in their car seats, choosing clothing that will not bind and is loose. We are careful to not overdress – it is much easier to cover them up with a blanket than it is to pull over, take them out of their seats, and take clothes off (especially if they have fallen asleep). We don’t put shoes on our little ones when putting on the miles, and we take off coats and jackets before buckling them in. Comfort=contentment (well, a bit moreso anyway)
Food – for our family, snacks are huge when we are traveling 🙂 we always try to pack a few items that are age appropriate, but are careful to stay away from sticky items, round foods that are easily choked on (especially for babies!), and sugar-laden foods. For the littlest ones, we like to pack cereal, cheese cubes, bananas and strawberry slices; you may also consider store bought baby snacks, tho my littlest ones have never cared for them.
Toys – we keep a few toys that are just ‘van only’ toys, and that come out only on longer trips. But, for little ones, it is also important to pack any special toys (and especially blankies!) that your child may find comfort in, or that hold their interest longer than others. For our family, we never pack ‘noisy’ or electronic toys – with multiple kids, there is already plenty of noise with just normal talking or a book on cd – the added noise of electronic toys can be a distraction to the driver, and driving in an unfamiliar area needs all of the operator’s attention.
Planned stops – For babies, it is important to make regular stops. Both to give their little bodies a break from those hard car seats, and to get some snuggle time in. If your little one is rolling or crawling, consider packing a ‘picnic’ blanket that can be laid on the grass of a rest stop, and let them have a few minutes of wiggle time while you stretch your legs too. While I know from experience that it is possible to nurse a baby while they are riding in their car seat, it is not the most comfortable position for mom or baby; plan on pulling into convenient rest stops or other parking before baby is worked up from being hungry – you will both be more relaxed and find joy in the journey. Also, if you have older children, consider having them change seats when stopped; having a new face to talk to and hair to pull will keep baby entertained for a bit.
Convenience items – both in our sticks & bricks, and in our RV, we use homemade baby wipes, but when it comes to traveling in the van, I am careful to keep plenty of boughten wipes for diaper changes. Convenience items could be disposable diapers if you usually use cloth, individual hand sanitizer wipes for after diaper changes, jarred baby food, wet wash cloths in a baggie or plastic container for wiping faces and hands after snacks, even disposable medicine dispensers, placemats, bibs, scented diaper sacks… While these are often things that I wouldn’t use on a daily basis, they are worth the small extra cost for the convenience on the road.
If your baby has set nap times, try to travel so that they will sleep in the car/rv. Try to avoid traveling during hours when it will mess up their nighttime sleep schedule since that will generally mean that it also messes up YOUR nighttime sleep schedule. There is nothing worse than traveling in the evening, arriving at 9pm, and finding that your little prince is wide awake (and will be for quite some time) because he just slept for 4 hours in the vehicle.
Plan for the unexpected. Whether your trip is a 2 hour jaunt, or a 2 week vacation, plan for worst case scenario. Be sure to have more diapers than you think that you will need, extra outfits, and bottled water for making extra bottles or rehydrating the nursing momma. There is a fine line between being prepared and packing everything but the kitchen sink; pack keeping in mind that there are laundromats on the way, but that you also won’t want to just pull over and do laundry if baby spits up more than usual because of road vibration. Any outing, especially involving a baby, seldom goes just as planned, and that is especially true for roadtrips! But, with a little pre-planning, your trip can be a great time of family bonding (in more ways than you think 😉