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Tips for Road Trips with Kids and Toddlers

At the beginning of the year, we wrote a post about Top Reasons to go on Road Trips – Pandemic Edition. A lot has changed since then, with much of the world and Canada opening up to tourists.

After completing a recent road trip deep into the province of Quebec, I thought I’d provide my personal tips when going on a road trip with toddlers and/or young kids. Having two kids under 5 years old myself, this post is drawn from personal experiences. My wife and I are on the road at least once or twice a month visiting family between Ontario and Quebec, in addition to vacationing on the road once every 1-2 months. So the experience and mileage does rack up over time.

Before we get started, note that you will notice that there is a flow to the tips listed below. So you may need to read the point before to get more context, in case you are jumping ahead to a specific topic of interest.

Plan ahead but be flexible

No matter how well we plan a road trip, hour by hour and stop by stop, I still can’t count how many times we had to make a last second change, or additional stops. For example, I would make a split second decision by turning into an tourist information centre that I happen to see along the way. Yes, I may be one of those cars that switches lanes at an inopportune time (when it is safe), otherwise, I would make a u-turn at the next chance I get.

Driving my own car allows a lot of control and flexibility, but utilising the resources in my surroundings adds another level of assistance. When it comes to kids, we cannot get enough help. Personally, I love tourist information centres, as they offer me a lot of value, such getting a copy of a localised information packages. As much as the Internet helps with research, there will be some old school printed maps that come in handy with neat drawings on them. Furthermore, having a local person to bounce ideas off of takes a lot of detailed planning off our shoulders.

An added bonus is when they have a clean washroom to use (think diaper change)!

Comfort of your own home

My wife makes this joke all the time, our car is like a “second home”. We packed our car with so many random back-up items. Some of my favourites include extra diapers, socks, change of clothes, glasses, as well as blankets, formulated itch treatment, nail clipper, First Aid kit, hair-bands, napkins, cups, utensils, wet wipes. Basically, if we discouver that an item would be “nice to have” in the car, we will be sure to include it the next chance we get.

Keep in mind that I am not talking about items that we already packed in our luggage… because how many times did we pack something in our luggage, but left the luggage at the hotel, so we did not have it on us when we needed it?

Therefore, having these backup supplies permanently in the car is where they belong. We definitely found creative ways to utilise every pocket of space in the car. We are way better off overstocking than under-stocking, which leads to the next few points about packing.

Use the trunk space effectively

I must emphasize how valuable trunk space is. At the minimum, a stroller and a playpen. Then comes a cooler and luggage(s). After that, it is all above squeezing items into the remain pockets of space.

Nor matter how light we plan (or want) to pack, having the essentials with us makes our lives so much easier. Even though it is easy enough to find a pharmacy or grocery store to re-load on supplies along the way, I rather have the supplies handy when we are nowhere near a store. Furthermore, I rather not have to over-pay for something because I need it on the spot. I rather use my own supplies that I pre-bought when it was one sale and during a bonus offer (i.e. double dipped)!

Stock up on snacks and water

Ideally pack healthy snacks and a wide variety of choices. Healthy snacks may sound boring to kids, but if there is enough variety, it offsets it.

Personally, I rather my kids not eat in the car (unless we are feeding them directly in their mouths). Keeping the car clean and neat makes a huge difference because it can be so time consuming when we have to clean the car at a stop.

Furthermore, keep those reusable water bottles full before turning the car on. Personally, I like using bottles that have a strong closed lid and a reusable straw to prevent spilling.

Speaking of food…

Get take-out or pack your own food

Of course eating at restaurants have its advantages, such as not needing to cook and clean. Also, there will always be different types of food that you want to try. The downside is that some restaurants can take a while to prepare the food, especially when they are busy. Making toddlers wait for food is a nightmare to some.

Therefore, whenever you have flexibility with certain meals, you may be better off packing your own food or getting take-out to save time and energy. When it comes to take out, order ahead of time, so that you just have to go in and grab the food. Waiting for the food by ordering in person defeats the purpose.

Picnic tables and benches are my new best friend. Having food instantly ready to eat when you stop to sit down makes life so much easier.

When it comes to packing your own food, this is where running errands at night can make life a lot easier.

Run errands or drive at night

Some people recommend driving at night, so that you can maximize sunlight. This makes perfect sense whenever possible. However, if driving at night is not an option, another thing you can do is run your errands alone to reduce the amount of time kids have to spend in the car.

For example, as mentioned in the previous point, if you plan to pack food, do the grocery run at night. One parent would need to stay at the accommodation with the kids, while the other parents can do a grocery run. Take it a step further and prepare the food while they are asleep to save time the following day.

I also like to fill up gas at night. Ideally time it with the grocery and supply run. Personally, I use GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas station in the area to help me reduce the bill. Furthermore, be sure to rack up the rewards along the way.

I personally choose the gas station based on who’s the cheapest that night, along with factoring a specific bonus promotional offer. This is why I keep my gas rewards portfolio diversified to take advantage of whatever offer is available at that point in time. I have accounts with all 4 major gas loyalty program players:

By running errands at night, it reduces the amount of time kids need to spend in the car, which is the ultimate goal of this tip.

Travel in a convoy

Now that we recommended reducing the amount of time kids should spend in the car, it also helps to be able to mix things up. Ideally, travelling with other people (i.e. family or friends) makes the road trip so much more enjoyable for the kids. For example, in our case, we traveled with the grandparents, so we were able to split our two kids up, one in each car. One major benefit is that if one was napping, he or she would not be affected by the other child. Also, while they are awake, they are able to mix things up by switching cars along the way, so that they are less bored.

Having kids in the same car can be fun for part of the ride, especially when they are able to keep each other entertained, but ultimately, best that they have their own personal space. They children are already going to see each other often enough when we make stops.

Add more stops (and… bathroom breaks)

By not having to see each other during the car ride, it creates the anticipation of excitement to see each other at the next stop. As opposed to them fighting in the car, only to have to keep seeing each other while getting off the car, which can get exhausting.

Travelling in a convoy is a luxury for some, but adding more stops along the way is much more doable. There still might be stretches of the trip that you need to travel far to reach your desired destination. But adding extra stops along the way keeps things fun. Ideally stops with full washrooms. Even if it is just to get some fresh air at a lookout point or having fun in a park. Letting them stretch their legs frequently and being able to burn some of their energy usually means they are more relaxed in the car because they are resting up rather than finding other ways to burn their energy inside the car.

Talk to the kids

While inside the car, some people recommend car games (e.g. I spy, quite time, first to speak looses), toys and other activities suitable for the car. In addition to those recommendations, my favourite is to talking to the kids.

Disclaimer, I am not trying to give parental advice, but I am happy to share my personal experience.

I like talking to my kids and getting to know them in the car. One game I like to play is: “What do you see outside the window?” This way, they get to pick something that they find interesting to talk about. This means that they are coming up with the topic of conversation, which is more enjoyable for them. For example, sometimes they may see an interesting sign advertising or mentioning information regarding an upcoming exit. If they want to check it out, I am more than happy to make a stop. This way, they get to explore something that they spotted.

Another thing I like to do is tell them a little bit about where are going, to create some excitement ahead of time. By the time they get out of the car, they are on a mission to find what are looking forward to.

Conclusion

Road trips are probably not for everyone. But when it comes to having toddlers and kids, flying, train-ing and boat-ing has its limitations. I like having a car to give us more flexibility to get around and make stops on our own time. Until they get older, then we have more options when travelling. Until then, let’s hit the road!

Any other road trip tips with toddlers young kids? Please let us know your thoughts on road trips in the comment section below! 

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Pointshogger aims to provide analysis and updates on earning loyalty reward points and maximizing the value of your points. We hope to inspire our readers to experience the joy of travel and make the most out of what they've already got!

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