Tips to Survive a Road Trip with Small Children

Taking a road trip with your children in our case a two and four year old, can be a wonderful experience full of exploration and adventure, or a tantrum-filled, screaming-journey-to-hell… an utter nightmare.

Children in a confined space are hard work, when you have a long road trip to take, either for fun or necessity, we’ve got some great tips to help you survive with your sanity intact!

1. Be Organised:

Fail to be organised and prepare to fail.  Miserably with multiple tantrums thrown in for good measure. Pack your car with any essential items that you think you may need within easy reach.  When we travel we always have water and a bag of snacks in the passenger’s footwell so it is easily accessible. When travelling in Europe you also need to have your passports handy, even if you aren’t crossing a border as in many places, such as Portugal or Spain, it is the law.  We always have a photocopy of our passports when driving within Spain as we prefer to keep the real thing safe at home.

Top Tips for Surviving a Road Trip with Children by Topsy Turvy Tribe

2. Snacks & Drinks

Did I mention snacks?  They really can be your saviour, do not underestimate their power.  It’s pretty common sense to have a variety of snacks but be wary of the demon sugar as you really do no want a couple of hyper kids bouncing off the windows in the back of the car.  Fruit is portable, healthy and a great snack to give in a car, our boys also love these Fig & Nut Energy Cake Bars.  Ration snacks and choose wisely.  Water is also a necessity, do not forget to pack a couple of bottles that you can refill, especially if the weather is hot and you are travelling to a remote place.

3. Pack Light

When you take your car you are much more inclined to overpack, no small suitcases and no weight restrictions, oh I can squeeze it in…no, don’t do it!  Your car journey will be far more comfortable and more economical on fuel if you don’t carry too much.  When it’s not summer in Europe you have to take a variety of clothing, we usually stick to packing in threes for the boys, x3 t-shirts, x3 long-sleeved tops, x3 shorts, x3 longer trousers and socks etc, a few more undies, one zippy hoody and one pair of shoes.  We tend to stay away from PJ’s and take jogging bottoms and use a long sleeved top for nightwear as they are more versatile and save space.  Layers are also the key and we avoid taking bulky, space-consuming clothing.  If it’s cold we put on a t-shirt and long sleeved top under their hoody and waterproof.  If rain is forecast we take lightweight lined waterproof jackets and wellington boots.  If it is sunny we take a high factor sun cream, sun hats and UV swimwear.

As adults we have far less clothes than the boys, the greatest thing about living a simpler life is that we really don’t possess that much stuff, so a pair of walking trainers, flip-flops and at least four changes of clothes each.  Along with toiletries, camera, phone, laptop, baby monitor and chargers/travel plugs.  We take nappies for night time but if we are driving a long journey Mayhem (2.5) wears a nappy, Chaos at four refuses.

We do not take Avoid taking bulky suitcases, Road Trip Tips by Topsy Turvy Tribesuitcases as we find them bulky, instead we use large drawstring laundry bags, one for us, one for the boys, they can be squished into the boot or footwells and are dual purpose, and we end up bringing any dirty laundry back in one of the bags, or both if we run out of clean!
The boys also have a small back pack they each that they can load with portable toys.  A must to keep them entertained on a road trip.

Oh, do not ask your children to help you pack, in fact, pack when they are asleep, otherwise they might want to…’help’!

Chaos and Mayhem helping to 'pack' for a Road Trip. Tips by Topsy Turvy Tribe

4. Entertainment

This is where some of you will include some technical wizardry such as iPads, DVD players, tablets and phones etc.  We only have one phone which we usually use as an offline (free) sat nav so the boys are subjected to good old fashioned toys and books to keep them busy during long journeys.  We also play games, spot the tractor (we do live in the middle of nowhere), who can hold their breath shouting tunnel as we go through the longest ever tunnels and bridges, and of course Eye Spy.  We also tell stories and sing along to whatever happens to be on the radio or make up our own songs.  We did have one kids sing-a-long CD and although it was great the first time, it wasn’t the twenty-fifth, so heed our warning, do NOT play sing-a-long CD’s unless you are willing to agree to your children demanding the CD on loop!

5. Accidents

Hopefully not of the car kind but accidents can and do happen, running in the sea, pouring food all over yourself, bladder problems etc…we always keep a change of clothes for each boy within easy reach in the car.  We also have a simple first aid kit in the car with antiseptic cream and plasters and spare sun cream.  In the summer months we also take mosquito repellant.

6. No Rush

Although you could sit still and drive for a day to get to your most coveted destination you really can’t expect your offspring to sit still for so long.  Build stops into your trip to make it more manageable.  We generally pack a picnic and stop off for coffee or a drink and a bite to eat along the way on longer trips.  If you can find a park or outside space for the kids to burn off some pent-up energy then all the better.  Little people are not used to sitting still and definitely deserve some outside play time after being in a car for a couple of hours or so.

7. Advance Warning

One thing we have found as parents of two pre-schoolers is that you need to warn them in advance about changes.  If you grab the toy from their hands to put away before you go out, start changing their clothes and brushing their hair without first communicating what you are doing…stand back and be prepared for a tantrum.  If your children are the same warn them in advance that you are going on a road trip.  Involve them so they can be pre-warned about your epic journey but also so that they can be involved.  Show them a map of your route, talk about the places you will visit, what you hope to see and do, ask them what they want to do, give them options.  Time spent going through your proposed trip with your children will definitely not be time wasted.

7. Routine

We all relax our routine and rules when on holiday but we have to remember that little people thrive on routine.  If things are too different their little brains kick into overdrive and when this happens you can be sure to have a disturbed nights sleep.  We always used to take Chaos’ favourite teddies on a road trip, he cuddled them in the car and had them in his bed at night, just the same as at home.  It was a great comfort to him and he rarely had trouble sleeping.  Mayhem is a pretty terrible sleeper all round and although he has never liked soft toys he would go into meltdown if he too didn’t have his comforts so we always take his pillow (if limited space just the pillow case) and his lightweight sleeping bag.

8. Nap Time

Both our boys fight sleep and hate to nap.  Chaos stopped napping at three, Mayhem still naps now at two and a half, albeit reluctantly.  Always plan your journeys around their nap-time.  To avoid them fighting a nap we found it best to stop half an hour before nap time, have a bite to eat or a play, then hit the road again; the break makes them much more inclined to drift into dreamland…ahh, a moment of peace!

9. Carriers not Prams

We do not currently own a pram and have found that most of the places that we want to walk around or travel to are really unsuitable for prams.  Prams also take up way too much room in a car, so we use a lightweight baby carrier.  We also like to walk and home.  Mayhem loves to be carried, Chaos walks for the majority of time, unless we are on a very long epic hike (read our tips on how to get your children walking here)   We have a very old an well-used Ergo and a Boba 3G carrier than can be folded down and stashed in a bag when not in use.  Some people love their prams and wouldn’t be without them but do check if your destination is suitable.  Spain is full of beautiful whitewashed villages, complete with cobbled streets, plentiful steps and narrow alleyways where prams really would be much too hard work.

10. Go With The Flow

You can never plan everything sometimes you get stuck in traffic, take the wrong turn and end up in an entirely unexpected destination.

You can also never plan too much with children in tow because let’s face it, pre-schoolers can and are unpredictable.  Be prepared to change your plans if you need to.  Do what they want to do.  No more churches and cathedrals, spend the afternoon in the park or on the beach.  Get out of the car, relax, do something they like doing and enjoy being together as a family.

When all else fails, just remember that travel is the one thing you can buy that makes you and definitely your children richer.

Happy travelling and heres to avoiding the terrible tantrums that car journeys can bring!

Have you any great tips for road trips with your family?  We’d love to hear your ideas and top tips!

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Surviving Road Trip with Kids by Topsy Turvy Tribe