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Road Trip Essentials for Traveling with Kids

Becky Hart | Feb 27, 2024

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Traveling with young children, especially if you’re a new parent, can seem daunting. But if you’re reading this, you realize how rewarding it can be to share travel and adventure with the next generation (or you can't figure out how to put off your mother-in-law's requests for a visit any longer). You don’t need to delay anymore. Buckle up — literally and figuratively — because Seven Corners has advice that will help you master traveling with kids. 

Road Trip Essentials for Kids

Some of my best childhood memories are from what my mom termed “the land cruise.” We’d pile into the family car and head out for a road trip. So fill up the gas tank, review these family road trip tips, and start making memories.

Get a minivan 

Some parents are already groaning about this one, but as one former Seven Corners writer put it, “Traveling will get infinitely easier if you trade in that small SUV or sedan for a deluxe, state-of-the-art minivan. My wife and I bought a new Hyundai Santa Fe Sport in October of 2014 and we loved it. Loved, past tense. My mother-in-law was gracious enough to take it off our hands and give us her Kia Sedona minivan. I was very reluctant at first, but now I don't think we could live without it.

“The biggest benefit of a minivan is the ease of getting in and out of the car. With a press of a button, the two passenger side doors automatically open, and eight times out of 10, my two older kids hop right in and assume their positions in the back. The other two times, well, they're toddlers, so what do you expect?”

Make a go-bag

I know what you’re thinking. “We’re traveling, so of course I have a go-bag.” I’m suggesting you pack one smaller bag with quick-grab essentials, kind of like you would for a carry-on for an airplane.

Those essentials depend on your kids’ ages and where your trip takes you. Are you potty training? Maybe your go-bag is a mini diaper bag with a spare diaper, wipes, hand sanitizer, and various related accessories, and a change of big-boy/girl underwear and clean pants. In other words, everything you need to get out of the car and get everyone cleaned up in a hurry. You don’t want to be digging around the trunk looking for this and that when there’s a puddle in the parking lot.

Little girl eating snacks.

If your kids are older, maybe your go-bag looks more like an entertainment kit with spare chargers for electronics, a book, or their favorite travel-sized games to easily transition from car to hotel. Have one who’s always hungry? Add some snacks.

Pack everyone's favorite snacks

Most travel blogs will tell you to pack your kids’ favorite snacks. That’s a must. Snacks for road trips can be more varied since there aren’t any airline restrictions on liquids and open packaging, so pack a cooler and fill it with GoGurt (no spoons necessary), lunch meat and cheese for a quick sandwich, and fruit. And of course, don’t forget the Cheerios, animal crackers, and fruit snacks.

Remember that your nutrition is important, too. Parenting on the best of days is hard enough. Parenting when you're hangry is even tougher. Throw in some easy, healthy snacks for yourself. We promise you won’t regret it.

Prepare bottles

How do you travel with little kids who are still taking a bottle? In a sentence, have your bottles prepared and in the diaper bag. A word to the wise: if you're formula feeding your baby, pack at least two bottles pre-filled with water only, and go out and buy the Similac On-The-Go packs. That’s something else you probably won’t regret.

Clear space in the middle seat

While traveling in the car for long distances, it's tempting (but not very realistic) to think your kids will remain quiet and/or entertained the entire trip. You’ll probably need to step in and provide entertainment or comfort.

An open middle seat gives you room to sit in the back with them, leaving them in the car seat if they’re of that age. And if you have multiple kiddos who can’t keep their hands to themselves, an empty middle seat can be a neutral buffer zone.

Grab a blanket

We mentioned in our tips for surviving long-distance flights that dressing in light layers is a must. You never know when the plane is going to get too hot or too cold.

The same goes for road trips. The people sitting up front always think the A/C is too high, and the backseat never gets enough air. You probably know the struggle from even short trips around town.

The solution is a snuggly travel blanket. Not only is it great for individualized climate control, but it makes for an excellent pillow, so their head isn’t knocking against the window during car naps.

Pare your phone with the car’s Bluetooth

The radio can be unpredictable, especially if your road trip takes you to some remote areas, and kids hate commercials.

If your car is enabled with Bluetooth technology and you haven't already done so, connect your phone to the car to have on-demand music or entertainment for your kids. Kids get bored very easily, and when you don't want to hand them a phone, tablet, or toy, flip on their favorite song or whatever music makes them happy from your phone.

Road Trip Technology for Kids

You might be taking a vacation with your family to disconnect from technology and reconnect with each other. If that’s you, these tips might not be a good fit. But if you’re OK with everyone still having a bit of screen time, keep reading.

Use technology as a distraction

Siblings watching a show on parent phone.For small children especially, downloading their favorite shows and games before you leave can save your sanity. Remember that Wi-Fi might not be available while you’re on the road, so make sure streaming them without a connection won’t cause a meltdown.

Also, make sure your device is fully charged before leaving. Better yet, get a car charger with an extra-long cord that will reach from the plug up front to the child in back.

Remember that technology doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If they’re going to be glued to their phones anyway, have your kids use them to enhance the experience. They can look up the sites you’re about to see, help navigate while you drive, scan QR codes that many museums now include on their informational plaques, and more.

Turn on the Guided Access feature on your iPhone and iPad

Think about it: you hand a toddler an iPad to play with, and what's the first thing they do? Touch the screen. Which, as you know, will inevitably turn off whatever they're watching. If you’re using an Apple device, set up Guided Access to control which features are available. On Android devices, it’s called Screen Pinning.

Take Your Time. Relax. And Be Positive.

Traveling with kids, as it is with life in general, is sometimes more about the journey than the destination. Take your time. If your kids get unruly while you’re driving, simply pull off at an exit or rest area and let them burn off some energy. If they see something that interests them, bend the itinerary and let them explore this new discovery. 

Lastly, try to relax and stay positive. Getting frustrated and having a negative attitude will only make things worse for everyone. You want your children to love travel as much as you do, and staying positive is the best way to do that.

When you're hitting the road with your kids, remember: preparation is key. A successful family vacation is more than just packing the right snacks and music. For all those things you can’t quite prepare for, there’s travel insurance.

Kids get sick or hurt, possibly preventing you from taking your trip or delaying your departure. The unexpected happens while you’re on the road. For those moments, you want protection like Seven Corners Trip Protection USA, a fully customizable plan that fits your family vacation. Learn more and get a quote today.

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