I am a Chicagoan living in Kansas City. Although KC has become home, I still have many beautiful reasons to visit my old zip code. The past (almost) four years, I have been traveling there by car …often — and alone. First it was Evan and me, then there were two little ones. I’ve put in many hours and miles on the road, and I learn some new road trip tricks every time. Although it can be intimidating, driving alone with children is possible, and I’m going to share some tips and tricks to give you a little more confidence before you start that mileage countdown.
Road Trip Tricks for Kids
1. Keeping them busy. I have a basket between Evan and Sadie’s carseat. Evan is in charge of filling it and picking out toys for himself and Sadie — I put him in charge so he picks toys that will keep his attention. This basket stays in my car full time, but for road trips, we switch out the toys and top that basket off. Don’t be scared to include arts and crafts-style time keepers, like a little crayon box with a note pad. Recently, Jake picked up a dry erase board that has letters on it for Evan to practice on. We bought some dry erase markers and this kept his interest much longer than we thought it would. There is space to write out his own words as well, so we would spot things on our trip and have Evan spell them.
Some great toys for Sadie’s age (15 months) are light-up and interactive toys. We love our little V-tech laptop that has options for music and animal sounds. Sadie is at the age where she loves textile books. We love the Usborne touch and feel books. I keep some in the car, her room and my diaper bag. These are truly great attention keepers! A big favorite for both of our kids is a magna doodle. Whatever works for your kids, just be sure to have options. More is better! Schlep them all!
2. Games. Evan is an inquisitive (almost) 4-year-old. He loves to talk about things he sees, ask questions and tell you what he already knows. One game that takes a lot of our attention and time is to talk about the shapes of the clouds. We find a cloud and talk about what we see in the cloud. I like to describe the object for him and have him guess, or play “I spy.”
3. Food. I never leave for a road trip without a large cooler (I LOVE my Costco cooler bag). I put some cooler packs wrapped in plastic bags in the very bottom (as it sweats your food stays dry). Here are my go-to items to pack — and make sure to prep so you keep :
- Fruits and vegetables. I pre-cut these for Sadie to eat safely, and another for Evan and myself. For Sadie, I use snack cups with lids to put everything in and often travel with about three to four of them already packed. For Evan, I use snack size baggies.
- Deli meat. We love “turkey roll-ups” as we call them. It’s really as easy as the name states: I take deli meat, one at a time, and roll them up. Yep, I’m that brilliant. I roll up about one to one and a half pounds of deli meat and put them all in a large baggie. For Sadie, I hand them back one by one. For Evan, mostly everything I give him is in a snack size bag.
- Cheese. My kids love the colby jack cheese sticks, and I do too for their convenience. I pack plenty of these. I unwrap them ahead of time and throw them all into a bag so all I need to do is reach in, grab what I need, and pass back.
- Applesauce or yogurt pouches. Every mama knows how easy these are. Take a bunch, toss them in and make your life easy!
- Crunchy snacks. Pretzels, Goldfish, etc. Whatever your kids love. Don’t take the whole bag with you. Take it all in portions that are appropriate for yourself and your kids in packaging so you can easily pass these back as well. Warning: Be prepared for a mess in the car. It’ll happen!
4. Travel potty. You never know when the next rest stop or gas station will be if you’re traveling in the middle of, well, nowhere. We all end up there at some point. This is my favorite potty to take on the road. I pull over somewhere safe, put it on the floor or on the seat and let Evan handle his business. With his age, as many mamas know, the kids let us know last minute. I always carry a full package of wipes in the car and some doggy bags and throw the wipes in there and trash it when we come to one. This potty has been a lifesaver, for everyone (wink).
5. Rest stops. Two kids, one parent. It can be complicated. If you have a little one that just doesn’t stay put, pull out your stroller. I have wheeled Sadie into many rest stops if it’s at a place that has the space. Make it convenient for you. Once stopped, take some time to stretch your legs. Do a dance with the kids, bring a ball for them to kick and throw. If you’re not in a rush — and even if you are — an extra 5 minutes of outdoor play won’t hurt. If the weather doesn’t permit, do it indoors. Evan and I like to walk funny, hop/skip, try to jump to each tile/line, whatever it may be. It gets his body moving and lengthens his muscles after being cramped in the car seat. We encourage Sadie to do the same thing. It also lessens the burden of getting back into the seat.
6. Music/Playlist. Have some great music to make the ride enjoyable. Interactive kid songs are fun too!
7. Be prepared. Charge their iPad! It’s always a last resort and not always used on our trips. But when you’re both at the tail end of your attention, some games or electronic time isn’t so bad. Limit it to what you are comfortable with. Download a movie or two to have on hand in case you need emergency backup!
8. First aid kit. I always have this in my car but make sure it’s fully stocked on road trips. You never know where you’ll be, what could happen, or what you’ll need. Be stocked, be prepared. Have everything you can think of. Part of that kit should be an extra phone charger for yourself. Keep that phone charged!
Ever done the solo-with-kids road trip? What were your must-haves? —Jennifer