Traveling in your car with children is never an easy task, especially on your first long-distance trip with kids. Regardless of whether you own a small car or a big SUV, being in a confined space with energetic kids for a prolonged period seems like a recipe for disaster.
Perhaps think about how will you keep your little ones content while on the road? What if junior cries throughout the whole journey? How can you make sure the entire family arrives safe and sane?
Worry not, first-time road-tripper parents. Fortunately, there are ways to ensure that adults and kids have a safe, rewarding, and enjoyable experience in any long car ride. You can achieve this with proper planning and embracing change.
So, whether it’s your first big journey or you want to improve on your last one, it’s possible to make your trips go smoothly. Following the guidelines below will help you stay relaxed and make your first with kids long-distance road trip an unforgettable experience.
The Earlier The Better
When we talk about doing things earlier, we’re not just talking about getting out of bed early on the day of the trip, but in a much broader sense with things like:
- Checking the car (tires, lights, fluids) well in advance.
- Checking that child restraint systems are suitable for the size and weight of children and that they’re correctly installed.
- Planning the trip well with a few stopping points.
And suppose you also get up early on the day of the trip. In that case, you can surely avoid the hottest hours of the day (especially during the summer), which is a great plus on long car trips with children.
Check Your Car
Check your car a week before going on your long-distance trip. In this way, you will be able to take care of any issues you might find, whether it’s a component that requires service or a potential failing part that needs to be replaced.
In the case of tires, checking them sooner gives you enough time to replace them. This will help you avoid low grip in wet or any slippery conditions you may encounter.
Checking fluid levels is essential. For example, a car breaking down in the middle of the road with the children inside is not an adventure. It’s a high potential risk for everyone that can be avoided if you check the car in advance.
Also, remember to always carry a reflective vest and signals in your car, preferably on top of your luggage. Don’t leave these emergency signals caught underneath your suitcases and bags. The idea is to have your emergency signals handy if you need to stop on the side of the road.
A thorough check-up avoids unplanned stops. But suppose even with this, your car in any way breaks down, or you have a flat tire. In that case, you must put out your reflectorized triangles and vest to avoid a potential accident.
Check The Car Seats Before Any Trip
We must check car seats every time we take the kids for a drive. However, we know that most people don’t do this. That’s why we suggest that before making any car trip with children, you check a few points to avoid the most common mistakes when installing car seats in your vehicle.
Is the car seat suitable for the children’s age, height, and weight?
The most common mistake is relying on the harness in multi-age car seats beyond 18 kg. Keep in mind that most car seats have a harness use limit of 18 kg, and after that mark, your kids must switch to using the seat belt in combination with the car seat.
Is the car seat installed correctly?
Unfortunately, the reality is that it’s easy to make mistakes when installing a car seat in your vehicle, and these are the most common ones:
- Supporting the car seat with the headrest is not a good idea.
- Removing the headrest from the seat while using a group 2/3 child car seat poses a high risk due to the possibility of whiplash in the minor.
- The tether top is not an accessory; if the car seat comes with it, it’s essential to install it properly and give it as much tension as possible.
- The height of the harness concerning the shoulders is often inaccurate. So does the amount of tension that the harness requires.
- Placing elements close to the child’s face is a common mistake. Therefore, we must leave at least 55 cm from the child’s face to the first object around, preferably the headrest.
- In the case of more minor children, correct placement of the harness and the right tensioning is crucial. In addition, we don’t recommend aftermarket items or accessories that hold children’s heads when they sleep in the car.
Pack The Right Clothing
Packing just the essential clothing is critical to travel more comfortably and lighter.
If the children start the trip in their pajamas, don’t let them change without stopping the car, it’s a risk not worth taking because you never know when an accident may arrive.
In the same way, if one of the kids vomits, it’s best to stop and take your time to clean them up. It’s better to be an hour late than not to arrive at all.
For those children prone to dizziness, we recommend that the car seat has an outer cover that can be removed and put on simply. This helps a lot in the cleaning process that many parents with children are already familiar with.
Placing all your luggage in the boot is essential to guarantee the safety of the occupants and avoid potential loose projectiles in the passenger compartment.
The heaviest suitcases below and the lightest at the top. Always separate the cargo from the passenger compartment efficiently and safely.
Also, consider the driver’s visibility; the load or the child restraint systems should not interfere with the driving position or the driver’s visibility.
Entertainment For The Kids
When children are awake, we might think that the simple way to keep them entertained is by letting them use our smartphones, right? However, this is not ideal. Instead, you can try to find a cool playlist for a road trip with children so that the whole family has music on the trip and sing along.
Still, suppose the situation is already untenable, and movies or other types of videos are required. In that case, you need to ensure the screens are firmly fastened and supported to avoid being detached by the kids and at least 55 cm from the children’s faces.
Toys And Food In The Car
Inside the cabin, there should not be anything loose; at most, a bottle of water that after drinking is stored in one of the car’s compartments.
It’s better that children, especially the youngest ones, don’t have toys or food in their hands during the trip. A toy or food can pose a choking hazard that we should avoid on any trip. We must provide them water regularly to keep them hydrated. Still, once they drink the water, we remove the bottle or container immediately.
By following these safety tips, we can avoid the risk of kids choking. It’s better to have scheduled stops, so they can eat or play outside the car for a few minutes.
Even older children, if they drop a toy or a phone, we’ve seen cases in which they unbuckled the belt to get out of the car seat and get whatever they dropped.
Invest In Quality Car Seats
A quality car seat from a trusted brand provides a plus in safety and takes less space in the rear seat. Those extra inches can be used for additional car seats or for an adult to ride in the back with the children.
An adult passenger in the back seat watching over and entertaining the kids can help the driver relax and focus on the road, especially if you’re traveling with toddlers or children with special needs.
If you’re looking for a starting point, consider car seats from Diono as they have numerous options at different price points.
Don’t Forget Hygiene
Ensure you also pack enough hygiene products such as moist wipes, wet tissues, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and soap for all occupants throughout the journey. These items are helpful to keep you and the kids clean and fresh throughout the trip.
Most car seats for children up to two or three years old are not designed for more than two hours of continuous use. So, unless these car seats have a recline system, we must stop every two hours to let them come out to stretch and breathe well. This way, we avoid possible postural asphyxia.
If the children are older, we could drive longer without waking them. But since the driver is responsible for the safety of all occupants in the car, we recommend taking breaks at least every two hours as well. This way, all occupants can relax and rest to make the trip a less fatiguing experience.
When children fall asleep, they often do it in the wrong positions, so it’s good to have car seats with a recline system. We also recommend having a fourth anchor point to avoid the submarine effect.
Traveling long distances with kids, especially the first time might be tiring for everyone. However, it doesn’t have to be a stressful experience for the family if we properly plan.
Remember to plan ahead of time, check your car, pack everything you need, take breaks, and try to relax so can enjoy the journey.
If you make the most out of your first long-distance trip with kids, chances are this will be a memorable experience for you and them.