Now that we’re able to return to holidaying around Australia and even overseas shortly, there will be many families jumping in the car and heading off on adventures to see family, friends, or just to get away.
Long car trips with babies and young children can be very daunting for parents and it’s understandable that some people want to avoid them altogether. However, long car trips don’t have to be painful - as long as you plan properly.
Here are some of my favourite tips for travelling long distances with babies and children:
Make a list & ensure the trip is a team effort:
- Don’t leave one person responsible for everything, have a packing list that both parents tick off together
- If this is your first big trip with a baby or kids, remember it’s not as simple as packing when you were just a couple, allow yourself plenty of time to pack the car or do the majority the day/night before. Whatever time you need to leave requires a half hour window to get on the road - a dirty diaper or toilet demand just as you’re locking the front door is comically inevitable!
- Share the driving as much as possible.
- Be kind to each other and laugh - it’s much better than arguing.
Take into account your baby’s routine when planning the trip:
- If confident driving in the evening, consider leaving after you’ve done their entire dinner and bath routine. They will have enough sleep debt built up to make it easier for them to fall asleep, but make sure you switch drivers regularly and get enough rest yourselves, so you’re not driving drowsy.
- A different option is heading to bed early the night before and leaving incredibly early in the morning, like 4-5am. Transferring them into the car in their pyjamas can work - this way you can get a few hours under your belt before they really wake up in time for breakfast.
- Another good time to leave is at nap time. Include lots of play time and tire them out before jumping in the car, so they can sleep for the first leg of the trip.
- Keep feed and meal times the same as what they’re used to - use meal times as a good chance for everyone to stop & stretch their legs. Don’t be in a hurry to arrive at your destination, this puts undue pressure on you and you lose the opportunity to make the journey a fun part of the holiday.
- If your baby hasn’t slept well, then try to have a quiet day when you arrive at your destination so they can catch up and get back on track.
- Consider an early bedtime if your baby hasn’t slept well in the car.
Focus on recreating their sleep environment:
- Sun shades for the windows are essential.
- For younger babies, purchasing a breathable blackout cover to put over the car seat encourages a longer nap.
- Continue to use some portable white noise, although sometimes just the sound and vibration of the car engine is enough to put babies to sleep.
- Use any comforters or dummies they usually have, make sure you have numerous replacements that are easily accessible.
Keeping them occupied:
- Make regular stops to allow your baby to have some car-free time. No matter what their age, let them move their bodies and have tummy-time, practice crawling, sitting, standing or walking.
- Introduce some new toys during the trip. Different teething toys, soft books and sensory toys will help pass the time.
- For toddlers and older kids, try and plan stops near playgrounds.
- Children’s audio books/stories or playlists can be enjoyable for those in the back seat...listening to the Frozen soundtrack on repeat may not be enjoyable for you (!) so create time where you can listen to your own podcasts/audio books/radio etc.
Pack healthy snacks & drinks:
- Remember to do this for you and the kids - it’s a long day for everyone and eating well will help you all feel better at the other end of the trip (breastfeeding mothers in particular need to make sure they stay hydrated and well fed).
- Even if you plan to stop and buy lunch, pack plenty of healthy snacks for along the way
- If you’re passing food or snacks back to toddlers or kids in the back seat, always supervise closely to avoid choking hazards.
- Give snacks in small portions rather than large lunchboxes - this avoids the whole lot falling at their feet, as has happened to all of us!
- Never feed a rear-facing child where you can’t supervise them eating.
- Ensure everyone has a water bottle and avoid sugary drinks as these may give your kids energy you can’t easily run-off!
Have the things you need accessible:
- This may sound obvious, but make sure everything you need - nappies, wipes, change mats, outfit changes, toys, snacks, water bottles etc is all easy to access…. It’s incredibly inconvenient when the one thing you want is at the back of the car under 3 suitcases!
- If you think you’ll arrive close to bedtime, make sure portacots, sleep monitors, any bedding and pyjamas/sleepsuit etc are easy to pull out of the car, that way you don’t have to unpack every suitcase when you arrive. Once the kids are asleep, you can unpack the car properly.
Remember: babies and kids drink more than milk, so if you’re anxious and cranky they will feed off this. Try and make the car trip as enjoyable for the whole family as possible. Be well prepared, stay safe and don’t sweat the small stuff. Broken routines will rapidly return once the journey is over and the real holiday begins. Happy holidays!
For more information on this topic see our blogs on:
- Routines on the run here
- Flying with kids here
Learn more about the Dr Golly Philosophy here.
Shop the Dr Golly Sleep Program age appropriate routines here.