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Common Mistakes Parents Make When Traveling with Little Children

  • 01/01/2021

If you need to make a long trip, traveling by car offers a number of advantages over flying. Car trips are typically cheaper than flights, and you won't have to worry about irritated fellow plane passengers who don't like little kids. What's more, traveling by car allows you to stop and enjoy the scenery, and you won't have to worry about hassles such as flight delays, cancellations, and check-in luggage not making it to your final destination. Finally, traveling by car offers flexibility as you can change your travel dates if need be without losing money.

At the same time, a long car trip with little children can be challenging both for you and your little ones. Thankfully, there are some things you can do (and not do) to make life easier for all involved. Following are some common mistakes parents make when traveling with little kids, along with pointers for avoiding these pitfalls.

Failing to Plan Ahead

The old saying "failing to plan is planning to fail" applies not just to business ventures but also car trips, especially with little children. Little children thrive on routine and behave best when parents clearly know what's happening and when it's going to happen.

To plan your trip ahead of time, start by looking at a map to see how many miles you'll need to travel to reach your final destination. Can you make it one day or two, or would three days be best? If you're not sure, it's often best to err on the side of allowing extra travel time rather than not enough. Bear in mind that the American Association of Pediatrics recommends stopping every two hours when traveling by car with young children. Other experts note that those traveling with a baby younger than four weeks old should stop and take the baby out of the car seat every half-hour.

If you need to spend a night at one or more hotels, book your accommodations ahead of time. Choose hotels with care; you'll want to make sure there's a crib or rollaway bed for your baby if you need one, and choosing a hotel that offers a complimentary breakfast will spare you the hassle of having to rush out and buy something to eat first thing in the morning. Additionally, you'll want to check reviews of any hotel you're considering booking to make sure it's safe and clean for your little one.


Picking the Wrong Travel Time

When is the best time to start your road trip? There is really no one-size-fits-all answer. Some experts recommend starting a trip at night or in the early morning hours, as baby will sleep comfortably while you drive. As an added benefit, early morning travelers also avoid morning rush-hour traffic that could add extra hours to your trip. However, others note that starting a trip in the early morning hours has its downsides. Some babies don't do well traveling at this time. In other cases, parents are too tired from packing the day before to drive safely without a good night's sleep beforehand. Like all other aspects of traveling with a baby, you'll need to pick a starting time with care. Consider your baby's needs, your own needs, and other factors to set a start time that works best for your family.

Not Anticipating Typical Little Kid Behavior

Little children don't care that you have to make it to a particular destination at a certain time. They also don't care about what your car will look or smell like at the end of the trip or whether your godparents will be impressed with your child management skills when you reach your final destination. What they do understand and care about is their own feelings and comfort, which means you can expect messes and grumpy behavior at the least convenient points in time.

Don't be surprised when disaster strikes, perhaps multiple times, on your long car trip. Instead, anticipate potential challenges and come up with a plan for dealing with them. Bring along extra plastic bags in case your little one gets carsick or poops in his or her diaper long before the next rest stop. Take plenty of snacks in case your child gets hungrier than you thought he or she would be. Bring a variety of toys and books, so your child has something to do in the back seat. If you need to reach a certain destination by a certain time, allow yourself extra travel time in case you need to make extra stops to let your child run around.

Additionally, don't worry if you reach your final destination and your child's face, hands, clothes, and the backseat of your car look like they've never been cleaned. Keeping your child happy, secure, and on a good schedule is more important than impressing anyone. Plan to arrive at your final destination ahead of time if you're attending a gathering or event, so you can change your child's clothes before taking him or her to meet other people.

Not Packing Properly

It's easy to leave packing until the last minute, especially if you're busy planning other aspects of your trip. However, bear in mind that leaving something important behind could wreak havoc on the best-planned road trip. Take some time in advance of your trip to make a comprehensive list of everything you need to bring with you on your car trip so you don't have to make an unscheduled stop to buy something or even go back home to retrieve it. Essential items include your baby's papers (passport or birth certificate), diapers, bottles with formula or appropriate food, water, wet wipes, toys, books, a blanket or two, clothing that is appropriate both for your trip and for your final destination, and a potty or child toilet seat if you're potty-training your little one.

Safety and first-aid supplies should also make the list if your baby can walk or crawl. Outlet plugs make it easy for you to cover hotel plugs that a baby could put his or her finger in. A thermometer and baby aspirin are helpful if your child starts feeling under the weather during your trip. Band-aids are also helpful to have on stock.

Another packing mistake parents make is cramming everything into a few bags and throwing them in the trunk at the last minute. If you go this route, you'll have to pull over multiple times to pull needed items out of the trunk while you travel and carry all your suitcases and bags into your hotel room when you stop for the night. You can avoid this mistake by separating items that will be needed on your trip from items that will only be used at your final destination. A diaper bag in the back seat of the car should have all the toys, food, water, diapers, wet wipes, and the blanket your child will use on your trip. It should also have a set of nightclothes as well as a couple of changes of clothes for use throughout the trip. If you pack right, you should be able to easily access everything you need for your trip without stopping and only have to bring one bag into your hotel room at night.

Not Taking Your Child's Comfort into Account

Children, like adults, don't like to be uncomfortable. One common mistake parents make is not realizing that their child is simply not comfortable in their seat until it's too late to do anything about it. When planning your car trip, take some time to check the car seat to make sure it's clean and comfortable for your little one. Is it the right size? Are the buckles too tight? Will the sun be shining right through the window next to the car seat for all or most of the trip? Do you have a child car seat head support, so your child can sleep comfortably during a long drive?

Packing right also plays an important role in keeping your child happy and comfortable. Can your child reach his or her books or toys without your help? Have you crammed so many bags and suitcases into the back seat that your child can't move or look around? Pay attention to clothing as well; loose, comfortable clothing is always better than tight-fitting clothing items that make it hard for your child to relax and go to sleep. It's also smart to check the weather in advance of your trip to ensure your child won't be too hot or too cold as you travel. Bring some sweaters if you think it may get chilly as you travel, and dress your little one in layers, so you can easily take off a long-sleeve shirt if the weather warms up.

Not Making Enough Pit Stops

One of the biggest advantages of traveling by car instead of plane is that you'll get to stop at all sorts of places to take pictures, enjoy the view, or check out interesting and fun places to visit. When planning your car trip, don't just consider the fastest, most convenient way to reach your final destination, as you'll miss out on a lot of fun memories.

Your little one probably won't be interested in art museums or historical architecture, but that doesn't mean there aren't touristy spots along your route that your child would enjoy. Perhaps a local petting zoo just a few minutes off your route would make a great place to stop. A national park with wildlife and a fun nature center could be yet another ideal pit stop. Beaches, playgrounds, or a local children's museum are also great pit stop options for families with little kids. Maybe there's a fun festival in a town not far from your final destination, and you could enjoy some local food while your little child jumps on a bouncy castle or does a craft project.

Being too Hard on Yourself

It takes time to master the art of traveling by car with a little child. What's more, just when you think you've "got it down", your child grows up and his or her needs change. It's all too easy to get stressed out and upset on a car trip if a child is extra fussy and/or you forgot something important at home, but don't make the mistake of being too hard on yourself. Look for a workable solution to your problem or just take a deep breath and realize that it may take longer than you anticipated for your overtired little one to go to sleep. Treat yourself well on your trip, so you have the mental energy to lovingly care for your little one as you travel.

Do you need to travel by car with one or more small children? Did you enjoy car trips before you had kids and want to keep making travel memories with your new little one? If so, the above tips can help you get off to a good start. Consider the pointers outlined above, adapt them as needed to suit your situation and enjoy traveling by car with your little one.


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