Road trips are a really great way to discover a new country. There’s nothing like driving through the countryside and watching the world go through the window, with a rollicking tune playing on the radio!
You’ll never know what cute little village or scenic picnic spot one might encounter during your car journey – and you can have the flexibility to stop, stretch your legs and soak in the local atmosphere as often as you like.
Travelling with a toddler or infant strapped into a carseat can feel daunting, especially if your tiny tot is not used to being in carseats for any length of time. However, with the right planning and preparation, it can be a really fun journey for everyone!
Here are my tips for preparing for a road trip with your toddler:
1. Get your child used to being in a car seat
Find a day or time when your child is comfortable and happy (for infants, this is usually directly after a bottle of milk and a good burping), and put them with the carseat with the buckles on for a two to three minutes or for a short spin around the block. At the same time, reward your toddler with lots of praises and maybe even a special snacky treat!
Whilst your child is in the car seat, take a look at their body position and make sure he can move his head, arms and legs around freely and wiggle his bottom. For infants, try to see if their head and neck are well supported, they should not be looking all crumpled up in the seat.
After a few minutes, remove your child from the seat and take a look at the skin on his back to make sure that there are no red marks on it – if there are, you may consider putting a blanket under your child for some extra padding next time!
If the carseat you are using is rear-facing, you might consider getting a backseat mirror for your baby, so that you can connect with your baby with just a glance.
2. Train your child to self-soothe using lullaby CDs and Pavlovian Conditioning
During the week before your roadtrip, choose a few of your favourite soothing music CDs and play them to your child before bedtime and naptime. Then, when you are on the road and your baby begins to gets fussy, whip out these selfsame CDs and you may find that the music helps to soothe your fussy bub (maybe even send them off to Dreamland)!
The music that you choose doesn’t necessarily need to be strictly a children’s lullaby CD – for Little E, she liked a mixture of James Taylor and Owl City. J’s weakness was a CD of Hawaiian ukelele music that would stop any fussing and have him grooving happily or cooing dreamily within a the first few bars of the songs!
3.Schedule your entertainment
I usually bring a bag of books and toys which I keep in two different places – in front seat and in the boot of the car. I dole out books and toys one at a time, at intervals during the journey, but only after the toddlers have tired of looking out of the window and listening to music. During rest breaks, I rotate some of the toys in the front seat with others from the boot of the car, to keep the selection ‘fresh’.
4. Bring along a good (audio)book
The best form of entertainment that I have found are BBC children’s book adaptations or audiobooks. I usually try and pick a children’s book that has lots of different character voices in it, and make sure that the collective playing time of the audiobooks are roughly equivalent to the driving time.
You’d be surprised at how well most kids respond to this!
My kids love audiobooks so much that they’ve stopped playing with toys in the car and prefer to sit and listen, staring dreamily out the window. For infants, the different soothing voices and rhythmic speech patterns can sometimes lull them into a stupor! Our favourites are Pooh Goes Visiting by A.A. Milne which features an all-star cast including Judi Dench and Stephen Fry, James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl and read by Jeremy Irons, and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and read by Andrew Sachs. (These audiobooks are also available through the Singapore Public Library!)
5. Prepare an in-car picnic
Arm yourself with bottles of juice (don’t forget to bring a lidded cup to reduce spillage), and plenty of finger foods. I prefer foods that can be popped whole into the mouth, leaving minimal mess behind, so I prefer cut fruits, cereal, cheese slices, cocktail sausages and sliced meats like ham. Sweets like sugar-free lollies are good too! Try to avoid foods that may cause choking like hard candy, grapes and fish balls.
By the way, having an in-car picnic is a good way to deflect an impending meltdown!
6. Muslin cloths are your friend
I like to bring a few extra large muslin cloths which are not only great for mopping up spills, sick and general messes, but can also be used as a window shade or a blanket. In a pinch, they make great nursing covers, towels and burp cloths too. If you don’t have any of these wonderful cloths, be prepared to arm yourself with plenty of wet wipes and tissues instead.
7. Include restbreaks in your drive time
If you are so lucky as to have a baby that falls quietly asleep in the car, it’s not worth breaking journey until the end of their nap time, but I wouldn’t attempt to make a 12 hour drive in one day. A good rule of thumb when calculating journey times is to add in an extra hour of break time for every two hours on the road. This is a chance for everyone (including your tiny tot) to visit the bathroom, have a snack and get all the wiggles out!
8. Plan the longest leg of your journey to coincide with nap tome
As far as is possible, try to do the bulk of your driving whilst baby is asleep. This is for your own sanity! We usually try to schedule the longest and most boring stretch of highway to take place after lunch, when the kids are more likely to have some post-prandial drowsiness.
Most children may be lulled to sleep by the steady hum of the engine, and stopping the car mid-nap is a sure-fire way to rouse them. If you think that you will arrive at your destination past the kid’s bedtime, put them in their pyjamas before strapping them in – that way they can go straight from the car into the hotel room bed with minimal fuss!
9. Prepare a first aid kit
I normally like to bring some baby paracetamol, bandaids, sunscreen and mosquito repellant with me, as well as a small bottle of medicated oil or Tiger balm which is great for all manner of ills (including carsickness!). Don’t forget to bring some ziplock bags and disposable plastic bags to hold soiled clothing (or sick.)
10. Avoid sibling-related meltdowns
The backseat of the car is not the best place to teach tolerance and sharing. Make sure that each child has their own little bag of tricks to themselves. I make my children pack their own bags to bring to the car so that they are each happy with whatever they are bringing with them – anything that they are already squabbling over during the packing stage will not be allowed in the car (although I may possibly pop it into the boot of the car for later).