Many budget-conscious families are opting to travel by car, instead of by plane, but driving with kids can be especially challenging. “Are we there, yet?” “I’m bored.” “He’s picking on me.” “I’m hungry.” And the list goes on. But with proper planning, the ride can be fun and relatively painless for all. Consider following a few important tips.
Here are 10 tips to ensure you have a fun, safe, and smooth trip.
- Service your car. There is nothing worse than setting off on a road trip and breaking down along the way—especially on a hot day with kids in tow. Get your car checked out before you take off. Make sure fluids are topped off and tires properly inflated or purchase new tires if they are worn out. (See our guide to car maintenance and tire ratings.)
- Plan properly. Before you even get in the car, plan your destination and route. A portable GPS device or smart phone navigation app can help guide you to your vacation spot, but it may be worth having a paper map as backup. Try to drive during off-peak hours to avoid traffic or other delays. (See our GPS buying advice and ratings.)
- Check your car seats. As many as 80 percent of car seats may not be properly installed. Also, have your seat inspected to make sure it’s safe. Find a station near you at: seatcheck.org or safercar.gov. Children should be seated in a proper car seat based on their height and weight and those under 2 should stay rear facing. Also, make sure all children under 13 ride in the backseat.
- Pack well. Loose items in the car can become dangerous projectiles in a crash. Secure all luggage and gear in the trunk or cargo area. If children are playing with toys, try to keep ones they are not using tucked away. (See our tips for smart parking.)
- Bring all the necessities. Driving with kids means you need to make sure you have enough drinks and snacks, not just for the trip, but in case there is a problem and you are stuck on the road longer than expected. Carry an emergency kit. If traveling during cold weather, be sure to bring blankets and coats. Also, don’t forget garbage bags, baby wipes, and paper towels, just in case.
- Keep them entertained. Kids can get bored driving long distances, so prepare by bringing all types of music, movies, books, and games to keep them occupied. Tablets and smartphones can also be helpful and portable for keeping children busy. Be sure to grab any essential power cords and batteries (including USB adaptors, if needed), as well as head phones. Low-tech options include driving games such as I-Spy, looking for red cars, or counting exits.
- Connect to your location. Speaking of smart phones, there are some great apps for the co-pilot to use to plan where to stop for gas, food, or rest stops. Google search to find places "near you" can be helpful as well. Many in-car systems such as Toyota's Entune can help you find places to stop.
- Keep focused. Driving on a long trip can be very tiring. Avoid distractions and focus on the road, having the front passenger manage the children, navigation, and cell phone.
- Take a break. It’s a good idea to stop every two hours for a stretch, bathroom break, and exercise to get the blood flowing. Kids can especially benefit by running around, even for just a few minutes.
- Know the laws. Traffic laws vary by state, so check out the rules such as right-turn-on-red laws and local speed limits. And always buckle up.
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