Tips for a Stress-Free Family Car Vacation
By Linda DiProperzio
Taking a road trip this summer? If so, you’re not alone. A Trip Advisor survey found that 89 percent of respondents are planning a vacation, with many driving to their destinations. And there are bound to be lots of people braving the open road with young kids in tow.
Before you start envisioning hours of minivan meltdowns and being asked “Are we there yet?” know that you can have a stress-free road trip with your little ones.
“My husband and I did one with three young kids, and I was eight months pregnant!” says Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a family physician in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “It’s all about adjusting your expectations and planning for as much as you can in advance.” With that in mind, check out these tips to make sure your family has a smooth ride.
Check the car. No one wants to deal with a breakdown, but getting stranded with toddlers is a true disaster. Be sure your tires (including the spare) are in good shape, and that everything from the windshield wipers to the air-conditioning system is up to par.
If you don’t have a roadside assistance plan, such as AAA, consider signing up before you leave. You can also download EmergenSee, a free app that transforms your smartphone into a personal security system by allowing users to stream live video, audio and GPS location and tracking to selected contacts or public safety officers during a time of distress.
Strap them in safely. Dr. Sophie J. Balk, attending pediatrician at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York, suggests getting car and booster seats checked before the trip to ensure they’re installed properly. You can search for an inspection location in your area at SeatCheck.org, or simply call your local fire station. Most offer this service free of charge.
Also, remember that the American Academy of Pediatrics now suggests that children under 2 years old stay rear-facing in their car seat, and Balk cautions parents to keep their kids strapped in whenever the car is in motion.
“Moms might be tempted to sit in the backseat and take the baby out to breastfeed or if he gets fussy, but you never know when a crash can take place,” Balk says. “If the kids get hungry or need a break, just pull over at the next rest stop.”
Put together a first-aid kit. Pack it with Band-Aids, antiseptic ointment, fever reducer, any medications your kids may need and even toilet paper (you never know when a public restroom might be out).
Leave at the right time. “If your child sleeps well in the car, consider leaving at bedtime, or in the wee hours of the morning,” says Jennifer Durbin, author of Baby Traveling Tips for The Clueless Chick. “Just strap them into their car seat in their PJs and hit the road.”
At the very least, Gilboa says, try to time your departure with morning nap time so the kids will sleep some of the way.
Make them comfy. Whether it’s their favorite pair of pajamas or shorts and T-shirts, dress the kiddies in something they’ll enjoy wearing. Balk also recommends bringing along some security items, such as a prized stuffed animal, blanket and even pillows.
Arrange sensible seating. If you have a minivan, plan the seating wisely. “Place siblings that squabble and wind each other up in separate rows,” says Cindy Richards, editor of TravelingMom.com. “It’s much less stressful for the driving parent.”
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