Car seat survival tips

Soft, colorful toys can help entertain little ones on long car rides.

Summer means fun family trips and activities — but it can also mean long hours in the car. If the simple thought of taking a road trip has you envisioning tantrums, tears, crumbs, and other kinds of mess, fear not. Read on for parent-approved tips for keeping your sanity when traveling with toddlers. From cross-country road trips to hour-long jaunts to the beach, we’ve got you covered.

Plan ahead

The number one thing parents can do to start their journey off on the right foot is to think ahead of time about the basics of your trip and destination. Consider what time of day will you leave — will it be dark or light out? Are there any heavy traffic areas you’ll be traveling through, and can you avoid them? And — most importantly — where can you stop for breaks along the way?

Breaks help passengers of all ages keep their stamina for trips, allowing for bathroom breaks, fresh air, and perhaps a snack or treat to keep energy and spirits lifted. With well-timed breaks planned ahead of time, you won’t be scrambling to find a gas station or listening to any “I’ve got to go now!” whining from the backseat. You’ll probably arrive at your destination faster — and definitely in a better, calmed state of mind.

Pack the right stuff

Here are some things you might want to stash in the car for your journey.

  • Soft toys for little ones can be a great, safe distraction during rides.
  • Music and CDs: Favorite songs can provide sing-a-long opportunities as well as hands-free entertainment for the whole family.
  • Must-haves: Be sure that all of your usual toddler essentials — like baby wipes, extra diapers or training pants, Kleenex, water, and snacks — are on hand for any trip, no matter the length.
  • To keep your car clean, bring along an empty bag for trash, and toss it in a garbage can when you arrive at your destination. You can also place a couple of towels on the seat around the carseat to catch any mess your toddler may make. (For safety reasons, don't place towels or any kind of car mat directly underneath the carseat; nothing should be between the car seat and the vehicle's seat.)

Creative DIY ideas for fun activities

To keep the kids from getting bored, try these cheap and easy ideas for on-the-road amusement. 

  • Travel activity box. A plastic container with a locking lid can provide ample entertainment. Consider including favorite books, small stuffed toys and — since many children enjoy their parents’ things as well as their own toys — a few non-kid items, like old credit cards, a set of keys you’re not using, and an old cell phone with the battery removed.
  • Coloring fun. Pack crayons in an empty plastic peanut butter jar for ease in organizing them, and have paper handy for a quick activity.

Always keep it safe

To keep young kids as safe as possible, use the following guidelines.

  • Babies and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends rear-facing until age 1, while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids stay rear-facing until at least 2.
  • All passengers must stay buckled up — no matter how short the trip.

What's your best tip for staying sane when traveling with young ones? Share them in the comments below.

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