Twin Cities Mom Collective

5 Top Road Trip Mistakes (and Prevention Tips)

I moved to Minnesota about 14 years ago from Milwaukee. I cannot even count how many six-hour trips back and forth from Milwaukee I have made over the years. However, I can tell you how many mistakes I have made. Over the past four years I have made many trips with small children (usually without my husband) and I have made MANY, MANY mistakes.

5 Top Road Trip Mistakes (and Prevention Tips) | Twin Cities Moms Blog

  1. Travel during the day! My worst trip was leaving after my husband was done with work. I dressed our daughter in her pajamas, fed her an early dinner, and assumed she would sleep right away and stay asleep the entire trip, since we left just before her bedtime. BIGGEST MISTAKE EVER! Once it got dark, the zooming street lights and headlights scared the daylights out of her. She screamed almost the entire trip. Even though my husband was with me to drive, so I could sit in the backseat with her, nothing calmed her down. Out of desperation, I tried a Clifford video on my phone to distract her. I have no idea why the streetlights freaked her out, but the phone light was okay. If possible, leave in the morning. Usually my kids do best when they have some awake time to play in the car, take a nap, stop for lunch, and then play a bit more for the last part of the trip. My best trips have been when I have left after morning swim lessons–they slept almost the entire way!
  2. Plan stops in advance! I used to wait to stop until the kids were hungry or until I could not wait any longer to pee. HUGE MISTAKE! When my youngest was four-months old, I was pulled over for speeding. I honestly was not sure how fast I was going because my son was screaming to be fed, as was my 2.5-year-old daughter. Of course we were on the stretch of highway where there were no stops. I asked the officer if I could pull over to nurse the baby and he said no. He had me wait at least 45 minutes for my $200 ticket while my baby was screaming. When a baby needs to eat, he needs to eat! On another trip, I almost peed my pants and almost had to use a diaper for myself because I got stuck in a stretch of construction with no exits. Plan stops about halfway and make them multi-purpose. Stop once for the bathroom, food, gas, stretching, and grabbing those darn hard-to-reach toys from under the car seats. Over the years, my kids have learned to expect the one stop. Of course, always be willing to take the immediate exit for emergencies, meltdowns, and to prevent speeding tickets!
  3. Activities, activities, activities! Boredom is bad, but hearing about boredom for 5 hours with no escape hatch is even worse. My best trips are filled with a great mix of old favorite and new (dollar section/store) toys, games, coloring, and activities. I have yet to use the iPad for our road trips (airplane trips are another story). Use a hanging toiletry bag to put on the back of the car seat (or airplane seat) to organize an “activity bag.” This way everything is right within reach and kids can choose what they want on their own. This works for rear-facing kids too if you hang it on the window or from the handle above the door, depending on your car/carseat placement. Let them pack their own backpack of toys and books to make sure they bring their absolute favorite items. Some of our favorite activities are:5 Top Road Trip Mistakes (and Prevention Tips) | Twin Cities Moms Blog
    • Melissa & Doug Water Wow–MESS FREE! You only need water to color these pre-colored reusable pages. We still use these for restaurants for my almost two-year old since he likes it better than restaurant crayons and coloring pages.
    • Melissa & Doug ColorBlast!–MESS FREE! One marker reveals pre-colored pictures and activities.
    • Crayola Color Wonder–MESS FREE! Multi-colored markers only work on the special paper.
    • Crayola Mini Coloring Pages–Nice and compact. The pages are about a 1/4 the size of regular coloring books/pages.
    • Crayola Twistables Crayons–These crayons do not break! They are in a plastic case to protect from breaking and from marking all over if dropped.
    • Crayola Triangular Crayons–These crayons are great for little hands and do not roll off coloring pads (or airplane trays).
    • Music–the best CDs that keep the kids entertained and me sane (unlike Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Frozen for the millionth time) are from music class–Music Together. There are a few Music Together albums available on iTunes, including lullabies. Don’t forget libraries have tons of music too!
    • Books on CD–our favorite has been Green Eggs & Ham and Yertle the Turtle. Libraries have tons of these too!
  4. Snacks, snacks, snacks! I used to prohibit the kids from eating in the car because I was afraid they would choke, which happened during a road trip. I gave my daughter a bite of my egg and cheese sandwich, which she choked on, and threw up all over herself and the carseat. Of course, we had just left the Twin Cities and were only to Stillwater. Thankfully we were still in a large-enough city, so I could easily pull into a gas station. However, my son had just fallen asleep and I would not have been able to hold him (even babywearing) and simultaneously clean my daughter up in the gas station bathroom. I did not have another change of clothes (aside from what was packed deep inside the suitcases) and used up all of the wipes I had. Now, to prevent meltdowns and prevent more stops, I have changed my tune on eating in the car for car trips, as long as the food is fairly choke-free. Pack safe snacks to stretch out the necessary stops. Again, let the kids pick some to put in their backpacks to save you from having to hand them things while trying to drive. Some of our favorite snacks that have been safe and non-messy are:
    • COFFEE (for parents of course)
    • Veggie/fruit sauce pouches (watch out for the kind with small caps)
    • Cheerios (or other cereal)
    • Dried fruit (Costco has the best variety packs)
    • Granola bars (skip the chocolate chips–they get all over)
    • Water
  5. Plan for the unexpected. I have had to improvise quite a few times. Over all, I recommend packing lightly, but these are the top things I wish I had remembered to bring:
    • Extra clothes for kids and adults (within easy access)
    • Wipes (LOTS!)
    • Extra diapers or Pull Ups (especially during potty training)
    • Travel potty seat (Potette Travel Potty Seat can be used as a seat to put on public toilets, or can be used with a bag insert on the side of the road or back of the car)
    • Blankets

5 Top Road Trip Mistakes (and Prevention Tips) | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Finally, lots of patience to make the trip fun! The best trips have been when everyone is excited for the trip, parents included. The worst trips have been when I’m stressed out and cranky. Pack as much as possible ahead of time. Save the morning rush just for getting everyone dressed, fed, and in the car. Hit the gas station the day before and the coffee drive thru on the way to the highway. Relaxed trips are SO much more enjoyable than stressful ones. Enjoy making those road trip memories!

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Roopa April 19, 2016 at 10:36 PM

Really good tips and sensible do-able ones too. Nice post!

Carina June 9, 2016 at 6:34 AM

Hello Melanie, as I’m just packinh fir our first roadtrip across Europe with our 5-month-old your tips come really handy, thanks 🙂
Greetings from Finland,

Melanie June 9, 2016 at 7:14 AM

Greetings Carina! Thanks for your message. I hope you have a great trip! Enjoy!



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