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Road Trips with Toddlers

The Dos and Don'ts of Road Trips with Toddlers

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Taking a road trip with toddlers in tow can be just as fun and less expensive than a traditional vacation involving air travel. Follow these tips to stay safe, make the most of your time on the road and keep your sanity intact.

1. Do Get Your Car Serviced Before Your Road Trip

You're going to be spending a lot of time in the car, so it only makes sense that you'll want it to be in the best shape possible. Lots can happen on the road, so don't put it off. Don't wait for a downpour to find out that your windshield wipers need replacing or wait until you're stranded at the side of the road with an overheated car to refill your radiator coolant. If you don't feel like your car is safe enough to handle the trip, consider a rental from a reputable company.

2. Do Make Sure You Have a Roadside Assistance Plan in Place

Roadside assistance can seem like an unnecessary cost until you need it. Then it's worth every penny and then some. Before you purchase a stand-alone plan, check to see if you're covered already. It may be part of your auto insurance or included in your cell phone plan. Wholesale Clubs like Costco and Sam's sometimes offer roadside benefits as part of membership, too. Make sure your plan covers the biggest road trip nightmares like a tow to a service station, a fix for a flat or an unlock if you leave your keys in the car. If you lock the keys inside the car with your child inside, however, don't rely on calling roadside assistance. Call 9-1-1 and if it's hot outside, don't think twice about breaking a window to get your child out.

3. Don't Leave Your Toddler Alone in the Car

We've all heard the news stories about a child being left in a hot car alone and wondered, "What were those parents thinking?" It's another story when your toddler is finally peacefully asleep, you're running on fumes and you pull into a station where you can't pay at the pump. Any number of circumstances can lead a parent to be tempted to briefly leave a child in the car but it's better to be safe than sorry. It only takes a moment for someone to break into your car and take your child while you're taking an emergency bathroom break and even with moderate temperatures outside a car can quickly heat up to dangerous levels for your toddler.

4. Do Get Your Toddler's Car Seat Inspected and Installation Checked

Just as important as making sure that your car is safe and maintained is making sure the spot that protects your child is as safe as it can possibly be. A Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician can check to make sure your seat is in good shape and is installed correctly. The best part about this inspection is the free education you get with it. Your technician won't just be installing the seat and sending you on your way, but will teach you to install it right every time and will even give you usage tips that go beyond the bare minimums required by law.

5. Don't Put Your Child in the Front Seat or Turn His Seat Around Before It's Time

Once the car seat is inspected and is properly installed you'll want to make sure you keep it that way. It might be tempting if you're the only adult on board to turn your child's car seat around when it should be rear-facing so that you can see what she's doing. You might also want to put your child in the front seat so you can reach her and give her toys or snacks more easily. As tempting as it might be, don't do it. Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician Heather Corley says, "The most recent study shows that toddlers are up to five times safer if they remain rear-facing until age 2. Turning baby's car seat around isn't a milestone to rush on. It's actually a step down in safety, so don't be in a hurry to make the big switch."

6. Do Keep a Stocked First Aid Kit in the Car

Be prepared for scraped knees, allergic reactions, sunburn, splinters, bumps, bites, stings, bruises... Shall I go on? Accidents do happen on the road and it's best to be prepared for whatever might come your way, big or small. Before you go on your road trip it's also not a bad idea to bone up on your first aid and CPR skills if you haven't in a while.

7. Do Carry a Cell Phone and Car Charger

Even if you're an otherwise low-tech kind of person, having a cell phone on the road can be a lifesaver. Use it to call for roadside assistance, get directions, find dining and lodging and lots more. If you don't regularly use a cell phone, consider picking up a prepaid phone just for the trip. And don't forget to take along a car charger in case your time on the road goes on longer than your phone's battery.

8. Do Keep Toys Close To Your Toddler for Self-Service Play

While it may seem like your priority is to keep your child happy and entertained, if you're the driver, that can be a tall order and can even be unsafe. Keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel by keeping toys, books and snacks within easy reach of your toddler. The more she can do for herself, the safer and happier you'll both be. There are a variety of back seat organizers but I especially like those that seatbelt in right next to your toddler's car seat. An over-the-front-seat organizer can work, too, but if your toddler is properly strapped in then she might not be able to reach it.

9. Do Arm Yourself with More than Just Toys

Lots of toys and books will help pass the time and keep your toddler occupied but at some point those toys will lose their luster. Supplement with a supply of fun music CDs and be ready to do some singing yourself. If your car picks up satellite radio, don't forget that they have kid stations that can add variety. (Sign up for a trial just for the trip if you're not a subscriber.) While your toddler's screen time should be extremely limited on a normal basis, I'm all for using a DVD player to pass some of the time on a road trip. If you've got a DVD player, put it to use and pick up something appropriate, fun and educational. Learn some new games (I spy with my little eye, something that says, "Moo!") and play those along the way, too.

10. Don't Forget Comfort Items like Blankies and Binkies

Road trips can be full of fun and excitement for your toddler, but there can also be moments of insecurity and stress. You're going to be away from all the comforts of home and spending quite a lot of time confined to the car instead of being active. Be ready for those trying times with a dose of comfort. Keep binkies, blankies and other comfort objects close at hand and bring extras since your cleaning options are probably going to be limited. And if you're planning on weaning from any comfort items or undertaking anything new close to trip time (like potty training or weaning from the breast or bottle) consider postponing until after you're home to maximize your child's chance of success.
Related Video
Install a Toddler Car Seat
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