Traveling in a car is part and parcel of modern American life, so the sooner you can figure out how to keep your young children safe, comfy, and calm in your automobile, the better. Relaxed kids mean you'll have fewer distractions and a more controlled drive.
Between car seat must-knows and toddler road trip must-haves, we've considered what you might need to tackle tears, combat boredom and restlessness, manage bodily fluids, and keep your vehicle clean and safe.
You'll have to research car seats, especially if you're new to the game and have a newborn starting with a rear-facing seat. For example, did you know car seats have expiration dates? It's best to place one in the center of the back seat, and you'll need to pay attention to the angle indicators and the manufacturer's age-related instructions to keep your infant safe.
Place a blanket over the harness rather than under it so the straps can do their job and secure your baby. A certified child passenger safety technician can help you install new car seats and perform relevant checks.
A "baby on board" sign can be helpful. It alerts the drivers around you to be more careful and lets them know why you're maintaining a relatively slow pace.
A poorly-positioned sign, however, can cause an accident. Ensure you position the sign so you still have a clear view through your rear window.
Well-maintained vehicles are less likely to break down and cause you anxiety or, worse, an accident. Send your car for a safety inspection before you start driving with a baby, especially if you'll be going on a road trip. You might need to change your oil or tires, and a fully-functioning air conditioner is essential in the warmer months.
Consider getting a keyless ignition. It can save you a lot of hassle when your infant is having a meltdown. Any life hack that helps you stay zen during this phase is invaluable.
It's not just about untidiness and how that affects on your mental state; there are safety benefits to keeping the car neat. Loose, hard objects can become projectiles in a crash. Food can compromise safety mechanisms like buckles, or your infant might be tempted to eat something off-limits.
Lay down a disposable floor mat to catch crumbs and spills and your car will probably smell fresher too. Bath toys and water-proof books make sanitizing a cinch.
Airbags do their job by emerging with tremendous force, but while this action is life-saving for an average-sized adult, it can cause head and neck injuries in young children. This is why car seats usually go in the back seats of cars, and why front seats in two-seater cars are slid back as far as possible.
Some car manufacturers allow you to disable an airbag temporarily, which can be a game-changer.
Rays of sun stream through car windows and are dangerous at any age. Look for a safe mineral sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more and slather it on your little one. Get your side windows tinted if you can, but sun shades with suction caps come in handy too.
Always keep your car cool and use the AC if possible—the breeze-less car interior gets much hotter than outside. Keep toddlers hydrated with always-accessible water bottles, and never, under any circumstances, leave your child unattended in a car.
Here are some ideas for a road trip supply checklist to supplement an accessible, fully-stocked diaper bag with wipes, a pacifier, a teething toy, a change of clothes, sustenance, NoseFrida, and meds. You're likely going to need the following:
Snacks should be high on your priority list. Pack less messy toddler road trip snacks to reduce the post-trip clean-up operation. Dehydrated or freeze-dried fruits are a good option, as are frozen squeezable yogurt tubes, which are great for teething.
Cereal trail mixes go down a treat, and little portions of nuts are nutritionally dense. Minimize the sugary snacks and toddlers won't be bursting with energy with no outlet for the sugar high. Cut-up veggies, hard-boiled eggs, and popcorn are fab too.
Toddlers are familiar with screen time, but even if you extend the time limit for the road trip, you'll need other entertainment options. You can sing songs together and listen to audiobooks, or hand your one- or two-year-old a bunch of reusable stickers and a sticker book.
Finger puppets, plush puzzle toys, and a soft faux set of keys are other safe options.