Travelling with kids is a daunting task, my wife and I, both avid travellers put road trips and long-distance travelling on the back burner when we had our first kid.
This was tough because we enjoyed travelling, particularly by vehicle. There is this sense of adventure and discovery, you get to meet amazing people and see things that you’d ordinarily miss when flying, not to mention the ability to travel at your own pace and focus on the things you find interesting.
The very first time we travelled a long distance with my 9-month-old, teething daughter - I must add, was an experience that had left both my wife and I scarred for some time. We do occasionally laugh about it now, but it's taken us some time and some serious therapy to get to this point. I remember the trip clearly. We drove down to Durban for a short weekend in the, at the time, newly launched BMW 320d, but not even the very fuel efficient, luxury German sedan could make our trip a pleasant one.
Now having a crabby kid demanding your attention from the back seat is less than ideal when driving. It's a very dangerous situation because it is so distressing and distracting for the driver but, before you put off travelling until your child leaves for university, here are some tips to try and make your trip a safer and more enjoyable one - for everyone.
Make sure your vehicle is road worthy. Of course, your number one priority during a road trip with a baby or toddler is to arrive at your destination safe and sound. Before setting out, be sure to check that your vehicle is in good condition, up to date on any oil changes or scheduled maintenance and is fuelled up, the last thing you would want is being stuck on the side of the road with your family, or being forced to stop at a dodgy filling station because you require fuel. As a rule of thumb, always have more fuel than required, detours, traffic and driving conditions can change requiring more fuel. I generally just fill up every time I stop. Make sure you have reliable roadside assistance, if something does go wrong.
Prepare your car. Childproof your car and ensure that the child lock is set to the rear doors. Bring a pillow, blanket, sun shield, and trash bag. These could all make your kid's journey a lot more comfortable. Another important piece of equipment is a roadside emergency kit. Pack it with bandages, medicines, a flashlight, jumper cables, and other useful items. An easy solution is to purchase a pre-filled kit and make sure that it is easily and quickly accessible if needed.
Safety first - All passengers should remain safely seated and buckled throughout the journey. Did you know that child safety seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71% for infants and by 54% for toddlers? There are so many brands and models of child seats available so make sure you do your homework carefully when purchasing. Speak to the salespeople and check for online reviews, also be sure to select a seat that is ideal for your child's age, size and weight. Make sure you know how to use the system correctly; most cars now have Isofix mounts which are safer and more convenient.
Don’t overdo it. Your plans of a 4 day long, Cape to Kruger road trip will not cut it with your kid. Remember to take things slow, not be in a rush and don’t be overly optimistic. Sitting in one position for hours on end would not be comfortable for anyone, your little one feels the same way too.
Travel when it’s comfortable for you! As much as people advise you to travel at night when your baby is naturally asleep, this is something I do not recommend at all. For starters, its unsafe to be travelling at that time, there are security concerns, visibility is low, and pedestrians and animals share our roads too. Staying awake for the driver is harder too and you get to your destination exhausted and off schedule. Instead, travel when you are most comfortable but avoid rush hour traffic.
Back seat buddy - Where possible, have an adult passenger supervise and oversee your little one on long trips, as much as I miss my wife riding shotgun beside me, having her move to the back seat to entertain and oversee our little ones have made things a lot easier and keeps our little one content. Use your time in the back seat to bond with your baby, play games and encourage exploration.
Silence is not always golden. Play calming music or sounds that your little one enjoys, or is used to, this does come at a cost though - 3 hours of back-to-back “five little ducks” will have you signing it in your sleep.
Screentime. While all the hype around screentime is around reducing it, you may want to consider bending the rules for road trips. When the journey gets tough for your kid one, allow them to watch one of their favourite videos or movies it serves as a great distraction for them until the next stop.
Playtime. Your kid probably has a few favourite toys, pack them along for the ride, and bring a few new ones too. Beware of toys that could potentially cause injury or distraction to the driver - a toy police car with flashing lights and sirens is a definite no-no!
Fuel up. Just like your vehicle, your little one needs fuel for the journey. Kids get crabby when they’re hungry. Pack snacks, drinks and treats too. Individually wrapped and resealable foods are amazing for road trips.
Stop regularly. Ensure that the place you chose to stop at is safe. It's never a good idea to stop on the side of the road, busy, well-lit filling stations are much better options. Take your kid for a short walk and allow them to get out of their car seat for a bit. This also provides the perfect opportunity for nursing moms to safely feed their babies.
Tag team. Driving for a long time is taxing for the driver too, my wife and I regularly switch driving responsibilities. This gives her a break from the demanding task of keeping a toddler content and gives me some time away from the steering wheel.
Plan B - Last but not least, if all else fails, have a plan b. In the form of an overnight stop. Do some research on the areas and towns you will be travelling through and look for suitable accommodation that will give you, and baby enough time to recuperate. Our go-to has always been Airbnb and surprisingly we've found some amazing gems that are generally very affordable.
Hopefully, these tips will help you to travel better with your kids and won't stop you from exploring our beautiful country.
By Jameel Ismail
Photo credit: Freepik.com