How to Travel Safely & Comfortably with Kids by Car

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Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, soccer mom or dad, camp counselor, or anybody else who drives around with kids in your car, you know that keeping those youngsters comfy keeps them happy… and that means everybody else in the car is happy too. 🙂

And it goes without saying that you realize that the safety of your passengers is paramount.

The great news is that there are simple things you can do right now to cover both those bases. With a few quick changes to what you’re doing now, the whole family can enjoy the next trip in the car.

Safety Tips You Might Have Missed

Let’s start with some basic safety rules to follow. Don’t skip over this part. There are plenty of misconceptions about things like car seats that are too important to miss. Not to scare you or anything but your child’s life could be a stake.

Also, these safety tips are important to follow whether you’re going about your daily routine of dropping the kids off at school or heading out on a long road trip.

Consider that a survey from Progressive Insurance found that 52% of crashes happen within five miles of home. So always be safe.

Your Kid’s Car Seat – This Is #1

I know, I know. Good car seats are expensive.

When I shelled out over $150 recently for my five-year-old’s new seat, it hurt.

But I had good reason… he had outgrown that convertible seat he had since he was born.

It just wasn’t safe for him anymore. So be sure to check the maximum weight and height on your seats now – it’s usually printed right on it somewhere.

You also want to make sure the seat is installed correctly as far as…

  • The harness being too loose or placed in the wrong slot.
  • The seat not attached correctly, whether with a seat belt or with the clips.
  • The seat being angled the wrong way.

It’s easier than you might think to do it the wrong way, putting your child at risk for injury. In fact, a study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 46% of seats are installed incorrectly.

Luckily your local firehouse can help you there – most offer a free service to install kid car seats. I did that when my oldest son was younger… and he got a free plastic fireman’s helmet too.

A Few More Quick Safety Checks

Another thing you might not have considered… is your kid’s seat “expired”? It’s not just a marketing ploy. The NHTSA says you should pay attention to this warning that is usually on a sticker on the side or base of the seat. Why? For one thing, materials can wear out.

Be sure to also set up your child safety locks on all rear passenger doors. You don’t want idle hands opening a door at highway speed – or any speed for that matter. I was riding shotgun in a friend’s car once and their toddler managed to open a door “accidentally” their foot. Luckily there were no injuries or damage to the car – but still not good.

Fighting Boredom, Getting Cozy, and Staying Fed Makes Everybody Happy

There’s nothing most drivers with kids in the car dread more than “Are we there yet?” coming from the back seat. When my family and I drove to Mexico from south Florida recently – yeah, a long road trip – my wife and I picked up a few tips to keep the kids occupied that work whether you’re driving for eight hours every day for a week like we did, or just heading to grandma’s house for Sunday dinner.

Tablets Aren’t Always Evil

It seems like every kid these days has an iPad or some sort of tablet. I don’t want to start a “screen time” debate. Let’s just say you never want to go overboard, even in the car. But tablets can be a great way to kill time for kids. They offer a lot:

  • Learning games
  • Books
  • Documentaries
  • Educational programs

You can find it all on tablets and much more…

Older kids could even get a jumpstart on their homework. On long trips you can download movies and TV shows – even whole seasons – from iTunes.

Getting the Right Set Up

Most devices have limited storage. So you should consider getting a tablet with a SIM card – so it can get on 3G, 4G, and LTE cell phone networks on the go. And don’t worry about getting a $23,000 bill of data overages and roaming fees (this really happened to a family traveling to Mexico from Canada, according to a CBC new report).

This won’t happen to you if you’re careful because certain plans now, most of the carriers have them, offer unlimited streaming of Netflix, YouTube, and other entertainment apps. T-Mobile calls their program “Binge On.”

I would use these sparingly. Do you really want your kids dead silent, glued to the screens, headphones on, and heads down for the whole trip?

Don’t answer that.

Good Old Fashioned In-Car Entertainment

As I always tell my kids, “I didn’t have no fancy mobile devices when I was a little!”

We actually had to talk to each other. And one of the games we played – and that I introduced my boys to – was car bingo.

These days you can even find printed sets to play – we picked up ours at Cracker Barrel in Louisiana. You mark off slots as you see things like a cow, a train, a deer crossing sign, or similar – it’s good clean fun and the whole family can get involved. Drivers – keep your eyes on the road.

We also found that our kids are really into:

  • Books on tape (or rather the iPod or iPhone)

We’ve been through quite a bit of the Harry Potter series, the Narnia books, and even some nonfiction. Audible.com offers a wide range of books to download. Also be sure to check Hoopla – if you have an account at your local library, you probably have free access to just about any ebook you can think of, as well as music and movies.

  • Educational, kid-safe podcasts, like NPR’s Wow in the World and Brains On, as well as Stuff You Should Know. The first two are geared towards kids and they actually get into and, yes, learn something. And you can discuss what you learned afterwards.

Both are a great way to pass the time while learning something or enjoy entertainment as a family. Plus, the driver isn’t left out.

Being Comfortable

This is mostly for long road trips – which are quite common. AAA says that of the Americans taking a family vacation this year, 79% are going on a good old fashioned road trip.

But to have a successful voyage it’s super-important that your kids feel comfortable – they’re going to be sitting for a while. And a “pokey” clothing tag or tight pants could mean lots of complaining. I recommend:

  • Soft athletic shorts and t-shirts for the summer
  • Sweat pants and sweat shirts for the winter.

On that note – and this is a safety follow up too – be sure to check where the seat or harness hits them when they’re buckled in.

  • Does a regular seat belt hit their neck – instead of their collarbone?
  • Or cross over their stomach instead just under their abdomen?

If so, time to adjust it. It won’t just be uncomfortable; it’s a big hazard in an accident.

How to Handle Food and Drink

One of my biggest pet peeves is finding crumbs, half melted gummy candies, totally melted chocolate, spilled juice, or some mystery substance ground-in to the back seats or the floors of my minivan. The solution was some specially made snack cups that cut down on spills.

  • Speaking of snacks – go for something healthy and natural. Forget the candy bars, sodas, or fast food – even if they beg. It’s bad for them, and in my experience it just kids hyped up and hungry again in minutes… if it doesn’t lead to a bad bellyache. You can pack healthy snacks. It’s just a matter of planning ahead.
  • And for long trips, I recommend vacuum insulated water bottles like those from HydroFlask. It keeps cold water ice cold for 12 or more hours. No more having to stop at the gas station again and again for icy cold beverages.

You’re Ready for the Road

Armed with these tips, tricks, and hacks you’re ready to hit the road with confidence – even a minivan full of toddlers won’t stop you. Obviously, safety comes first – arrive alive, as they say. So start working on that first. Then you can get to the comfort, which is key to making sure everybody has a smooth ride.

Happy Travels!

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Chelsy Theriault
Chelsy started a parenting website when her first son was only an infant. Two kids and three ebooks later, she loves giving advice based on the trial-and-error that she’s gone through as a parent.