Ah, the open road, where anything is possible. You and your family are free to go, go, go...to the bathroom 100 times a day, go bonkers hearing the kids bicker over their gear, go through more snacks than you thought possible and yes, go through renditions of "are we there yet" to the point where the iconic road trip phrase is no longer funny but your reality.
How do I know? As I write this article I'm on an epic road trip with my 4 and 6-year-old boys and their dad. So far we have driven around 2,500 miles, from Colorado to Nebraska to Minnesota, and then south again to Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. There's still another 2,000 miles to go, and five states to pass through before we are home again in Denver.
Has it been hard? Yes.
But has it been worth it? Yes, for so many reasons.
I’m not alone in this endeavor. Every year thousands of families get in the car and drive to their summer vacation. Whether the destination is the beach, grandma's house, a theme park or camping, the car trip is often the best option. Not only do you have your own car to move around in, saving money on renting a car and for some families, also renting car seats, but you have the freedom to pick your own schedule. There are no airports, no delayed planes, no liquid restrictions and all the snacks, toys, coloring books and kid gear you can pack.
It turns out that the last part is one of the best reasons to take a road trip with kids, you can bring everything they may want and need plus a few surprises along the way. Depending on the age(s) of your child (children), the type of kid gear differs. Here's a list of the best baby, toddler and kid gear to take in the car to make that next road trip run smoothly, or at least, run as smoothly as it can.
The first step when planning a car trip with kids is to make sure you have a good, comfortable car seat sized for your child. Good Buy Gear sells open-box car seats at a fraction of the retail cost, up to 50-percent off, so customers can get exactly what they need. The best bet is to invest in a car seat that can grow with your child like the Graco 4Ever DLX 4-in-1 and the Maxi-Cosi Magellan XP Max All-in-One Convertible Car Seat. That way, if your baby suddenly has a growth spurt 800 miles from home it's simple to make them comfortable and safe.
When taking a road trip with a baby try and plan out driving times to correspond with naps, it will make the whole event run much smoother. A noise machine can help with this, and create white noise to drown out the sounds of the road. This device also is great when staying in hotels to help soothe babies to sleep.
When your infant is awake, there are plenty of things to keep them entertained, starting with a spiral car seat toy that twists onto the handle of an infant car seat. This device allows for the baby to reach up and grab the dangling toys or just watch the bobbles bounce around. Another way to entertain a baby is to keep a box of gently-used toys in the front seat that you can hand back to your little one periodically. The newness of something different is usually enough to keep them busy, and having a bunch on hand means when they throw it on the ground you can give them something else. We're talking things such as the Sassy Do-Re-Mi Textured Tunes, Skip Hop's Bandana Buddies Activity Toy and the Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes. Rattles, teethers and pacifiers, especially the ones that conveniently clip on to the car seat belt like the LouLou Lollipop version, are easy to pack on a road trip and can make a world of difference.
Where babies sleep a lot in the car, toddlers aren't often quite as easy when it comes to long road trips. They like to move, and being stuck inside a car seat can be difficult. But, toddlers also love goofy games, silly sounds and toys, and picking up a couple sets of gently-used gear that can be doled out throughout the trip may save your sanity. Sometimes making goals with a new-to-them item as the reward can get toddlers through longer stretches of boring car time. Think chunky cars, board books, plastic animals and dinosaurs, dolls and small stuffies.
When engaging with your toddler in the car finger puppets are a great thing to use in order to tell silly stories or act out an adventure you just had while everyone is securely buckled in. Sing-a-longs definitely make a road trip more fun too, so queue up a playlist of all your kid's favorite songs. Toddler-friendly books on tape are another way to ease the hours on the road, and bonus, sometimes this soothing way of entertaining your toddler will put them to sleep.
Finally, don't underestimate electronic toys, especially when they aren't something your kid sees often. VTech makes a bunch of durable devices that Good Buy Gear gets in gently used, such as the Thomas And Friends Learn & Explore Computer and the Touch and Teach Elephant. A simple toddler laptop is genius, and there are volume controls so you aren’t forced to listen to the ABCs and silly songs. Electronic story books and activity cubes, the smaller ones, are perfect for the car too.
On the not-so-fun-side of car gear, bring along a portable potty and/or a toddler toilet seat insert. Trust us, you don't want to have to figure out where your little one will poop in the middle of Missouri with no gas stations or rest stops in sight. Bring some plastic bags to put over it for easy and quick clean up on the road. Finally, with toddlers don't be surprised if you have to stop a lot. Find playgrounds along the way and cool rest stops to help get that energy out.
With my kids I let them each pack their own backpack with toys, books, stuffed animals, and really anything they wanted to bring from home-just make sure they leave the kazoo (trust me on this). I also packed a crate of games, new reads, easy art projects and fun surprises for the road trip. In the center of the boys car seats we placed a box filled with a bunch of gently-used books I got as a $7 bundle from Good Buy Gear. Also in the pile were some Melissa & Doug sticker books, small cars and their tablets, which, on this trip, we let them play until the battery ran out.
Children like having choices, which is why this car box of kid gear worked. I added something new each day. Nothing too fancy, a search-and-find book, activity pads, a case of Wiki Stix and colored pencils and crayons (though this can lead to melted crayons in the car if it's hot, not something you want to discover the hard way). Crayola makes a mess-free art kit that's fun on the road and leaves no trace, as well as the Crayola Magic Scene Creator. A gently-used digital drawing pad also keeps kids entertained without worry, and so does an old school Etch A Sketch, which is easy to find second hand.
During those times you want to make the car trip more family oriented, start up a game of car bingo, or get a few easy card games to inspire the adults and kids. Snacks are another must, for any age, since little ones always seem to get the hungriest when sitting in the car. No matter where you're going, a road trip can be good both to bond with the kids, and to teach them a little patience. And in the end, there's the destination and ice cream breaks along the way.