Professor Mom – tips on travelling with children

Dear Professor Mom,

My family lives a few hours away, and we often drive to see them. I have two children, ages 1 and 3. It can be difficult to keep them happy and occupied for the whole trip. Do you have any tips on travelling with children?

Sincerely, Travel Mom

Baby girl smile in car

You are definitely not alone. Travelling with our children is inevitable, but keeping them occupied on those long drives can be quite challenging.

Instead of dreading that trip to Grandma’s house, try these tips for a smoother road trip.

If you are travelling with a young child, who still has naps, try and plan your trip around their nap time. If it can be avoided, try not to plan your trip so that your child will be overtired, making it harder to reason with them.

It is best to travel just before their nap time, so that 30 minutes into the trip, they will drift off into a nice sleep, and you get one or two hours of quiet time.

Remember to bring everything your child will need to feel comfortable having a nap – blanket, stuffed animal, soother (if you use one), milk, story books, etc. You want to create the same feeling of comfort and safety for your child that they would get at home.

Some infants will get quite upset when they can’t see you, so travelling in a car can be tricky. If you are travelling with another adult, sit in the back with your baby and play with them, read to them or soothe them to sleep. You can also give them a bottle, soother and/or sing them some songs.

Now your child is awake, but there is still time left in your travels. Bring a goody bag – this is a bag of toys, books, activities that your child has never seen before. You can either tell your child beforehand that they will be getting a goody bag, or surprise them with it.

Each child should have their own bag; expecting them to share will only cause conflict. Make sure each bag is based on the child’s individual interests. I like to go to the dollar store and load up on colouring books and other great activities (last time I was there, they even had travel sized Mr. Potato Heads).

When in doubt, bring a video for them to watch. Some minivans now have DVD players in them, which I am sure many parents find quite handy. Try to make watching videos in the car a special thing that you only do on trips, so your children have something to look forward to.

If you are not travelling by minivan with built-in DVD player – as many of us aren’t – bring a laptop or iPad. This may save you, especially if your children don’t nap.

Remember to bring snacks. We can all become quite cranky if we don’t get enough to eat in a day, and children need to eat even more regularly than we do. Make sure you bring enough to eat and drink, so you won’t have to make too many stops and hear too many complaints about being hungry. When you are packing snacks, keep them healthy and sugar-free as much as possible.

Know your limits, and your children’s. If your child hates to travel no matter what you do, limit the time you travel. I realize this may be easier said than done, but do what you can to limit the amount of hours you need to travel in a day.

Plan to stop along the way and let everyone stretch their legs and use the washroom. And, if you need to, plan some overnight stops along the way. Travelling with your children doesn’t have to be about just getting from point A to point B; there may be something interesting in between.

Give yourself plenty of time. Now when I say “plenty of time,” I don’t just mean give yourself enough time on the clock. I mean, give yourself and your children enough time to get to your destination without added stress. That will look different for every family.

Some parents might have a child who needs to use the washroom frequently, or gets car sick, or even a child who needs time to stop and run around every hour. Know the needs of your family and plan accordingly. Do not give yourself a time to be at your final destination.

For example, if you are visiting family or friends, don’t tell them you will be there by a certain time. This only puts pressure on you and causes you to feel rushed, which of course makes us rush our children. Children can become stressed and agitated when they are rushed. So, just tell people you are hoping to be there by a certain time and you will call them if plans change.

Have fun. Make the road trip fun and enjoy the travelling part of your journey as much as you can. Play games, talk about things that interest your children and enjoy each other’s company. There are several websites with great ideas on travelling games – see what you can find! I like “car bingo.”

Treat yourself and your children. You made it to your destination, and had some fun along the way – it is now time for your treat. If you often travel to the same place, e.g. grandparents’ house, find a place where you can all get out and celebrate with a little treat. Maybe there is an ice cream place or a nice little bakery nearby? Make it part of the journey!

Safe travels everyone, Professor Mom

Meghan Wright is a Certified Life Coach and Professor of Early Childhood Education. She has worked with children and families for over 15 years in a variety of child care settings. Reach Meghan at, her blog or on Facebook:

Photo: © lsantilli