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With a little bit of planning, roads trips with kids can be fun – both for the kids and for you. Tips to get you going.
By Poornima Dhall
“Should we?”, “what if the child falls sick?”, “what if the car breaks down?” are just a few of the million “questions when you start thinking of your first road trip with kids. With excellent highways, clean toilets and GPS navigation, travelling with children in India can be a great experience. Some of our friends have travelled all the way from Bangalore to Delhi with their kids in tow and have lived to tell the tale!
A lot of heavy-duty planning is not really required – just make sure the kid has enough stuff to play with, sufficient healthy food to snack on, suitable clothing (you can check the weather conditions beforehand) and the required medication (for motion sickness, tummy upsets, fever etc.). A few tips to make road trips with kids easy and enjoyable:
Let kids know about the plan and destination. Highlight the sights/activities they will love and mentally prepare them for the amount of time they will spend in the vehicle.
You could carry books to read during breaks, notebooks to jot down what they see, and yes, a blanket for when you want the AC on and the kid wants it off! We let our son pack his own bag and choose what he would like to take along – dinosaurs, cars, superhero figurines – they are all part of our journey. We even let him carry toys that we think he may not use – it was a lesson learnt when we had to turn around a few kilometres just to fetch that one toy we had decided to leave behind at home!
Early morning starts will get you to your destination on time and kids can sleep through part of the journey. On the day before our road trip, we talk to our kid about the early morning start and dress him for bed accordingly – comfortable track pants and t-shirt. When morning comes, we just transfer him from bed to car in his blanket without bothering about the morning rituals of brushing, changing, potty and breakfast. All these happen either when the need arises or when we stop for breakfast. The kid is now a pro!
Plan your trip around meal times. A hungry child is definitely not a happy child. It is useful to look up restaurants upfront and plan your journey so that you stop in time for meals. If there is any possibility that you might miss stopping on time, make sure you have packed food and you can have an impromptu picnic when hunger strikes. Under the trees, by the fields or by a stream of water – any place is good – and the kids will love it! Just make sure you have parked safely. These unscheduled stops can be the best part of your trip!
From a young age, encourage your child to eat locally available food. Start small and do not force – soon you will find that the child will start experimenting more and food will not be a worry. For our regular roads trips to places around Bangalore, Mangalore and Goa, we have our favourite pit stops – the Kamaths, the CCDs and the Darshinis – and the kid has his favourites everywhere.
Teach your child to use the map – the good old paper one or the one on your phone/notebook – and let them navigate. It keeps them occupied and helps in reducing, (or if you are lucky in avoiding) the “how long to get there” questions. Another activity that we find useful is to allow the kid to choose the music to play. Make sure you have favourites stored in your music device.
Watch out for interesting things– trees and animals you don’t usually see in the city, shapes of mountains (yes, some of them do look like dinosaurs!) and clouds (was that shaped like a dog?). When you stop to sightsee, allow kids to be themselves and enjoy their time out of the car. If you are visiting a place that they may not be interested in, then a camera in their hands keeps them occupied and will make them see what they otherwise would not have. There are a few kid-friendly cameras (shock proof and water proof) available in the market and it is a good investment to make.
Think of games you can play as a family – I spy, word games or the good old counting cars of a particular colour. Or just converse – being in the car will give you an opportunity to have long conversations and get to know each other – yes, there’s always something new to discover! We find ourselves discussing “serious” topics in the car – how papa and mama met each other and got married, is it okay to talk to girls, do you really have kiss on the lips when you get married and also “fun” topics such as inventing the fastest bike in the world which can run without petrol or how to break Usain Bolt’s world record.
Be prepared to have a messy car, dirty hands and faces, unscheduled stops, sudden sickness, bruises and injuries – it’s all part of travelling with kids. Make sure you have wet wipes, hand sanitizers, a first aid kit, trash bags, anything you think you will need. After all, moms know best! And do factor in time for unplanned stops and delays.
It is important to stay calm during emergencies. Children pick up vibes from parents and if you stay calm, they will too. If your vehicle has broken down or met with an accident, stay calm, pay attention to the child and make the whole affair an adventure.
During a road trip in France, our car broke down in the middle of nowhere and we were stranded with no insurance (the small print had covered only UK insurance) and no emergency contact numbers. We called the French police and the entire episode – wearing emergency jackets, the ride into the nearest town in the tow truck, the scrapping of our car (the kid was heartbroken), the train, ferry and taxi ride back home was the highlight of the entire trip – even more exciting than being up on Eiffel Tower!
And yes, make sure you have emergency contact numbers, spare tyres, maybe even spare fuel.
Travelling with babies and toddlers can be hassle-free too. Get them used to a car seat as early as you can, preferably one that can be tilted to sleeping position. Carry multiple bottles/feeding bowls/cutlery so you don’t have to bother about sterilising them before reaching your destination. Make sure you have diapers to spare too. Carry their favourite toys, comforters, music CD, anything they are attached to. Stop where you can (safely!) for their regular feeds and give them a break from the car seat. Talk to them through the journey; show them the changing colours and scenery outside. Make the most of the driving time when the child is asleep. I personally think it is easier to travel with babies than with older kids as they are mostly asleep and you don’t have to deal with the never-ending questions!
Every journey is different, every child is different – just make the best of both. Once you try it, you will be hooked. You not only discover the place that you have travelled to but also something new about your child and yourself. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead – plan your road trip!
*Photo credit: blmiers (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
Good tips, and as you rightly said each child is differently and will react differently each time. We have to take it in our stride. I came back from a trip recently [with our toddler son] which involved road trips. And it was a learning experience for me too. Here’s the link for my post: http://penpaper.blogspot.in/2013/11/travelling-with-toddler-few-learnings.html
Practical tips !
Loved it! Totally practical tips. We have been following a lot of these ever since the kid was a toddler. It is fun!
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