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Tips for Avoiding a Road Trip Meltdown

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There must be something about a car road trip that triggers a baby’s meltdown mechanism.  Oh sure…most children love the car in small doses, and you may even be one of those lucky parents whose little one is actually lulled to sleep by the motion of a moving vehicle. 

We’ve all heard the stories about the sleep-deprived parent who loads their crying baby into the van at 2am for a quick trip around the block.  Granted, that usually works….USUALLY. 

road trip meltdowns

For some reason, children seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to tantrum time.  They always lose it at the worst possible moments.  This is especially true for long car trips.  Anything over about 30 minutes will inevitably trigger the much dreaded meltdown.  And we’re not just talking a regular crying fit; car tantrums are usually doozies. 

As any seasoned parent knows, you can’t just jump in the backseat at every little whimper and whine.  You can pull over at the nearest rest area, but depending on where you are, those can be few and far between.   Gone are the days where you can jump in the car for an impromptu road trip.  Now that there is a child along for the ride, there will definitely need to be some planning involved.  Check out these tips for planning a road trip with a small child. 


  • Try and plan your trip around the child’s sleep schedule.  It’s more likely your child will rest in the car if it’s his usual nap time.  We always try to leave at nap time so we can get at least 2 hours of traveling underway before the kids wake up.  You will need to stop for bathroom breaks every couple of hours anyway, so this usually works out well. 
  • Planning on driving straight through the night?  If a day drive isn’t feasible, consider leaving at bedtime.  I know many parents who plan a night drive to keep their kids from getting too restless on road trips. 
  • It’s just not realistic to plan on driving for 8 hours non-stop.  You will eventually have to stop for diaper changes and feedings, so figure those stops into your agenda.  If at all possible, pre-plan your route so you have an idea on where to stop.  There’s nothing worse than realizing that your baby has just soiled his diaper and the next exit isn’t for 20 miles (I speak from experience).     

How to Make Your Little Roadtrippers Comfortable

  • The first aspect to consider when formulating a travel plan is the comfort of your child.  After all, a comfy baby is a happy(er) baby.  One often overlooked area is the car seat your little one will be strapped in for the duration of the trip.  If you have access to multiple car seats (from other vehicles your child rides in), opt for the one baby likes best.  I have a Britax Marathon in my car and daddy has a Diono Radian.  For some reason, Little Bud tolerates the Radian much better, so we always use that one if we know we’re in for a long ride. 
  • Dress your child as comfortably as possible.  It’s not unheard of for our little riders to make the entire trip in their comfiest pj’s.  If this isn’t an option, go for some loose fitting attire that’s easy to get on and off for diaper changes and the occasional “messy” accident. 
  • Long trips in the car can make little ones anxious, so if your child has a favorite blankie or stuffed animal, make sure to bring it along.  The backseat can be a lonely place for a little one, so include a buddy for the ride.  Consider having an adult or older child sit in the back next to them.  Pass the time by reading books together, singing songs, or playing peek-a-boo.  Bubbles are a fantastic way to entertain your toddler if you happen to get stuck in traffic.     

How to Be Prepared for the Roadtrip

  • Regardless of how well you plan your route, accidents happen.  Consider using an extra-absorbency or overnight diaper for the trip, just in case.  Make sure to have a few changes of clothes within easy reach and pack a few plastic bags in case of poopy emergencies.  Piddle pads are a great option for road trips.  In the event of a diaper blowout, the car seat stays clean and dry and you can be back on the road in no time. 
  • Pack an emergency first aid kit for the car.  This can be as simple as a Ziploc bag with a thermometer, infants’ Tylenol, some gas drops, and Orajel.  Babies don’t realize that a road trip isn’t exactly the best time to develop a fever.  Don’t take chances on the gas station not having what you need.  Be prepared by packing these necessities in advance. 
  • Make sure to pack a small cooler stocked with juice boxes and snacks for your older toddler.  Since I was always leery of them choking on hard snacks, I opted for portable yogurt tubes. 

The main thing to remember when planning your family car trip is that your little ones aren’t perfect.  You will inevitably encounter your fair share of tantrums along the way.  Take a deep breath, relax, and try not to pull your hair out.             

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Monday 1st of August 2011

My little one hates being in the car. We also schedule trips in car for sleep time. Another thing I have to do is make sure my two kids aren't right next to each other. That is our biggest problem. They constantly annoy each other when in car. Drives me nuts!

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