ROAD TRIP: A mini-guide for road travel with little ones

I’ve been absent from writing on my humble website as my son T.A. have been away for 10+ days on a road trip originating from West Palm Beach, Florida through Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky and then back again. 

We were able to stay and visit with various friends and family as we traveled and we also treated ourselves to one night at the Gaylord’s Opryland Resort where we explored their multi-faceted atrium complete with a little riverboat ride

In an effort to share what pros and cons I’ve encountered in road-tripping with my son since he was 5 weeks old-I’ve compiled a fun breakdown of the word ROAD TRIP in sharing some tips:

Relax, Overnight Bag, AAA, Diapers and Toiletries, Technology, Reveal New Toys/Remind Old Toys, Inquire with Locals, Point Out to Yourself and Your Crew


Relaxing may seem pretty impossible when embarking on a road trip with one or more children.  However, I have found that it’s helpful to focus on enjoying the actual journey and new experiences together and try to avoid obsessing over details like how well or not well your kids are eating during the trip.  Early on in our journey I immediately noticed that my son was snacking much more and eating less at sit-down meals.  He sometimes avoided the food served to him entirely, thankfully I pulled myself from the ledge as the days wore on and found it liberating to let him splurge on things I otherwise wouldn’t allow back at home.  When he was cranky and tired, I would try to just listen to my music and look around at the sights while driving. 

There was one instance where we were sitting at a T.G.I.Fridays in Chattanooga and T.A. had a level 4 meltdown after the meal was served.  It was at that point I calmly picked him out of the high chair, kissed him and then put him in his jogger stroller, reclined the seat, pulled down the sun shade, made sure he was secure, had a blanket draped and told him he needed to take a nap.  While he railed in the stroller I then summoned the waitress and ordered a Coors Light and proceeded relax accordingly as within a few minutes my son gave in to his over-stimulated exhaustion and I enjoyed my beer followed by coffee and an ice cream brownie drizzled with Bailey’s Irish Cream (no worries, we were walking around downtown for hours following that lunch).


This may seem elementary to most of you but for some reason I hadn’t quite gotten the hang of how to pack clothes and such for road trips even though I’ve done a few already with my son during his young lifetime- his first interstate road trip in the car being at five weeks old!  I often have found myself resembling some Biblical era nomad with tons of little bags and things.

So I finally figured out prior to leaving this time that I could pack a big suitcase for both of our clothes and have it act as a traveling dresser while I had a medium-sized duffle bag be our overnight bag that I packed prior to every stay at someone’s home or a hotel.  I found this to be liberating and much lighter for our helpful family and friends who were always asking to take our things to the designated room they had for us when we arrived.


That’s right, I’m plugging for AAA, the auto club of America, you can find them easily at . If you are only an occasionally road tripping sort, then this is probably not a membership you necessarily need, although their roadside assistance benefits are worthy of consideration. 

I love AAA for the continuously updated travel software programs available to members such as myself.  Their TripTiks, for example, is very detailed and accurate in its directions and mini-maps, I prefer it over Mapquest or Google maps any day.  I also appreciate AAA’s tour books for all the different states that give you great travel info such as where are the best hotels to consider, what the main attractions in the different cities and towns are.  Those books also give you information in detail about the name and numbers of exits on the interstates in conjunction with various sites and attractions.  Between what signs I saw along my road travels and what information I had in my AAA tour books and maps, I always felt pretty well educated and prepared as I drove my son and myself through four different states.


Diapers are an obvious mention for those whose little ones aren’t potty-trained yet.  However, the toiletries portion also refers to the parent not just the child/children’s needs on the trip.  

Before I left town I visited some of my favorite places like L’Occitane and Aveda to pick up a couple of travel-size toiletry treats that made me feel taken care of as we traveled.  Things like a little bottle of sweet smelling hair spray and a Bergamot tea lotion mist from L’Occitane that was neatly packed in my oversized make-up tote that contained my staples like mouthwash, toothbrush, eye cream and lotions.  Having a small-scale but well stocked toiletry pantry in my overnight bag made the beginning and ending of my busy traveling days have a pleasant and energizing routine. 

For my son I had a small blue plastic container filled with one of his favorite bath toys, a small travel container of his bubble bath from home (we love Burt’s Bees!), his little toothbrush and toothpaste and his night lotion and butt crème.   This provided him with a familiar bin of his own that we opened together every morning and evening for his respective pampering needs that helped his days have a proper start and closure.


This is a fairly recent development as families driving through our nation as a mode of travel in the 1940s and 1950s would just stare in astonishment at the options we parents now have available to us and on average our American families containing less children than they had in those decades.

My friends and colleagues who know me well understand that I have an overall avoidance issue with most forms of technology.  For example, if I hadn’t married my husband I may still have lived without a computer in my personal home space.  Of course, I use them especially now as a mode of writing and communicating, but I still try to spend less than 5 hours a week on it as I used to have to spend WAY too much time on a computer when I was working in the government and corporate worlds.

However, I do admit that I carried a separate bag on this road trip of two particular items: a mini-DVD player and my iPod player with nano iPod.  The DVD player was NOT used in the car; I have a personal philosophy on playing movies in travel.  I feel they are okay for long airplane rides where one is restricted especially with small lap children.  But I believe that part of doing a road trip is to see the sights around you and usually you have the time to play with and stop whenever needed for extra distractions.  Plus, my toddler son has a short attention span so I was much happier to use the DVD player in our room when we would settle in for the evening so I could wash my face, re-pack or just generally take a break from his need for attention-why waste that in the car?

The iPod player was used only for the evenings when my son was washed and dressed in his pajamas and it was time to go to bed.  I always pressed play on my “lullaby” playlist that helped calm both of us down as he wound down for a restful sleep after some busy days during our road travel.

Then there are the additional understood staples such as your cell phone and digital camera.  It’s a good idea to keep your chargers with you at all times during road travel and make a habit of recharging them at night and then throwing the chargers back into your overnight bag each morning so as not to lose them.  I will admit that on this trip I lacked a car charger—those who really know me well will recall my cell phone explosion in the 2004 car trip with my husband from DC to FL that gave us both 2nd degree burns, let’s just say I’m a little paranoid about those unstable lithium batteries in the car charging.


This is a two-part approach that seems opposite in nature but its intentions are the same: the goal is to help your little road warrior(s) travel as comfortable as possible in the vehicle as well as in the places you lay your head each evening.

One of my good friends L.H. had given me the advice last year for traveling for a 6+ airplane flight that it is good to break up the trip with revealing new toys/books to my son.  It worked well and I have stuck to the habit ever since.  This doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune or buy elaborate toys, it can be simple stuff really and just ask me if you need ideas.  As I planned this past road trip, I looked at when my longest drive segments were and planned accordingly with stocking a few new things in the back of the car hidden.  Also, for the older children, there is always the ‘souvenir’ option as you travel through attractions or various places.  Thankfully, lots of Wal-marts along most of our interstates these days!

Old things are also good to travel with: their favorite toy or nighttime reading, the security blanket or stuffed animal.  These familiar things help your child(ren) feel some security as they travel the unknown with you.  Remember that you’re not the only one enduring stressful emotions on the road trip, they go through their own versions and it’s good when they have their own fall-back items and habits to help ground and re-center themselves.

For example, when staying at folks’ homes, T.A. enjoyed being in the kitchen with the adults as they or I would prepare meals.  I had a canvas tote bag with his fond pot and lid with a small bin of plastic fruits and vegetables that he likes to play with at home when I’m cooking food.  So I would bring that in whenever he started asking to participate.  We still ate out as well but this was nice for when we were hanging out with our hosts while food preparation was in full swing.


Although we have AAA, you may have Apps on your iPhone and our laptops with wireless internet capabilities, my personal experience is that I found the best eateries, major attractions, parks and stores with the help of a local resident’s counsel.

For instance, Chattanooga’s Sticky Fingers is a great place for ribs and smoked wings, I’m so glad that locals verified that choice and I highly recommend it if you’re ever passing through there. 

Also, there was one day about a week into the trip that I wanted to make a comfort meal for T.A. at my family’s house in Tennessee but I didn’t know where I could find my specialty ingredients.  While at a children’s discovery museum I approached a couple of mom’s and asked and they told me about a great fresh and organic market not far from there and it was the best! 

Technology and such is great, but nothing beats asking someone who knows where’s the best this-or-that and I’m glad I did in almost every state I hit.


This last one is a little silly but I found it to be truly effective for my little crew of my son and me during this particular road trip.  Sure, he’s young and perhaps this little trick will fade in its attractiveness or maybe we’ll just progress and evolve into more detailed absorption of what scenery we encounter.

Whenever we saw cow pastures, I pointed them out to my son and talked about them. He would usually respond with the sounds of the cows and his recent adaptation of “Whoa Bull!”  If I saw construction vehicles, trucks or boats (all of which he LOVES right now), I would also point those out and we would go back and forth about them in adult vs. toddler language exchange.  You get the picture?  What surprised me about this constant observation activity was that it helped my driving go quickly and I found myself being intellectually stimulated even though I was making simple statements to my son, I was expanding in my thoughts on whatever the subject was and therefore more thoroughly enjoying my travel with him.


I had a good time with my little road warrior and actually look forward to more trips in the future.  We’ll still use air travel from time to time, but the benefits of road trips outweigh those of airplane usage to me since it allowed me to visit with friends and family in greater quantity than I’d be able to do if I had to pay for all the air, car rental and hotel stays required in that mode of air transport.

If you have a road trip in your near future with your family, I wish you safe travels and most of all hope that you have fun new memories etched in all your hearts.


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