9 Tips to Travel Successfully with a Small Child

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We have been on many trips with our four year old daughter. When she was 4 months old we took her on a 3 day four wheel driving trip through the Kennedy Ranges. It was our first family holiday. The first day she slept for the whole day and we thought we had it all figured out. The second day she screamed her lungs out, but it was too late, we were in the middle of nowhere and the only way home was to move forward. We didn’t really know what we were doing and have had to work it out ourselves. Keeping the kids happy on road trips makes the experience a lot less stressful for the parents and increases the likelihood of future trips. The following is a list of things that worked for us and applies to both day trips and longer road trips.

  1. Drive through nap times- we would wake up early and bundle her in the car while she was still sleeping. That meant we could get a good couple of hours under our belt before she woke up. We would keep driving once she woke up for up to another hour – or until she got really restless. Then we would stop, eat some food, let her have a play and get back in the car for her next sleep. An 8 hour drive turns into a 12 hour drive, but you get there in the end.
  2. Pack a bottle, snacks and toys – Have a little stash in the front seat of the car with you. When they start to get restless pass back one at a time. When you have run out of things to pass back or it is no longer entertaining them it is time to look for a rest stop.
  3. Stop when you need to and let them have a run – this will tire them out so they fall asleep and let you have a peaceful drive for a bit!
  4. Explain what is at the other end – Sometimes I will tell my daughter, ‘ We are going for a long drive, but when we get there we are sleeping in a tent, or going to the beach, etc’ I was amazed to find that this trick actually seemed to work.
  5. Start with smaller trips and get them used to it from a young age – the earlier you start the more normal it is for them. We started early but we also started with big trips. We had some horrible moments in the car with a screaming child and 6 hours still to go. Start with smaller trips, one or two hours from home and increase it from there once you know they can handle it.
  6. Starting at a young age conditions them to sleep while you are driving. Our daughter no longer has a day sleep – unless we are driving. She is so used to sleeping in the car she will often fall asleep even on short drives from home.
  7. Sit in the back seat with them – Have one parent sit in the back seat when they begin to get restless. The number of times my daughter settled down once I sat next to her and held her hand was amazing.
  8. Give them a job to do – This tip is for slightly older children but I remember being given the job to look out for kangaroos on road trips when I was a kid. I took the job very seriously and I’m sure it gave my parents a few hours of peace and quiet.
  9. Do what works for your family. Don’t let me or anyone tell you that there is only one way to do things.

If you have any other suggestions for travelling with a small child, please share them in the comments below.

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