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road trip essentials

Holiday Road Trips – The Safe Way!

Time spent traveling while being still and confined is a big concern for younger kids. In addition, airports and long plane rides can be exhausting, for adults but especially for kids. And in the age of COVID-19, traveling has added challenges. The crowds and tight spaces can lead to exposure to new germs and illness. So what are the best road trip essentials to keep everyone happy and healthy?

With these great tips, of course!

Road Trip Essentials for Safe Travels During the Holidays

Our first tip is simple – just don’t take the kids with you!

Just kidding!

I know this time is scary, so many of us are trying to stay on the side of caution by driving rather than flying. But driving with kids can be ROUGH. We have done the 10+ hour drive to Blue Ridge, Georgia, and I can confidently say being prepared makes a trip like this one so much easier!

Yes, there were some tears along the way, but we all ended up making it in one piece. Check out some of our family’s must-have road trip essentials for long drives with kids:

  1. Lap desk for car
  2. Window stickers
  3. Bluetooth headphones
  4. iPad holder 
  5. Janod magnetic books and activities 
  6. Portable cell phone/iPad charger
  7. Travel games
  8. Container for kids’ toys or snacks 
  9. Wikki Sticks
  10. Water Wow!
  11. License plate game
  12. Paint by sticker

And here are a few quick tips for traveling with young kiddos on long road trips:

  • If your child has a weak stomach, avoid screen time. Phones, iPads, and computers can cause motion sickness and lead to an unpleasant and messy ride.
  • If your child does suffer from motion sickness, make sure the car is cold and that they are dressed lightly. Travel with a dry set of clothing as well as plastic bags and wipes.
  • If your child is still napping, I highly suggest planning your trip so that you are traveling during the time of their nap. There is nothing more beautiful than the sounds of snoring during a long distance drive.
  • The best way to keep your child engaged is to give them a new toy or activity book that promotes independent play. It doesn’t have to be expensive; the dollar store has great coloring books and activities.

Car Hazards and Car Seat Safety Guidelines

The most important tip for a road trip is to make sure that your child’s car seat is appropriately installed and that you are following the guidelines created by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for car seats.

Use the Right Seat for Your Child

The bones that protect the spine, the vertebrae, do not fuse until 3-to-6 years of age. This is why rear-facing car seats are so important. Rear-facing gives more support and protection to the underdeveloped vertebrae and spinal cord. A forward-facing child has a greater chance of damage to the spinal cord when their head and neck whip forward and back in a crash.

The AAP now advises parents to keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats as long as possible, until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. The new recommendations remove any age restrictions to allow for rear-facing as long as possible. In fact, some states have even created laws which require your child be a certain weight or age to use a forward-facing car seat.

*Please check your state or local laws to be sure you are complying!

Car Snacks – Choking Hazards

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, choking is a leading cause of injury and death among children, especially children 3 years of age or younger.

I know it’s so hard to take a road trip without snacks, but there is absolutely a choking risk when kids eat food in a moving vehicle, especially if your child is still rear facing with no supervision in the back seat.

My recommendation is to never give a child a snack while traveling in a car. Your inability to see your child combined with the distraction of driving is a deadly combination. Although a snack may be an appealing solution to a fussy infant, it can be a dangerous and even deadly mistake.

If you must snack along the way, here’s my best advice:

  • Plan regular pit stops along the way to stretch legs, take bathroom breaks, and grab a quick snack.
  • NO snacks without supervision for rear-facing children.
  • Always give easily dissolvable snacks like puffs, crackers, cereal, etc.
  • Never give hard foods like raw carrots or apples.
  • Liquids are a lower risks of complications. So sippy cups and pureed foods in squeeze pouches may be an option if food in the car is unavoidable.

Another risk you may not have considered is the risk of choking on toys in the car. Don’t allow small pieces in the car, like LEGOs, especially if your child is rear facing.


While no one plans on getting in an accident, wrecks do happen. Think about the objects that are loose in your vehicle before setting out on your trip. Loose items can quickly become hazards in the event of a crash. Think about removing any sharp objects or hanging items (mobiles on car seats) before traveling as these items can be dangerous if a car accident occurs.

Ultimate Road Trip Snacks for Kids

So what fun snacks do you need to pack for your pit stops? Here are some of our favorites:

Pro Tip: We like to pack lunches to avoid stopping for fast food. Stop at a rest area to enjoy a little picnic, stretch your legs, enjoy lunch, and take a quick bathroom break before getting back on the road.

Flying with Kids

It may be wise to avoid air travel with kids as it’s often difficult {or nearly impossible} to keep little ones from touching germy items and then touching their faces.

But if you must travel by plane, you can definitely prepare ahead of time by having plenty of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes on hand and by making a plan for bathroom procedures.

  • If possible, take only one child to to the facilities at a time to better monitor what they touch.
  • Good hand hygiene is imperative – for both you and the kids! Sanitize before eating any snacks, even ones your brought from home.
  • Strollers and infant car seats will help keep kiddos contained in the airport.
  • And try to keep masks on as much and as long as possible.

A “plane present” is a great idea for keeping kids distracted! This trick has yet to fail me. Before you leave, pack your child their own carryon bag filled with independent, engaging toys like Play-Doh, LEGOs, magnetic squares, puzzles, and activity books. Research shows children do best changing activities every 20 to 30 minutes. And NEW, engaging toys help distract for longer layovers and plan rides.

And when it comes down to it, iPads and phone apps can be a lifesaver. Now is NOT the time to try to avoid screen time. Entertainment and distraction are key to avoiding meltdowns and the desire to explore germy areas!

Compact nap mats or sleeping bags are also a great idea for long layovers in the airport.

Don’t Forget This #1 Travel Essential

A Medical Bag!

Children notoriously get sick during travel. The change in their schedule, long hours, crowded places, and confined areas make the perfect equation for illness.

When you travel with a baby or young children, it is imperative to travel with Tylenol and Motrin. A 3 am wake-up call from your feverish child with no fever reducer on hand is the quickest way to ruin a family holiday. Always have the right dose calculated for your child ahead of time.

It’s also a good idea to have a small first aid kit for minor cuts, scrapes, and bruises.

Final Thoughts on Road Trip Essentials

Traveling long distances, whether by car or plane, can be extremely challenging for small children and even harder for the parents. But hopefully these tips and road trip essentials will help you stay healthy and have a very happy holiday season visiting family and friends safely!

~Dr. Katie

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