Tips For Comfortable Road Trips With Children

When it comes to family travel, most parents romanticize what that upcoming vacation is going to be like.

The truth of the matter is that family vacations can often be full of stress, grumpy kids, and sheer disappointment.

But, don’t unpack those suitcases and cancel the camping spot just yet! Here are a few great travel tips for you to not only make the trip more enjoyable, but safer as well.


1) Travel SAFE!!

The most important thing you can do in your pre-trip preparations is to make sure you have taken all the steps necessary to ensure your child is safely secured in the right seat for their height and weight and that that seat is properly installed.

Every year, many children are injured or killed in motor vehicle collisions. According to Transport Canada, a correctly used car seat will reduce the likelihood of your child being injured by 75%. In 2007, 11,737 children under 15 years of age were injured and 99 children were killed in automobile accidents.

LaVonne Ries of Keepin’ Baby Safe is a certified Children’s Restraint Safety Technician (CRST) and has inspected over 6000 children’s restraint systems. “Installing a car seat can be a challenging task,” says Ries, “and not all car seats fit all vehicles.”

Here is a list of the most common mistakes parents can make when installing their child’s seat. (Refer to your owner’s manual for references to each of these issues)

· The seat is inappropriate for a child’s height or weight
· The seat-belt or Universal Anchorage System is not properly used or is too loose
· The harness is not snug enough on the child and chest clip is not up at armpit level
· The tether strap is loose or not used at all
· The car seat is too old and has passed the expiry date that is stamped on the back or side of the seat (This is illegal and can lead to a fine)

“When in doubt,” Ries suggests, “consult with a [CRST].” Some of Ries’ safety tips when traveling with children:

· Always refer to the vehicle’s owner’s manual and car seat instruction booklet before any installation
· The safest place for a child’s car seat is in the back seat
· Never place a car seat in front of an active air bag
· Refrain from using any after market products that affix to or interfere with the restraints of the car seat, or that go between the child and their restraints or the child and their car seat as Transport Canada warns against. Such products can affect the safety of the seat and can cause injury in the event of a collision
· In the winter, place blankets on top of child as opposed to using bulky clothing that compresses and can lead to slackness in the restraints
· Fill out the registration card that comes with your child’s car seat. The information for registering a car seat is on the date of manufacturing sticker affixed on your child’s car seat. This way, the manufacturer can contact you if there is a recall of your specific seat
· Check with Transport Canada at or 1-800-333-0371 to stay up-to-date on any recalls
· Vehicles manufactured before 2001 need a tether anchor point installed

2) Plan the Trip

Map your trip so you time out strategic stops for bathroom and sanity breaks. Kids have short attention spans and, according to registered psychologist Dr. Kimberly Eckert, M.Sc., the length of their attention span depends on their age. Focus can last anywhere from 3 to 8 minutes for toddlers and up to 30 to 40 minutes for a 7 year old.

“Toddlers often struggle the most with traveling,” Eckert warns, adding that they are less easily distracted than older children yet only have a capacity of 3 to 8 minutes of focused attention. She suggests having plenty of age appropriate activities on hand for your children and planning for frequent out-of-car breaks.

“Parents can expect to need to stop every hour to hour and a half,” for toddlers. She suggests you may be able to make the stops less frequently (every 2 to 3 hours) for school-aged children. GPS systems are great for checking out upcoming stops. Or map it out beforehand by marking off stops on the map that are about 200 to 250 kilometers apart.

If you plan to make most of your trek at night, be sure your kids will be comfortable and have all their favourite night time comforts like blankies, pillows, stuffies, etc. While resting, a proper head support is also important for your children not only to prevent neck strain, but also to prevent airway restriction, which leads to oxygen deprivation.

When our bodies go without enough oxygen for too long our oxygen saturation levels drop in our blood. Thankfully, our bodies are programmed to prompt us to consciousness so we don’t actually suffocate. This is a great self defense mechanism, however, it’s not the best situation when you want your child to get a good sleep. If they are slumped in their seat, their airway will be restricted so that they will not be able to get the proper rest they need.

Consider a travel pillow or neck pillow that will help hold the head upright when dosing in the vehicle for an easy way to make naps in the car safer and more comfortable for little ones.

3) Stock Up for the Trip

Because of the fact that children can get quite restless cooped up in a car seat, we recommend loading up on games, books and activities so the kids have plenty to do and don’t end up distracting you every half hour with the nagging question, “are we there yet?”

If you have a DVD player in the car, bring some of your kid’s favorites, but don’t make the entire trip about staring at a screen for your children. They need breaks from the boob tube as well. Point out the scenery or play “I Spy” with them. Have them change their focus from time to time to experience their surroundings.

*Note: an organizer that affixes to the back of the driver and passenger seats is a great way to store all of your children’s travel supplies in a handy, easy to reach place.

It’s also important to have healthy snacks on hand, so kids don’t end up jumping on the “blood sugar” roller coaster ride. Nutrition Educator and Author Karla Heintz, BSc Nutrition, has some great fresh ideas for stocking the cooler:

· grape tomatoes
· edamame (green soybeans)
· grapes
· baby carrots
· snap peas
· celery sticks
· red pepper slices
· air popped popcorn (pop in advance)

These next ideas are still healthy but can weigh in a bit more heavily on the calorie side, so don’t overdo it:

· trail mix
· dried fruit (unsulfered of course)
· nuts/seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios,etc.)

And for those who like the convenience of a bar, some of Karla’s healthy picks include Kashi, the Cliff Bar and Lara Bar.

Things to avoid include anything high in sugar, salt or caffeine.


1) Arrange the car so that the items your children will want and need are easy to access

2) Be sure to pack the car so your children have room to move and be comfortable with any cargo safely secured in case of an accident

3) Be sure to take adequate breaks as well. If you are feeling tired or irritable, stop, pull over, have a rest if possible or just take a breather and get some fresh air

Family travel isn’t going to be that lovely picture you see in a magazine or commercial, but it doesn’t have to be awful either. With some good planning it can be a wonderful adventure for all.

Karla Heintz, BSc Nutrition –
Dr. Kimberly Eckert, M.Sc. Registered Psychologist –
Dr. Kyla Brulotte, D.C., CACCP
Dr. Peter Nieman FRCP (C), Pediatrician –
LaVonne Ries – Children’s restraint safety technician (CRST) –

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