Mango trees lined the boundary wall of the resort we had booked for the night halt. They were short trees, laden with green unripe fruit. My three-year-old son looked at them in wonder. He cupped his palm around one little mango hanging on a low branch and laughed. So far so good, I thought. I had been apprehensive about the journey. It was our first road trip with the toddler and to complicate matters it was taking place in the midst of the summer heat wave.
Even though a summer trip to the hills was a yearly ritual for us before we had our son, the mere thought of a road trip with a young child seemed daunting. Having had somewhat challenging plane and train journeys with him, we were not really sure if we could pull off a road trip. But when summer came this particularly hot year, the hills beckoned and we decided to give it a shot.
Road travel provided us with great flexibility and privacy, priceless when travelling with a toddler.
Destinations were researched, road-maps were studied and packing lists were made. We were pleased to find that road travel provided us with great flexibility and privacy, priceless when travelling with a toddler. Unlike at stations and airports where we often faced several hours of tedious waiting with a restless child, travelling in our car involved zero wait time. There was also no limit on baggage. We could carry that extra toy and the potty seat. The car gave us much-needed privacy too. From toilet accidents to the occasional tantrum, we handled it all in our car with no passers-by sniffing disapprovingly at us. We discovered that road travel can be one of the most enjoyable and comfortable ways to travel with a toddler.
To ace a summer road-trip, however, planning ahead is essential. Here are some ideas that can help you orchestrate a wonderful summer vacation road-trip.
Cater for frequent breaks
The idea of a road-trip is to enjoy the journey. Plan for short driving time with plenty of breaks already scheduled in. Research highway stops beforehand. But do not hesitate to stop if your child is tired or if something looks interesting. To arrive at the distance we should cover in a day, we applied a simple thumb rule. We cut to half whatever distance we were used to doing without our kid. We kept the road-time to less than five hours a day. This meant that we arrived at our pit-stops by late afternoon. It gave us time to rest indoors while it was blazing outside and plenty of time in the evening to explore the surroundings.
To arrive at the distance we should cover in a day, we applied a simple thumb rule. We cut to half whatever distance we were used to doing without our kid.
Look for appropriate night-halts
In my experience, a toddler is unhappiest when cooped up in a hotel room. Look for mid-segment resorts on the outskirts of the city with lawns or gardens where the child can run, play and, thus, release pent-up energy. If you do choose a city hotel situated on a busy street, make sure that there is a park or a mall nearby where you can spend some time in the evening.
Carry a food basket
We carried a basket with food supplies. We kept it inside the car, and not in the boot. Our food basket also had wet-wipes, hand sanitizers, a first-aid kit and a medicine bag. Water is, of course, an essential item in the summer especially if you (like me) do not trust the dodgy packaged water brands found on highways.
Bananas are the best snack for road trips. Easy to buy and easy to eat, they satiate mid-meal hunger. Be careful of items which spill or create a mess such as packed juices or chocolates. Baby cereal, such as Cerelac, is always handy even if your child has out grown it. It is useful when a child simply refuses to eat a regular meal. Pick up a fruit or a piece of cake from the breakfast buffet as an emergency snack. You should be careful about the food you eat but do experiment with local fare. We stopped for fresh sugarcane juice on the highway (we asked the vendor to make it without the ice), and bought a box of fresh cherries from a farmer.
From toilet accidents to the occasional tantrum, we handled it all in our car with no passers-by sniffing disapprovingly at us.
Keep them engaged in the car
Driving in India provides the traveller with a fascinating view of people and animals. On our road-trip we spotted monkeys, camels, cows, donkeys and even a mongoose. Encourage the child to look out and observe the changing landscape. We engaged our son with a game which involved guessing the animal which we would spot next. Counting cars, identifying colours and road-signs, and other such simple activities can keep a child occupied. I recommend a child car-seat as an absolute essential for safety. It also turns out more comfortable for both the parent and the child. With the child secured in the car seat, both parents can sit together in the front. But, do be prepared to spend some time on the rear seat too. I divided my time between the front and back of the car and it worked out well for us.
Before you embark on that epic road-trip, try out shorter ones. Always talk and explain to the toddler what will happen over the course of the next few days. Every child is different and you may want to plan for specific demands and interests. A road-trip can be a great summer vacation plan. It gives the kids a much-needed break from the monotony of the home routine and also provides an unmatched opportunity for learning, discovery and family bonding.
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