Family Road Trip Survival Tips

Antsy car companions? We turned to Sarah Diaz—toddler mom, triathlon athlete, and exploration chief for WAYB, the team behind the new Pico travel car seat—to get her advice on surviving long-haul road trips with littles.

Play on:  Sarah Diaz with her husband Kyle Pennell and their son Kitson. When asked why she travels with her three-year-old, Diaz says “I want to raise him to be a global citizen and understand why we need to protect the earth.”

Play on: Sarah Diaz with her husband Kyle Pennell and their son Kitson. When asked why she travels with her three-year-old, Diaz says “I want to raise him to be a global citizen and understand why we need to protect the earth.”

Michigan-based mom Sarah Diaz knows a thing or two about family road trips. Not only has she loaded up her son for behind-the-wheel vacations throughout the U.S., she’s also the sales exploration chief for WAYB, the team behind the new and revolutionary travel car seat, the Pico. The Pico is light (eight pounds), strong (aerospace-grade aluminum), and—here’s a compliment we never thought we’d dole out when talking about a car seat—it’s sleek, whether you order it in jet black or splashy turquoise. Unlike its competitors, it also ticks all three of these boxes: It’s small enough to fit in an airplane’s overhead compartment; it’s FAA compliant, should you choose to use it on the plane; and it’s easy to install, whether you’re driving an American SUV or renting a Peugeot in Provence.

While the Pico might keep your children safe, it can’t keep them entertained, so I turned to Diaz for her road trip tips. Read on for car game ideas, advice on getting kids to nap on the road, and how to plan out vacation-worthy pit stops.

Stretch your legs:  Sarah and Kitson take a car break on the shores of Lake Michigan in Traverse City.

Stretch your legs: Sarah and Kitson take a car break on the shores of Lake Michigan in Traverse City.

Parents talk a lot about how hard family travel can be, but what do you love about it?
Traveling with your child makes you slow down, keep expectations to a minimum, and live in the present moment. I love introducing Kitson to new cultures, new foods, and new people. We’ve had adventures big and small and enjoy being active outdoors. It’s our happy place.

But seriously, it can be trying. What are a few things that make it challenging for your crew right now?
Keeping up the nap schedule is our current dilemma. We’re also in the process of potty training, which makes everything more fun.

So what are your road trip scheduling tips?
Every child is different, but we have luck traveling early in the morning or at Kitson’s bedtime. In the morning, he usually falls back to sleep in the car and at night, I usually give him a bath so he is relaxed and he ends up falling asleep right away.

What are your tried and true road trip activities and distractions?
My road trip go-tos are Puzzle to Go and  Memory Matching games, as well as  felt learning activities from Target. We also love stickers! Kitson peel them off and puts them everywhere. Music is key; he’s currently in to Baby Beluga and Baby Shark. And then we like to play games like "I spy."

Do you take breaks on road trip, or do you try to power through?
It’s important to get fresh air, and being outdoors is important to us. (Case in point: For our honeymoon, My husband and I did a 250k race, a marathon a day over six days, in Iceland.) When we map out road trips, we plan our stops around places where we can stretch our legs. I highly recommend the Trails.com app, which points you to hike and bike trails in your vicinity. If Kitson gets tired, I’ll throw him in a backpack carrier, which is always packed in the car. We also stop at parks and pull out his scooter, another trunk staple. And in Michigan, we visit roadside produce stands or pick-your-own farms. The state is known for its apple and cherry orchards.

Get fresh air—and fruit:  Diaz and family love stopping at pick-your-own farms on road trips in Michigan.

Get fresh air—and fruit: Diaz and family love stopping at pick-your-own farms on road trips in Michigan.

What are a few of your go-to car friendly snacks and drinks? 
I always have Happy Tot Bar and pouches with me, Gluten Free Pretzels, and cheese sticks. We bought him a great  stainless steel water bottle that is easy to refill. 

What else do you always have in your car when you travel with Kitson?
Along with our diaper bag survival kit (diapers, wipes, Honest hand sanitizer, and now—see potty training—a travel toilet), we have our yoga mats as Kitson loves to join in on a yoga session. I also make a point of bringing my Manduka Yogitoes, a super absorbent and quick-drying yoga towel. I’ve found many new (and probably unintended) uses for it as toddler spills and accidents are common.

After road tripping with the Pico, do you have any tips on how to best use it on long distance trips?
Kitson has never been that kid that falls asleep in the car during the day, but for some reason he always falls asleep in the Pico. I have also used the Pico on the plane and it is a game changer.  In the past, Kitson really didn’t like being strapped in on the plane. Now I put him in the Pico and he’s set for three hours. I think he just feels safe and comfortable in a five-point harness.

Where are you all off to next?
This week we are traveling from Michigan to San Diego to visit Grandma. We are also planning a trip this fall to Germany—it will be Kitson's first time to Europe! 

Ready to ride:  Kitson strapped into the new  Pico  car seat.

Ready to ride: Kitson strapped into the new Pico car seat.

What are your top tips for road tripping with kids? Let me know below!