It’s sweet, sweet summertime which means that you probably have some sort of travel planned. I know that I have been itching to get out of the house, and new destinations have been calling my name. However, now that I have a toddler in tow, getaways do not come as easy as they once did. I mean I can’t be the only one who cringes at the thought of traveling in a car for longer than an hour with a toddler at my heels. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE taking Miller to new places and watching him explore the world. It’s the getting there that isn’t so appealing. So, I am here to give you all the toddler road trip tips.
Let me start off by saying that if you have the luxury of flying to your destination (and feel safe doing so), then by all means hop on that jet plane and fly away. However, if you are like me and you are still a little COVID-leery, a car trip might be a better option for you. This past year and a half, my husband and I have opted for car trips in lieu of flying. We have taken four 12 hour car trips in the past year or so. They have gone much better than I ever expected. I know that four trips don’t make me an expert for traveling with a toddler, but I know that I have learned a thing or two and I would love to share those tips with you.
Disclaimer: every child is different, and you as the parent know what works best for your child. However, these toddler road trip tips worked great for us…
Don’t even think twice about this one. Everything that can go in the car the night before needs to go in the car THE NIGHT BEFORE. If you do this, it makes the morning so much easier. Instead of worrying about packing this or that, all you have to do is sneakily (emphasis on sneakly) grab your kiddo(s) and pop them into the car. Make sure they are the last things that go in the car. Also, make sure that you have the area prepared – lights off in the car, music down, sound machine going. Also, make sure you don’t put their sleep sack on the night before because those don’t safely fit in the car seat. If possible, opt for top and bottom jammies rather than footies because it makes it so much easier for diaper changes.
I don’t mean 6 am early, I mean 3 am or 4 am early. I know, I know – that does not sound like very much fun, but I promise that when your kid wakes up at 7 am and you already have 3 or 4 hours under your belt, you will be glad you did it. Leaving early has a few benefits. The biggest being that your child will more than likely fall back asleep in the car. Keep in mind that the key to this is to be as calm, quiet, and sneaky as possible when you whisk them out of their crib/bed.
Preparation is key – if you remember anything, remember that. If you aren’t a big prep kind of person, you may want to change your ways when it comes to traveling with toddlers. Otherwise, your blissful getaway will quickly turn into a giant headache. So, map out your drive a few days before your trip. If you have a younger traveler, you will want to plan to stop about every three or so hours. If you leave earlier as I suggested above, that will have you stopping around mealtimes, give or take. There are few things worse than needing to stop and realizing that the only places on the exit are sketchy gas stations and rest stops without bathroom access. By planning your stops you also take out the guesswork of the dreaded question – “what do you want to eat?”.
One of my favorite tips is to pack one book basket and one toy basket to keep on the floorboard under the car seat. This gives you easy access and keeps the toys/books relatively organized during your trip. If you are like me, you get so aggravated when you open the car door and everything under the sun spills out onto the ground outside. I recommend packing toys that they have not played with in a while.
If you have it in your budget, it is always good to snag a few new things that they have never seen before. Some kids will fall for the “this toy isn’t new, but you haven’t seen it for a while” trick. Although, if you have older kids, they might be a little bit keener on your mischief. So, you can opt for the safer route of actually getting new items for them to explore during the car trip.
I will be the first to admit that I have been the mom who was at the park and realized that I had forgotten to pack a snack. It’s the worst. Your kid looks at you and starts chanting “SNACK”, only to find that the diaper bag is totally snack-less. What’s worse than being snack-less at the park you ask? Well, being snack-less on a cart trip, that’s what. So, don’t be like me. Pack a cooler/bag full of snacks that aren’t too messy and that kids can handle on their own. My go-to is cheddar bunnies in a toddler snack cup that Miller can manage on his own. This not only appeases his hungry belly but also kills time because digging the snacks out of the cup becomes an activity on its own.
I realize that this may not be possible for everyone, but the more adults in the car the better. Do you get tired of being around the same faces all the time? Well, kids do too. If you have the luxury of rotating adults on toddler duty, everyone will end the trip much happier than if you don’t. This not only provides a variety of entertainment for the kid but also gives adults a break.
There will come a point and time during the car trip that all the toys have been played with and the books have been read. What now? Car jam dance party is what. The time has come to be silly and make them laugh. There are few things that do that better than dancing to some silly tunes. So, make your job easier and make a roadtrip playlist ahead of time with all their favorite songs. Not feeling very creative? No worries, you can borrow my kid friendly roadtrip playlist here.
I know that this is easier said than done, but keeping the kiddos on schedule is key. If they normally take two naps, aim for two naps. If they normally just take one nap, aim for one. You get my point. Try to keep the environment the same as a normal day. That may sound silly, but it can be done! If they typically sleep in a dark room, pack pillowcases to cover the windows (just roll the edges up in the window). Make sure they have their loveys, pacis, blankets, etc. If they sleep with a sound machine at home, make sure to pack a travel one or at least play white noise from your phone.
Everything is not going to go exactly as planned, and that is okay. Going into the trip with an open mind will relieve you of your lefty expectations. Kids have a mind of their own (and so do you, remember..). So, be flexible, go with the flow, be gracious (to yourselves and your kids – and to the driver in the little red sports car that cut you off ;).
Looking for some travel destination inspo? Check out this New Zealand post.
July 1, 2021