Last weekend we enjoyed a lovely weekend at Farfar’s (my father-in-law) up north. This means 3 hours in the car with a wiggly toddler. Luckily after lots of recent travel, we have learned what works and what doesn’t. And ultimately what makes for a good road trip.
Earlier this year, we found out that travel is a lot more difficult with a 10 months old. Before this age, Poppy was a fabulous car traveler and basically slept the whole car ride. But as she became more mobile, car rides became a lot tougher.
Our first car ride last winter was rough. About an hour of screaming. After this trip, we began certain strategies to ease the trip for baby and us.
Obviously, kids will be kids and car meltdowns can still happen. But by planning ahead and preparing for the worse, long car rides should don’t have to be the worse thing ever for you or your little traveler.
TIps for Surviving a Road Trip with a Toddler (under 5 hours)
Prepare for the Worse. Always bring a few key things in case of an emergency or accident.
- Paper towels
- Trash bags or plastic bags
- Spill proof Snack Cups. We love this one
- Spill proof water bottle. Our absolute favorite one
- Zip lock bags
- Bucket, sturdy plastic bag, or large Tupperware (for unexpected car sickness)
- Pacifier (if your kid uses them)
- Change of clothes for you and kid (make it easily accessible)
Bring Different Toys and Books. The key to keeping our little one happy is keeping her entertained. We love bringing little toys or things that Poppy hasn’t played with in a long time or that are new to her (either bought at dollar store, homemade or borrowed). DIY rattles or empty containers work great as toys too.
In addition to toys, books are great in the car. We stack about 5-8 books next to her car seat so she can grab them and read. Or if one of us is sitting in the back seat, we can do story time with her.
Put baby in Comfortable Clothes. If driving during nap or bed time, pajamas are the way to go! They are comfy and easy for toddlers to sleep in. Otherwise comfy clothes (like baggy pants and a light t-shirt) are great too. And if it might get cold in the car, throw in a blanket.
Leave Room Next to the Car Seat for You. Whether you are driving through the night or not, leaving room next to the car seat is always a good idea. Normally the hubs and I will trade off driving and sitting in the back seat with baby when she is grumpy or needs help with food. We will sing her songs, read to her, play peekaboo or feed her dinner. If we had other kids to help entertain her, then we would probably not sit in the back with her. But at this point, we are her main entertainment.
On our last trip one of us sat next to her about 60% of the trip, mostly because of slow traffic. Another plus this, is getting quality time with baby 🙂 It was beyond cute to hear the hubs singing, reading stories and making animal noises with Poppy while I drove.
Pack More Than You Need. If you have the space in the car, fill it up. We normally tackle packing as if we will not be stopping along the way. Pack more than enough snacks, drinks, and toy/books than you might think you need, along with a change or 2 of clothes for you and baby , and your disaster kit (#1 on the list). Then dole out the snacks and toys individually at various times throughout the drive (not all at once!). And lastly don’t forget to bring yourself treats. If you are hungry or thirsty or uncomfortable, it’s going to be hard for you to deal with a crying kid. My go-to treats are a magazine, my phone, trail mix, coffee and good music.
Break It Up. For long long car rides, over 2 -3 hours, we normally take some pit stops. Check out a rest stop or even walk around a gas station parking lot. With Poppy cramped in her rear facing car seat, it is nice for her to stretch her legs and burn off some energy with a toy ball (we always bring a big picnic blanket) or a little crawl. One of our favorite things to do is to grab ice cream on the road. Fun way to break up the trip and treat the whole family. Especially mama 🙂
Avoid Hush Hour and Leave Near Bed Time. Traffic used to not be such a big factor, but now the thought of traffic with a screaming kid sounds awful. Check google maps and road closures before leaving.
When to leave depends on bed time or nap time. Our Poppy goes to bed around 11am or 7pm so we try to leave around those times which is great for traffic too. So we try to tire her out during the day with lots of play time and activities prior to the trip. Big caveat: even though we leave at bed time, our kiddo doesn’t like sleeping in cars. But at least she is drowsy and more likely to sleep or be mellow in the car.
Pack Road Trip Friendly Snacks and Meals. Finger food is always a winner for car trips. Whether for dinner or a snack, anything that can occupy our little one is perfect.
Favorite car snacks include:
- Cereal. We love Trader Joes Multigrain Os, HappyBaby Puffs and Nature’s Path PB Panda Puffs.
- Graham crackers. I make my own (recipe coming soon!)
- Bananas. Easy to peel and easy to eat. Low on the messy scale.
- Muffins. We love these, these, these and these! I would stay away from blueberries since they stain.
- Cheese. Cubed, sliced or in stick form.
- Portable pouch snacks. These are always convenient.
Favorite car meals:
- Homemade chicken nuggets. Healthy protein and easy finger food.
- Baked sweet potato fries.
- Broccoli mac and cheese. You will need to feed your little one this meal and make sure to bring a little cooler to store it in!
- Spinach grilled cheese. Slice it up.
- Spinach and cheese quesadilla. Also slice it up.
Dance party. Thanks to Pandora’s Disney and Baby Einstein radio station, a sing-along dance party in the car is always a hit. Our kid LOVES these stations which keeps her (and us) happy for a little while. I just feel bad for people driving past us.
If all else fails, ear plugs and just go. On our very first toddler road trip with Poppy, we lived through a horrible hour of crying and screaming. And after trying everything we could think of, we just gave up. If this happens, just do what you can, stay safe and sane, and power throw. It will be over soon.
Good luck brave road warriors!