Traveling with toddlers. Not exactly something any of us jump up and down at the prospect of doing. But against all fighting odds, I’ve kinda turned into a pro over the past 5 years. Since each of my girls were just a few months old, I’d singlehandedly load us all up for bi-monthly three-hour drives to my parents’ house. (I’d go solo, since my husband usually was working and I wanted to stay for a few days…) Two road-tripping babies soon turned to two road-tripping toddlers.
If I do the math, that makes about 80 total road trips at 3 hours each. (OMG.) The craziest part? I’m still alive. And… I actually like road trippin’ with my girls. (Please don’t slap me.)
So, thought I’d share some of my favorite tips for traveling in cars with toddlers. I’m not guaranteeing a meltdown-free trip, but these no-frill tactics help keep me sane and, dare I say, as close to fabulous as possible.
1) PACK EARLY, PACK FAST. Load as much as you possibly can into your car the day or night before. (Everything except the kids, ha!) My mom tipped me off about this trick. Clothes, diapers, snacks, supplies… all of them IN bags and IN the car the night before so that it’s DONE. The only things you want to worry about loading into the car the day of travel is yourself, your kids and your toothbrushes. Also, put all heavy items (strollers, suitcases) on the bottom of whatever pile in the trunk happens… just in case you (God forbid) get rear-ended, you don’t want those heavy items becoming projectiles in your car.
2) DEPART AROUND EATING/SLEEPING SCHEDULE. My house is like a train station. There are two possible windows for departure for any given trip: 1) Between 8-9 a.m. or 2) Between 1-2p.m. Reason being? If you feed everyone breakfast and then put them IMMEDIATELY in car, you’ve bought yourself an extra hour (or two) before little people start getting antsy for food or a rest stop. Or (even better), if you feed everyone [lunch] and then get in the car immediately BEFORE afternoon naptime, then they’re most likely going to knock out in the car within about 30 minutes… which then allows them to sleep and (presumably) wake up HAPPY (which makes for an easier trip for all). Your kids’ eating and sleeping schedule dictates what time to travel. Bam.
3) TODDLERS PACK THEIR OWN TOYS. I like to think getting kids directly involved in the process puts a bit of a positive spin on actually being in the car. (The trick is, then go through the toys before you actually load up and remove choking hazards or messy substances that don’t belong unsupervised in the backseat.) Sure, you can do the whole watch-a-movie-the-whole-time-on-mommy’s-iPad if you want, but you still might need toys to change things up if/when the kiddos get bored after so much screen time. That’s when you….
4) ONLY BUST OUT TOYS AS NEEDED! An easy mistake that us parents do all the time is to just give kids toys right outta the gate… regardless of if they “need” them at the time. Here’s my trick: I don’t give any toys or activities until restless behavior and major whining calls for it. That means that my kids will sometimes sit in their car seats for extended periods of time (an hour?) and just look out the window WITHOUT any toys. We’ll chat, we’ll sing, I’ll ask them what they see outside their window, whatever. I don’t start passing toys to the backseat until absolutely needed. It buys me time. Reminder: If/when it’s time to distribute toys or snacks during the trip, and you’re driving, PULL OVER, STOP AND THEN DO WHAT YOU NEED TO DO. Distracted driving — because you’re passing items to the backseat and trying to operate a motor vehicle at the same time — is no joke.
5) REMIND THEM WHERE YOU’RE GOING. Remind those adorable, forgetful and impatient kiddos that you’re going somewhere FUN… and how much FUN you’re all going to have when you get there. In order to get where we’re going, we’re going in a car… isn’t this FUN!!! Remind them who you’re going to see: Grandma! Cousins! Friends! The beach! It doesn’t always work, but I always remind myself to stay positive so that it (hopefully) rubs off on them.
Toddlers will scream (been there, done that), toddlers will cry (been there, done that), toddlers will fight in the backseat (bless seat belts that keep everyone locked in and trapped). Oh! And a Bonus Tip: Don’t underestimate the power of pulling over the car and threatening to let someone out on the side of the road should anyone get extra unruly (not that you’re gonna actually do it, but I’ve found that my preschoolers still scare pretty easily)… don’t judge.
And don’t forget the Frozen soundtrack (yes… that sucker still works for us). Hang in there and keep your eyes on the road…
What helps your toddlers (and you) travel in the car?