14 Tips for Long Road Trips with Toddlers
i never have the confidence in myself to feel qualified to speak on many "mom" things, especially with so many variations in parenting styles, and family structures, preferences in raising children and so on, but road trips, I KNOW! I feel like I am finally able to share a few things I have learned along the way after MANY road trips with my two girls who are almost out of the toddler stage.
We just got back from a 10-day road trip out to California and back to Colorado! We have done this trek before, but that time Arlo was not even a year old and Remy was two! (Here's the Vegas pit stop!) Remy turned five in May, and Arlo will be four in September and since then I have clocked many miles since that road trip by heading out west to see my Dad several times. (See here, here, here and here!) By now, we most definitely have a rhythm.
While the girls and I usually take I-70 West to see my Dad when husband has work travels, he has done a few with us including that California trip a few years ago, one of the first trips out to see Dad when he moved to his farm, and obviously this last family vacation out to California.
We didn't have one melt down, we were pretty much whine-free, it was honestly smooth sailing there and back! Truthfully! I know that these key suggestions might be null and void if you have a tot who hates being in the car, and also we have a major advantage as far as we have been doing some mini road tripping leading up to this big stretch. ANYWAY, here are some of my very general ideas on how to make your next road trip with tots go off without a hitch.
1. PACK the CAR the night before! (Pack your stuff the week leading up to your departure.) I failed to do this a couple of times when going to my Dad's and it HURTS. Trust. You NEED those early morning hours before work traffic gets heavy and you need that time to get somewhere before your first stop for a refill on coffee or your lunch break.
2. Make lists! I actually DID make my lists this time around and I STILL managed to forget my camera battery charger behind! Thank goodness for husband and his dashes to Walmart and Target to get things as needed upon arrival. I HATE forgetting things. So try your best to make lists leading up until leaving and a list for those last minute things like power cords, even refrigerator food check, trash bin take-out, turning off A/C, closing windows, etc.
3. Surprises! My best thing I do for the girls is gift them a little somethin' somethin' on their car seats for when they initially get into the car the morning of departure. They are already SO EXCITED for our road trips, but something magical happens wheh they climb up into a packed car and see a little something on their seat. It does NOT have to cost much, if anything at all! I had some gifted bears from our neighbor over the summer, and I put them away and saved them for occasions like this! The Dollar Spot section at Target was awesome earlier this summer for road trip games, doodle pads, stickers. The Dollar Tree has great activity packs in fun characters like My Little Pony or CareBears. This time I simplified and went with the bears and magnetic pen and erase boards and the sticker activity coloring packs. Other ideas are figurine surprise packs, mini markers and notepads, (think little, but not too little to have floating all over the car, although this will most definitely happen.)
4. PLAN your stops! I have made mistakes in detouring from my normal coffee/potty break stops and found that, surprise for momma, there is no COFFEE! That derailed us for sure and by the time we got back on the highway and made it to the next exit, we were even more disappointed to see a line of traffic delays from unexpected construction. So, map out the towns along the way and if you're a coffee drinker like me, figure in those places with the easiest on and off ramps WITH the best coffee/restroom situations.
5. Packing cubes! This is a new discovery for me and I am in LOVE! WHY did it take me SO long to get these?! So fun to organize! I used these on the last trip with the girls' things and it made things SO MUCH EASIER! Compartments for shoes! Pouches for accessories! Envelope zipper bags for dirties, jammies and a thin one for a new special dress! Get them. You won't regret it.
6. SNACKS! It's a thing! We aren't big snackers actually and rarely dip into them, but they have saved us when the trip gets lengthier than expected between the meals. I really like fig newton style cereal bars that come two to a pack. I also like 100 calorie nut packs. Pretzels, raisins, Craisins, sliced bell peppers, cucumbers, peanut butter crackers. I also have recently been packing sandwiches and chips and fruits for lunch on the way there. Keep them simple and small, not too much mess if you have to hand it to the back seat. Peanut butter, without jelly. If you do turnkey, skip all the fixings and stick to a slice of cheese and a few slices of turkey meat. LESS MESS. I try to avoid things that melt, crumble, shred...and choke. BE CAREFUL with items that may be a choking hazard. On that note, anything could potentially be at any time, so always have your eyes on them if you plan to eat in the car. Also, plenty of water!
7. Small lap blankies and cardigans! It may be 110 degrees out in the middle of Nevada when you stop for gasoline, BUT, the air conditioner makes it chilly! I like to pack small fleece blankies for their legs and light sweater cardigans for their arms. If they are cozy, they will nap!
8. Slip on shoes, easy shoes! Husband decided he wanted us to try out flip flops this time around and they actually turned out to be MORE trouble then just pushing on their Natives! My girls haven't really worn flip flops so they kept walking out of them on the way into the gas stations and were walking super slowly, and in the potty they kept falling off their feet when I lifted them up on the toilet. I say closed tow, with a heel shoes that slip on and off easily. A canvas slip on or a rubber water shoe, in my experience, were easier on and offs.
9. Removable portable DVD player and screen sets for head rests! We use this for road trips ONLY. My girls usually play with their toys and flip through and pretend to read their books, BUT, we will turn on a movie if we are six hours in and they haven't dozed off. A fresh movie they haven't seen is fun, but always pack their favorites as backup! We have gotten a flop or two! Headsets too if you don't want to listen in, but my girls did not go for them so we played it through the car stereo.
10. Toys and books! I bring along a little basket or back pack for each of them filled with smaller hand toys that they can play with. The Kelly dolls for Barbie, trolls, the Calico Critters, Whisker Haven Pets, Shoppie Dolls, some of the smaller dolls/toys/acton figurines are best. I made the mistake of giving them vintage Polly Pocket dolls last time and the tiny clothing and shoes were gone! A few small blocks would do great too or handheld games. I found Road Trip Bingo dry erase boards and markers at the Dollar Tree but my girls were too young to grasp it yet. We have fun hotting the thrift store a couple days early and picking out fresh reads! Last time I went alone, but this time I brought the girls along and we found some fun paperbacks for as little as 30 cents a book! I love to pop the paperbacks into the seat back organizers so they can reach for them.
11. MUSIC! The girls and I have a Playlist for sure of music they love to hear, as well as myself! In fact, I know with a certain set of songs, I can get them to snooze! Create a road trip Playlist!
12. WIPES! You can never have too many wet wipes! And if you are potty training or in diapers- extra undies and loads of extra diapers! I am luckily full blown potty trained, so I just have wet wipes in every door and compartment imaginable. I will say, road trips are SO much easier now that they are out of diapers.
13. Comfy clothes! The best things are easy on and off for potty breaks. Leggings and a tee or dress or shorts and a tank has suited us well. If you were traveling overnight, jammies would be great, especially the leggings with long sleeve tops.
14. PATIENCE! Know that you will most likely NOT get to your destination when Google Maps says you are. KNOW that things will get messy and torn up and disheveled in the car, it's a given. KNOW that everything is SLOWER with kiddos! You can't just dash out to pump gas, go pee and grab a Snickers bar like you used to. Plan ahead and anticipate their wants and needs and try to go to restrooms right away, don't let them wander aisles and linger. Prepare ahead and save on the side, treats, snacks, trinkets and treasures for when they REALLY really want that gas station stuffed animal! On the way back from California this time, somewhere in the middle of Nevada, I wanted to get Remy and Arlo something because they had honestly been angels the entire trip! They did not ask for one thing, not once, not even at Disney for goodness sakes! SO, I let Remy pick out one of those Teeny Beeny babies and we saw a rainbow poodle one for Arlo that she had been wanting and we surprised Arlo with it when she awoke from her nap.
Would love to hear any of your favorite road trip tips and tricks with kiddos! Feel free to share in the comments fro all of us!
Here's some photos from our journey from Colorado to California! This time we were wise and stopped in Utah to sleep the night before finishing our trip to get to our final destination in California. Also, book hotels/motels with pools! Gets their wiggles out before bed after being in the car ALL DAY!