Tips for Road Trips with Toddlers

Hitting the road with little ones is no easy task – first there’s the planning, then the packing (of your entire house), and the loading the car.  And then there’s the whole well you know kids in the car thing for hours at a time.  Whew – deep breath.

The good news? I’m here for you.  Because taking long car trips is  something we have a LOT of experience with.

Our closest extended family members life 2 hours from us, and both sets of grandparents live 6 hours away….so needless to say, we take road trips frequently.  In fact,  L&H’s first road trip was a 6 hour journey (that took 8 hours….) to Vermont when they were 3 months old.  And now, at 2.5 years old, L&H have logged at least six 6+ hour car trips per year.  That’s a lot of carseat time!

So if you’re wondering, how do we keep them busy and happy, and most importantly keep ourselves sane, on these trips? Read on fellow parent! Here are some tips and tricks we follow to help us keep our passengers and ourselves content on the road!

Enter Survival Mode: When we are on the road, we focus on one thing above everything else: SURVIVAL.  That means, we relax on rules if we have to, we let our nap schedule go and allow sleep to happen when it happens (and pray it happens), and we don’t limit snacks.  If L&H want to snack on crackers for 350 of the 354 miles that we’re on the road and that’s the one thing keeping them happy? Well then they get the WHOLE box. Life on the road isn’t normal life.  It is survival. Repeat that over and over to yourself. Do whatever it takes to keep you and your passengers happy.  Don’t stress about what you should do, just do what you have to do.

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Pack Simple Toys and Projects:
To keep L&H busy and entertained during our journeys, I stash tons of activities at my feet in the front seat and I hand them out like Oprah on a Favorite Things episode. Sheets of stickers are fun — your little passengers can stick them all over his/her face, legs, and carseat.  I also love these reusable sticker books since L&H can make their own scenes and stories.  Window clings are a fun backseat activity – but make sure your little ones can reach the windows from their car seat to  prevent frustration.  Last trip I packed a bundle of pipe cleaners and L&H had THE BEST time creating things.  We made bracelets, glasses, rings, and more.  This sounds insane but I’ve even packed empty toilet paper rolls for car trips before and we all stayed busy pretending they were telescopes (looking out for trucks!) and trumpets to play along to the music.  Another great road trip hack are dollar store toys.  Before your trip pop in to your local dollar store and buy a bunch of junk like bead necklaces, plastic cars, flashcards, etc.  Spending $10 or $20 will buy you (literally) TONS of stuff for your passengers to play with.  And the best part? If they break it, drop it, or lose it at a rest stop – it’s no big deal.

Crank Up the Music….and Sing Along!
We always have the music on in the car – short or long trip.  L&H LOVE to listen to music and now that they’re older they sing along! It helps keep the mood fun and light.  Some of our favorite children’s musicians are: Laurie Berkner, Charlie Hope and Music With Gina (all are available on Spotify).

Pack Snacks….and Then Pack Some More
Pack the snacks you THINK you’ll need……and then double it.  Not every child is the same, but at least in our house BOTH L&H are happy as long as they have a snack in their hand.  Rules don’t apply (see above) on road trips, so snacks flow freely in our car.  For ease, I take along pre-portioned snacks like bagged pretzels, Annie’s Bunnies, or Goldfish.  But I do usually throw L&H’s snack cups in the snack bag to portion out stuff from bigger bags.  It’s also important that you keep snacks somewhere you can reach them like at your feet (are you sensing a theme — everything ends up at the passengers feet….) or behind the drivers seat.

Engage…Engage….Engage
I’m sorry mama (or dad), but the days of snoozing in the passenger seat (me!) or zoning out to your favorite podcast (my husband!) as you drive are gone.  Unless of course your passengers are sleeping….there’s still hope.  BUT for the most part, be prepared to spend most of the trip interacting with your passengers.  I find, the more I engage and interact with L&H, the happier they are.  I ask them questions (“what color is that truck?”, “do you see that blue car?”, “what shape is that road sign?”), we count telephone poles, we look for water towers.  Older kids can play the license plate or alphabet games.  And if you’re desperate, make up your own silly games! Keeping your passengers engaged will help a lot with the overall mood of the car.

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Search the Horizon
This is especially good for kids prone to car sickness – which if you’ve spent 5 minutes talking to me, or watching one of my road trip instagram stories, you know L&H have quite the history of. Studies show that looking out the window and at the horizon helps the body to know it’s moving – therefor helping to prevent car sickness.  Asking questions and engaging them helps with this.  Like I said, we spend a lot of time searching for road signs and water towers to help engage L&H, but it also helps us keep their eyes on the horizon so their tummies stay happy.  (Full disclosure, now that L&H are two we also give them a dose of Dramamine every 6-8 hours on the road.  Consult your doctor before doing so, but if you have a child that’s prone to carsickness I HIGHLY recommend it.)

Stash a Travel Potty in the Trunk
Rest area are so fun! Everyone gets to stretch their legs, browse the brochures, maybe buy a snack at the store, and most importantly use the rest room! But what do you do when there is no rest area for miles and miles and miles?? You thank your lucky stars you took my advice and bought a travel potty for your trunk! PHEW that was a close one.  No but seriously, get a travel potty for your trunk.   It’s a life saver for long stretches of road with no services or also long lines at rest areas.  The Oxo Tot Travel Potty has little disposable bags with liners which you can bundle up and throw away so there’s no dumping or mess to clean.  It also doubles as a potty seat for when you do want to visit a real rest area bathroom.

Keep Spare Clothes Within Reach
It might seem like something you don’t need to worry about – keeping spare clothes within reach. I mean you’re on a road trip with suitcases of clothes….so duh you have spare clothes.  But I seriously mean keep them WHERE YOU CAN REACH THEM.  Not buried under 2 other suitcases or tucked on top of the car in the rooftop carrier. Actually keep an outfit or two in the front seat with you or in the backseat wheel well. Because when you’re pulled off the interstate in a random church parking lot peeling clothes off your child after a bout of carsickness (been there, done that) or a potty accident or an exploding juice box, you’ll be happy you don’t have to unpack the entire car just to get the one duffel bag you’re looking for.

When in Doubt, Screen Time
Believe it or not, but we do most of our 6+ hour car trips without any screen time.  It’s not always perfect and we have to do a LOT of snacking, engaging, singing, etc to keep L&H happy and entertained.  But I always have some videos on my phone or iPad JUST in case things really go south.  If you do want to fire up the iPad in the car I’d recommend getting an extra long charger so that your battery doesn’t run out miles from your final destination.  And also make sure you pre-load videos so  you’re not panicking when you hit low cell service!

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Road trips can be a lot of fun – and the excitement of reaching your destination will carry you through.  There will be tough moments but hopefully there will be a lot of fun ones too.  What is the longest car trip you’ve taken with your little one(s)? What are your go-to tips for keeping your passengers happy and entertained in the backseat??

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