It’s coming. The Holidays are almost here and with them comes the dreaded long trek to visit relatives. Now while I LOVE visiting my family… I absolutely can’t stand the 10 hour car trip to get there. Add a toddler to the trip and it can become a nightmare. I’d much rather fly… I know some people might think I’m crazy for wanting to get on a plane with a toddler, but we’ve done it a lot and it can be SO much easier! And faster! But it’s also more expensive. So sometimes I just have to suck it up and plan for a car trip instead.
Over the last 3 years of traveling with our little one, we’ve had our fair share of stressful trips. From driving on 95 at night in a torrential downpour, in a 10 mile backup with a toddler SCREAMING in the back seat… to breaking down in the middle of NO WHERE with our then-6 month old! (That last one taught us to pack more than you think you’ll ever need!) So we’ve FINALLY learned a few things. These tips can take your trip from a total nightmare… to a totally doable drive. And maybe even fun? Ok let’s not push it. Now let me add a disclaimer first… I am in NO way claiming to be any kind of expert when it comes to anything parenting-related. We still feel like complete novices, but through a few rough trips we’ve finally learned a few things that we can share.
Here’s what you need to do to survive…
1. Be prepared like a Boy Scout.
Planning ahead for the long trip is crucial. Now obviously you’ll pack tons of snacks and the 852 items you and your toddler need for the trip, but organizing them is key. I like to pack things in separate bags or giant ziploc bags based on what they’re used for. Snacks in one bag, toys in another, clean-up items (wipes, diapers, hand wipes, paper towels, etc.) in another bag, and so on. Making sure to pack everything you need in arms reach will prevent you from searching through bags while on the road. Also if you’re stopping in a hotel, pack a separate small bag of just what you’ll need for that night so you don’t have to lug the big suitcases out of the car.
2. Plan your route around fun stops
My sister-in-law gave me this idea and it’s GENIUS. They plan their long trips around where the Chick-Fil-A’s are on their way, so their son can get out of the car to run around and play in the play zone! Not only is it worth stopping for the addictive nuggets… but adding in extra time into your trip and letting them play for a bit helps prevent car flip-outs. We’ve learned the hard way that it’s so much better to plan for these little breaks in the trip instead of just winging it and trying to find something while driving. It can be a playground, park, or anywhere they can just run around for a bit and get some of their insane toddler energy out.
3. Planning around nap time or bed time
Now every child is different, of course. Some do really well if you leave at night. Through some trial and error, we finally figured out the right time to leave that works really well for us. We used to leave right around her bedtime… with the idea that she would sleep in the car (giving us some peace and quiet), then once we arrived at the hotel in the middle of the night we could easily transfer her to her bed and she would continue her blissful sleep. The idea sounded good in theory… until we tried it and she cried most of the way in the car… then finally fell asleep… only to be woken up in the middle of the night while we tried to quickly run her inside the hotel… then tried to get her back to sleep again. EXHAUSTING. Now we leave at lunchtime. We eat in the car, she takes a nap, rest stop, plays, and then we arrive at the hotel with plenty of time to eat dinner, relax and get her to bed at a reasonable time.
4. Cheap Toys
I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but one of the best tips I’ve heard is the dollar store tip. Go to the dollar store (or Target dollar bin section) and grab some simple, cheap toys for the trip. Wrap them up in tissue or wrapping paper, and give your kid a toy sporadically throughout the trip. You know how kids are… anything new and different is exciting and will distract them just a little while longer.
5. Making it feel like home
Bring a few familiar things from home, like the blanket they sleep with and a few favorite toys/lovies. We even downloaded a “white noise” app to use for nap and bedtime so it would sound like our white noise machine she’s used to at home. Our last car trip we remembered everything but our daughter’s favorite toy she sleeps with every night! So we literally bought another one on the drive down so she would have it at my Mom’s house. Now we have 3 of that same toy. Also trying to make the bedtime routine as similar as possible while you’re away (reading books, songs, a night light, or whatever you usually do) can help them feel more comfortable and sleep (hopefully).
And thank GOD for iPads. I don’t know how our parents did it without them! They have plenty of educational apps on them too so they’re not SO bad if used in moderation. We like to add a couple new apps before the trip too so she has something new and different to keep her occupied for a bit.
So what do you do for long car trips with kids? If you have any new tips please share below!