We are a young family of five, who live far from our families of origin. Flying, though my preferred form of travel, is cost-prohibitive when we travel as a family. If my husband and I want our kids to see their grandparents, it means spending eleven hours together in a car. Needless to say, we have made an 11-hour road trip with toddlers over a dozen times in our seven years of marriage. Perhaps you don’t have grandparents to visit and simply want a memorable family experience. Try visiting one of these affordable road trip destinations.
Every Family Travels Differently
There are several things that we have found to be helpful in our road trips with toddlers. Please keep in mind, however, that travel tips are purely dependent on the family. YOU know what will work best for your family.
We have dear family friends, who also spend long hours in the car with their toddlers and preschoolers. They have found that traveling with a potty chair is a valuable time-saver. No countless stops to use the bathroom! I, however, am more than slightly repulsed by the idea, so our family makes multiple stops at sketchy gas stations and rest areas.
We have also tried leaving at different times of day and stopping halfway. Different circumstances allow for different choices, but getting up early and driving all day works best for our family. I am not much of a morning person or a night owl, but I can rock the middle of the day just fine. Driving through the night while the kids sleep does not work for us. At least, not if we want all 5 of us to survive the drive. We are too tired the next day. For some families, it really might be a great option. I have friends who swear by it.
6 Ways to Survive a Road Trip with Toddlers
Bearing these things in mind, here are some things we have found helpful while driving across the country with toddlers.
1. Be as organized as you can possibly be
Pack ahead of time, and pack the car with the positions of your children in mind. Are their lovies within easy reach? Do you have baby wipes and wet wipes up front to dole out as necessary? Make sure anything you could need while driving is NOT in a suitcase. Inevitably, if you need something in a suitcase, you have a horrendous game of Tetris on your hands before you can get back on the road.
2. Allow screen time
Mama, this is not the time to get stingy with screen time. I like to avoid screen time, but this is not the time. Now is the time to survive. Bring DVD players, movies, iPads, or Kindles. Pre-download new movies or shows onto the devices so your little ones will be entranced with the never-before-seen-footage. We will often stop at a Redbox along the way, too, and see what treasures we can find.
3. Listen to an audiobook together
Audiobooks are a fantastic alternative to screen time, even for toddlers and preschoolers. Download these ahead of time, too. Most public libraries have a huge variety of audiobooks for kids. Check them out and it may just save your sanity!
4. Be prepared with food
For the love of all that is holy, pack snacks. Lots of snacks! Above all, be certain that you have enough of the same snack for each kid, and a variety of snacks, or all hell will break loose. If you’re not prepared with snacks, you will seriously contemplate turning your car around.
5. Try using a car tray
I love car trays for toddlers. You can buy an actual “car tray” for kids (whatever your preference) or a baking sheet works just as well. Toddlers can be entertained with little cars, sheets of stickers, and some crayons and paper. Your toddlers’ entertainment, of course, has a shelf-life, but all you’re really doing for your entire trip is buying time. This will buy you some.
6. Pack surprises from your local dollar store
In a similar vein, check out your local Target dollar spot or Dollar General and pick out a few new toys and books for each child. The novelty won’t have worn off, like the toys they play with at home, and it’s an inexpensive solution to your kids’ boredom problem.
Certainly there will always be some fear going on a road trip with toddlers, but with a little preparation and patience, it can be a success! What are your family’s essential activities when taking a road trip?
Feature photo credit of @chelseehood
About the Author:
Stacy grew up in Minnesota but spent the next several years of her life traversing the globe, temporarily setting down roots anywhere and everywhere. Stacy is extremely passionate about the world of adoption and foster care, having spent a year in Uganda adopting her oldest daughter in 2008. Stacy married her husband Jesse in 2011, and they moved to Oklahoma City to grow their family. They currently have three children; a 12-year-old girl, a 6-year-old boy, and a 1-year-old boy. Though she will be parenting for the rest of her natural days, she deeply appreciates the age differences between her kids. Stacy obtained a Master’s degree in child psychology in 2007, but currently uses it only on her own children! A stay-at-home mama since Baby #3 was born, Stacy has stayed busy keeping her children alive and relatively entertained. She loves her little crazy crew fiercely and uses writing as her creative outlet. When she’s not chasing her kiddos, Stacy is likely traveling or daydreaming about traveling. She also enjoys coffee shops, copious amounts of “cop drama” shows, and perusing Pinterest for ideas that have little chance of ever getting done. But they’re good to have. Just in case.