Whether you’re hoping to visit family who live multiple hours away or just trying to have a vacation that your younger children will enjoy as much as your older children, the idea of taking toddlers on a road trip can be an imposing one. Long hours sitting in the car will inevitably lead to cranky, loud toddlers who will make the trip difficult for others to enjoy. While there’s no way to make a road trip with toddlers entirely painless – not when a simple grocery store trip can sometimes lead to meltdowns – there are ways to make the trip easier for both yourself and your little one. Here are 4 ways to survive a road trip with toddlers.
You’ve probably been on a trip or two where you’ve come out the other end cranky and sore from long hours in an uncomfortable car. While as an adult you can push past those feelings and recover at the hotel, for toddlers it’s far more difficult. Therefore, it’s a good idea to make comfort a priority when it comes to toddlers. Make sure that their car seat is the right size and doesn’t have worn-out padding. Explore extra car seat padding, such as the car seat head supports made by NapUp. Dress your kids in soft, comfortable clothing and leave changing into more formal wear for your destination if possible. Sweatpants and t-shirts are your friends, and it’s always a good idea to have a thin hoodie or sweatshirt available if your toddler becomes chilled by the AC on the road.
While you might look at a 5-hour car ride and think you can make it in one go, with maybe a quick stop for gas and a coffee, a trip of that length will leave your toddler cranky and restless. Plan for multiple pit stops that will last around a half-hour each every hour and a half to two hours along the road. Look for rest stops where your kids will be able to stretch their legs and you’ll have the facilities to change diapers and give them a quick snack that won’t be on the road (which can make younger children feel nauseous). Look for at least one facility that has access to a playground or indoor playroom – while this might lengthen that stop, it will wear your toddler out, allowing for a nap for them and a much-needed break for you.
Being stuck in one place gives young toddlers very few means with which to entertain themselves, so you will have to put more thought into packing and structuring entertainment for them. Coloring and sticker books, toys such as action figures and dolls that don’t have many parts that can get dropped or lost, and picture books you know they enjoy are great options when it comes to entertaining a toddler on a road trip. If your toddler has a favorite type of music, be prepared to listen to it for long hours or bring along some child-friendly headphones – while it may be annoying to you, it can keep them occupied for hours.
Toddlers are used to routine, and snack times are often a routine that they’ll fall back on when confronted with an exciting, exhausting thing like a road trip. To make your life easier, pack plenty of portable, easy to hand out snacks that you know they’ll enjoy. Pretzels, rice cakes, granola bars, fruit, and carrots are perfect for road trips – just make sure to pack them in such a way that you’ll be able to easily access and assist with them while on the road. Don’t forget to pack juice boxes and sippy cups for bottled water as well.
You may want to relax or keep your mind on other things, but there are times when your toddler won’t be content to play with games or be distracted by snacks. Sometimes you’ll have to be the one to entertain them or distract them when they start to show signs of crankiness. This will often mean following your kid’s lead if at all possible – coloring with them, reading to them, and busting out the car trip or singing games will all be a fine distraction while you’re on your way to your destination.