In early April, we drove down to Phoenix to attend our new niece's baby blessing. This was our second long distance car trip with Andyroo and I've definitely learned a few things about traveling with toddlers.
1. Traveling during nighttime (in hopes they'll sleep for more of the trip) is not necessarily a good idea!
Before our first car trip (to Iowa, for reference - about 18-20 hours), just about everyone we talked to suggested traveling at night so that Andyroo would sleep more. It made sense to us, so that's what we did.
NOT a good idea, for Andyroo. My advice - Know your children!
If your child is the type that can sleep anywhere, then you'll probably be fine to expect them to sleep in the car. But if your child is like Andyroo and doesn't really like to sleep anywhere but his bed, then expecting them to sleep in a car seat most of the night is not a good idea. Andyroo would sleep for an hour or two (at the most) then wake up screaming bloody murder. He was disoriented and unhappy to still be in the car. And most of the time he insisted on having the parent that was driving come sit next to him. To appease the toddler (and our aching ears), we would have to stop the car, let Andyroo out, and switch drivers. After our little stops, he would be awake for another 2 hours, then finally fall asleep, starting the process over. It was torture if you were the parent trying to sleep.
If your child needs his bed to sleep, then travel during the day when the expectation of sleep isn't so great. You'll thank me later.
2. Bring LOTS of things to entertain your child!
I brought a HUGE box of things to keep Andyroo entertained. Truthfully, he probably didn't play with half of them. But I'd rather have too much for him to do than not enough.
Along with that, don't give you child the box of stuff at the beginning of the trip. In fact, it's not necessary to pull anything out unless they need something to do. You don't want them to get bored with the stuff you've brought in the first hour of the car ride, right?
Some of the things that Andyroo really loved:
- Glow sticks - Especially if you're traveling at night. $1 for l0 at Michaels!
- Anything magnetic - We have a little magnetic farm book, but also consider taking magnets from your fridge and a cookie sheet (the magnets will stick to the cookie sheet)
- Anything that makes noise - All those annoying books or little toys that drive you nuts will be a big hit!
- Toys they've never seen - Consider saving the Happy Meal type toys or going to the dollar store and picking up a bunch of stuff.
- Books - Normally he loves to read, but they didn't keep his attention very well during the car trip.
- Coloring Books - Again, he loves to color but wasn't entertained by this
I normally don't think movies in the car are such a good idea. I see parents with DVD players in the car that turn them on around town and it just makes me sick. Don't kids get enough TV at home? Do they really need it in the car too?
But I'm not going to lie. Having a DVD player in the car was...AH-MAY-ZING! When we drove to Iowa, we just took our laptop, which was okay, but it was a pain to work with. It was big, bulky, and didn't really have a place to sit. We ended up putting it on top of a pile of pillows and blankets. Even then, Andyroo kept complaining that he couldn't see (or hear) it. For our Phoenix trip, I broke down and decided to buy a DVD player for the car. I ended up getting a killer deal on a dual-screen model that can attach to the back of the front seats. It really was the best thing ever. And I'm not even tempted to keep it in our car now. Right now it's boxed up, awaiting our next long distance car trip.
Make sure you bring along a few favorites and a few new things too. Don't want to spend money on buying or renting DVDs to take? Check out your local library. We picked up about five movies to take with us for Andyroo. Our library lets you keep them for a week. Even if you keep them longer, the late fee still isn't as high as renting or buying (for us it was like $1.50 total to keep all five movies an extra two days).
4. Stop Often & Let Your Child Out!
As parents who are driving, it's not always easy to think about getting out of the car every few hours. Everyone gets out, takes their time doing what they want to do, then a half hour later, you're finally piling back into the car again. For an 18 hour car ride, if you stop every 3 hours for a half an hour, you're adding 3 hours to your trip. When you're the one doing the driving, you just want to get there! But stopping is a necessary evil with small children - otherwise they're going to be screaming and crying and you're going to go crazy. You have to stop for gas, food (unless you bring your own), potty breaks, etc, so just plan on stopping every few hours. When you stop, make sure that everything you need to do is done. Even if you don't NEED gas, get it. Kids say they don't need to go potty? Make them go anyway. That way you're minimizing the amount of times you have to stop. If you stop to let everyone stretch, but don't bother with refueling or potty breaks, then in a half hour you're going to end up stopping again because your little one has a potty emergency. Do yourself a favor and plan to stop.
5. Take Snacks!
Bring all the favorites! And stock up before you leave. It might seem easier to just pick up things along the way, but if you buy them at the grocery store before you leave, you'll save yourself SO much money. There have been times when, even on small car trips with Andyroo, I have to stop at a gas station or even a regular grocery store for some snack items. At home I can buy his favorites on sale at rock bottom prices. But at the gas station, you're paying a HUGE mark-up! Do yourself another favor and buy the food before you leave. Chances are, you know pretty well in advance when you'll be making a long trip. Watch for things to go on sale and buy them then - don't wait until you're in the car desperate for something snacky.
Along with buying them beforehand, buy things you know your child will eat - things that they LOVE and maybe don't get at home all the time. Buy the fun fruit snacks or yummy cookies. They may not be the healthiest, but they'll make your child happy. And when the kiddos are happy, mommas are happy.
I think the biggest thing about traveling with toddlers and small children is to plan ahead and make things as comfortable as possible. Remember, those little car seats don't allow for much movement and they're itching to get out just as much as, if not more than, you. Stay positive! You'll eventually make it to your destination!
Do you have any awesome tips for traveling with small children?
Be sure to check out our other articles and projects to help prepare for your vacations:
Traveling Project #1 - Neck Pillow
Traveling Project #2 - Car Mat
Traveling Project #3 - Quiet Books
Traveling on a Plane with Small Children