Travel Tips For Long Car Ride With a Toddler

Thanksgiving is upon us which means long car rides to grandma’s house. This weekend is the busiest travel weekend of the year.

“AAA estimates that 38.7 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday.”

OK, so I’m going to be on the road with nearly 39 MILLION other people. This requires planning. Luckily I’m experienced in traveling with a toddler since we’ve taken several long car trips with our now 2-year-old son. Here’s what I do to make the trip go easier:

  • Travel during nap-time. This will easily cut 2-3 hours of having to entertain the child.
  • Back seat is best. Sit in the back with the child. This seems so “Leave It to Beaver,” but I find it’s easier to entertain my son if I’m next to him. When I’ve tried sitting in the front seat, I just end up turning by body around as if I’m playing a game of Twister.
  • Plan frequent stops. If your journey is longer than 3 hours (we’ve maxed out at 10 hours), plan to stop every two hours: Even if it’s only for a 10-minute potty break. While one parent is “occupied” let the other parent change the diaper, then let the child run around. By simply stretching and getting a clean diaper, you will elongate the happy mood back in the car.
  • Pack things to do. Bring a portable DVD player. I’ve mentioned before that we don’t really watch TV with our son. The main exception to this is on car trips. While he’s yet to watch a full-length movie, I do pack several short DVDs. On our 10-hour trip, however, I was wishing for that full-length movie DVD. Bring books – lots of books. We read and reread all the books that I bring.
  • Pack food – very important. Pack a cooler that sits in the backseat with you, but out of reach of your toddler. I pre-pour sippy cups with milk, juice and water so that I’m not in a position to become a bartender in the back of a moving car. Snacks are key too. – things that your child will eat. On our last trip I made the mistake of bringing a box of iced bakery cookies and putting in the sunny front seat. When snack time came, I grabbed a cookie from the box, the icing had melted and dripped all over me and my seat. Of course, my son had to have a cookie since he saw me trying to eat one. It was a mess. Note to self: pack only non-messy snacks like pretzels, goldfish and teddy grahams.
  • Stop to eat meals. It’s a great excuse to get out of the car. If you eat fast food, you can go to a place that has a play place to let your kid run around. If you pack your own food, go to a rest stop that has a big open field. Toss a ball around or just play chase. Get that energy out.
  • Pack his favorite things. Blanket. Check. Teddy bear. Check. If your child uses a paci, by all means put that on the top of your list.
  • Install sun shades before you get on the road. I’ve tried a couple different varieties of these and prefer the ones that clip to the top of the window. I just can’t get the suction cups to stick to the windows. And, don’t get me started on the plastic ones that “stick” to the window. You’ll be thankful for shade when your child is happily sitting in his chair when the sun would otherwise be blasting him in the face.
  • Forget the “rules” and just go with the flow. Do what works. It’s a car ride. Enjoy the time. Look out the window. Point out the trees, the clouds and all the trucks you see. Plan to get to your destination when you get there, leave the clock watching behind.

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32 Responses to “Travel Tips For Long Car Ride With a Toddler”

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    Take your toddler’s blanket and pillow if there’s room. This is extra important if your road trip includes an overnight stay. Kids like their own stuff, particularly at bedtime in a strange place. If your child is out of his car seat, he may nod off more easily if he puts the pillow against the window and rests his head against it.

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    I dread going on long trips with kids in tow. We have driven across the country at least once a year for some time now and have learned a few things about traveling with children. Give the kids balloons and see if they can blow them up themselves, or tape a punching balloon to the seat in front of them. Let them swat or kick at the balloon – assuming it won’t irritate the person in that seat or harm the upholstery.

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