We have always lived out of state from one or both of our families. As newly weds, we used to enjoy the 7 or 8 hour car rides together… listening to new music, podcasts, or sermons. Sometimes I’d read out loud while Ben drove. Then when he fell asleep at the wheel to my soothing voice, we’d mix it up and blare a new CD while drinking too much coffee. But that didn’t matter because we could make a quick pee-stop whenever was needed. Oh, and I could ‘hold it’ longer than 12 minutes. (The post-baby-pee-struggle is real. Don’t judge.)
Those days are long gone though. Since we like to visit family, we’ve had to figure out a few things to make the drives easier.
And by drives I mean, in the first 7 months of 2015, we logged 6 trips over 550 miles each way.
Needless to say, we’ve learned a few things about how to survive a road trip with a couple kiddos under 3.
Disclaimer: this isn’t a fool proof method. Even if you do every.single.one of these things, there is still a 17% chance that your 6 month old will projectile vomit all over herself and her carseat 3 times during the trip, when it’s -10 degrees outside and you’re driving at midnight. #SpeakingFromExperience 🙁
#1 – Movies, Tablets, Electronics, Oh My.
I was philosophically opposed to tablets + movies to entertain kids in the car. We did it when we were little, so can they. HAHAHA. This was obviously the philosophy of pre-parent Renee, back before I had kids, when I was the most perfect parent. Now, bring on all of the electronics.
Since our oldest is only 2 1/2, she gets bored & can’t really be entertained by electronics for an entire 8 – 10 hour car ride, so we try to space them out throughout the trip. 30 minutes tablet game then coloring then a 30 minute Elmo movie, then books, etc… As soon as my kids are old enough to watch multiple feature length films back to back to back, I’m sure that’s what we will be doing. With moments where I pause and say, “look at those majestic mountains kids.”
If you are judging me, I assume you either
a.) have a 2 year old who is freakishly good at entertaining herself
b.) don’t have children
c.) never drive 500+ miles your children under the age of 5
d.) are a much better parent than me.
Judge all you want judgey mcjudgerson. I have no shame.
#2 – Rest Stop Bag
We generally try to make 3-4 hour segments in the car before stopping. After many stops at a McDonalds where I’ve had to run back to the car in the freezing cold to get a change of clothes or diapers or wipes or cheerios or baby food or whatever… I now pack a “rest stop bag” with the following:
- 3-4 diapers of each kid’s size
- travel pack of wipes
- formula + bottle if we have a kid of this age with us (which we have had almost continuously for the past 2 1/2 years….)
- baby food + spoon + puffs or cheerios if we have a kid of this age (the baby food age is the WORST age to make long road trips with…)
- change of clothes for each kid
- my wallet
The key to the rest stop bag is don’t put anything in it that you need to get out while driving. Because you will inevitably take something else out and forget to put it back and then find yourself irritated at the rest stop, dragging your kids back out to the car to get whatever item you accidentally took out. Rest stop items only in this bag.
#3 – Book basket within kid’s reach
We have these baskets from Target (Room Essentials brand) at home. I LOVE THEM!!!! They are the perfect size for toy storage and book storage, by the way. We use them everywhere – toys in a living room hutch, library books in Addie’s room, kitchen towels & bibs in the kitchen, etc… The “large” size I like seems to be about $8 and they come out in various colors throughout the year. You should buy a few… or 100.
Anyway, I use one of these for books in the car. I mostly put her old faves in there, because she’s way more likely to thumb through them. Sometimes I hear her “reading” memorized phrases from them as she turns the pages which obviously melts my teacher-mommy heart.
You could also include a new book or two. Addie isn’t at the age where she loves to look at new books by herself yet… If I’m on my A-game, we get new library books & read them for a few days leading up to the trip, and then bring her favorite “new” books on the road. It’s pretty risky traveling with library books, but ya’ know, gotta keep things exciting. Living on the edge, folks.
[Side note, bonus tip: She reads more when she’s rear facing and the books can’t fall off her lap as easily. Up until very recently, we always turned her carseat around to be rear-facing for long trips. Now, she’s just way too crammed. But for a long time after she was generally forward-facing, she seemed to do better backwards for road trips. I think she was happier not being able to see me, plus it was easier to keep all the activities on her lap.]
Besides your kids’ favorite books, any ‘finding’ or flap books are fun for toddlers in the car too. Some of our go-to’s in this category are:
[clicking those pics will take you to affiliate links on amazon. you can read more about affiliate links here.]
If you had to pick 2 of the above, I’d recommend the trucks one (so fun) and the I Spy letters.
#4 – Box of toys with lid
This is a great box to put a mix of old and new “hands on” activities in. I used to put this box right next to Addie but I’ve found everything in it lasts longer if I give it to her one at a time and then she plays with it for a while on her own. Honestly, I have no recollection of what toys we brought before she turned 2. We hit the jackpot with babies who travel well, and both our girls were a PIECE OF CAKE to travel with as infants, except for the aforementioned projectile vomit incident. Since our older one has turned 2, this toy box has come in handy! I usually spend a few dollars at the dollar store or Target dollar section on a couple new fun things:
- New coloring book
- New mini pack of markers or crayons
- Puffy stickers (easy to peel and come off anything!)
Other items in this box that seem to entertain for a while are:
- a small amount of duplos in a ziplock
- lacing beads – we have these Melissa and Doug Lacing Beads*
- magnetic cookie sheet with alphabet letters matching activity (free printable HERE)
- Embroidery, toddler-style. (plastic needle & hoop from hobby lobby + yarn) For the netting, I used some of that stuff you put down in your cabinet to keep things from moving. Or you can buy netting near the hoops at hobby lobby.
#5 – Awesome Sticker Binder
This may technically fall under the category of #4, but it is so awesome and consumes so much of their time it deserves a point all by itself. Make a binder filled with dot sticker pictures, letters, numbers. These dot stickers are $1 at Walmart. I had a bunch of page protectors from my teaching days and put each letter in a page protector. This makes it easy for your OCD child to take the stickers off and put them back on if they don’t line up right. Also, you can just peel off all the stickers and reuse them without reprinting the whole alphabet. Not sure if that’s worth the time… This activity is the one she’ll do for the longest period of time, hands down.
The page shown below is from Play at Home Mom. I purchased the downloadable file for $5 – it included the uppercase and lowercase alphabet as well as some various numbers and counting activities.
Shortly after purchasing that file, I stumbled on this free file from Confessions of a Homeschooler. The letters are a little smaller but it still works. And it’s free
Palmer Practicality has a ton of great free printables designed for Do-a-Dot paints*, but they also work well with these $1 stickers for in the car! (Don’t print this image – click the link above to go to her site and print from there, please.)
#6 – Talk to Them
My 2 year old is turning out to be quite social. Though the conversation may not be as interesting or as intellectually stimulating as our pre-children car conversations, sometimes, I’ve noticed, our toddler just wants to be included. So we ask questions she can participate in, sing songs she likes, make up new songs, and talk about where we’re going and what we’ll do when we get there.
#7 – Know it won’t be perfect & buy some noise canceling headphones.
Example: the aforementioned projectile vomit in the middle of night & winter story. Crap happens (sometimes literally) on the road with kids. Embrace it. You’ll be there eventually. Hold a hand or let them cry, and perhaps invest in some noise-canceling headphones?
What are your tips and tricks for travel with littles?
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