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Long Trip with Toddlers – In the Car

Written by Jen Sill

I take six-hour trips with my two kids A LOT.  I have for almost 4 years now.  (My oldest daughter is 3 1/2.  My youngest is 18 months.)  I travel to see my family.  My husband often can’t come.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve learned a lot of tricks.  I’d love to share them with you and I’d LOVE to hear any tricks you may have.

Schedule

The very first thing I learned was that the toddler schedule comes first.  DO NOT LEAVE EARLY IN THE MORNING.  Leave at your youngest child’s first nap.  (Babies often take two naps a day.  Leave then.)  And if possible, it is best to take your children to a park or play space for active play before you hit the road.  (This is for the best possible trip.  Some kids can handle the early leave if you HAVE to.) 

If you allow food in your car, give them their lunch or a snack as you begin your travel.  I feel it is best to be on the road with something for them to think about so I allow food.   (More on snacks below)

If you don’t allow food in your car, eat before you leave.

After lunch, give your kiddos their ‘nap’ signal.  I usually hand them their ‘blankies’ and/or teddy bears and turn on the radio.  

Plan a break after nap.  Stretch the legs.

The second leg (my second 2 and a half hours) is a little more tricky.  When my kiddos took two naps, I tried to spend a little extra long in my half-way spot so a second nap happened on the second leg.  That doesn’t happen anymore.  So I turn to the ‘tricks’ below.

My Tricks Are Listed Below

Snacks:

Treasure Snacks.  I use these cups with lids.  I fill them with cereal or goldfish.  But in the mix I add a special candy.  Usually, it is M&Ms or Candy Corn or small chocolate chips.  The kids get the snack, but they also spend time digging for the ‘treat’.

(Photo Source)

 

 

Two bags AND a cooler

  • Bag one: Dry goods. I pack two different treasure snacks – one sugary one salty (I have different preferences on different days.  My kids do, too.)  Fruit sticks (from Target), breakfast bars, ziploc baggies with more of the cereal, goldfish and treats.
  • Bag Two: Cool treats.  I just found this “Astronaut Applesauce”, Cheese Sticks, Cheese squares and such.
  • Cooler: I usually bring 3 drinks for each kid for our six hours.

**Also remember some great snacks for mom**

 Toys

Little Treats: My biggest suggestion is to go to the dollar store or the dollar section at Target.  Buy a handful of new toys for each child. (Photo source)

Wrap them.  Keep those wrapped gifts up front and hand them back at specific intervals during the trip.  For instance, one an hour (not including naps.)  The wrapping paper is like the treasure snacks.  It extends the time the kiddos spend on each toy.

Noise Makers: Those annoying toys with buttons all over.  Now’s the time to use them (if you can stand them).  I’ve actually purchased them at thrift stores and garage sales and kept them in the basement for trips.

Magnet board: Bring a cookie sheet and some magnets. (Photo Source)

Window Stickies: Those gel sheets.  They have them for every season.  My daughter loves to use them on the windows in the car.

Hanging Toys: If you have a baby, hang toys from a ribbon with a safety pin or extend a pole from one hook to another and hang toys from the ceiling.

Attach Them: As the babies sit up, attach the toys with ribbon from their car seat.  When they drop the toy, it is easier to reach and hand back to them or they are able to pull the ribbon back to themselves.

CDs or an Ipod.  I pull these out at the end and sing songs with my kiddos.  (Note: My husband would hate this one.  We use this tip without him.)

Crayons.  Coloring pages.  There are a bunch of place you can print coloring pages.
Here’s my favorite right now: Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

Phone Aps.  My favorite is Istorybooks.  It reads stories to the kiddos.  My 3-year-old also just takes pictures with my phone (towards the end when we’re all restless)

And the ultimate backup: The DVD Player.

I try to leave the DVD player off until the last leg.  It doesn’t always work.  In fact, some trips I’ve turned it on in the first half hour.

I always stop by the library for their FREE DVD selection.  We’re watching ‘Reading Rainbow’ right now and loving it!!

Other Must Haves For The Trip

An Extras bag.  The suitcases are packed in.  Have this one handy.

  • Change of clothes – for everyone.   Even a change of clothes for Mom.
  • Diapers
  • Wipes
  • Weather clothes (extra socks, coats, hats, mittens, bib)
  • Pad for changing diapers on the ground or on the seat of the car.  Some rest stops don’t have changing tables.

Potty Chair and wipes.  With a child who is potty training, I have used this a LOT.  I travel between Des Moines and Denver.  There aren’t many bathrooms out there.  We pull to the side of the road and sit my toddler on the potty chair.  During the summer, the seat is inside.  During the winter, it is between our bucket seat in the back.  I also place a grocery bag around the bowl.  When the toddler is done, I either dump it out or tie it off and place it in the trunk trash until the next official stop (with the diapers.)  Even now with a fully potty trained toddler, I travel with a potty chair for the emergencies when we’ve just passed a rest area and there isn’t another for 20 miles.

Tidy Supplies: Plastic grocery bags (for trash bags), Paper towels, wipes and hand sanitizer.

First Aid Kit: Bandaids, sanitizer, thermometer, baby fever reducer, Ibuprophen (for mommy also), Kleenex, etc.

(Source)

Patience.  Remember, nothing is for sure when you travel with toddlers.  Even the best planned trips can fall apart.  I’m lucky to have adults who love and support me on either end of my trip.

 

(Here are some tips for plane travel with toddlers)

 

Travelling can be rough at the best of times, travelling with toddlers is a whole new ball game. Want to know how to survive it? Here are some must haves when travelling with toddlers.

About the author

Jen Sill

For nearly 15 years Jennifer spent her time clawing her way up the chain as a television producer and newsroom manager. She’s helped create and produce newscasts and talkshows. Just as she was realizing some of her professional goals, she decided to give it all up for a family. Although Jennifer has lived in Miami and L.A., she has always called Nebraska home. She always knew she wanted to raise her children in the Midwest.
Jennifer is now trying to find her way in a new world. She may be frenzied and frazzled sometimes, but she would not give up being a mom to her almost four year old and her almost two year old for anything.

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