My Sweet Pickle has been road tripping since she was 9 months old. Her first big trip was to Kansas to meet the other half of her family. A two-day, 12-hours-in-the-car trek and, as I recall, she passed with flying colors! (aka. she slept most of the way)
As she’s grown, we’ve had to get a little more creative with our road trip strategies, as many of you have experienced, I’m sure!
This most recent trip was one of our greatest successes, however, and I’d like to share how we survived 14 hours round trip with a two-year old. Take it and use it. Love it or leave it. This is how we did it. And, barring the fact that our little girl is just wonderful in the car, which makes it easy, I think these tricks worked well!
1. PLAN IT OUT. I needed to know when we were leaving. “Why?” my husband asked, on the verge of annoyed. Because everything revolves around what time we are leaving. That’s why! Because you need to know which meals to pack. How many snacks. Approximately how many diapers to have easy-access. Because you need to think ahead and realize that naptime will hit just as you’re getting into the final two hours of traffic. Because you need to know what time the poop will come and if that will be a good gas stop or not. True, there is a lot of need for flexibility when traveling with a toddler, but the better game plan you have coming into it, the more prepared you’ll be for hiccups.
2. PACK NEW TOYS. (or ones that aren’t played with as often) We loaded up on new stickers, notepads, an assortment of toddler-sized books that she could “read” herself, and some of her old favorite activities. She loved looking down into her bag and spotting something exciting! (My favorite Tip: Carefully peel all the border off of the stickers before you give them to your child. This makes it a million times easier for them to get the stickers themselves so they won’t be bugging you to do it for them. Toddlers love independence!)
3. BE INVOLVED. I know. You want to nap and read your book and listen to your iPod and sew those last few buttons on her beach dress (oh.. that was me). But if you’re involved in the toy rotating and the interest-catching, there will be much less crying and much more activity! When I saw she was getting bored or frustrated with a toy, I would pack it up and pull something else out! This made the time fly. She was constantly busy doing something, reading something or playing with something. And as I prompted self-play she would carry it out long enough for me to turn around and sew another button.
4. BUSY BAGS! Thanks to my wonderful playgroup, we had an assortment of fun, handheld learning activities to keep her busy. I purposefully keep these in the closet at home, pulling only one or two out at a time. This keeps them fresh, interesting, exciting, and from getting little pieces all lost in the toy baskets. This particular trip we packed our lacing cards, button ribbon, Velcro popsicle sticks, foam bead stringing and color squares. She had not paid much attention to the lacing cards before, but on this trip they were her favorite! She played with them for probably half an hour! I have some ideas on my board here or type “busy bag ideas” into your Pinterest search and get busy!
5. HAVE A BACKUP PLAN. Through no fault of our own, we ended up in a vehicle that did not have a dvd player. Now, to some seasoned parents traveling with toddlers this may be heretical. But to me, first time toddler mom that I am, I didn’t have a problem with it at all. I believed in my girl that she could make it seven hours without a movie. And it was a comfort knowing that my Kindle Fire (with one episode of her favorite show) and my cell phone (with her favorite game) would serve as a good backup should we face any meltdowns. I would much rather have screen time be plan B rather than plan A.
6. STRATEGIZE. As a mom, I know my girl. I know when she’ll get tired. I know when she’ll get hungry. I know that if she’s not kept busy she starts munching… and munching usually means whining… and I don’t like whining, so I have to keep her busy. So I strategized. I packed her lunch and got it out at our normal lunchtime. It was an assortment of new, special foods that she was excited to eat! (thanks to a tip from a friend) The trip worked out just so that our ETA was right at the end of naptime. So we played with some activities until 1 or 1:15. And only then did I get out the Kindle Fire and let her wind down with an episode of her favorite show. You can imagine how thrilled she was to see it! And how NOT whiny or bored or distracted she got while she was watching it. After her show, I took it back. Gave her her blanket. Told her to rest. And with very little crying, she fell asleep. When she abruptly woke up with still an hour to go on our trip (and in her nap), I was able to resort to plan B. That got her as far as the beach road, where we could spend the last few long minutes looking for the ocean between the sand dunes!
7. BE WEIRD. Our trip home was a little different. We left at 4:30 in the afternoon, knowing good and well that we wouldn’t be home until midnight. But again, we planned it out the best we could and ended up only making one stop on the way! During this stop, as planned, little Pickle got changed into her footie pj’s and crocs. (Can you picture this?) Then she was permitted to run around Zaxby’s just a little with her new bouncy ball. People looked at her like she was either the most adorable thing they’d ever seen, or we were the weirdest, most pathetic parents on the block. Regardless of what they thought, it worked for us, and she slept the last 4 hours of the trip.
8. BE FLEXIBLE. She slept the last 4 hours of the trip…except when she didn’t. And she woke up. And she cried. And was mad that she was still in the car. But even then, we looked out at the full moon through the mountains, we sang nighttime songs, we talked about the beach and our family, we watched for the sparkle of the first stars. And she fell back to sleep… until she woke up again…
It was one of the sweetest road trips I’ve ever been on. And while the next ones might not be nearly as easy. Or she may not be as happy. Or she may be potty trained and we’ll need to stop every hour. I look forward to new road trip adventures as she grows and we grow as a family.
What were your favorite road trip memories as a kid? What are your favorite road trip strategies with your kids?