Are you traveling for the holiday this year? This year, we aren’t traveling (we will drive down to Chicago for the day (1.25 hours which is nothing) to see our families; but, I know that many of you are so I have compiled my top tips for surviving a road trip with kids (in our family this means our toddler and our baby). This past summer, we did four road trips totaling over 80 hours of driving time! We have done a long road trip every single year since B was born–driving for us is in some ways easier than flying and definitely cheaper! Driving with extended family saves even more money and when you have a Suburban like we do, that is definitely appreciated! Just this summer we drove to New York, to New Hampshire, to Cleveland, and to Michigan (three times)!
Driving with two kids (2.5 yrs and 3 months this past summer) posed challenges specific to each child; but overall the biggest challenge was keeping the toddler occupied. Being in the car for long extended periods of time is hard for anyone, especially little ones. With the baby, it was his frequent nursing was the most cumbersome. So here are my top tips for surviving a road trip with a toddler and a baby!
7 Tips to Surviving a Road Trip with Kids Under 3 Years:
1.) Just Keep Driving
Try to do the longest stretch on the first day. Drive as long as you can. Start early in the morning and while you should make plenty of stops for bathroom breaks and to get the wiggles out, drive as late as you can. While it makes for a very long day, it is going to pay off the second day when you only have a shorter leg of the trip and everyone is sick and tired of being in the car. This way, you don’t lose two whole days in the car. If you are driving under 12 hours, I would try to smush it all in one day; and over 12 hours if driving two days, make the first day longest (12 hours or so but 14 hours max). On the way out to NH we did two 10 hour days and we regretted not driving farther the first day. When we drove back from NY it was a 15 hour drive and it was a really long day. But since it was only a one leg trip it was good to get it over with. Obviously, whatever method you are most comfortable with is the best one for your family but for us, this posed the best solution.
2.) Brown Bag It
Yep, my number two tip is to bring a lunch and a cooler full of snacks and drinks. We felt so much better physically and saved so much money by packing our food in advance. McDonalds always sounds like a good idea until an hour after. Plus I never feel comfortable feeding B a lot of greasy foods. She hasn’t really ever eaten McDonalds. I will give her french fries from time to time; but, the one time I gave her half of a Steak & Shake grilled cheese she threw it up all over the car. I don’t think her little tummy was used to all the grease, that and carsickness… Nevertheless, you are going to feel healthier and not like a fat lump sitting in the car all day. Still feel free to stop and grab a bit to eat; but, not eating the majority of your meals from fast food joints is going to help a lot with your mindset and save time. We found that by bringing healthy snacks (bananas, carrots, peppers, nuts), ingredients for sandwiches (loaf of bread, peanut butter, knife), and some treats (Ritz crackers, chocolate chip cookies) we felt like we ate pretty healthy. Also, bring tons of water. It’s up to you if you want to buy a huge gallon of water like we did, or just individual water bottles. I know that they are the scourge of the environment; but, we never use them otherwise!
3.) The Wiggles
When we stopped at rest stops, we not only went to the bathroom but we made sure to get everyone out of the car and even if it is for 5-10 minutes, we got the toddler running around. Playing tag or hide and seek is super quick and takes no supplies. You might look like an idiot but at least your toddler gets some energy out. And because you most likely never see a single soul from the rest stop ever again, who cares?! I look like a weirdo on the regular for my kids! I also found that by doing a couple quick stretches helped me avoid stiffness and aches from sitting so long. You know when you sit in a seat so long your butt starts to hurt. Yeah, that kind of ache–they type you are embarrassed to complain about because it is from literally sitting on your butt.
You may as well smile about it because you might be stuck riding in the backseat with the kids for a LONG time!
4.) Activity Bag
You don’t think you could get through an entire blog post about entertaining your toddler on a road trip without an activity bag, did you? As dorky as it is, this thing is a goldmine! Without this bag of activities, I can safely say the car trip would have been a disaster. The dollar spot at Target and the Dollar Store are your best friends. One caveat is that it needs to be new! You can bring tried and true toys but they do not belong in this “activity bag.” This is all new stuff that the kids only get to do in the car! By doing this you are preserving their novelty and giving it a higher value than otherwise. My amazing mother-in-law scoured the dollar spots and put together this bag which kept B occupied for three quarters of the trip technology free! And this cookie pan tray was the best idea ever! It gave B a “desk” to work on the whole trip. We made ours by drilling some holes in a cookie sheet pan and stringing some string through so it was attached to the headrest in the first row. With the tray, she was able to color, play matching games, and even had a steady surface for eating her meals all while driving.
What we included in the activity bag: Magic coloring paper and magic markers, new crayons (get ones that are triangular so they don’t roll) and a small notebook (Target Dollar spot), stamps and stickers, matching card game from (Dollar Spot), several new to her books, and a cookie tray. We also brought along our tried-and-true favorites: dollar store animals, Barbies, and iPad.
5.) Potty on Board
We have learned that going potty while on the road is hard for a little one. I mean, who really wants to sit on those restroom potties? It is anxiety provoking even for me (but for different reasons #recoveringgermaphobe). After trying the potette and not having success (I think the plastic bag weirded her out), we just brought our Baby Bjorn potty in the car. We would put it in the back of the car (either the luggage area of our Suburban) or the middle area of my in-laws minivan. Sometimes, we would just put it down on the ground and park far away from any other cars so she would feel like she had some privacy. To clean it out, we would rinse out the pee with a water bottle. For the other times, we would put it into a plastic bag and dispose of it in a garbage can (typically they will have an area to walk your dog, throw the poop out in one of those cans!) Then wipe out the potty with one of these wipes (and throw it out as well!) Good as new! If you are super environmentally friendly, and braver than me, bring the potty a restroom and dispose of the “contents” there. Having the Baby Bjorn potty worked so well for us that after the trip, I ordered another cheaper similar potty, that now stays in our car all the time. So when we drove to Santa a couple weeks ago, right before we went in the store, she had to go potty in the back of the car. Can you say GLAMOROUS. Yeah, not really. But it seriously outweighs the alternative.
6.) Tech Head
We all know watching lots of tv isn’t awesome for your kid everyday (I will admit, B is allowed to watch a show or two/ day). But, in my opinion, it is absolutely fine for a car trip! While I don’t want her to watch TV all day even in the car, I think her watching a few shows during a long car drive gives everyone a break. She gets to zone out and watch her favorite movie, and I get to be off duty for an hour (at least with her.) With a three month old who nurses nonstop your boobs are never off duty! I do not miss those days! Now, at 7.5 months, Jack will go several hours so I no longer need to nurse as often during the day.
7.) Safety in Numbers or at Night
This was probably the most helpful but it is such a personal choice. We adore our in-laws and they are really easy to get along with. so we drove with them a lot this summer. Since we were going on a family trip with them to NH, we all drove out together. The same was true with driving to Cleveland for a wedding. Even from NY, we drove back with my dad and my sister (who we may have scared off having kids for awhile because of it!) At their ages, it would have been hard (possible but hard) to tend to both kids the whole time, especially when B was carsick. Having a couple extra sets of hands makes it a lot easier. You can switch off drivers while still rotating duties with the kids.
If this isn’t a possibility, I would recommend driving late into the night. Capitalize on times that your kids are asleep and drive then. Grab an extra coffee at dinnertime. It is much much easier to drive during the night with kids than it is during the day. We found this out with our trip to Michigan. For the fourth of July we drove there and with traffic it took seven and a half hours. So we drove back at night, leaving at dinner time and putting the kids in pajamas and it only took six hours. Most of which the kids were asleep and we didn’t have to do as many stops for potty breaks or food. It was glorious.
Are you traveling for the holidays? What are your tips for surviving a road trip with kids?
Linking up with Amanda at Meet at The Barre, High Five For Friday with Katie, Tif, Della, Caitlin; Oh Hey Friday with Karli and Amy; Five on Friday with Liz, Christina, Natasha, and Darci. Friday Favorites with Andrea, Erika, and Narci.